The Abortion Dilemma

The act of ending a pregnancy by separating the embryo or fetus from the uterus is known as abortion. The rights of a woman, a fetus, and a father have always been a source of contention between pro-life and pro-abortion groups when it comes to abortion. Some people who identified initially as pro-life, such as former President Bill Clinton and his vice president Al Gore, now identify as pro-choice, and vice versa. Pro-lifers contend that intentionally ending a child’s life is morally wrong. Pro-choice advocates, on the other hand, argue that women should have the power of their bodies and reproductive systems. Even though the issue of abortion remains divisive, many people have already formed an opinion.Although the issue of abortion remains contentious, many people have an already formed opinion on whether abortion is right or wrong with very few being undecided. This document critically analyzes the different arguments presented by both sides to argue that abortion should be made legal and accessible because the benefits of legalization outweigh the demerits of a blanket ban.

History of Abortion in America

In 1959, the American Law association made a proposal to allow abortion under special circumstances. However, it was until 1967 when Colorado became the first state to adopt these proposals, followed by California, Oregon, and North Carolina. In 1968, the National Right to Life was formed. New York became the first state to allow abortion on demand in 1970. The United States v. Vuitch became the first abortion case in the Supreme Court in 1971. In 1996, President Clinton signed a new federal law that protected trainers and practitioners from being compelled to offer training on abortion or to participate in abortion. In the same year, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale and marketing of RU 486, an abortion pill.

American Medical Association

The American Medical Association (AMA) was founded in 1847 and become the most authoritative medical association in the United States. In the 1800’ the association was unanimously against abortion. John Hart explains the transition of the AMA on its stand on the issue of abortion. According to Hart, “The AMA went from its position in 1871 that every physician in the United States should join in an effort to “crush out” the abortionist, to saying in 2013 that they “do not prohibit a physician from performing an abortion” (Hart 290). Hart claims that, the initial determination of the AMA to defend the lives of the unborn weakened from the start of the 1900’. In the 1960, the AMA rejected the adoption of abortion, claiming that the American medical practices traditions could not be influenced by changes in other countries.

Ethics and Abortion

Ethics concerns how human actions and thoughts are judged as either right or wrong. An individual’s decision is shaped by his/her nature, principles, and experiences. The theories of ethics provide a general guideline of judging an action. Ethics can be generally classified into four categories: Consequentialism, Kantian Deontologism, Natural Law, and Virtue Ethics. Consequentialism states that an action is right or wrong depending on the result of the action. According to the social Consequentialism, the outcome of a decision should benefit the highest number of individuals. Deontologism argues that actions are right or wrong depending on the universal social standards, rather than the outcome of the action. Therefore, it focuses on judging the means rather than the ends.

According to the Natural Law, human beings should make decisions that lead to the flourishing and not destruction. Finally, the Virtue theory describes the kind of human behavior and actions that are blameworthy or praiseworthy. It also states that decisions can be judged according to the principle of practical wisdom. However, practical wisdom is not universal since it is influenced by factors such as emotions, experience, and habits among others. The rightness or wrongness of a decision, according to the theories of ethics, depends on the theory that one chooses to base his/her arguments. This can be best explained by The Trolley Problem and The Fat Man problems.

These problems present a decision dilemma, where one has to sacrifice one person for the sake of the majority. In the first case, a man can divert a train from a path with five people to a path with one person. The second case, a fast moving train is quickly approaching five men tied to a bridge, and the only option of saving the men is by pushing a fat man off the bridge to stop the train. The bombing of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki are examples of the Fat Man in real life application where a quick end of the war saved many lives. None of the theories has been confirmed to be better than the others. Similarly, abortion is neither immoral nor moral.

Why Abortion Is an Issue

Rights of the Unborn Child

Rights of the unborn child are the major concern for the pro-life. Like any citizen, the fetus has potential rights. However, it is unclear at what stage the fetus becomes a life. Most abortions take place before the 6th week during which the heart has not yet developed. Second, it is unclear whether the fetus should be considered a separate being from the mother. The fetus grows within the uterus of the mother, and therefore, some argue that the fetus and the mother are one being before the child is born.

