Introduction to the abortion debate
An introduction to the abortion debate, setting out the major questions involved in the matter of terminating a pregnancy.
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The abortion debate deals with the rights and wrongs of deliberately ending a pregnancy before normal childbirth, killing the foetus in the process.
Abortion is a very painful topic for women and men who find themselves facing the moral dilemma of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. It’s one of the most polarising moral issues - most people are on one side or the other, very few are undecided.
The primary questions
The moral debate about abortion deals with two separate questions:
The secondary questions
But those two questions don’t end the debate.
If we conclude that abortion is not morally wrong, that doesn’t mean that it’s right to have an abortion; we need to ask whether having an abortion is the best thing (or least bad thing) to do in each particular case.
If we conclude that abortion is morally wrong, that doesn’t mean that it’s always impermissible to have an abortion; we need to ask whether having an abortion is less wrong than the alternatives.
The two sides
On one side are those who call themselves ‘pro-life’. They say that intentionally caused abortion is always wrong (although it may on very rare occasions be the best thing to do).
On the other side are those who call themselves ‘pro-choice’ or ‘supporters of abortion rights’, and who regard intentional abortion as acceptable in some circumstances.
The silent ‘victim’
People feel particularly strongly about abortion because there is no way of getting any opinion from the foetus - the potential ‘victim’ - about the issue (as there is when considering euthanasia), and because the foetus can easily be portrayed as an entirely innocent and defenceless being.
The non-religious argument about abortion covers several issues, such as:
- what gives a being the right to life?
- is a foetus a human being?
- is a foetus the sort of being that has a right to life?
- is a foetus a separate being from its mother?
- if https://www.the-essays.com/book-report-review has a right to life, does that right take priority over the mother’s right to control her own body?
The problems can be restated in terms of the sort of decisions that pregnant women and their doctors have to face:
- Does the foetus have a right to be carried in the woman’s womb until it’s ready to be born?
- Under what circumstances, if ever, can we take an ‘innocent’ human life?
- Is any other right more important than the right to life - for example, a woman’s right to decide what to do with her own body?
- If the woman’s life is in danger because of the pregnancy, how do we decide whose rights should prevail?
The case against abortion
The most common form of the case for banning abortion goes like this:
- deliberately killing innocent human beings is wrong
- a foetus is an innocent human being
- abortion is the deliberate killing of a foetus
- therefore abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being
- therefore, abortion is wrong
If we follow this argument and accept that a foetus has a right to live, then we face part two of the problem:
- abortion is wrong unless it serves some right of the mother that is as morally important as the foetus’ right to life
- the right to life outweighs another person’s right to control her own body
- therefore abortion is wrong unless it serves some greater right of the mother than the right to control her own body
- the only such right is the mother’s right to live
- therefore abortion is wrong unless it is to save the life of the mother
Beware of the hidden issues
Wrapped up in the ideas above are some issues that need to be dealt with separately.