Abortion is one of the most controversial objects of philosophic analysis. The goal of this paper is to present a philosophic conversation to defend legal abortions. The paper includes several philosophic positions on abortion that were presented by Thomson, Warren, English, and Boonin-Vail. The following arguments are presented: (a) abortion and rape; (b) abortion and individual choice; and (c) abortion and personhood. Conclusions as to the moral permissibility of abortion are made.
Keywords: abortion, choice, rape, sexual, fetus, pregnancy, personhood.
Philosophy: Keeping Abortion Legal
Do you still remember that dark night, which would later turn your life upside down? The pain and humiliation of being used by an unknown man, who simply wanted to satisfy his sexual urges, would accompany you until the last day of your life. You would never forget his breath on your skin. Years passed, but the police never found any suspect that could match the portrait you had created. In three weeks, you would learn you were pregnant. One of the biggest questions at that time was whether or not it was morally permissible to get rid of the fetus that had been conceived against your will. Today, abortions should be kept legal, not only because raped women do not have to carry the burden of undesirable pregnancy, but because all women have the right to choose their fate until the moment the fetus acquires the features of a human being.
Women and Sexual Violence: The Right to Abort
Abortion is one of the most controversial topics of philosophic discussion. Millions of women around the world seek quality medical assistance when they know they do not want or cannot afford their pregnancy. Millions of others fail to obtain such help and either carry their pregnancy to term or try to get rid of it on their own. The tragic consequences of such actions are well-documented. Women who have become pregnant as a result of sexual violence do not have to carry the burden of pregnancy they never wanted. Apart from the profound psychological consequences of sexual violence and rape, pregnancy resulting from rape resembles an act of manipulation, humiliation, and exploitation of the raped woman both by the rapist and the unborn child.
Imagine yourself waking up in a bed with an unconscious man (Thomson, 1971). The day before, you were kidnapped and connected to the unconscious violinist to provide your blood and support his life disrupted by the disease (Thomson, 1971). The violinist is a famous personality, whose talent is well-known to the public; still, you do not think you want to spend the rest of your life in bed with an unconscious person you do not know. You do not want to sacrifice your health to save someone else’s life (Thomson, 1971). This metaphoric example used by Thomson (1971) to defend women’s right to abortion has become extremely popular in literature. Thompson (1971) makes a parallel between pregnancy and the need to stay plugged with the unconscious violinist for nine months. In this example, pregnancy is compared to kidnapping and imprisonment, both of which are immoral, unethical, and illegal. A person kidnapped to provide his (her) blood to an unknown violinist has the right to defend his (her) life; likewise, a woman who was raped and got pregnant has the right to request a legal abortion.
Thompson (1971) is right when she compares undesirable pregnancy to kidnapping and illegal imprisonment. Sexual violence is an act of exploitation, much like the act of kidnapping a woman to save the violinist’s life. By denying a woman who has been raped her right to get an abortion, the society encourages further exploitation of the woman’s body by the fetus. As a result, pregnancy that results from sexual violence is a logical continuation of the humiliation, pain, and exploitation that took place during the act of rape. No developed society would welcome continuous moral and physical violence against a woman, and this is also why a woman who has been raped must be able to request an abortion.
Certainly, it is possible to say that the newly conceived fetus is not guilty of what had happened to the woman. It is possible to assume that the woman does not have any moral right to decide whether or not the fetus should live. Someone would say that, if conception took place, the woman is fated to carry her pregnancy to term and, afterwards, make further decisions regarding the newborn baby. Yet, it is difficult to imagine that a fetus can have any right to life and can exercise this right to the fullest. The fetus is completely dependent on the woman-mother, and she is responsible for all decisions affecting its life (Thomson, 1971). The mere fact that the fetus is allowed to use the woman’s organism does not mean it has the right to do so, much as the violinist who had the mercy of a woman to use her kidneys for an hour does not actually have any right to behave this way (Thomson, 1971). Abortion should be kept legal, because women who have been sexually victimized have the moral right to stop further exploitation in case they get pregnant.
