I almost kind of hate to write about Abortion. I include it in class because the arguments are pretty simple and they ease students into applied ethics in a predictable way. The question of when life begins is important and it just seems like it’s a topic that must be included in every basic ethics course.
As for my position — hmmm… for starters, I should say that I’ve never been pregnant — not for lack of trying or anything, but it just hasn’t happened. I can’t speak from the position of having been pregnant. As a result, I can say that as a fully independent adult I couldn’t have an abortion, but I can’t say that I didn’t consider it during a “scare” in my late teens.
I’ve known plenty of people who have had abortions and I refuse to judge them for it. In every case it was a sad situation they didn’t want to be in, and they saw no other choice but to have the procedure. Afterward, they regretted it and generally moved on with their lives. They are happy, healthy folks now and most of them are mothers.
I think it’s vital to keep abortion legal and available. Not because I want one, but because I can imagine a plethora of scenarios in which a reasonable couple with good intentions could find out that they need an abortion.
The moral question comes down to the point at which life “begins”. I just can’t say outright that I think a fertilized egg is a “person” with a “life”. A person is much more complex than that – and pregnancies end spontaneously all the time, often before the woman realizes she is pregnant.
Later on, at some point well into the pregnancy the fertilized egg becomes a child. I’m not sure when that is — but it seems to me that when the fetus is capable of surviving outside of the womb, that’s a clear indication of personhood.
Between fertilization and viability the gray area becomes a source of tension… and it seems to me that is when most abortions happen. At that point, if left alone, the fetus would become a person — BUT, and this is important, it has yet to become a person.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that the woman who is pregnant IS a person, has been a person for a long time, and we ought to assume she has the ability to make decisions regarding her own well-being. IF it’s the case that carrying the fetus to personhood is going to be a problem for her well-being, then abortion is the best solution.
Some folks would, rightly, argue that adoption is a good option.. and I tend to agree, if the woman can’t see herself as a mother she ought to give someone else the opportunity to do so. BUT – and this is a big one — our society isn’t all that interested in supporting pregnant women. It just isn’t — the stigma of single-motherhood is substantially less than in previous decades, but general support for pregnant women just isn’t there.
Go ahead — google “getting fired for being pregnant” — the stories are chilling.
Then think about the way conservative families may react to a teenage pregnant woman. Getting kicked out of the family may be a long-term blessing, but for a 17 year-old with no place to live, it’s an immediate problem.
So — in the end, I want to choose the ability of women to make the choice to have a sad, but currently legal and safe procedure over the potential “person” in her womb.