Abortion Essay

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The term 'abortion' is used to denote a practice of purposeful pregnancy termination to ensure a child isn't born. This social issue revolves around the aspect of personhood. Almost everybody is of the view that every individual has his/her own unique moral status; hence, depriving any individual of his/her life, except in some extreme situations, is a grave sin. A pro-lifer contends that this principle is applicable to abortion as well, since a fetus is, in essence, a person (thus the word "pro-life"). Meanwhile, a majority of pro-choicers contend that it is only at an advanced developmental stage (i.e., during birth or shortly before it) that a fetus may be identified as a person. The chief, hotly-contested issue with regard to this subject -- fetuses' moral status -- has remained the same since the passing of the 1967 Abortion Act in the UK.

Arguments for Abortion

Ethical theorist, Judith J. Thomson's 1971 publication, A Defense of Abortion, states that abortion may be considered ethically tolerable even if one accepts the argument that several months before delivery, the fetus is already an 'individual', as a person's right to live is actually a right to not have his/her life "UNJUSTLY" taken and not simply a right not to have his/her life taken. Consequently, any mother who resolves to terminate her unborn baby's life justly has not violated the baby's right to live.

The major part of Thomson's work serves to outline a few scenarios wherein an individual may be justly taking a life. One scenario would be that of music fans attaching an individual's circulatory system with an unconscious musician's system for saving his life. While the former individual had not given permission to carry this out, he is now told that if the musician is unplugged, he would die. He is pleaded with to continue to stay attached and, hence, nearly disabled, for a whole nine months.
According to Thomson, the individual would be performing an extremely kind deed indeed if he agreed to remain connected to the unconscious patient; however, he wouldn't be morally obliged to do so.

Building on Thompson

Thomson's assumption, for argument's sake, is that, right from the start, the unborn fetus is an individual. Subsequently, the theorist attempts to prove that despite its right to live, abortion is an ethically tolerable practice.

The argument against abortion may be described as follows:

(1) Every fetus is an individual.

(2) Every individual must enjoy the right to live.

(3) Hence, every fetus must enjoy the right to live.

(4) Thus, abortion is morally incorrect.

Thomson begins with the assumption that the first two statements are valid. She, however, feels it isn't a strong point to begin with, for pro-lifers. For instance, consider the most widely cited rationale. As a person's growth from conception to delivery to childhood is a continuous process, one may allow that right from the start, the unborn baby is an individual. From this point on, the argument may proceed thus: Every individual must enjoy the right to live. Hence, every fetus must enjoy the right to live. Undoubtedly, women are allowed to govern what happens to and within their bodies. However, the right to live prevails over a woman's liberty to govern what happens to and within her body. Therefore, one cannot abort the fetus. But at this juncture, Thomson claims that statement (4) is no logical conclusion developing from statement (3). The right to live doesn't imply that terminating life is immoral, as….....

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Thomson, J. J. (1971). A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1(1).
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