Rights of the Father

Abortion is unfair to men as it favors women. In most countries that allow abortion, the laws do not apply equally on the rights of the father and the mother on issues of abortion. If a father wants a woman to abort a child that he has fathered because he is not ready for the child, and the woman want to keep the child, the father’s views would be ignored. However, it is compulsory for the fathers to support their children. On the contrary, if a woman wants to procure an abortion against the man’s wish, there is little the man can do to protect the unborn. Pro-life, therefore, argue that the laws on abortion are unfair to men. Therefore, abortion should not be allowed as it can be used as a tool to punish or to manipulate men.

Religious Perspective of Abortion

Most religious groups are against abortion and consider it an immoral act. However, there is a difference as to when a particular group considers the fetus to be a human being independent from the mother. The Catholic Church, the Church of England, and Hinduism consider a fetus to be human from the time of conception. On the other hand, Islam believes that the child develops a soul and starts a relationship with God after 120 days of conception. Nevertheless, almost all the religions allow abortion when the life of the mother is in danger.

Islam on Abortion

Islamic religion considers abortion among the things forbidden by Allah (haram). However, Islam permits abortion under special circumstances. First, when the life of the mother is in grave danger. By allowing the pregnancy to continue, the life of the other and the child are both in danger. Therefore, the child could be sacrificed for the mother to live. Second is when the child is a result of rape. Most Muslim scholars argue that abortion could be performed within 120 days of the pregnancy if the child is a result of rape or incest. This has been allowed in countries such as Egypt, Bosnia, and Algeria where abortion is illegal. However, some also argue that all the lives are equal before Allah, and abortion should, therefore, not be permitted. Third, when abortion is carried out for the sake of the child.

When doctors have discovered that the fetus has a complication that would deny him the opportunity to live a normal life, the pregnancy could be terminated before 120 days. Finally, it is unclear whether the soul develops after 40 or 120 days. According to Sahih Bukhari,

“…every one of you is collected in the womb of his mother for the first forty days, and then he becomes a clot for another forty days, and then a piece of flesh for another forty days. Then Allah sends an angel to write four words. He writes his deeds, time of his death, means of his livelihood, and whether he will be wretched or blessed (in religion). Then the soul is breathed into his body.” (Samsudin 17).

Islam does not ban abortion, but states conditions under which abortion is permitted.

Catholic Church

According to the Roman Catholic Church, the human life is sacred, and abortion is the termination of an unborn life and is classified among the mortal sins. These are very wrong doings against the will of God that leads to eternal ruin of the individual. Unlike Islam, the Catholic Church believes that life begins at conception. This is when the male and female eggs meet and fertilize. The fetus is considered an independent being from its parents with a special part to play in the world. Every being has a special relationship with the creator. This relationship continues until a natural death. For instance, the Angel of God said to the mother of Samson that, “As for the son you will conceive and bear, no razor shall touch his head, for this boy is to be consecrated to God from the womb” (Judges 13:5).

This signifies that God has a special plan with the unborn. Other biblical characters mentioned before their birth include John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. According to the church, willful abortion is not permissible, even when the life of the mother is in danger. An innocent life can never be sacrificed for the sake of the others. However, in the event that the mother’s life is in danger and the mother needs treatment that would affect the child and probably lead to abortion, in that case, the child is considered to have died a natural death as the consequence of treating the mother. In the case of a rape, the victim can be given contraceptives to prevent contraception, but not to kill an already fertilized egg. Conscious termination of pregnancy at any stage is, therefore, prohibited by the Catholic Church.

Church of England

The Church of England follows the same principle as the Catholic Church, namely that human life begins at conception and must be respected. Church of England does not allow or impose a blanket ban on abortion, unlike the Catholic Church. The church advices its followers to consider the matter with great care before opting for abortion.

