Philosophy - Abortion Rectitude Essay

There comes a time in the lives of most women when an
ovum, fertilized with sperm, will implant itself into her uterine
wall. This is nature’s first step in its attempt to continue the
human race. Currently, when this implantation occurs, the
impregnated woman has the right to allow the embryo to nourish
itself into existence or to eliminate all chances of that embryo
attaining life through abortion. Every species of plant and
animal on earth reproduce in one way or another. How could
something as ancient and fundamental as reproduction turn into
one of the most hotly contested moral debates in history? The
question can only be answered if we first examine the
intellectual psyche of the human animal.

Since we are currently the most intelligent beings on
earth, we use our critical thinking capabilities to selectively
choose what should be morally acceptable and what should be
deemed unacceptable. To the best of our knowledge, we as humans
are the only species in existence that wrestle with moral
dilemmas. Absolute morality that will be agreed upon by the
majority of a society is extremely difficult to determine since
each individual has the ability to decide for themselves what is
morally acceptable. It is because of this decision that our
American culture intensely debates issues of morality such
as abortion. The debate over abortion pits the rights to
life of an unborn fetus against the rights of rational women
who want to control what happens to their own body. Does
the termination of a pregnancy deprive a human of their right to
life? Should our government be allowed the power to regulate
what a woman can and cannot do with her own body? These are two
of the questions which will be deliberated over throughout the
course of this paper.

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In his article “Abortion and Infanticide”, Michael Tooley
tackles two important questions about abortion. The first is
“what properties must someone have in order to be considered a
person, i.e., to have a serious right to life?” Tooley answers
that anything which completely lacks consciousness, like ordinary
machines, cannot have rights. If a being does not desire
something such as consciousness, it is impossible to deprive that
being of his right to it. In other words, Tooley argues that
since a fetus does not show outward desires to have life, it is
morally permissible to abort that fetus. There are three
exceptions to this rule that need to be clarified. First, if the
being is in a temporary emotionally unbalanced state, such as a
deep depression, he should still be allowed rights to life.

Secondly, if the being is unconscious due to sleep or some sort
of trauma, he should not be deprived of his rights to life.

Finally, if the person has been brainwashed by a religious cult
or any similar institution into wanting death, he should still be
given a right to life.

The second question addressed by Tooley is “at what point
in the development of a member of the species Homo Sapiens
does the organism possess the properties that make it a person?”
The law in America currently implies that the fetus possesses the
properties that make it a person when it reaches the third
trimester or the sixth month of its germination inside the
uterus. Is this a reasonable assessment of when a fetus has a
right to life? Tooley says “No”. An organism does not have a
right to life unless it possesses the concept of a self as a
continuous being of mental states. This definition of possessing
a right to life can be applied to newborn babies that do not yet
have a concept of a self as a continuous being. Therefore, it is
morally acceptable to deprive them of their right to life,
for they don’t show desire for life. According to Tooley,
the fetus does not have a right to life at any time therefore,
the mother of that fetus should have the right to terminate her
pregnancy as she so chooses. Tooley implies that until the fetus
reaches the age of about three weeks outside the uterus, it does
not show signs of wanting life. Only when the child shows signs
of desiring life should the child be given a right to life.

These arguments are controversial to say the least. However,
they contain a rational opinion of when an organism should be
given a right to life.

Mary Anne Warren also examines the morality of abortion
in her article titled “On the Moral and Legal Status of
Abortion”. She attempts to address the question “how are we
to define the moral community, the set of beings with full
and equal moral rights, such that we can decide whether a
human fetus is a member of this community or not?” To
accomplish this definition, Warren lists five major criteria
she believes are most central to the concept of personhood.

They are:
1. consciousness so that the being is capable of feeling
2. reasoning in order to solve relatively complex
3. self-motivated activity independent of genetic or
external control
4. the capacity to communicate
5. the presence of self-awareness
These criteria could be used to decide whether or not an alien
person from another realm of existence should be considered a
person, and therefore given human rights. However, a being does
not need to hold all five of these attributes in order to be
considered a human being. Warren says possessing only criterion
(1) and (2) would be sufficient for personhood. If these
criteria are acceptable requirements for a being to be considered
human, then a fetus is definitely not human since it possesses
none of these characteristics. Warren says the one exception to
an entity being given human status even though they do not meet
the above five criterion is someone whose “consciousness has
been obliterated”, through trauma, stroke, etc… Warren
classifies such a being as a defective human, not a person.

