The subject of legal abortion has lead to a nationwide, often emotion-filled, debate that has endured for many years and will for many years to come. People are decidedly either in the ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life’ camp. There are no compromises to be negotiated: one concerned with the life of a child; the other, the freedom of choice and woman’s health. To properly analyze the issue, the opposing viewpoints including the ethical aspects must be argued with equal resolve and without bias. The abortion issue is multi-faceted and both sides of the issue provide credible, thought-provoking arguments. Only the individual can disseminate the information and make their own decision based on what they believe to be right but everyone should know both sides on equal terms to make the decision that is right for them. This paper presents the ‘right-to-life’ opinion regarding the abortion issue then follows with the ‘pro-choice’ argument from an ethical aspect.
Pro-Life Ethical Viewpoint
The right to choose is the foundation upon which this country was built. Those who are pro-abortion trumpet this slogan while proclaiming a woman’s ‘God-given right’ to make her own choices without government interference. This simple ideology is embraced by some but the arguments are flawed when the realities of abortion are examined. Studies have shown that most women are coerced into committing this murderous act of a living human and that there is no such thing as safe abortions as many are led to believe. Pro-abortion proponents generally espouse that the rights of a non-living tissue that feels no pain are non-existent. These untruths have been widely perceived as facts. In addition, the Founding Fathers of this nation intended to shape not only the legal but the moral direction of American society as well when they drafted the Constitution, the document that defines the laws of the nation. If they were alive today, the Founders clearly would be against the killing of innocent victims for reasons of convenience.
There is little freedom of choice for women who are experiencing an unwanted pregnancy. The women themselves usually wish to bring their baby to full term. Other powerful influences in her life such as husbands/boyfriends, parents, and friends are generally the forces that exact pressure on her to terminate the pregnancy. “Eight out of 10 women surveyed after abortion said they would have given birth if they’d had support and encouragement from family and friends” (Reardon, 2002). It’s the abortion that, in many cases, is unwanted by the woman, not the baby. Most often, the father of the child, not wishing to accept responsibility, may beg or even threaten a woman until she agrees to the abortion. “In 95 percent of all cases, the male partner played a central role in the decision” (Zimmerman, 1977). This and other studies have illustrated clearly that most women decide against their conscience.
Legal abortion enables fathers to force their will on mothers. Some women resort to abortion in desperation because they fear continued abuse. That fear is substantiated as women who refuse to abort have been subjected to serious abuses which have escalated to murder if the woman persists in her refusal. Murder is the leading cause of death for pregnant women and for what other motive could there be? “Sixty-four percent of women surveyed report being pressured by others into unwanted abortions” (Reardon, 1992). Immediately following an abortion, the one(s) coercing the decision are relieved and seldom, if ever, give the inconvenient issue another thought. Women, on the other hand, suffer long afterward, racked by overwhelming guilt and agonizing over their irreversible decision. This pain may last a lifetime as they are never able to forgive themselves (Elliot Institute, n.d.).
Another myth espoused as fact is that the aborted fetus is no more than a cluster of cells, a bit of tissue unable to even feel pain. A developing embryo has a unique set of fingerprints as well as different genetic patterns than its mother. It is a human being unto itself. If one defines death as the stoppage of a heartbeat and murder as the forceful and intentional stopping of a heart then abortion is surely murder. If the existence of a heartbeat legally defined life, then almost all abortions would be illegal as the heart is formed by the 18th day in the womb. A British medical journal reported that when a pin is stuck into an eight-week-old fetus, it opens its mouth in a crying motion and pulls its hand away. By week five, eyes, legs, and hands begin to develop. “By week six, brain waves are detectable, mouth and lips are present and fingernails are beginning to form. By the eighth week, the baby can begin to hear. Every organ is in place, bones begin to replace cartilage, and fingerprints begin to form” (National Right to Life Foundation, n.d.).
The Constitution does not directly address the issue but simply because the word ‘abortion’ does not appear, the Constitution is still the origin for legal precedence for this issue. The liberal interpretation of the Constitution in this matter (7-2 in favor) is at the heart of the legal issue. (Pavone 2005). Some argue that if the courts cannot decide when life begins and because the Roe decision has yet to be overturned even though it was not based on solid constitutional reasoning, then Congress, not the courts should decide matters such as this which have weighty moral implications.
The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were written by men who believed in God, men who thought prayer was important, that life was sacred, and that many of our current-day controversial practices, such as homosexuality and abortion, were biblically and morally reprehensible. The reality that a few of our Founding Fathers were deists, rather than theists, does not change the fact that these documents were written by and for a generally theistic people. According to John Adams, “Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” (Beach 1988). Today, however, popular culture has forgotten that our nation was founded, in large part, on Christian principles, and that the Constitution was written for a “moral and religious people.”
We are, of course, free to practice our own religious beliefs, but our present society has become obsessed with the idea of tolerance. Everything is to be tolerated – except Christianity. The life of a human, from the time of conception, should be considered equally as viable as any individual. Consequently, the right of life, as well as the social definition regarding ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ types of deaths, should apply to potential lives which can be described as possessing a future value of life, the same as any living person. Unnatural, premature deaths that are considered justifiable by society include those that occur during wartime in addition to those that result from ‘mercy killings’ and the death penalty. Outside of these instances, society generally acts to protect all life even animals that have at least a chance of future potential. This is demonstrated by the life-saving techniques employed without question or hesitation in the case of people who wanted to end their life.
Society will not allow it because it is simply wrong by any standard to end a life with potential. ‘Pro Choice’ advocates counter this seemingly universal truth by saying just because a person has great potential doesn’t mean that they will achieve greatness in life therefore a potential life is not yet life. They also argue that because a fetus is unconscious disqualifies it for being considered a person. Of course, emergency medical treatment is administered to unconscious people to save their life.