The church, however, recognizes the responsibility of the mother. For instance, the mother suffers directly in case the pregnancy is left to continue; she gives birth to the child and takes most of the responsibilities while bringing it up. The church also recognizes the Abortion Act of 1967 and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act of 1991 that allows abortion legally before the 24th day of the pregnancy and only when the life of the mother is in grave danger. However, the church is concerned about the unacceptable number of abortions conducted in England every year and suggests more strict guidelines to prevent the abuse of the law to lure women into abortion.

Hinduism

Hinduism believes in doing the act that would have the least harm to all the involved parties, that is the father, the child and the fetus. That is to mean that abortion is not permissible under most circumstances. According to the principle of reincarnation of the soul, when a fetus is aborted, it is denied an opportunity to become human. Hindu also believes in non-violence. All the living things, including insects and plants, deserve a chance to life. When a creature dies, its soul undergoes embodiment and takes a new form. Killing a creature, therefore, slows down the transition of the soul of creature to a higher form. However, abortion is practiced extensively in the Hindu culture. Due to the preference of male children over female, many parents prefer to abort the female fetus.

Methods of Carrying out Abortion

Various methods are currently available to carry out an abortion. The choice depends on the stage of pregnancy. The methods range from medical abortion within the first 9 weeks and surgical afterwards. Medical methods include Mifepristone & Misoprostol, Salt Poisoning, and Prostaglandins. Surgical methods include suction aspiration, dilation curettage, dilation and extraction, and dilation and evacuation.

Medical Options

Mifepristone and Misoprostol, also referred to as RU-486, are used between 7 to 9 weeks of pregnancy. The drug inhibits the production of the progesterone hormone to cut nutrition to the fetus. Mifepristone is followed by Misoprostol. Mifepristone is a registered abortion drug while Misoprostol is an anti-ulcers drug (Wyatt). Used alone, it has an effectiveness rate of 85% (Wyatt). However, in regions where the sale of abortion drugs is illegal, Misoprostol could be used alone as a safe abortion option for women in the first trimester. Used together, the combination is highly effective. An alternative combination is Methotrexate and Misoprostol. Methotrexate kills the fetus’ fast growing cells, while the latter causes the contraction and removal from the uterus. The mother experiences mild to strong cramps that can be managed using painkillers. The method does not prevent the woman from becoming pregnant again if she desires.

Prostaglandins and salt poisoning methods are used in the second and third trimester. Prostaglandin involves the introduction of hormones that causes the contraction of the uterus leading to premature labor. Salt poisoning is the introduction of toxic salts by an abortionist using a long needle. The fetus consumes the salt and dies. A secondary drug is used to induce labor.

Surgical Options

Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) is used in the first trimester of the pregnancy, usually, between the 3-12 weeks. It is a less invasive procedure that involves the insertion of a tube through the vagina and the uterus and sucks the fetus. The process is fast and less painful. In the second and third trimester, dilation and curettage (D & C) could be used to remove the fetus. This is a surgical breaking down and removal of the fetus (Wyatt). A follow-up check may be necessary.

Abortion Laws in other Countries

North America

Abortion is legal in Canada for whichever reason since a Supreme Court ruling in 1088 considered the restrictions against abortion unconstitutional. The government pays for the abortion fees for abortions carried out in public hospitals. In August, 2008, the Supreme Court of Mexico made a ruling to allow abortion within the first trimester. However, not all the states provide abortion services.

Latin America

Latin America is predominantly Catholic, and, therefore, most countries do not permit abortion, unless to save the mother or because of rape. In Brazil, abortion is illegal unless the pregnancy results from rape or incest. Proof of rape or incest is required by the hospitals. However, the level of illegal abortions is high in the country. Abortion in Chile was legal in 1967, under the Chilean Health Code, but in 1980 the law was reversed to make it illegal. Use of emergency contraceptives is encouraged to prevent unwanted pregnancies. El Salvador has a blanket ban on abortion. In Nicaragua, since October 2006, abortion is illegal under any circumstance.

