A Delicate Balance: Weighing in on the Ethics of Abortion
I am going to deviate slightly from my usual format this week and address an ethical dilemma that many people across our country and the world face daily. It is an issue that has prompted Supreme Court hearings, parades and marches, divided religious fanatics and enraged feminists. The issue is abortion.
As an ethical dilemma, I will barely be able to scratch the surface here: I simply do not have the space or the resources. But I do hope to shed a little light on the actual ethics behind the media hyped issues. I will try to remain as objective as possible (until the end — this is the “Commentary” section after all). My goal here is not to convince you whether abortion is right or wrong, but to inform you on the ethical aspects of it.
Abortion became mainstream as an issue in the United States in the Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade in 1973 (http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0410_0113_ZS.html). The distinction should be made (and usually is left out) between a moral issue and a legal issue. While things may be immoral, they may not be illegal, and vice versa. It may be immoral to covet thy neighbor’s girlfriend, but it is certainly not illegal. On the other hand, it is not immoral to not turn in the same neighbor for growing weed, but if you know of their interest in botany you could be put in jail for “accomplice to selling.” I am less concerned with whether abortion is legal or illegal, and more concerned with if it is moral or immoral.
As far as ethics go, there are really two main moral issues: the rights of the fetus and the rights of the mother.
The rights of the fetus become muddled in the debate about when life begins. Is it a person when it has conscious thoughts, sensations, feelings or emotions? This is close to what the Supreme Court decided. Or is it a person at the moment of conception? Each and every person who reads this has a potential future and so, too, does that newly-conceived fetus. Also, like that fetus, each person reading this has been conceived by humans, has similar genetic structure and can possess a soul. If the fetus is a person, it is entitled to the rights of a person. What many people can agree on is that the murder of an innocent person is wrong. The exception to this is if the murder is done for the greater good, as utilitarian ethics promotes. “Some philosophers — beginning with Judith Jarvis Thomson and Jane English — have argued that even if the fetus is a person, abortion may be morally justified. In other words, they dispute the truth of the premise, ‘It is wrong to end the life of an innocent person’ (Lawrence M. Hinman, Ph.D Director, The Values Institute, University of San Diego, 11/29/07).
The other person to consider in this equation is the mother. Usually, the argument by the mother in support of an abortion is that the fetus is unwanted. This can be due to financial problems, family or religious restrictions, the mother’s health or the cause of conception. All of these reasons are sound grounds for not wanting to carry a fetus to birth. And, like the fetus, we need to consider the rights of the mother, because she is clearly a person and worthy of the rights of all humans.
Other moral dilemmas, aside from directly that of the mother and the fetus, include concerns about the historical oppression of women, and that abortion is looked at as racial and cultural genocide in some societies. There are even morals concerning the father, but most are thrown right out the window – he cannot give birth. Society places most responsibility on the mother and sometimes the actual identity of the father can be in question — although the woman always knows (Hinman 11/28/07).
The moral dilemmas behind abortion are not likely to be settled anytime soon, no matter what is decided legally. A problem with so many facets will probably go into the books of ethics in practice in the way that philosophers still debate, and will always debate, the existence of God. There is a kind of job security here.
But why bring up such a topic at such a time? Because of the event at the ‘Sco that will take place tonight: A dance featuring several live bands, DJs and free beer, titled, “Work It for Women.” Some people have the misconception that this is about promoting “choice.” This is not about choice, this is about decisions; Work It for Women will “raise money for charities that help women pay for the cost of an abortion, as well as transportation expenses.”
If the money were going to promote birth control options, that would be fine. If the money was going to promote awareness of choice, that would be fine. But the money is going directly to the murder, slaughter and death of “unwanted” babies. This is one of the cruelest, sickest and most twisted ideas I have heard here at Oberlin.
While you grind with your free beers, a life is being taken. In the United States, there are enough abortions yearly so that there could be an abortion roughly every 25 seconds. That means that during the three hours that this event stretches for, 438 babies could be murdered (http://www.nrlc.org/abortion/facts/abortionstats2.html).
You can support the rights of women: the right to privacy, the right to control their own bodies and the right of equal treatment, among many other rights. But you do not have to support direct murder. Do not go to the ’Sco this Friday or give money to this cause.
Send your ethical dilemmas, questions or comments to email@example.com