There comes a time in the lives of most women when anovum, fertilized with sperm, will implant itself into her uterinewall.
This is nature’s first step in its attempt to continue thehuman race. Currently, when this implantation occurs, theimpregnated woman has the right to allow the embryo to nourishitself into existence or to eliminate all chances of that embryoattaining life through abortion. Every species of plant andanimal on earth reproduce in one way or another. How couldsomething as ancient and fundamental as reproduction turn intoone of the most hotly contested moral debates in history? Thequestion can only be answered if we first examine theintellectual psyche of the human animal.
Since we are currently the most intelligent beings onearth, we use our critical thinking capabilities to selectivelychoose what should be morally acceptable and what should bedeemed unacceptable. To the best of our knowledge, we as humansare the only species in existence that wrestle with moraldilemmas. Absolute morality that will be agreed upon by themajority of a society is extremely difficult to determine sinceeach individual has the ability to decide for themselves what ismorally acceptable. It is because of this decision that ourAmerican culture intensely debates issues of morality suchas abortion. The debate over abortion pits the rights tolife of an unborn fetus against the rights of rational womenwho want to control what happens to their own body. Doesthe termination of a pregnancy deprive a human of their right tolife? Should our government be allowed the power to regulatewhat a woman can and cannot do with her own body? These are twoof the questions which will be deliberated over throughout thecourse of this paper.
In his article “Abortion and Infanticide”, Michael Tooleytackles two important questions about abortion. The first is”what properties must someone have in order to be considered aperson, i. e. , to have a serious right to life?” Tooley answersthat anything which completely lacks consciousness, like ordinarymachines, cannot have rights. If a being does not desiresomething such as consciousness, it is impossible to deprive thatbeing of his right to it. In other words, Tooley argues thatsince a fetus does not show outward desires to have life, it ismorally permissible to abort that fetus.
There are threeexceptions to this rule that need to be clarified. First, if thebeing is in a temporary emotionally unbalanced state, such as adeep depression, he should still be allowed rights to life. Secondly, if the being is unconscious due to sleep or some sortof trauma, he should not be deprived of his rights to life. Finally, if the person has been brainwashed by a religious cultor any similar institution into wanting death, he should still begiven a right to life.
The second question addressed by Tooley is “at what pointin the development of a member of the species Homo Sapiensdoes the organism possess the properties that make it a person?”The law in America currently implies that the fetus possesses theproperties that make it a person when it reaches the thirdtrimester or the sixth month of its germination inside theuterus. Is this a reasonable assessment of when a fetus has aright to life? Tooley says “No”. An organism does not have aright to life unless it possesses the concept of a self as acontinuous being of mental states. This definition of possessinga right to life can be applied to newborn babies that do not yethave a concept of a self as a continuous being. Therefore, it ismorally 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 herpregnancy as she so chooses.
Tooley implies that until the fetusreaches the age of about three weeks outside the uterus, it doesnot show signs of wanting life. Only when the child shows signsof 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 begiven a right to life.
Mary Anne Warren also examines the morality of abortionin her article titled “On the Moral and Legal Status ofAbortion”. She attempts to address the question “how are weto define the moral community, the set of beings with fulland equal moral rights, such that we can decide whether ahuman fetus is a member of this community or not?” Toaccomplish this definition, Warren lists five major criteriashe believes are most central to the concept of personhood. They are:1. consciousness so that the being is capable of feelingpain2. reasoning in order to solve relatively complexproblems3. self-motivated activity independent of genetic orexternal control4.
the capacity to communicate5. the presence of self-awarenessThese criteria could be used to decide whether or not an alienperson from another realm of existence should be considered aperson, and therefore given human rights. However, a being doesnot need to hold all five of these attributes in order to beconsidered a human being. Warren says possessing only criterion(1) and (2) would be sufficient for personhood. If thesecriteria are acceptable requirements for a being to be consideredhuman, then a fetus is definitely not human since it possessesnone of these characteristics. Warren says the one exception toan entity being given human status even though they do not meetthe above five criterion is someone whose “consciousness hasbeen obliterated”, through trauma, stroke, etc.
