Abortion refers to the termination of a pregnancy resulting in the removal of fetus, and has been legalized in all the fifty states by the Supreme Court of America in 1973, for medical or social reasons (Roe v. Wade, 1973 and Doe v. Bolton, 1973). Whether morally accepted or not, abortion today is a large part of society and provides an alternative and a choice to women whether they want to have a baby or not. The reasons may be numerous, ranging from personal to societal to medical. It is the responsibility of couples or partners to ascertain that appropriate contraceptive measures are taken in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
However, in some cases of rape or incest, this is not possible, and abortion seems the only practical option to avoid further complications related to health and society. This paper aims to discuss the unethical and immoral act of abortion and highlights the disadvantages of abortion. The paper also aims to address the crucial aspect of ill effects of abortion on the health of women and females undergoing it.
The occurrence and debate regarding the morality or immorality of abortion, is a historically ancient subject, and women have been involved in the practice of abortion since times immemorial (Devereux, G., 1955). Today, abortion is performed at the hands of qualified professionals, but in early days it was not so. Horrible and primitive methods were used to terminate pregnancies, and these methods varied from society to society and culture to culture. According to Devereux George (1955), there is evidence to prove that more than three hundred currently existing societies, practice abortion in non-industrial settings.
Research indicates that women have been following the practice of abortion in primitive times and societies, with inhumane methods that could prove fatal to their lives. Women of the Yanomami tribe of the Amazon would jump on the stomach of a pregnant woman to abort the child (Early and Peters, 1990). Shepherd (1995) elucidates a method used by the Surayas of Taiwan sometime in the 17th century, where abortion was carried out by powerful massages of the stomach with special force applied to the uterine region.
Potts et al. (1977) also confirm that abortions have been carried out either by the women themselves or other women, since ages. Abortions have been the topic of regular debate in societies, especially the current modern ones, with respect to the right of the fetus to live. Opponents of abortion state many religious, moral and ethical reasons for banning the practice of abortion. Opponents of abortion argue that by the time the mother realizes she is pregnant, the fetus’s heart has already begun to beat, and as such, abortion is the destruction of a living child (Moore K., 1988). They state that the practice of abortion is like murdering a living entity, who is in no position to defend itself.
Opponents also debate regarding the negative effects of abortion on the body of a woman (Martin D., 1993). The harmful effects that abortion has on the health of a woman, physically and in some cases psychologically are a matter of great concern to them. They state that the pain and suffering that women undergo during an abortion is highly intense and is very similar to a fracture of a bone or even the pain experienced when one is afflicted with cancer (Wells N., 1991; Belanger, Melzak & Lauzon, 1989). Women do not know about this pain until they experience it, and are very often not informed by the performing doctors regarding this aspect.
Apart from this, there is the possibility of several complications including hemorrhage, disturbances in the menstrual cycle and in some cases increased risks of future miscarriages and even breast cancer (Janet Daling, et al, 1994). In cases where abortions have been carried out, there have been cases of miscarriages and delay or failure in conceiving.
Abortion is believed to put the mother at risk not only when she is undergoing the abortion but also in the future when she may want to have a baby, and as a result of her previous abortion and complications, may not be able to do so or which will result in potential risks to her pregnancies, later in life (Hern 1982; Hogue, Cates, and Tietze 1982).
From an ethical perspective, abortion has been termed immoral and unethical due to the fact that the fetus is being deprived of the right to life (Marquis 1989). Marquis bases his argument on the premise that the ‘valuable future’ 1of the fetus, which is a victim, like any other human. Marquis (1989) bases his argument on the premise that killing a normal human is wrong because it causes severe harm to the victim and in case of death, deprives the individual of the future which is in store (Pg. 190) which is comprised of all the precious “experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments” which the individual would have experienced in the future.
As such, killing anything which has a future ahead would be extremely harmful and seriously wrong2 (Marquis 1989, pg. 190). Adhering to this premise, an embryo is a potential living being with a vluable future ahead which is why Marquis condemns the act of abortion stating that “the overwhelming majority of deliberate abortions are seriously immoral” and is equivalent to the immoral act of “killing an innocent adult human being” (Marquis 1989, pg. 190).
