The issue of abortion is a topical concern of almost every human society across the world. At a certain point in history, people decided to be in opposition to it. However, there also was time when society agreed to practice it. As far as this problem is concerned, medical students and professionals get confused when making their own decision regarding abortion. Throughout the history, people have been looking for answers as to whether aborting a conceived child is right or wrong.
Many researchers, ethical advisors, philosophers, and lawmakers, as well as the other people look at different perspectives – considering many cases and contexts, the practice of abortion would be deemed reasonable and justified. People consider the sides of the child-to-be and the mother; they look at the moral justifications suggested by two opposing groups; and they institute necessary legal actions, which the public – particularly mothers, fathers, medical professionals, and other individuals – should adhere to.
It is necessary to state that the positions regarding the practice of abortion are different between countries. More than mere perspectives, actions implemented in the United States of America may be quite different from the practice in Asian or European countries. Nevertheless, the important thing is to lay down the different positions already made by certain individuals and groups, and to scrutinize each of them. In this paper different viewpoints and situations will be analyzed to understand what helps people to make decisions in this important matter and whether abortion in general can be considered right or wrong.
The exact date the practice of abortion begun cannot be determined. Some scholars claimed that it already took place during the Greco-Roman period (Naden, 2007). The issue is included in the Jewish and Christian theology. The Hippocratic Oath, which was written many centuries ago, includes a statement, “I will not give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy” (Edelstein, 1943, p. 132). Physicians and other medical practitioners in the past acknowledged that abortion was a dangerous process for the health of women. Due to the absence of proper health care during those times, it is hard to imagine how doctors would force the embryo out of a woman’s uterus.
In the light of health condition of women, the stress regarding the issue seems to get lower as years pass by. In 1861, the Offences against the Person Act made illegal the supply or use of any poison or other instruments that cause a pregnant woman to abort a fetus (Terrel, 2009). In 1938, a case where a 14-year old girl got raped and was prone to “mental wreck” was given access to abortion (Edelstein, 1943). In 1966, a bill was passed that was later called the 1967 Abortion Act. This act allowed abortion on two grounds: when the continuation of the pregnancy involves greater risk to the mental or physical health of the woman and when there is a risk that the baby to be born would be disabled (SPUC, n.d.).
In the U.S., the abortion issue was addressed following the lead of England, wherein the U.S. authorities put only few restrictions on abortion until the 1840s. They granted access to abortion upon the discretion of pregnant women (Tong, 2007). As the birth rate went down, abortion was prohibited and became a social issue. Moreover, although medical advancement makes the process safer to women, a viewpoint was formed that the protection of women should be seen as secondary to the value of the fetus. Thus, the issue already covers two subjects: the woman and the fetus. More than a health issue, it was viewed as a moral one as well. However, the position on abortion still seems to experience a lack of complete authority. Many still want to pass a bill allowing women to have abortion, while many are still opposed to it.
The issue whether abortion is right or wrong and whether it should be allowed is a prominent issue for several reasons. First of all, it is widespread. About 208 million pregnancies take place every year around the world. About 31 million (15%) of them end in natural miscarriage, and 41 million (20%) end up in abortion (Bailey, 2011). It is clear that despite the strong opposition to abortion, it is really widespread around the world.
In ancient Greece there already were details on how to induce abortions; documents since the 12th century in Japan discuss how to have an abortion done; the Pope declared it as gravely immoral in 1869; the Soviet Union authority legalized abortions in 1920; in late 1960s and 1970s, abortion became legal in developed countries; and in the late 20th century China made it a means of birth control (Naden, 2007). In some Asian countries like the Philippines, only when the health of the pregnant woman is at stake can abortion be granted (Tong, 2007). Today there could only be one position: either people hold anti-abortion or pro-abortion position. This becomes a serious issue, since it is in fact a matter of life and death. The woman and the unborn child are at risk.
Positions on the Practice of Abortion
There are two main types of abortion: spontaneous and induced. Spontaneous abortion or miscarriage happens when the woman’s body naturally rejects the conception process (Tong, 2007). In this case, it is clearly understood that such abortion has no ethical or other issues, since the loss of the fetus is not initiated by the woman. Induced abortion, on the other hand, depends on the decision of the pregnant woman. It could be selective, wherein the reason for abortion is the couple’s preferences on the child’s gender. The other is therapeutic abortion, wherein the child to be born has disabilities or the woman’s health/life condition is at risk during that pregnancy. Although it is not widely accepted by many people, conditions like negative mental health due to conception resulting from rape or incest are considered by some as a reason for therapeutic abortion. Lastly, selective abortion is performed when the woman just does not want to be pregnant. These reasons for abortion will be discussed later in the paper.
First, it is necessary to consider physical and mental aspects of abortion. There are studies having nationally representative samples and diverse controls for extraneous variables affirming that induced abortion puts women at risk of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse (Coleman, Coyle, Shuping, & Rue, 2008). Coleman et al. (2008) suggest that some sort of psychological disorder is likely to happen. However, other research studies have concluded that there is little evidence on the mental risks associated with abortion (Terrell, 2009). It is supposed that abortion may lead to some mental risks, but not to long-term mental health problems (Charles, Polis, Sridhara, & Blum, 2008). It is therefore concluded that women’s responses to their abortion do not always lead to certain mental disorders, such as grief, but are “varied and located within the personal and social context” (Coleman, Coyle, Shuping, & Rue, 2008, p. 2).