Western Europe

Abortion is allowed in most western European countries. Germany does not allow abortion, but the law is not enforced for abortions before 12 weeks of pregnancy if it results from rape. In Britain, abortion is available for a variety of reasons before the 24th week. In Greece, no reason is required for abortion before the 12th week, and special reasons needed for abortion before the 24th weeks. Abortion is illegal in all the circumstances in Ireland, a Catholic dominated country. The country has a fetus right act that equates the rights of the unborn to other Irish. However, when the mother is at risk, she may be allowed to travel to Britain for abortion. Sweden permits abortion for whatever reason before the 18th week and later for critical medical reasons.

Sub-Saharan Africa

The majority of sub-Saharan African countries allow for abortion to save the mother’s life. In South Africa, abortion is legal within the initial 12 weeks, not only when the mother’s health is at risk. After the 20th week, special reason is needed. However, since 2008, the country lowered the threshold for allowing abortion and allowed nurses to conduct abortions (Albertyn 438). In Nigeria, abortion may be conducted to save the mother. However, the country reports high maternal deaths as the result of unsafe abortion.

Asia and the Middle East

Abortion is illegal in most Muslim countries. In Turkey, the procedure is permitted before 10 weeks of pregnancy for any reason. Tunisia allows for abortion in the first semester, although most doctors are unwilling because it is considered a taboo. In Egypt, abortion is not allowed, although the gravity of the offense reduces depending on the need. In Iran, there are no exceptions for abortion since 1979. In most non-Muslim countries, such as China and Japan, there are little restrictions to abortion at any stage of the pregnancy. However, sex selective abortion is not allowed in most countries. Philippines illegalized abortion unless to save the mother.

Why Abortion should be Legalized

Although many countries have restrictions to abortion, illegal abortions are carried out in almost every country, and the government has no means of stopping and controlling them (Cook, Joanna, and Bernard 54). About 50% of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned and, therefore, are likely to result in unhappy families. According to Lisa Haddad, “Some 68,000 women die of unsafe abortion annually, making it one of the leading causes of maternal mortality (13%). Of the women who survive unsafe abortion, 5 million will suffer long-term health complications” (Haddad). Illegal abortions are performed by self induction using dangerous methods or by unqualified people. In states where abortion is legal, the death rates from abortion is as low as 0.6 per 100,000 procedures. The earlier the abortion takes place, the safer it is. Through legalization and increasing access through government funding, women can access abortion services as early as the first trimester, therefore, minimizing the risks of related complications (Payne et al. 124). It is, therefore, evident that making abortion does not reduce abortion but only increases the number of illegal abortions and by extension, increasing maternal mortality in a country.

Second, it is not easy to raise an unintended child. Unintended pregnancies are more common among unmarried women. This puts a financial strain on the woman to provide for the child (Ross 29). If the woman is underage, she has to become a parent before she is emotionally ready to raise a child. Pregnancy may also interfere with the education of the woman since the child needs exclusive breastfeeding within the first six months of birth. A woman may also get pregnant when she is too old to bear the baby. This increases the risk of maternal and infant mortality if the pregnancy is allowed to continue.

Denying the right to abortion, therefore, increases the risk to the child as well. Unwanted pregnancy may also result from rape. Carrying pregnancy that is an outcome of forced sexual intercourse is a constant reminder of the traumatizing event of the rape. The mother is also likely to neglect the child since it is not a product of love. Finally, a pregnancy may result from incest; a sexual relationship between close relatives, such as a father and a daughter, a brother and a sister, or a mother and a son. Incest is considered a taboo in most cultures. Scientifically, incest increases the risk of a child with lower immunity since the bad recessive genes are likely to show up in the child. The child would also suffer from low self-image when it knows the facts about its origin. Raising an unintended child is, therefore, not good for the parent or the child (Chinn 247).

