The debate over the right to abort a fetus has been ranging in the United States and around the world for decades. While some believe that women have the right to do whatever they wish with their bodies, and that they should not be forced to endure a pregnancy if they do not want to do so, these rights come into question when the fetus’s status as a person is recognized. Once the fetus is seen as a person, it becomes clear that the fetus’s right to life supersedes the mother’s right to not be pregnant. Also, abortion can be problematic, even for those who support it. Women who have undergone an abortion often suffer from serious psychological trauma post-abortion, grieving for their unborn babies. On a societal level, abortion is problematic because it opens the door to moral acceptance of sex-selective abortions, which is already causing problems in many regions. Abortion is wrong not only because it places a mother’s lifestyle needs above those of the fetus’s life, but also because it causes psychological problems for women who have undergone the procedure and wider sociological issues related to gender.
The primary issue debated by those involved in the abortion argument today is the point at which an embryo becomes a human being. If a person assumes that an embryo is not a person until it is born, or until it can survive out of the womb, abortion is morally acceptable. This is because, before this point, the fetus is not a person, but merely a collection of cells, with no more rights than a guppy (Caczor 1). Given this fact, the killing of such a collection of cells is not problematic. However, those who oppose abortion note how early life begins. Within weeks a heart is beating, and long before a fetus is viable outside of the womb it has many human characteristics. There is no easy line where the fetus is said to be a person, because from the time it comes into being it is alive and growing. For this reason, those who oppose abortion believe that life begins when a woman becomes pregnant. Therefore, aborting a fetus is killing a human child. This is not morally acceptable.
Once a person has accepted that it is morally impermissible to abort a fetus because that fetus is a living human child, it becomes clear that the unborn child has rights. If a fetus is not a living child, as those who oppose abortion accept, then it makes sense to argue that a woman has the right to rid herself of the fetus. If she does not want to remain pregnant, she should have the right to rid herself of the fetus. However, those who oppose abortion argue that a mother would never consider conveniently killing a six-year-old when the child becomes a nuisance, that that would never accept this as morally all right. The same considerations should be given, then to mothers who are pregnant. There is no difference between the unborn child and the six-year-old.
While most of those who do not agree with abortion are willing to consider difficult cases, such as those involving rape or situations where pregnancy puts the mother’s life at risk, these cases are rare (Caczor 177). 99% of pregnancies happen because of consensual sex, and therefore the children who result from these pregnancies should have the right to life. Of these 99%, of course, not all mothers will be living in healthy or ideal circumstances. However, As Caczor writes, those who are helping to find solutions for families with six-year-old children who are faced with less than ideal circumstances will do their upmost to see that the six-year-old has the best chances at an improved quality of life. They do not kill the child to remove him or her from these circumstances. The same should apply to unborn babies, since they have the same moral status as the six-year-old children. Whether mothers choose to place their babies sup for adoption or whether they receive aide as single mothers, there are options for them that do not involve the killing of their children (“The Rights of a Woman do not Outweigh the Rights of a Child”). There are difficult cases which blur the lines of course, but these cases are rare and should not dictate moral obligation for the vast majority of cases where there are acceptable options other than abortion.
Another way of seeing the problems related to the practice of abortion is to examine what happens with abortion is legal and seen as morally acceptable. Some of these problems are related to the psychological health of mothers who have undergone an abortion. As found by Curley and Johnson, mothers who have had an abortion open themselves to serious psychological consequences. In their study 50% of university mothers who had abortions sought psychological help afterword (Curley and Johnson 288). They were suffering from PTSD related to the abortion, depression, anxiety and perinatal grief (288). Though they made the decision to have the procedure, the abortion itself caused them stress and anxiety, and they grieved for the children they no longer had. Their psychological trauma was moderate to severe, and it lasted for years in many cases. Even among the 50% of women who did not seek psychological help after their abortions, many women suffered lingering symptoms of PTSD after the procedure (289). The moral impermissiveness of abortion is shown by the negative feelings so many women experience after aborting their babies.
Another way in which the moral wrongness of abortion is shown is the fact that in many regions of the world, it is now seen as acceptable to have an abortion if the unborn baby is of the wrong sex. As noted by Kanowsky, many regions such as West Asia are experiencing uneven gender growth because of the acceptability of killing unborn girls. Though statistics on how wide-spread this practice is, Kanowsky notes that in China the ratio of boys to girls being born is something like 176-100 (Kanowsky 164). This means that for every 176 boys born there are only 100 girls. This will result in a serious problem in the future as the growing boys are looking for wives. It also results, Kanowsky writes, in a hidden form of gendercide. For those regions on earth where women are less valued than men and seen as dispensable, abortions can be used to see that they are never born. If abortions become morally acceptable, this kind of discrimination may be a logical, if unfortunate, next step. This may cause serious sociological problems in the future.
Those who support abortions feel that there is some kind of magical line between the fetus as a collection of cells and the fetus as living human being. Some say this is at birth, and some say this is before birth, once the fetus can survive outside of the womb. However, for opponents of abortion, the fetus is a living child as soon as it is formed. This makes abortion wrong because it is the killing of a child, just as the killing of a six-year-old is a child. Seeing a fetus in this way makes it clear that a woman should not be able to abort a child simply because it is inconvenient, or because it will impact her lifestyle. Furthermore, when abortion is an acceptable alternative, it causes problems of its own. For example, it causes psychological trauma and grief in the women who have aborted babies, and it makes increases the likelihood of killing babies who are unwanted simply because they are of a given sex. The practice of abortion is wrong not only for unborn babies, but for society as a whole. Having a child especially having a child is less-than-ideal circumstances, is difficult. But there are many alternatives for women to explore that do not involve the killing of an innocent, unborn baby.
- Caczor, Christopher. Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice, Taylor and Francis, 2010. eBook.
- Curley, Maureen, and Celeste Johnson. “The Characteristics and Severity of Psychological Distress After Abortion Among University Students,” Journal of Behavioral Health Research, 2013, pp. 279-293. doi:10.1007/s11414-013-9328-0.
- Kanowsky, Mary. “A Hidden Gendercide: Discrepancies Between Embryo Destruction and Selective Abortion Laws,” Ave Maria Law Review, Vol 14, NO. 1, 2016, pp. 163-191.
- “The Rights of a Woman Do Not Outweigh the Rights of a Child.” Abortion, edited by Tamara Thompson, Greenhaven Press, 2015. Current Controversies. Opposing Viewpoints iN Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010946216/OVIC?u=king56371&xid=51c6e5af. Accessed 10 Dec. 2017.