Abortion and Personhood: A Moderate View
Another reason why abortion should be kept legal is because there is still no evidence that the newly conceived fetus has the features of a person. In her work, Mary Anne Warren (1996) defends her position on abortion and provides five essential reasons why the newly conceived fetus cannot be considered a person. First, it has no consciousness (Warren, 1996). Second, it has no reasoning (Warren, 1996). Third, the fetus cannot engage in self-motivated activity (Warren, 1996). Fourth, it has no capacity to communicate (Warren, 1996). Fifth, the absence of the self-concept, self-awareness, and individuality does not allow treating the fetus as a human being (Warren, 1996). In this context, an abortion can hardly be compared to murder. Warren (1996) claims that the absence of these features (1-5) stipulates that the individual is not a person in the real sense of this word, as he (she) cannot take independent decisions. These claims parallel Thomson’s (1971) assumption that the fetus is not independent from the woman and cannot make rational decisions about its fate. Moreover, “in the early weeks after conception, a fetus is very much unlike a person. It is hard to develop these feelings for a set of genes which doesn’t yet have a head, hands, beating heart, response to touch or the ability to move by itself” (English, 1975, p.159). Based on this premise, abortions are permissible and cannot be treated as murder.
Still, problems associated with this view cannot be disregarded. First, the problem is that everyone who has no consciousness or reasoning cannot be considered a person. Let us take a look at the newborn children, who still have no reasoning, consciousness, or self-awareness – does that mean they are not persons? Let us look at individuals with severe mental disabilities: the whole world votes for accepting their right to autonomy and individual decision making. Can their mental impairment deny them their right to live a full life? Can the absence of consciousness or self-awareness justify an act of murder? Based on what Warren (1971) writes, infanticide and killing people with mental disorders should also become legal. Yet, the point is in making abortions permissible BEFORE the fetus reaches the state of being a person. Warren (1971) herself claims that, at the middle and late stages of pregnancy, abortion is allowed only when the life of the child or his/her mother is at stake. Thus, at this stage, we take a moderate perspective on abortion that allows it at the earliest stages of pregnancy or in situations involving rape.
Keep Abortion Legal: Women Have the Right to Choose
From the two positions discussed above follows a logical conclusion: abortion is permissible only when pregnancy is a result of sexual violence or when abortion takes place at the earliest stages of pregnancy. The most common argument used by abortion opponents is that, in all other cases, woman is partially or fully responsible for the fact of conception. It does not really matter whether pregnancy was the result of a contraceptive failure or simple negligence – opponents of abortion and even its proponents tend to believe that, in all these cases, the woman must assume full responsibility to carry her pregnancy full term. However, what about giving a woman the right to choose? What about letting the woman decide whether or not she can or wants to keep the baby? In other life situations, negligence or failure to use protective measures do not always result in punishment or imprisonment. In other life situations, negligence or failure to use protective measures do not always impose a lifetime punishment or the sense of guilt. Women do not have to pay for a one-minute mistake by sacrificing their body, when they do not want to or simply cannot do it. A simple example may help clarify the situation.
This interesting story was told by David Boonin-Vail (1997) in his response to Thomson’s (1971) defense of abortion. A young man named Ted comes to a restaurant for a dinner. When he sits down to eat, he notices that the crumpled wad of a 10-dollar bill makes him uncomfortable (Boonin-Vail, 1997). Thus, he puts the money down on the table to take it back when the meal is over. He is warned by the friend that he should not be so careless in terms of his money. Nevertheless, Ted leaves the restaurant forgetting about the bill; the latter is left on the table and Ted has to come back to the restaurant to clarify the things (Boonin-Vail, 1997). That Ted forgot his money on the table does not necessarily mean that the waiter had the right to keep it. Ted may blame himself for being inattentive, but he still has the right to have his money back. This situation is very similar to a sexual intercourse that leads to a pregnancy: the act is voluntary, consensual, intended, and has foreseeable consequences. Still, like Ted, women have the right to choose whether they want to keep their pregnancy (leave the money to the waiter) or choose an abortion (take the money back).
Conclusion: Taking a Position
Based on everything said above, I can state that abortions should be kept legal not only because raped women must have the right to get rid of the undesirable pregnancy but because women deserve the right to make a reasonable choice. At the same time, an essential condition for legal abortions is that they are performed only at the earliest stages of pregnancy, with solid exceptions made for women whose lives are put under threat. My view is that denying the raped women her right to request an abortion is the same as making her tolerate further sexual exploitation. My view is that, even when sexual activity is voluntary, consensual, and foreseeable, the woman should not pay for her mistakes or failures for the rest of her life. At the same time, nothing can justify killing an unborn infant at later stages of pregnancy, simply because the pregnant woman has changed her mind. Everything has its cause and should have its limits, and even the most solid philosophic argument will never support infanticide or discrimination against unborn infants.