Abortion: A Utilitarian Perspective Essay Samples
The subject of abortion has always been controversial for many communities, and is a situation that continues to gain momentum with new arguments from the pro-abortion and anti-abortion forces. Consequently, what was at one time, a societal issue has catapulted to the forefront of political debates, making one’s stand the determinant factor in their political alliances. While news outlets manage to focus on some abortion stories, many more remain untold because of the social stigma associated with the act. However, abortion can be an option from two angles; freedom of choice to do what wants with her pregnancy and problems that are out of the mother’s hands. For instance, a high school student can terminate a pregnancy because of her education and lack of a sustainable source of income, making it a freedom of choice. On the other angle, a woman might have to abort because of health reasons or a problem with the fetus; ectopic pregnancies provide a perfect example to such. Even so, owing to the profound reactions exhibited by societies, nowadays, abortion is more of a communal issue than it is a personal matter. The blatant riots and protests made against abortion, and the counteracting forces provide enough evidence to the peoples’ interest in the matter. In other words, the public is bound to react when they get wind of a person opting to terminate a pregnancy or one who has already done the deed. Activists are not the only people who have something to say about abortion, on the contrary, family members often chip in to give their views on the subject. Expectedly, philosophers are no different when it comes to the abortion debates, a notion evidenced by the application of theories of morality to solve the dilemma and the division in the availed ideas. Thus said, this study seeks to present a systematical analysis of the arguments one can give to support the decision to abort from the components of the ethical theory of utilitarianism.
Abortion is according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, “The deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks”. From that simple definition, many questions arise, and by extension, mixed ideologies and counterarguments from each side. For instance, one can inquire who set the limit to twenty-eight weeks and why does it have to be that particular limit? On that note, all jurisdictions that legalize abortion have a period within which a mother has to decide on whether or not she wants to terminate a pregnancy. Therefore, if a person living in a particular area cannot obtain legal abortion because they waited too long, said person can just move to a health facility in areas that have a longer waiting period. For this reason, problems with abortion get more complex when people cannot discern the appropriate time within which termination is right. Evidently, the Oxford Dictionary puts it at 28 weeks, but that is past the first trimester, which is according to medical practitioners the ideal timeframe to act. Hence, how do the people that concede to the killings of unrecognizable cells of would-be human beings claim to understand that murdering a developed fetus is right or wrong? Because the same fetus has the potential to grow into an adult, he or she has a right to life, making it hypocritical to abhor murder but support the abortion of an innocent child.
In “Abortion and Infanticide”, Michael Tooley (2013) divides life inside the womb into different stages. According to the author, there is “conception, the attainment of human form, the achievement of the ability to move about spontaneously, viability and finally birth” (Tooley, 2013, p.393). Nonetheless, his stand on abortion is; “it is seriously wrong to kill an organism, from a zygote on, that belongs to the species Homo sapiens” (Tooley, 2013, p.393). Thus, Tooley (2013) sees it as immoral to kill an unborn baby at any point in pregnancy and echoes the thoughts of the many more people that stand against abortion. On the contrary, Thomson (1971) asserts, “a newly fertilized ovum, a newly implanted clump of cells, is no more a person than an acorn is an oak tree” (p.48). Her stand manages to capture that of other pro-abortionists who claim to support pregnancy terminations as long as they are mere cells and not a person. Thus emerges the use of the theory of utilitarianism as a presented solution for this study on abortion. Thiroux and Krasemann (2012) assert that, a utilitarian decision revolves around the outcomes of a choice action and its implications on the bearer. As a result, “an act is right (moral) if it is useful in bringing about a desirable or good end” (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.37). Most significantly there is the idea that, if a person’s choices prove to be sound and functional for all the people involved, then it makes sense to free said person of any guilt. For the purposes of utilitarianism in relation to abortion, one can look at and compare the amount of happiness and pain inflicted on involved persons when a mother decides to terminate or keep a pregnancy. A utilitarianism argument is ideal because, in the end, the theory stands for the idea that one cannot make assumptions about a possible future and instead, calls for one to focus on their present emotions.
