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Universal debates on the subject of abortion often focus on issues related to religion, law and politics, with the main concern  being whether abortion should be prohibited and treated as human murder, or be taken as a legal process of choice that should be determined by women themselves.  Behind all these debates lie more elemental ethical queries which are not usually given sufficient consideration that they deserve. Some people believe that the law should not play the role of legislating morality, but indeed, it is quite clear that any good law is established on the ground of moral values. The lack of open discussions about these values can bring about obscurity in very significant discussions.

The debate about abortion seeks to determine whether it is morally correct for anyone to deliberately terminate a pregnancy. Various people hold different opinions about the issue of abortion. Some people and organizations feel that there is no problem with carrying out abortion especially when the life of the mother is at risk, while others especially religious institutions, feel that abortion is always absolutely wrong. At the same time, other groups of people feel that there is a wide range of situations that can make abortion become morally acceptable. This paper is aimed at examining the ethics of abortion. It seeks to explain why abortion is regarded by some people as ethically right or ethically wrong, and the circumstances under which they base their arguments.


Arguments against Abortion

Much of the ongoing debate about abortion involves the quest to establish the legal status of the fetus. Most anti-abortion activists believe that the fetus is a human being and therefore deserves the right to live just like any other human being. They believe that life begins at conception and therefore carrying out abortion is killing innocent human beings. To them, abortion is always absolutely wrong. They also believe that the fetus is a potential human being and therefore it is wrong to kill a fetus which has a potential future like any other person. Apart from this, they believe that it is wrong to cause human pain.  Other people who argue against abortion claim that it is wrong to carry out abortion eighteen weeks after conception since the foetus has already developed sufficiently by this time.

The argument that abortion is ethically wrong because it denies the fetus of its future was brought forward by Don Marquis. This argument has brought about clear consequences on the ethics of abortion. According to Marquis, since it is a crime to kill human beings after they are born, abortion is also wrong because it involves killing innocent people. According to him, it is wrong to kill a fetus because this deprives it of its future experiences, enjoyments and other human activities. He also claims that causing a premature death is morally wrong because it brings about the loss of future experiences.

Even though Marquis states that abortion in itself is not the same thing as premature death, he states that abortion denies the fetus of its future experiences in a similar way that premature death denies individuals of their future experiences. Anti- abortion activists claim that it is illogical to support abortion and oppose other ills like capital punishment and terrorism since all of these activities take away human life. They assert that respect for life can not be divided up and therefore all life should be dignified.

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Arguments in favor of Abortion

Many people who argue in favor of abortion argue that even if the fetus is a person who deserves the right to live, just like any other person, there are some situations which may render abortion to become ethically right. Nevertheless, there are other people who claim that there is nothing wrong with carrying out an abortion, and that a woman has the right to decide whether to carry out an abortion or not. They claim that every human being has a right to control his/her body. As aforementioned, proponents of abortion claim that there are various circumstances that may render abortion ethical for a mother. Such situations include cases where the pregnancy poses physical or mental threat to the health or the life of the mother or the fetus itself.

Some anti- abortion activists tend to accept abortion in extreme cases where continuing the pregnancy may lead to the death of the mother. They argue that since it is generally acceptable for a person to defend him/herself when faced with danger, prompting for the use of violent means and sometimes even killing the adversary so as to protect him/herself, even when the source of the danger is innocent, a mother has also the right to abort a fetus when it endangers her life. Since this person may use someone else to protect him/herself, the doctor who performs an abortion in such a case is also not ethically wrong in any way. Other proponents of abortion claim that abortion is also ethically right to a woman when the pregnancy poses some non-physical threats such as damage to mental health, to the family, career prospects, financial prospects and other plans for her life.  Nevertheless, anti-abortion activists claim that the self-defense argument for abortion in this case is not sufficient enough to justify the morality of abortion. They say that this argument can only be logical if the fetus is not regarded as a human being.

Anti-abortion activists claim that a woman who agrees to have sex with a man or fails to use proper contraception methods should definitely have ethical obligations to the fetus because she was aware of the consequences of her actions. This obligation limits the morality of abortion to cases of extreme physical danger to either the mother or the fetus and not the non-physical risks.

Proponents of abortion claim that it is not right to illegalize abortion since this means that women will be forced by the law to carry their pregnancies to term, yet every person has a right to control his/her body, and the right to choose on their own what to do with their bodies. They claim that it will be very undemocratic and unjust for the law to treat women in such a manner. Nevertheless, anti-abortion activists claim that this argument is not valid since it does not recognize the fetus right to life either. Anti-abortion activists also claim that the father of the child has the right to participate in the decision of aborting a fetus. They say that since the father shares in the ethical role of providing for the child after birth, he also has an ethical claim on the birth of the child.

Proponents of abortion also claim that it is not right to force a woman to carry a pregnancy to term when she does not have the capacity to care for that child after birth. They say that even if it were right to do so, it would be unethical to force a woman to give birth to an unwanted child, for instance a child who is a result of rape.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that abortion is a very controversial issue such that not a single approach on the subject is sufficient to reconcile all the stakeholders. This is because it touches on very many important and fundamental ethical issues such as personal autonomy, nature of personhood, human relationships, human rights, degree of state influence over personal decisions among many others. It is therefore vital for all the stakeholders such as religious and political leaders to approach the debates on abortion with openness and readiness to learn from each other without putting personal prejudices ahead so as to build any hope for consensus.

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