Wednesday, 11 July 2007

The Ethics Of Abortion

This article is written to defend the view that abortion should be legal and a morally acceptable choice. This argument is meant convince pro-lifers that abortion is acceptable by a comparison to something that the vast majority of people see as wrong, and the underlying ethical principle behind this.

Basic Argument

One of the most important ethical principles is the one that states that all people should have sole rights over their own body. Nobody should be allowed to infringe on that right by forcing someone to compromise that integrity-- a prominent example of this kind of violation being rape. This principle of bodily domain is the reason we think rape is morally wrong and abhorrent--it is forcing someone to compromise that bodily domain against their will. And also, we think that if a man is trying to rape a woman, she is justified in killing him to protect herself--the principle of self-defence.
In the same way, an unwanted fetus is infringing on the woman's right to her bodily domain, and for her to kill the fetus is self-defense. To decry abortion, then, is to say that women should no longer have control over their own bodies. If you deny this ethical principle of bodily domain, however, then many more things become morally permissible, including rape and domestic violence.

In other words, my main argument is:
(1) The principle of bodily integrity allows people to have control over their own bodies, and allows them to use force to protect their domain.
(2) Rape is morally wrong because it is a violation of bodily integrity.
(3) To reject the principle of bodily integrity is to allow rape. (From 1)
(4) We should uphold the principle. (From 2&3)
(5) Abortion is a use of this ethical principle, and thus acceptable. (From 1)

Objections to My Argument

I will now deal with some anticipated objections.

Possible Objections to Premise 1
One could reject premise one by saying that force should not be used in any circumstance. ie. pacifism. However, there are many scenarios where it is acceptable to use force. For instance, you have a man with no ethical scruples invading and killing innocent civilians--to be a pacifist in that situation is merely a willingness to let other people suffer and die.

Possible Objections to Premises 2 and 3
I would assume, or at least hope, that nobody wants to argue that rape is acceptable. But are there other grounds from which to conclude that rape is wrong without invoking the fact that rape is a violation of the victim's body and is thus wrong--in other words to reject premise 2? I personally don't think there is another ground to reject rape as immoral. One could argue that rape contributes negatively to human happiness, but it contributes negatively to human happiness precisely because it is such a violation.

Possible Objections to Premise 4
The person may argue back here that we don't allow people complete control over their bodies, but I would just respond, "Perhaps we should, at least so long as they are given the information to make an informed decision, and so long as they don't infringe the rights of anyone else."

Possible Objections to Premise 5
This is the one where there is most likely to be objections: that abortion is to protect the woman's bodily integrity. I shall deal with some typical objections here.

One objection to this argument is fault, or responsibility. ie. It's the woman's fault she's pregnant arguments, but it is not her fault she was raped. But this is irrelevant. If I am having sex with a man of my own free choosing, and tell him to withdraw from me, if he doesn't immediately, it's rape. Consent by its nature is ongoing. The same thing applies to the fetus, if I have it in my body and I withdraw my consent to have it there, it's a violation.

One common objection to abortion is the potential argument. But this is even more irrelevant here. The rapist is an actual human being, yet to protect myself against him by killing him is acceptable.

The next line taken would be intent. The fetus is innocent and it is wrong to kill something innocent, whereas the rapist is evil or malevolent. The objection to this argument is that a fetus cannot be innocent when it is not even conscious. To be innocent one by nature has to be conscious. Otherwise one could say that taking antibiotics is killing all the poor innocent bacteria in a body. In other words, the intent of the fetus is irrelevant because there can be no such intent. One could also postulate scenarios where the rapist was not responsible for his actions, say, if he was mentally ill or insane. That would not make a woman' self-defense less important, and his lack of intent doesn't infringe on her right to protect herself.

Finally, harm. The rapist is causing harm to the woman, where the fetus is merely an "inconvenience". But this is simply factually inaccurate. Carrying to term permanently alters a woman's body and can lead to death--and is certainly more likely to lead to death than abortion.


Pro-life advocates are thus forced into a dilemma: to either reject the ethical principle of bodily integrity and thus permit rape, or to support the ethical principle of bodily integrity and thus support the legality of abortion.


Anonymous said...

Well done. You brought up some arguments I hadn't thought of before, and you answered all my objections as I read it.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that I started out agreeing with your premise, but still, a masterful analysis.

Lith said...

Thank you very much!

Med_Friends said...

We don't normally murder rapists.

Anonymous said...

For the sake of argument, assume that a fetus has the same rights of protection as the mother.

This rule would then prevent the mother from aborting the fetus as the mother would have no right to impinge their will on the fetus.

This leaves the unfortunate situation that you have two entities with mutually inconsistent rights.

This shows that your argument turns on whether or not the fetus is considered worthy of the same protection that you provide to the mother.

Is there any objective position that clearly delineates the two states of life?

As a father of three, I know that babies aren't particularly conscious or able to care for themselves...

SHIC said...

@kwutchak: "This shows that your argument turns on whether or not the fetus is considered worthy of the same protection that you provide to the mother."

To allow the fetus access to the mother's body without her consent would in fact be a *greater* protection than you'd be allowing the mother.

Even if you accept the specious assumption that there is no meaningful difference between a fetus and a fully viable infant (or, for that matter, a fully viable adult woman), we do not allow a person access the bodies or organs of others without consent, even in cases where withholding those organs means death for the person in question. If your kidney were the only kidney in the world that could save my life, even on temporary loan, you'd still have to consent to share it with me.

tl;dr version (and this speaks to your point as well, Med_Friends): I have the right to eject any entity from my body that occupies it without my consent. Whether or not said entity will survive that ejection has no bearing on my right.

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