The first premise for a utilitarian is “Act Utilitarianism” advocating the action that would “bring about the greatest amount of good over bad for everyone affected” (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.37). Rather than try to think of a solution based on whether it is right or wrong, act utilitarianism encourages the modification of decisions to fit situations as they arise. Hence, when a woman opts to procure an abortion she ought to think of the pros and cons of her decision and not consider the views of morality instituted by societies. An analysis emerges at this point, one that regards the fetus, parents and others who the abortion can affect. The focus on the unborn child finds its foundations on the possibility of causing pain to the fetus. In addition, most consider it an atrocious act to cut short a potentially fulfilling life that could belong to the next world-renowned neurosurgeon. The premise warrants two distinct counterarguments, foremost, when an abortion takes place in the early stages of pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester, then the fetus feels no pain. As an explanation of why the first quarter is suitable for abortion, medical practitioners reckon that the fetus is yet to develop any sensory perceptions that will transmit pain to its brain. Abortions are “freely available in the first trimester, subject to medical determination in the second trimester, and banned in the third, when the fetus is viable” (Noddings, 2013, p.704). That is the view of the government and appears to stem from that of doctors and other medical personnel. Secondly, though valid, the idea of a fetus growing to be a successful human being is not a definite fact, making the claim baseless. After guaranteeing that the baby will feel no pain, the focus turns to the mother and the effects an abortion can render to her health. There is the possibility of over bleeding and dying or the damaging one’s uterus that can cause infertility. However, “because every situation is different, and all people are different”, utilitarianism supports abortion if it is the only solution (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.37). From a utilitarian’s point of view, the person seeking to abort has already considered the aftermath of their decision and is ready to face the consequences.
“Rule Utilitarianism” claims the existence of “a series of rules that, when followed, will yield the greatest good for all humanity” (Thiroux and Krasemann, 2012, p.39). Thiroux and Krasemann (2012), conveniently use abortion to explain the advice to “never kill except in self-defense” (p.39). Hence, as part of rule utilitarianism, anti-abortionists insist a fetus cannot be an enemy while pro-abortionists stand for the idea of the possibility of a fetus causing more harm than good. At this point, it is safe to argue that the doctors and parents are the only people able to determine the possible harm a fetus can cause. As the determinants of whether a child lives or not, parents form the basis of the whole abortion debate. For the most part, the mother makes the final decision “since a man cannot have an abortion” and appears to have no rights (Singer, 2013, p.362). Nonetheless, based on utilitarianism, the decision to abort is acceptable if both parents are for the idea. In other words, a partner cannot force the other to agree to an abortion without causing pain, and by extension, a family breakup that will cause more harm than good. Jointly, parents can choose to terminate a pregnancy if they are struggling to cater for the children they already have or when the health of the mother is in danger. Some may consider it selfish, but a utilitarian can safely stand for saving the mother’s life at the expense of the child when the situation calls for such a decision. In support of the argument, a utilitarian only needs to think of the benefits a living mother has to a household and society, even after losing a baby. Expectedly, there will be the pain of losing a child, but the mother will still be able to provide more benefits for her existing family, especially in comparison to an infant without a mother. With such factors in mind, families and societies are bound to support abortion for three significant reasons based on utilitarianism. It is not only hard for people to look after another person’s home at the expense of theirs, but nobody can claim to have all the facts to the reasons for abortion. In addition, no one can allege to know what a fetus feels while in the womb.
Conclusively, because utilitarianism looks at abortion based on its good and bad effects on the mother and those close to the parents, the theory extends to societies as well. To understand the given claim, one needs to reflect on the costs of bringing up an average child and those of raising a special one. In addition, the current problems plaguing societies ought to be put into consideration. From cases of unequal distribution of resources due to overpopulation to the increasing costs of living, it only makes sense that families have the number of children they can raise comfortably. Therefore, if a utilitarian woman were to get pregnant without planning for it, then abortion will be right in her views. In other words, because of the arguments made above, a pregnancy will only be good if one plans for it and is happy to have the baby. A pregnancy contrary to the personal desires of a woman is, therefore, terminable. Consequently, while people try to argue against abortion as an action, they should instead provide arguments on the outcomes of the decision. For instance, because a mother will probably regret an abortion after she develops a relationship with her unborn child, she needs counseling to help her make a decision instead of angry outbursts to force her mind.
Thiroux, J. P., andKrasemann, K.W. (2012). Ethics Theory and Practice (11th ed.). New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Singer, P. (2013). All Animals are Equal. In R. Shafer-Landau, Ethical Theory An Anthology (2nd ed., pp. 361-371). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Stevenson, A. (2010). Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thomson, J. J. (1971). A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 1(1), 47-66.
Tooley, M. (2013). Abortion and Infanticide. In R. Shafer-Landau, Ethical Theory An Anthology (2nd ed., pp. 390-400). New York: John Wiley & Sons.