. . Warrenclassifies such a being as a defective human, not a person. These people may gain consciousness again so their right tolife should not be taken away. Richard Werner argues for the fetuses right to life inhis article titled “Abortion: The Ontological and Moral Statusof the Unborn”. He uses the continuum argument that states”if you and I are human beings, then there is every reasonto believe and no good reason to deny that the unborn arealso human beings.
” Werner believes that one is a human beingfrom the moment of conception onward and that all previouslyproposed cut-off points for determining when one is a human areunacceptable. Werner says these “cut-off” points areunacceptable because there is no clear line that can be drawn inthe human’s development from conception to adulthood that can beused to ‘say a being does not have a right to life before thatpoint. ‘ According to Werner, since there is this hazy period inthe embryological development of a fetus where it graduallybecomes a human, the fetus should be considered a human from themoment of conception onward. Since the fetus will eventuallyreach humanhood if it is allowed sufficient time to develop, itshould not be denied its opportunity for life.
To strengthen his position, Werner uses the comparison ofan acorn to a fetus. He states that “admittedly an acorn isnot an oak, nor is an ovum or sperm cell a human, but an acorngerminating in the soil is indeed an oak and so is theimpregnated ovum a human. ” He uses this comparison to illustratewhen he believes life begins, both for an oak tree and a humanbeing. After the sperm and egg unite, a human is formed, just asan oak tree is formed as soon as the acorn begins to germinate.
This analogy poses a difficult problem for the intelligentcritic. The acorn did not require any thought or planning tofall onto the ground and begin germination. Ideally (notalways), when a woman has unprotected intercourse, she is awarethat she may be planting a seed in her uterus which might turninto a fetus. The woman has the choice to not get pregnantthrough abstinence whereas the acorn lacks all abilities to makea decision about whether or not to germinate.
Because of thisfact, the woman should be held responsible for her actions, norshould she be compared to an acorn. In the essay titled “A Defense of Abortion”, JudithJarvis Thomson uses her violinist argument to show why abortionshould be legal. The argument follows: you wake up one morningand find yourself hooked up intravenously to a famous violinistwho is unconscious. You discover the violinist has a fatalkidney ailment and your blood type and kidneys alone are the onlythings that can save his life. If you choose to unplug yourselffrom the violinist, he will most certainly die. You wereconnected to this person against your will and had you known thiswas going to happen, you would have never given consent.
If youchoose to stay hooked to the violinist, he will recover form hisailment in nine months and then go on to live a healthy andproductive life. The question of “does this person’s rightto life supersede your right to decide what happens to yourown body” comes into play at this point. Thomson equateschoosing to unattach yourself from the violinist to decidingto have an abortion. She then goes on to state that your actionswould most certainly be justified if you chose to disconnectyourself. According to Thomson, regardless of the fact that theviolinist will die if you unplug yourself, your right to decidewhat happens to your own body outweighs his rights to life. There are a few problems that arise when Thomson’sargument is closely examined.
First of all, the fetus is neverolder than its mother whereas the violinist may be. The “rightto life abortionists” focus on the premise that you are takingthe life of a child who has its whole life ahead of it. Theviolinist may have already lived a fulfilling life. Secondly,the woman was involuntarily hooked to the violinist whereas (inthis example) a pregnant woman generally gets pregnant becauseshe chooses to do so. The pregnant woman does not directly givethe fetus permission to implant itself in her uterine wallhowever, she does give it the means necessary to attach itself. If this premise is followed, the pregnant woman chose toimpregnate herself, voluntarily.
There are exceptions to thispremise such as, rape or molestation, which may result inpregnancy that require special attention. However, for the sakeof brevity, the ideal case where the woman chooses to haveintercourse in order to give a fetus the necessary means toimplant itself will be followed for this argument. Finally, theviolinist is not the woman’s child whereas the fetus is. Awoman has no biological ties to the famous violinist. Half of herfetuses genetic makeup comes from her chromosomes. Thisbiological link can be a strong bond for the mother to her fetus.
The woman connected to the violinist has no personal ties to thisperson therefore, she may feel no obligation to sacrifice part ofher own life in order to save a strangers. When the issue of contraceptives is brought up, a wholenew argument arises. For instance, most devout anti-abortionistsagree that the use of the birth control pill is an acceptableform of contraception. These people are ignorant hypocrites. They are either unaware of the fact that the pill works by notallowing the fertilized egg to implant into the uterine wall orelse they just choose to ignore it. Therefore, every time awoman has intercourse while she is on the pill, there is a chanceshe may be causing the death of a ‘child”.