Concerning the physical health of the woman, the risk is determined to a considerable extent by the process of abortion. Mainly because it is illegal in many countries, women are likely to go to “underground” abortion, wherein non-professional and non-licensed midwives are requested to perform an abortion. Moreover, in the case of the underground abortion there is increased risk of infection, health complications and inability to get pregnant in future (Coleman et al,m 2008). Professional clinicians and researchers affirm that risk of death, physical harm, or reduction in future fertility is significantly low following abortions conducted by trained clinicians using appropriate facilities (Look, Heggenhougen, & Quah, 2011).
The position regarding abortion should also be considered within ethical and moral contexts. Many affirm that abortion is a form of murdering a human being. However, there are other people who are in opposition to this and claim that a fetus will only be a human being upon his/her birth. They even argue that while it is in the woman’s body, a fetus is not yet someone who has consciousness, reasoning, self-determined activity, the ability to communicate, etc. (Tong, 2007). Still, this opposition is not justifiable. In case of serial killers and a lot of renowned criminals, they have no conscience in committing crime, yet they are still deemed as human beings. Moreover, development of a fetus inside a mother’s womb is just the same as a seed that is planted in the ground; it starts with no leaf or stem, yet a gardener takes care of it, knowing that it is alive and is going to be a plant days later. If an embryo or a fetus is not human being, then why do mothers begin to love what is inside their womb? If these are not human beings, then mothers who grieve when natural abortion/miscarriage occurs and mothers who take joy and excitement for the one who is “on the way” are altogether foolish and irrational (Kaczor, 2011). If no one can view fetus as a human being, then pregnant women should not take extra care of their health – which is recognized as a way to nourish the child inside. Indeed, fetal development is simply the gradual and continuous process of human development; a fetus comes into human personhood “at the moment of conception and is born 9 months later” (Tong, 2007, p. 116). Thus, induced abortion is killing a human being at its very start of development. It is therefore an immoral thing to do and it should be made illegal.
The other statement pro-abortionists make is related to the rights of woman. They claim that the pregnant woman has the right to body integrity and privacy and to full human life. They argue that the fetus does not necessarily have the right for the body to which he/she is attached. Thompson (as cited in Tong, 2007) states that the fetus’ right for life does not automatically give him/her the right to “use another person’s body in order to keep on living” (p. 119). The mother has the right for her body when it comes to abortion, but induced abortions are selfish, ego-centered actions (Butler & Walbert, 2011). It seems reasonable to ask a woman who wants abortion simply because she wants bodily integrity, “What if your mother decided to abort you because she also wanted bodily integrity?” It is so unreasonable that one – who was given the opportunity to be conceived, to live and be cared for by her mother – would decide to deprive her child of conception, life, and care. Many say that this depends on the context of the mother.
Someone would argue that some mothers abort a child in order to take care of an existing child. This clearly points to an unwanted pregnancy – although it is conceived through voluntary intercourse. In this case a couple decided to have an intercourse but does not desire to have the woman pregnant. Life is full of responsibility. Any action has its results, which should be taken as a form of responsibility. Thus, no one could reason out that abortion should be granted due to unwanted pregnancy through wanted intercourse.
Furthermore, in the light of pro-abortionists arguments on the woman’s right to a full human life, everybody has it. But one’s right of a human life is not all about the self. It includes the other individuals in the family and society. No one can be said to have full human life is he/she has no interactions with other people, or if he/she does not get benefits from other people, or if he/she does not give benefits to others. Life is a relationship, an interaction. Moreover, some people say that women decide to have abortion to deal with her problems in life. However, Serrin Foster of Feminists for Life says that abortion is “a symptom of, not a solution to, the continuing struggles women face in the workplace, at home and in society” (as cited in SPUC, n.d., p. 92). Even when it comes to pregnancy from rape or incest, the child is an innocent being. Thus, a woman cannot have abortion while saying that she wants to have full human life in her own terms. Instead, she is depriving herself of the great privilege of being someone who gives care and life to another being – the baby.
On the basis of discussion presented above, it is possible to say that induced abortion should be made illegal. Life should not be destroyed. Thus, only therapeutic abortion – specifically only when the pregnancy brings greater physical harm upon the mother – should be accepted as a justified form of abortion. For the rest of the various reasons others have, abortion is killing another human being, and this action is selfish and wrong.
Bailey, J. (2011). Abortion. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group.
Butler, J. & Walbert, D. (2011). Abortion, medicine, and the law. Paragon, IN: Fideli Publishing.
Charles, V., Polis, C., Sridhara, S., & Blum, R. (2008). Abortion and long-term mental health outcomes: A systematic review of the evidence. Contraception, 78, 436-450. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2008.07.005
Coleman, P., Coyle, C., Shuping, M., & Rue, V. (2008). Induced abortion and anxiety, mood, and substance abuse disorders: Isolating the effects of abortion in the national co-morbidity survey. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 1-7. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychires.2008.10.009
Edelstein, L. (1943). From the Hippocratic Oath: Text, translation, and interpretation, by Ludwig Edelstein. Baltimore, BAL: Johns Hopkins Press.
Kaczor, C. (2011). The ethics of abortion: Women’s rights, human life, and the question of justice. New York, NY: Routledge.
Look, P., Heggenhougen, H., & Quah, S. (Eds.). (2011). Sexual and reproductive health: A public perspective. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
Naden, C. (2007). Abortion. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish.
Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. (n.d.). Abortion. Retrieved from http://www.spuc.org.uk/education/abortion/exploring.pdf
Terrell, H. (2009). Childhood risk factors for the abortion and alcohol use disorders relationship. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest LLC. (Accession Order No. UMI Microfilm 3357285).
Tong, R. (2007). New perspectives in healthcare ethics: An interdisciplinary and crosscultural approach. New Jersey, NJ: Pearson.