Ethical Considerations of Pro-choice
Laws that force women to carry their pregnancy to term contradict the precepts of the U.S. Constitution as well as any definition of compassion and decency. It is unconscionable that a nation founded on and dedicated to civil liberties could allow its citizens to resort to dangerous self-abortion procedures. However, before the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 which legalized abortion in the U.S., this practice was commonplace. Before abortion was legal, many thousands of young women were mutilated and died attempting to end a pregnancy through the wealthy were able to have illegal abortions safely. The wealthy were able to travel abroad or pay high fees to a local doctor willing to perform the procedure for a price but a poor woman must resort to less safe options. Prohibiting abortions does not and has never stopped them from occurring; it just acts to harm women.
Those opposed to Roe also argue that if the Constitution does not directly address an issue, then Congress, not the courts should decide matters such as this which have weighty moral implications. The Roe decision essentially addressed this question by asserting the government’s concern for the life of the unborn does not outweigh the constitutional rights of the born and thus their decision to allow pregnancy terminations. The Court did draw a line distinguishing what is considered murder of a child. On this issue, those that oppose abortion rights do have legal justification for debate. Viability seems to be an appropriate benchmark because in the early weeks following conception, the fetus is not a conscious being although those of religious conviction argue that it does have a soul. Viability is somewhat scientifically determined while the presence of a soul is not. Therefore, the line can only be drawn at the viability of the unborn as any other method by which to determine when abortions are considered murder is unclear (Dorf, 2003).
Those opposed to abortion claim that the fetus, viable or not, is a living being much the same as a child or adult. Mothers who have had abortions certainly cannot believe she is killing a living child or the practice would be a rare procedure.
Two questions arise when debating whether the Constitution legally protects a woman’s right to have an abortion performed. The first involves reasoning whether the fundamental interests of women are affected by the restricting of abortion. The other inquires if laws preventing legal abortions are justified even if the Constitution does address this issue. Answering the first question is rather simple. Courts regularly hear cases to decide whether or not the rights of an individual are protected by the Constitution. If courts are engaged in recognizing if the fundamental rights of individuals are protected, then the personal interest of a woman being forced by the government to have an unwanted child certainly applies.
Though the constitutionality regarding the Roe decision can be easily argued, it must be acknowledged that since the issue remains intensely controversial more than 30 years after, opponents may be justified in believing the right to an abortion should not be thought of as fundamental. Fundamental rights reprove basic truths in the functioning of a society. Rulings preventing the segregation of the races are now accepted by the public therefore can be viewed as fundamental rights. Abortion rights do not enjoy this universally held view so it is fair to debate the issue even on legal grounds though that is seldom the arena for debate. It is understood, however, that the majority of Americans do agree with the Court’s decision and believe it to be a fundamental right (Dorf, 2003).
Both sides of the abortion issue contain legal, ethical, and social considerations that provoke great emotions as this paper has shown. Those of each opinion must understand the opposing viewpoint if they truly wish to debate the topic rather than simply insist that their viewpoint is correct. Only in this way can the national debate proceed with any hopes of resolution. If both sides understand the issues of the other, the emotional aspect can be lessened and replaced with reasonable conversations. Those opposed to legal abortions are also in the same camp that opposes programs that aid the impoverished and abused children who are the result of unwanted pregnancies. They point to ‘Christian morals’ and ‘family values’ as justification for the loss of liberty, discrimination of the poor, and the increased cases of injured women. The first flaw in the pro-life argument is referring to the zygote, embryo, and fetus as simply the ‘fetus.’ Various valid opinions are espoused as to the exact point where life begins in biological terms, but those of the pro-life opinion dismiss science in their argument and concentrate on the morality of abortion based on the prevailing value of life-giving examples of unrelated life and death situations. They believe that the potential of life growing in a woman is more important than that woman’s right to make decisions regarding her body. They support this by arguing that women are still able to control their bodies to some extent through the use of contraceptive devices. They may have a morally just position but have also disregarded the law of the land in addition to science in the formulation of this opinion. The pro-lifers do not include science or the laws of society in their biased argument against abortive rights. It is based purely on personal moral standards which are viewed by many as questionable. This is supported by the majority opinion that does not consider a fetus, especially one in the early stages of development, to be a person much the same as an acorn is not an oak tree. The majority also do not consider a clump of cells that is indistinguishable from the human form and has yet to develop organs and extremities to be entitled to the same rights to life as the mother
Those who support abortion rights do so based on ethical considerations as do those who are opposed. The ideological divide regarding ethics will never be bridged but the debate whether abortion should be legal or not is a matter for the courts, as are all legal matters. Roe v. Wade was and is a case that brings out emotions on both a moral and legal basis. The Supreme Court’s decision cannot be called a mistake like the critics call it unless those critics are willing to ignore legal procedure and the words of the Constitution itself.
- Beach, W. “Christian Ethics in the Protestant Tradition.” Atlanta: John Knox Press. (1988).
- Dorf, Michael D. “Was Roe v. Wade Rightly Decided? Will it be Overruled?” CNN Law Center. (2003). Web.
- Elliot Institute. (n.d.). “Forced Abortions in America.” After Abortion. Springfield, IL. 2008. Web.
- National Right to Life Foundation. (n.d.). “Fetal Development: From Conception to Birth.” National Right to Life. 2008.
- Pavone, Frank. “Justice Rehnquist’s Dissent.” The Conservative Voice. (2005).
- Reardon, David C. “Aborted Women, Silent No More.” Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, pp. 11-21. (2002).
- Zimmerman, Mary K. “Passage Through Abortion.” New York: Prager Publishers. (1977).