If the right-wingedanti-abortionists were educated in the physiology of the birthcontrol pill, they would have to declare its use immoral. TheI. U. D.
is a birth control method comparable to the pill. It is asmall, Y-shaped piece of plastic that is inserted into theuterus. Whenever a fertilized egg attempts to attach itself tothe nutrient-rich uterine wall, the harsh plastic of the I. U. D. scrapes it off.
This method also ends a potential life but youdon’t hear the anti-abortion extremists protesting its use. Woman who use the I. U. D. , could be convicted of mass murder ifthe Supreme Court were to outlaw abortion. If “right-to-lifersare to be consistent in their beliefs, people who stronglybelieve in a fetuses right to life should only use birth controlmethods which do not allow implantation of the embryo.
Theinclude the male/female condom, diaphragm with foam, the rhythmmethod, or abstinence. These types of child prevention are notsupposed to allow sperm and egg to unite. Other forms of birthcontrol actually end the germination process of an embryo whichshould be labeled morally unacceptable by anti-abortionists ifthey are not to be declared hypocrites. A justification for the woman’s right to have an abortioncomes from the potentiality argument. The argument goes: “Jononce was a fetus.
Now Jon is a human. It does not follow fromthis that Jon is now a fetus. ” Jon will never again be a fetustherefore, human rights given to Jon should not be given to thefetus simply because Jon was once a fetus and is now a human. Iffetuses were to be given human rights simply because they willone day be a human then we as logical beings would have to alterour entire way of thinking.
We could never drop a piece offabric, for it may one day be sewn into an American flag. Wemust not scratch a piece of metal, for it may one day be thefender of a Rolls Royce. The list could go on and on and as itdid, it would get more and more ridiculous. The fact that thefetus will one day be a human should not be given considerationwhen debating abortion because of the potentiality argument.
Abortion is an issue that the majority of Americans havea definite opinion about. It can usually be broken down intoreligious groups. Those who believe strongly in “the word ofGod” are the ones who admonish abortion and all who practice it. Some of these extremists would deny a woman the chance for anabortion even in the case where she has been impregnated becauseof a rape or incest. They site one of the Ten Commandments whichstates “Thou shalt not kill” as their guiding light. This isironic since these very people have been known to murder Doctorswho perform abortions.
Most anti-abortionists are not sodrastic. They would allow abortions to be legal under certaincircumstances such as pregnancies that occurred because of rape,molestation, or incest. Are these moderates being hypocriticalby taking this view? Regardless of who the father is or how themother got pregnant, half the genetic make-up of the child stillbelongs to her. If you are going to take an anti-abortionstance, you should not allow these victimized women to have anabortion.
On the other hand, people who support the woman’sright to choose whether or not to have an abortion are typicallyliberals who don’t affiliate strongly with any one religion. They generally don’t deny that a potential human is beingdestroyed when an abortion takes place. However, they believethe life and desires of the already living woman outweigh anyrights the fetus may have. Since I am an Epicureanist, I believe each woman shouldbe given the means by which they can get a safe, legal abortionif they so choose. Whatever promotes the greatest amount ofhappiness for the greatest number of already living woman shouldbe promoted by the government. The State should not placerestrictions on the woman’s right to govern what she does withher own body.
Women who are desperate enough to seek out anabortion are not going to abandon the idea simply because thegovernment has declared it illegal. They will search out backalley abortions which would be unsanitary, dangerous, andpossibly lethal. The health of women cannot be put in jeopardysimply because a few bureaucrats have a moral dilemma withabortion. Because having an abortion is legal, does not meananyone is forced into aborting their fetus. If you choose tocarry your child to term, more power to you. However, don’tenforce your morality onto others.
Allow people the right to beindividuals and establish their own morality. If the governmentwere to step in and attempt to regulate morality in this case, itcould create an avalanche of laws concerning moral issues. Thiscountry is based on the premise of freedom, let’s keep it thatway.