The primary basis of the ethical and philosophical aspects of the morality of abortion is deontological3 (Olson, 1967). Immanuel Kant, (1964) one of the noted philosophers famous for his deontological theory of ethics asserts that in order for individuals to act in the moral and ethical ways, it is essential for people to act in accordance with their duties. He also asserts that it is not the consequences of any action which gives it the virtue of right or wrong, rather the motives of the individual who is engaged in such actions.
According to the deontological premise, abortion is considered to be unethical and illegal due to the moral dilemmas surrounding it. The fact that the fetus is a human organism and has a moral right just like a human being confirms the act of abortion as an unethical one. Stimulated abortion would then mean that the embryo has been killed and its rights have been violated and as such the law should prohibit such unjust actions such as the taking away of life.
Applying the concept of ‘utilitarianism’4 to the debate over abortion raises the crucial concept of whether abortion can be justified due to the constraints of work, financial stress or other issues pertaining to family and society. Accepting these constraints, the utilitarianism challenges the traditional views of abortion being an evil and immoral act and supports abortion as being a pro-choice situation which according to Mill is based on the sovereignty of an individual so that there is complete control of an individual “over himself, over his own body and mind”. Nevertheless, this concept of the right to choose and make personal judgments and choices is rejected in classical utilitarianism.
The debate revolving around the moral involved with abortion may continue even as societies and nations legalize the act. However, abortion remains an unethical and immoral act and no human being or individual has the right to take the life of an innocent fetus, which has not even seen the light of the day in the world. Each and every human has the right to live and the fetus is the very beginning of that life in his world. As such, abortion must be banned and made illegal so that the practice of abortion does not kill anymore innocent lives before they take birth. To avoid pregnancies, women must consider safer options such as contraceptive measures to control unwanted pregnancies, rather than indulge in the cruel practice of abortion.
Belanger E., Melzak R., & Lauzon P., 1989, “Pain of first-trimester abortion: a study of psychosocial and medical predictors,” Pain, Vol. 36.
Daling J., et al, 1994, “Risk of Breast Cancer Among Young Women: Relationship to Induced Abortion,” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Vol. 86, No. 21.
Danforth D., 1986, Obstetrics and Gynecology, 5th ed. Philadelphia: J.B. Lipincott. Devereux G., 1955. A Study of Abortion in Primitive Society. New York: Julian Press. Early D., & Peters, J. F., 1990. The Population Dynamics of the Mucajai Yanomama. San Diego: Academic Press.
Hern M., 1982. “Long-term Risks of Induced Abortion.” In Gynecology and Obstetrics, ed. J. J. Sciarra.
Hogue R., Cates W. & Tietze C., 1982. “The Effects of Induced abortion on Subsequent Reproduction.” Epidemiologic Reviews 4:66.
Kant, Immanuel (1964). Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Harper and Row Publishers, Inc.
Marquis, Don (1989). “Why Abortion is Immoral”. The Journal of Philosophy 86 (4): 183–202.
Martin Haskell. Dilation and Extraction for Late Second Trimester Abortion: In “Second Trimester Abortion: From Every Angle,” Fall Risk Management Seminar, September 13-14, 1992, Dallas, Texas, National Abortion Federation.
Mill, John Stuart. ‘On Liberty’, ed. Himmelfarb. Penguin Classics, 1974.
Moore K., 1988, ‘The Developing Human,’ 4th ed., Philadelphia, W.B. Saunders Co.
Olson, Robert G. 1967. ‘Deontological Ethics’. In Paul Edwards (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Collier Macmillan: 343. ‘Deontological Ethics’. In Paul Edwards (ed.) The Encyclopedia of Philosophy. London: Collier Macmillan: 343.
Potts M., Diggory P., & Peel J., 1977. Abortion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S.; 113, 163-164 (1973) and Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 191-192 (1973).
Shepherd R., 1995. Marriage and Mandatory Abortion Among the 17th Century Suraya. Arlington, VA: American
Schulz K., Grimes D., Cates W., Jr., 1983, “Measures to Prevent Cervical Injury During Suction Curettage Abortion,” The Lancet.
- Marquis argues that killing a fetus is like killing an adult human with a potential future of desirable experiences, activities, enjoyments and projects (Marquis 1989: 189-190).
- The type of wrongness appealed to here is presumptive or prima facie wrongness which may be overridden in exceptional circumstances.
- Deontological ethics focus on the rightness or wrongness of intentions through the motives behind such actions, and not the consequences of those actions.
- Utilitarianism is the notion that the moral worth of any action is determined by its outcome: that is, the end justify the means.