Philosophy – Abortion Rectitude There comes a time in the lives of most women when an ovum, fertilized with sperm, will implant itself into her uterine wall. This is nature’s first step in its attempt to continue the human race. Currently, when this implantation occurs, the impregnated woman has the right to allow the embryo to nourish itself into existence or to eliminate all chances of that embryo attaining life through abortion. Every species of plant and animal on earth reproduce in one way or another. How could something as ancient and fundamental as reproduction turn into one of the most hotly contested moral debates in history? The question can only be answered if we first examine the intellectual psyche of the human animal. Since we are currently the most intelligent beings on earth, we use our critical thinking capabilities to selectively choose what should be morally acceptable and what should be deemed unacceptable. To the best of our knowledge, we as humans are the only species in existence that wrestle with moral dilemmas.
Absolute morality that will be agreed upon by the majority of a society is extremely difficult to determine since each individual has the ability to decide for themselves what is morally acceptable. It is because of this decision that our American culture intensely debates issues of morality such as abortion. The debate over abortion pits the rights to life of an unborn fetus against the rights of rational women who want to control what happens to their own body. Does the termination of a pregnancy deprive a human of their right to life? Should our government be allowed the power to regulate what a woman can and cannot do with her own body? These are two of the questions which will be deliberated over throughout the course of this paper. In his article “Abortion and Infanticide”, Michael Tooley tackles two important questions about abortion. The first is “what properties must someone have in order to be considered a person, i.e., to have a serious right to life?” Tooley answers that anything which completely lacks consciousness, like ordinary machines, cannot have rights. If a being does not desire something such as consciousness, it is impossible to deprive that being of his right to it.
In other words, Tooley argues that since a fetus does not show outward desires to have life, it is morally permissible to abort that fetus. There are three exceptions to this rule that need to be clarified. First, if the being is in a temporary emotionally unbalanced state, such as a deep depression, he should still be allowed rights to life. Secondly, if the being is unconscious due to sleep or some sort of trauma, he should not be deprived of his rights to life. Finally, if the person has been brainwashed by a religious cult or any similar institution into wanting death, he should still be given a right to life.
The second question addressed by Tooley is “at what point in the development of a member of the species Homo Sapiens does the organism possess the properties that make it a person?” The law in America currently implies that the fetus possesses the properties that make it a person when it reaches the third trimester or the sixth month of its germination inside the uterus. Is this a reasonable assessment of when a fetus has a right to life? Tooley says “No”. An organism does not have a right to life unless it possesses the concept of a self as a continuous being of mental states. This definition of possessing a right to life can be applied to newborn babies that do not yet have a concept of a self as a continuous being. Therefore, it is morally acceptable to deprive them of their right to life, for they don’t show desire for life. According to Tooley, the fetus does not have a right to life at any time therefore, the mother of that fetus should have the right to terminate her pregnancy as she so chooses.
Tooley implies that until the fetus reaches the age of about three weeks outside the uterus, it does not show signs of wanting life. Only when the child shows signs of desiring life should the child be given a right to life. These arguments are controversial to say the least. However, they contain a rational opinion of when an organism should be given a right to life. Mary Anne Warren also examines the morality of abortion in her article titled “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion”. She attempts to address the question “how are we to define the moral community, the set of beings with full and equal moral rights, such that we can decide whether a human fetus is a member of this community or not?” To accomplish this definition, Warren lists five major criteria she believes are most central to the concept of personhood. They are: 1. consciousness so that the being is capable of feeling pain 2.
reasoning in order to solve relatively complex problems 3. self-motivated activity independent of genetic or external control 4. the capacity to communicate 5. the presence of self-awareness These criteria could be used to decide whether or not an alien person from another realm of existence should be considered a person, and therefore given human rights. However, a being does not need to hold all five of these attributes in order to be considered a human being.
Warren says possessing only criterion (1) and (2) would be sufficient for personhood. If these criteria are acceptable requirements for a being to be considered human, then a fetus is definitely not human since it possesses none of these characteristics. Warren says the one exception to an entity being given human status even though they do not meet the above five criterion is someone whose “consciousness has been obliterated”, through trauma, stroke, etc.. Warren classifies such a being as a defective human, not a person. These people may gain consciousness again so their right to life should not be taken away. Richard Werner argues for the fetuses right to life in his article titled “Abortion: The Ontological and Moral Status of the Unborn”.
He uses the continuum argument that states “if you and I are human beings, then there is every reason to believe and no good reason to deny that the unborn are also human beings.” Werner believes that one is a human being from the moment of conception onward and that all previously proposed cut-off points for determining when one is a human are unacceptable. Werner says these “cut-off” points are unacceptable because there is no clear line that can be drawn in the human’s development from conception to adulthood that can be used to ‘say a being does not have a right to life before that point.’ According to Werner, since there is this hazy period in the embryological development of a fetus where it gradually becomes a human, the fetus should be considered a human from the moment of conception onward. Since the fetus will eventually reach humanhood if it is allowed sufficient time to develop, it should not be denied its opportunity for life. To strengthen his position, Werner uses the comparison of an acorn to a fetus. He states that “admittedly an acorn is not an oak, nor is an ovum or sperm cell a human, but an acorn germinating in the soil is indeed an oak and so is the impregnated ovum a human.” He uses this comparison to illustrate when he believes life begins, both for an oak tree and a human being. After the sperm and egg unite, a human is formed, just as an oak tree is formed as soon as the acorn begins to germinate.
This analogy poses a difficult problem for the intelligent critic. The acorn did not require any thought or planning to fall onto the ground and begin germination. Ideally (not always), when a woman has unprotected intercourse, she is aware that she may be planting a seed in her uterus which might turn into a fetus. The woman has the choice to not get pregnant through abstinence whereas the acorn lacks all abilities to make a decision about whether or not to germinate. Because of this fact, the woman should be held responsible for her actions, nor should she be compared to an acorn. In the essay titled “A Defense of Abortion”, Jud …