Abortion is considered by religious conservatives and others, who oppose it, an act of aggression and murder against a non-aggressor, and thus morally reprehensible. Despite the moral and some secular ethical disapproval of the practice, the rate of abortions has hardly abated, with some women even inducing it by themselves or with the help of unqualified persons, at an immense detriment to their own health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2015), upwards of 730,322 (or 13.9 abortions per 1000 women aged between 15-44 years) legal, induced abortions were done in the United States in 2011, but the actual rate is actually likely to be higher because illegal abortions are never reported. Further, women low 30 years accounted for the highest proportion of abortions and the vast majority of terminations (91.4%) occurred during the 14-20 weeks’ gestation period. The scale of unsafe, illegal abortion across the world is even higher, given the fact that only 47% of women of childbearing age live in countries where abortion is legal. In some countries including China and India, the cultural values prefer male children over girls, and thus women are driven into aborting girl pregnancies, contributing to the highest rates of abortions and even abandonments of live children upon birth. This paper argues that while abortion may be morally/ethical wrong for some people, legal and safe abortions should be available for women who choose it.
Abortion, which is formerly defined as the termination of a pregnancy by killing and expelling a foetus, is a hotly contested ethical and moral issue. There are limited grounds upon which legal abortion is justified. Women are ethical and legally entitled to abortion if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother, and/or in cases where treatment necessary to save a mother necessitates, contributes to, or may result in the termination of the pregnancy. This is easily the most acceptable justification for abortion, and a tough ethical/moral compromise between the life of the mother and the baby. It is a lose-lose situation, in which most ethical theories (utilitarianism, deontology, egoism, virtue and care ethics) lead to the same conclusion. Basically, the pregnancy becomes untenable because it threatens, and depends on the mother’s health, whose preservation necessitates or leads to the termination of the pregnancy. To maximize beneficence, reduce harm and ensure justice, all possible alternatives to save both lives must be exhausted before the decision to terminate such pregnancies is taken.
However, there are exceptions to this rule, which are far more controversial. These include the fact that pregnancies conceived through rape and in some cultures, out of wedlock, cause mothers extreme psychological difficulties, which may be construed to be detrimental to the mother’s health and thus justifying the termination of the pregnancy. This premise is thought to be selfish and vindictive against an innocent life. In addition, it is argued that justifying abortion based on the mother’s psychological fitness threatens legitimizing abortions on the grounds of the barest of excuses. It rendered the life of the unborn at the whim of mothers and given that some pregnancies are bound to strain mothers’ psychological health, too many abortions will be done.
Legally, the Supreme Court set a compromise between arguments that abortion amounts to murder since life begins at conception one hand, and the contention that early-term pregnancies are no more than a mass of cells. The Court held in Roe v. Wade (1973) that women’s right to an abortion fell within the understanding of the right to privacy and thus protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court held that state laws that excepted abortion only in life-saving procedures on behalf of the mother, and which failed to take into consideration the viability of the pregnancy were contrary to the constitution. The court pays no regard to the argument that life begins at conception, and instead argues that abortions during the initial trimester are perfectly within the decision of the mother, in exercise of their right to privacy and autonomy over their own bodies. The right of the foetus to life are only protected after the foetus becomes viable (i.e. may survive independently of the mother), which the court determined to be after 24 weeks. Effectively, before a pregnancy reaches 24 weeks, it is legally considered no more than breast enlargement surgery, organ/blood donation and body piercing. While societies have a legitimate interest in protecting the unborn and the expecting mothers’ health throughout their pregnancy, the mothers’ right to abortion may not be denied completely.
The arguments in favour of respecting the sanctity of life, and protecting the life of the unborn are just as cogent. The destruction of human life, however, old is barely moral, whether it is legally justified or otherwise. In addition, while pro-abortion campaigners argue that abortion are safe and may be necessary to foster women’s reproductive health, this is not entirely true. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2014), medical and surgical abortions involve immense pain, blood loss and possible damage to the woman’s reproductive organs, which may threaten their lives or render them barren. It is equally argued that legalizing abortion fosters permissive sexual morality that in turn encourages irresponsible engagement in sex among people that are unprepared for parenthood. This in turn creates a cycle of increasing demand for abortions. However, the mortal risk involved in the procurement of abortion, and the fact that millions of women are seeking abortions in unsafe environments, is all the more reason why safe means should be availed to ensure that abortions are as safe as possible.
It is easy to understand that abortion is selfish and even an act of aggression against the unborn. However, it is just as important to understand that the vast majority of women who choose to procure abortions do not take these decisions lightly. Women go to extreme ends to terminate unwanted pregnancies, a case that has been only too clear in countries such as China, India and Bangladesh, where cultural values (and laws such as China’s One Child Policy), which have driven women to unsafe abortions. The abortion statistics clearly show that the rates are high, whether abortion is legal or otherwise, and in cases where abortion is illegal, women are more likely to endanger their lives by resorting to unsafe means. It is one thing to moralize about the justifiability of abortion, and another thing altogether to take firm measures to ensure that women have access to safe facilities in the event that they choose to terminate unwanted pregnancies. This will avert unnecessary deaths of mothers and other extreme side effects that are detrimental to their reproductive health.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. "Medical Management of First-Trimester Abortion." Practice Bulletin No. 143 (2014).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Reproductive Health: Data and Statistics. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, 2015.
De Wert, G. and C. Mummery. " Human embryonic stem cells: research, ethics and policy." Human Reproduction, 18(4) (2003): 672-682.
Fisher, Max. Why China’s one-child policy still leads to forced abortions, and always will. 15 Nov 2013. 20 April 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/11/15/why-chinas-one-child-policy-still-leads-to-forced-abortions-and-always-will/>.
Roe v. Wade. No. 410 U.S. 113. Supreme Court of the United States. 22 Jan 1973.