Third, antiabortion laws are an impediment to gender equality. Women need to have the right to decide whether to carry a pregnancy or not because unlike men, pregnancy directly interferes with their normal body functions and daily duties. According to the National Longitudinal Survey of Mature Women,

“Early childbearing is associated with higher risk of ADL limitations at ages 65–83, though effects appear stronger among white than black mothers until SES is controlled. Early childbearing is also associated with greater levels of depressive symptomatology, though this association is mediated by SES and health. Late childbearing is associated with more depressive symptoms net of early life and current SES, child proximity and support, and physical health” (Spence).

Pregnancy also leads to undesirable changes, such as nausea, dizziness and lightheadedness, constipation, sleeping discomfort, overweight, and swelling of joints among others. It is barbaric to compel a woman to go through all these sufferings if she is unwilling to. Pregnancy also interferes with the economic productivity of a woman. When the woman is pregnant, she has to take about 3 months maternity leave. This fact has encouraged most employers to prefer male to female employees because females need longer leaves than men. As much as the father has rights over the fetus, the development of the child affects the mother the most, and therefore, women should have the liberty to choose whether to continue or terminate the pregnancy.

Finally, it is not universally accepted when the fetus becomes human and when it acquires the rights of a human. According to Islam, the fetus becomes a human after 120 days of conception, while according to Christianity and Hinduism, the fetus becomes human immediately after conception. Scholars also have different opinions on when life begins. Therefore, like ethics, the time when life begins purely depends on one’s point of view.

Conclusion

The question of whether abortion is morally wrong or right cannot be answered with a simple yes or no. The issue must be approached from multiple dimensions, such as the ethics, religious, legal, and human rights. Nevertheless, whether abortion is legal or not, millions of abortion procedures are conducted annually around the world, with most illegal abortions being fatal. Legalization would, therefore, increase access to safe abortion. Contrary to the common misconception, pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. It simply means that the woman should have the right to determine whether to keep or terminate the pregnancy at any time (Pollitt 30). Going with the report on the drastic reduction of fatal abortion after legalization of abortion in the US, legalization is more beneficial to women as it would allow for education of women on the topic of safe abortion.

Works Cited

Albertyn, Cathi. “Claiming and defending abortion rights in South Africa.” Revista Direito GV 11.2 (2015): 429-454.

Chinn, Stuart. “Universal Arguments and Particular Arguments on Abortion Rights”. Maryland Law Review, Vol. 75 Issue 1, 2015, p247-270. 24p.ssrn.com/abstract=2612207.

Cook, Rebecca J., Joanna N. Erdman, and Bernard M. Dickens, eds. Abortion law in transnational perspective: cases and controversies. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014.

Haddad, Lisa B., and Nawal M. Nour. “Unsafe abortion: unnecessary maternal mortality.” Reviews in obstetrics and gynecology 2.2 (2009): 122.

Hart, John. “The American Medical Association: Former Defender of Unborn Babies”. Catholic Social Science Review, Vol. 19, 2014, p287-294. 8p. American Medical Association.

Payne, Carolyn M, Michelle P. Debbink, Ellen A. Steele, Caroline T. Buck, Lisa A. Martin, Jane A. Hassinger, and Lisa H. Harris. “Why women are dying from unsafe abortion: narratives of Ghanaian abortion providers: original research article.” African Journal of Reproductive Health 17.2 (2013): 118-128.

Pollitt, Katha. Pro: Reclaiming abortion rights. New York: Picador, 2015. Print.

Ross, Loretta, and Rickie Solinger. Reproductive justice: an introduction. Oakland, California: University of California Press, 2017. Print.

Samsudin, Sofiah. Early development of child personality in the Qur’an and Hadeeth. (2012).

Spence, Naomi J. “The long-term consequences of childbearing physical and psychological well-being of mothers in later life.” Research on Aging 30.6 (2008): 722-751.

Wyatt, M. P. (2000). Methods of Abortion. Natural Liberty., 2000.

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