Is Abortion Ever Justfied? Essay

This essay has a total of 2420 words and 9 pages.

Is Abortion Ever Justfied?

Is abortion ever justified? If not, why? If it depends, then on what?

It is not unreasonable to suggest that the vast majority of people consider it morally
wrong to kill other persons. There may be examples of situations where the killing of a
person may be justifiable, although they are by no means universally consented to, such as
killing in self defence or as a form of capital punishment, but taken in isolation it is
generally accepted that to kill is wrong. Therefore in the debate between pro and anti
abortionists must centre around two essential questions: whether a foetus is a person, and
if so when a foetus becomes a person; and whether abortion can be said to be self defence.


Possibly the deepest dilemma for an anti abortionist concerns the stage at which a foetus
can be said to be alive, in the sense in which we would refer to a child after it is born.
It seems absurd to think that in the relatively short time which the birth takes, the
baby's status will be so radically altered yet an almost mystical store is set by birth as
for the first time we can distinguish a distinct personality, and directly interact with
the infant . However, it is a largely unfounded significance in ethical terms as birth is
often governed by contingent factors and the time of birth can be manipulated. Also to be
considered is the fact that if the baby is ready to emerge from the womb, then surely it
possesses enough properties for us to consider it in some sense a person. For example, if
not than an eight month old foetus would not have the same claim to personhood as a
two-month-old baby born prematurely at six months even though they are of similar
developmental stages. Thus other stages of pregnancy are more commonly cited as the point
in which personhood begins. John Grigg adopts the stance that there is a life that comes
into existence as soon as conception occurs:


"To my mind life begins at the moment of conception… Conception is the magic moment."
(John Grigg, in the Guardian, 29 October 1973)

This view may be problematic if we consider that life does not necessarily imply
personhood. We may claim that the foetus is a human being but this merely implies that it
is a member of our species, and not that of another. Yet it is at least true to say that a
foetus, even in the earliest stages of pregnancy has the potential to be a person. This is
slightly different to saying that a foetus is a human being, merely a member of our
species, and asserting that due to this it has a right to life. When we talk about a
foetus' potential to become a person we talk very much in the same way as we do about the
mixing of a cake. As Jonathan Glover puts it, "it is equally a pity if the ingredients
were thrown away before being mixed or afterwards". However, what if we consider the case
in which not all the important ingredients to a person are present; for example
anencephalic babies could be argued as missing the ingredient that binds all the others,
for personality must surely be essential to personhood. Do these foetuses have a right to
life, or rather the right not to be killed? Without relying on religious arguments
concerning the sanctity of human life, there is relatively little argument for according
these foetuses with the rights of persons, as there seems little to distinguish them,
aside from the sentimental significance they may hold for existing persons, from other
animals with no hope of achieving a qualitative life experience. However, these cases are
rare and when the quality of life a foetus can expect is introduced it is accompanied by
issues concerning whether one person, or persons, can make any judgement about the quality
of another's life experience. It also raises important questions concerning the problem of
where to draw the line between a quality worth having and a quality that is not worth
having, when does disability become unbearable and how and who should make the decision?


However, even in the case of a foetus that could be argued as possessing all the correct
genetic material that could produce a healthy person, conception is a poor point to
identify as the point personhood, or potential personhood begins. This is due to the fact
that during the first fourteen days after conception it is quite common for a zygote to
split to form twins, and sometimes for the monozygotic twins to rejoin after a split. This
raises many issues of identity, as the changes could result in entirely different
potential persons. This objection can be overcome with a redefinition of the term
"conception", veering away from traditional biological understandings of the word, and
restating it as the point at which at least one person emerges. Despite this, conception
as the beginning of personhood can still be rejected:


"A fertilised egg is so different from anything we normally recognise as a person. It is
said that such an egg is no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree."

(Jonathan Glover - Causing death and saving lives)

To use the term "person" in this context is surely only a morally motivated piece of
conceptual revision. In other words, ordinarily we would not refer to an embryo as a
person, and those who do are only using it as they already believe that the thing should
not be aborted. All these problems suggest that conception is in fact not the time at
which personhood is acquired.


Therefore, it seems that there must be a point sometime between conception and birth when
the foetus attains personhood, or at least the right not to be killed. Presently, it is
illegal for a foetus to be aborted after it has reached the age of twenty-four weeks; this
is because it has apparently reached viability and for the first time could survive
independently of the mother. Glover argues at this point that the implication that a
person must be physically independent has difficulties when we consider that a person
towards the end of their natural life may not be physically independent and yet we would
think of them as a person. Apart from the intuitive truth this example holds, as we will
see it is also important to think of some persons as being physically dependant for the
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