Abortion is deliberate termination of a pregnancy at some point between conception and birth. There are three stages of development, defined as, Pre-embryo (conception-14 days), Embryo (14 days to 8 weeks) and Foetus (8 weeks onwards).
Abortion raises much debate among many people; some are pro choice whilst others remain pro life. In this assignment the topic discussed is whether the sanctity of life view is a moral absolute when applying it to the subject of abortion?
One of the key questions that are raised when thinking about abortion is when does life begin? The stoic view determined that life begins at birth, Judaism in the main supported this understanding but, because of a broadened knowledge of foetal development, this understanding has lately become unpopular.
However others believe that it is the moment when the mother feels the first movements of her baby. This has been argued against because the genetic material needed to be human is already present in the foetus.
A more common argument is that life begins at conception because the development of the foetus is continuous, on the other hand the following argument is used: One could say the same thing about the development from acorn to oak but is an acorn an oak? They are characteristically different as is a fertilised egg and a fully developed human being.
Nevertheless it could be argued that life begins when the foetus becomes ‘viable’ when the baby is capable of surviving outside the mothers’ womb alone. Conversely one strong criticism of this view is that the date of viability changes, in English law it has been reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks. This has caused many people offence because whether one is considered as a person depends on shifting state of medical research.
No religion actively supports abortion but some do permit it in certain circumstances. The Church of England and the Church of Scotland teach that abortion is wrong. However they do make exceptions in extreme circumstances such as serious risk to the mother’s health and life.
Protestants consider that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception and also a precious gift from God. The protestant teaching fluctuates from the Roman Catholic teaching because Protestants believe it is acceptable to terminate a pregnancy if the mother’s life was to be at risk whereas the Roman Catholic Church condemns it absolutely. Both Church’s work to help offer other solutions to mothers who do not want their baby they offer support and advise adoption rather than termination.
In general the Church of England regarding abortion believes that Life should be protected rather than destroyed and those that cannot influence their right to life should be above all protected. Exemptions to this principle involve, when medical indications make abortion morally viable, the pregnancy is a result of a sex crime, or the social and emotional conditions are not suitable for the well being of the mother and the foetus.
Orthodox churches along with fundamentalist evangelical churches both oppose abortion on the grounds that God alone is the author of life and abortion at any stage is ‘murder of the innocent’.
Christians particularly oppose abortion when the mother is doing it for selfish reasons such as her career, or because the baby is not the gender that she sought. Hindu and Judaism adapt a similar approach, believing that life begins at the moment of birth, nonetheless they still dishearten abortion. Islamic followers are a slightly more lenient; they teach that abortion should only occur in extreme conditions for instance it if the mother was raped.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that abortion is undoubtedly morally wrong. They believe the baby gains a soul at conception and that abortion is morally evil. Roman Catholic teaching does not allow abortion under any circumstances, even including the probable death of the mother, rape or incest. They believe that God has a plan for each and every one of us. They strongly deem that human beings have no right whatsoever to take the life of another person, this belief is supported by the fifth commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill”, this commandment is the basis as to why Roman Catholics consider abortion to be murder. The quality of any potential life is extremely important to Roman Catholic teaching because they consider life to be a precious gift from God therefore it is only for God to decide when to take it away.
“Thou knowest me right well, my frame was not hidden from thee when I was being made in secret’ (Psalm 139) This is a quote from the book of Psalms that describes that although the mother may not be aware of the life that grows inside her, God was creating precious life secretly.
God’s interest in human life is evident from the earliest moments in life as supported in the quote by Jeremiah. During the nativity Angel Gabriel tells Jesus’ mother that God has a plan and purpose for Jesus even before he was born. This evidence is a large basis for the Roman Catholic argument against abortion.
St Augustine argued that God implanted the soul of a person at 46 days whereas Aquinas argued girls at 90 days and boys at 40 days, however the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the soul is implanted at the moment of conception.