These people may gain consciousness again so their right to
life should not be taken away.

Richard Werner argues for the fetuses right to life in
his article titled “Abortion: The Ontological and Moral Status
of the Unborn”. He uses the continuum argument that states
“if you and I are human beings, then there is every reason
to believe and no good reason to deny that the unborn are
also human beings.” Werner believes that one is a human being
from the moment of conception onward and that all previously
proposed cut-off points for determining when one is a human are
unacceptable. Werner says these “cut-off” points are
unacceptable because there is no clear line that can be drawn in
the human’s development from conception to adulthood that can be
used to ‘say a being does not have a right to life before that
point.’ According to Werner, since there is this hazy period in
the embryological development of a fetus where it gradually
becomes a human, the fetus should be considered a human from the
moment of conception onward. Since the fetus will eventually
reach humanhood if it is allowed sufficient time to develop, it
should not be denied its opportunity for life.

To strengthen his position, Werner uses the comparison of
an acorn to a fetus. He states that “admittedly an acorn is
not an oak, nor is an ovum or sperm cell a human, but an acorn
germinating in the soil is indeed an oak and so is the
impregnated ovum a human.” He uses this comparison to illustrate
when he believes life begins, both for an oak tree and a human
being. After the sperm and egg unite, a human is formed, just as
an oak tree is formed as soon as the acorn begins to germinate.

This analogy poses a difficult problem for the intelligent
critic. The acorn did not require any thought or planning to
fall onto the ground and begin germination. Ideally (not
always), when a woman has unprotected intercourse, she is aware
that she may be planting a seed in her uterus which might turn
into a fetus. The woman has the choice to not get pregnant
through abstinence whereas the acorn lacks all abilities to make
a decision about whether or not to germinate. Because of this
fact, the woman should be held responsible for her actions, nor
should she be compared to an acorn.

In the essay titled “A Defense of Abortion”, Judith
Jarvis Thomson uses her violinist argument to show why abortion
should be legal. The argument follows: you wake up one morning
and find yourself hooked up intravenously to a famous violinist
who is unconscious. You discover the violinist has a fatal
kidney ailment and your blood type and kidneys alone are the only
things that can save his life. If you choose to unplug yourself
from the violinist, he will most certainly die. You were
connected to this person against your will and had you known this
was going to happen, you would have never given consent. If you
choose to stay hooked to the violinist, he will recover form his
ailment in nine months and then go on to live a healthy and
productive life. The question of “does this person’s right
to life supersede your right to decide what happens to your
own body” comes into play at this point. Thomson equates
choosing to unattach yourself from the violinist to deciding
to have an abortion. She then goes on to state that your actions
would most certainly be justified if you chose to disconnect
yourself. According to Thomson, regardless of the fact that the
violinist will die if you unplug yourself, your right to decide
what happens to your own body outweighs his rights to life.

There are a few problems that arise when Thomson’s
argument is closely examined. First of all, the fetus is never
older than its mother whereas the violinist may be. The “right
to life abortionists” focus on the premise that you are taking
the life of a child who has its whole life ahead of it. The
violinist may have already lived a fulfilling life. Secondly,
the woman was involuntarily hooked to the violinist whereas (in
this example) a pregnant woman generally gets pregnant because
she chooses to do so. The pregnant woman does not directly give
the fetus permission to implant itself in her uterine wall
however, she does give it the means necessary to attach itself.

If this premise is followed, the pregnant woman chose to
impregnate herself, voluntarily. There are exceptions to this
premise such as, rape or molestation, which may result in
pregnancy that require special attention. However, for the sake
of brevity, the ideal case where the woman chooses to have
intercourse in order to give a fetus the necessary means to
implant itself will be followed for this argument. Finally, the
violinist is not the woman’s child whereas the fetus is. A
woman has no biological ties to the famous violinist. Half of her
fetuses genetic makeup comes from her chromosomes. This
biological link can be a strong bond for the mother to her fetus.

The woman connected to the violinist has no personal ties to this
person therefore, she may feel no obligation to sacrifice part of
her own life in order to save a strangers.