“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. From the first moment of his existence a human being must be recognised as having the rights of a person among which is the inviolable right of every innocent life” Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The RC church is adamant that it is intrinsically evil and absolutely condemns it with no exceptions. Abortion rebels against natural law and the word of God. The foetus deserves the same status as a born human being.
There is clearly a biblical basis for the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Churches teachings. In Exodus 20:13 we can learn the command set out by God, ‘Thou shall not kill’. This simply means that no one should kill any human being, but then again not all people would consider a growing baby in a mother’s womb to be a human being. In Mark 12:31, we are met with the words, ‘Love your neighbour and yourself’ This extract talks about the fact that everyone should love each other that no hostilities are taken to each other. This includes killing a life inside a womb.
‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.’ This quote can be found in the book of the Corinthians 3:16-17. It can be interpreted that in all human beings, including in a mothers womb, has God inside them. And therefore, if you kill that being then you are killing one of God’s temples.
Jeremiah 1:5 wrote, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations’ This part of Jeremiah speaks about how God knows us even before we are born into society. He has already chosen what our special role will be in life; therefore this is a very good supporting argument for the Roman Catholic Church. How is it morally right for any human to destroy God’s creation and plan for another innocent human being? It also brings into question who are we to determine the quality of any life?
Some people may argue that the parents of the unborn child have the right to decide its future as they created it, however others may argue. Feminists strongly believe that the mother has the right to choose, but critics believe that nobody’s rights are greater than another persons right to life and they believe the foetus to be a person. They also believe that the feminist approach to the dilemma disregards the right of the father.
The Free Churches believe abortion is down to the mother and that she has a right to determine whether or not to continue the pregnancy. Feminists largely support this view.
Judith Jarvis Thompson believes that the foetus is a person from the moment of conception. People who oppose abortion argue that no one can override the right of the foetus to life, however Judith Jarvis Thompson disagrees. Thompson believes that the mother of the baby has two rights that overrule the rights of the foetus. The first being the woman’s right of self-defence this being that the mother may terminate the pregnancy if it threatens her own life. The second principal is that the mother has the right of ownership to her own body and that she has the right to do what she likes with her own body even if this includes not carrying the foetus to term.
An example of this is, if a woman failed to responsibly take contraceptive precautions then she is held responsible for the foetus however if she did take precautions and they failed she cannot be held responsible therefore she has the right to decide whether to let the foetus use her body to develop. It would be an act of charity not duty to continue the pregnancy.
In the principle is that life is sacred, when is a foetus alive? Is it at the point of conception as the Catholic Church decreed in the 17th century, or is it not until birth? But what developmental stage does a collection of cells become a human, and a human become a person? For dualists this leads to the issue of ensoulment. This is literally a discussion of when the soul is added to the body during the developmental process. Obviously this is a difficult thing to decide on for the purpose of law making where a boundary has to be drawn. A way around this is to say that potential life begins at conception and is thus sacred from that point on. However people have countered this by asking why not then make eggs and sperm protected in the same way? Taking it to a logical absurdity, your next meal might ultimately be potential human life!
This becomes even further involved if one is not a dualist, but believes that a person is just a very complex system of chemicals and electricity. Following this logic would mean that the same amount of respect must be given whether an adult or a foetus, or even an animal is involved. Carrying it further fire and weather also fit the definition of complex life-like systems, but maybe should not be accorded rights?
Someone speaking from a utilitarian point of view would consider the greatest pleasure for the majority of people. If the pregnancy would bring greater pleasure than pain then it would be permitted to have an abortion. Other elements should also be considered such as the hedonic calculus.
Many “pro choice” supporters complain that it is irrational and brutal to expect a woman to die so that her unborn child may live. Abortion should be permitted on demand, especially in cases such as rape or incest.
In contrast to this many “pro life” supporters argue that abortion can never be rationalised or permitted, as it is fundamentally immoral to kill an unborn child who is an innocent human being no matter what the circumstances or the law.
Need to discuss utilitarianism and situation ethics more however the computer hasn’t held all information on the disk I will make sure this gets to you by tomorrow!