When the issue of contraceptives is brought up, a whole
new argument arises. For instance, most devout anti-abortionists
agree that the use of the birth control pill is an acceptable
form of contraception. These people are ignorant hypocrites.

They are either unaware of the fact that the pill works by not
allowing the fertilized egg to implant into the uterine wall or
else they just choose to ignore it. Therefore, every time a
woman has intercourse while she is on the pill, there is a chance
she may be causing the death of a ‘child”. If the right-winged
anti-abortionists were educated in the physiology of the birth
control pill, they would have to declare its use immoral. The
I.U.D. is a birth control method comparable to the pill. It is a
small, Y-shaped piece of plastic that is inserted into the
uterus. Whenever a fertilized egg attempts to attach itself to
the nutrient-rich uterine wall, the harsh plastic of the I.U.D.

scrapes it off. This method also ends a potential life but you
don’t hear the anti-abortion extremists protesting its use.

Woman who use the I.U.D., could be convicted of mass murder if
the Supreme Court were to outlaw abortion. If “right-to-lifers
are to be consistent in their beliefs, people who strongly
believe in a fetuses right to life should only use birth control
methods which do not allow implantation of the embryo. The
include the male/female condom, diaphragm with foam, the rhythm
method, or abstinence. These types of child prevention are not
supposed to allow sperm and egg to unite. Other forms of birth
control actually end the germination process of an embryo which
should be labeled morally unacceptable by anti-abortionists if
they are not to be declared hypocrites.

A justification for the woman’s right to have an abortion
comes from the potentiality argument. The argument goes: “Jon
once was a fetus. Now Jon is a human. It does not follow from
this that Jon is now a fetus.” Jon will never again be a fetus
therefore, human rights given to Jon should not be given to the
fetus simply because Jon was once a fetus and is now a human. If
fetuses were to be given human rights simply because they will
one day be a human then we as logical beings would have to alter
our entire way of thinking. We could never drop a piece of
fabric, for it may one day be sewn into an American flag. We
must not scratch a piece of metal, for it may one day be the
fender of a Rolls Royce. The list could go on and on and as it
did, it would get more and more ridiculous. The fact that the
fetus will one day be a human should not be given consideration
when debating abortion because of the potentiality argument.

Abortion is an issue that the majority of Americans have
a definite opinion about. It can usually be broken down into
religious groups. Those who believe strongly in “the word of
God” are the ones who admonish abortion and all who practice it.

Some of these extremists would deny a woman the chance for an
abortion even in the case where she has been impregnated because
of a rape or incest. They site one of the Ten Commandments which
states “Thou shalt not kill” as their guiding light. This is
ironic since these very people have been known to murder Doctors
who perform abortions. Most anti-abortionists are not so
drastic. They would allow abortions to be legal under certain
circumstances such as pregnancies that occurred because of rape,
molestation, or incest. Are these moderates being hypocritical
by taking this view? Regardless of who the father is or how the
mother got pregnant, half the genetic make-up of the child still
belongs to her. If you are going to take an anti-abortion
stance, you should not allow these victimized women to have an
abortion. On the other hand, people who support the woman’s
right to choose whether or not to have an abortion are typically
liberals who don’t affiliate strongly with any one religion.

They generally don’t deny that a potential human is being
destroyed when an abortion takes place. However, they believe
the life and desires of the already living woman outweigh any
rights the fetus may have.

Since I am an Epicureanist, I believe each woman should
be given the means by which they can get a safe, legal abortion
if they so choose. Whatever promotes the greatest amount of
happiness for the greatest number of already living woman should
be promoted by the government. The State should not place
restrictions on the woman’s right to govern what she does with
her own body. Women who are desperate enough to seek out an
abortion are not going to abandon the idea simply because the
government has declared it illegal. They will search out back
alley abortions which would be unsanitary, dangerous, and
possibly lethal. The health of women cannot be put in jeopardy
simply because a few bureaucrats have a moral dilemma with
abortion. Because having an abortion is legal, does not mean
anyone is forced into aborting their fetus. If you choose to
carry your child to term, more power to you. However, don’t
enforce your morality onto others. Allow people the right to be
individuals and establish their own morality. If the government
were to step in and attempt to regulate morality in this case, it
could create an avalanche of laws concerning moral issues. This
country is based on the premise of freedom, let’s keep it that


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