Nowadays, access to safe options for the termination of pregnancy is among the most highly-debatable issues. Being deprived of it, more than twenty thousand women from WHO member countries die annually because of criminal abortions (Latt et al. 1). The abortion debate is capable of polarizing the society since it is a question at the confluence of medicine, ethics, philosophy, and, sometimes, religious views. This procedure should be allowed in cases of unintended pregnancies since this approach to the problem protects women’s right to make decisions related to their bodies, is appropriate from the utilitarian viewpoint, and can reduce maternal mortality.
The Right to Bodily Autonomy
Abortions should be allowed in numerous cases involving unwanted pregnancies because the right to life of the future child does not cancel out the woman’s right to make decisions about her body. In her globally known essay on abortion, Thomson supports this point of view by focusing on the simple medical fact that “the body that houses the child is the mother’s body” (44). The fetus can develop healthily only if it consumes the resources of the woman’s body, which sometimes causes harm to her health and leads to complications (McKinnon and Fiala 232). Therefore, since the parties’ relationships are asymmetrical, it is not valid to say that their rights should be equal.
When it comes to relationships, in which one party cannot exist without the other, the latter has an opportunity to help, but it is not obliged to do so at any cost. Thompson illustrates this idea by drawing an analogy between the fetus’s absolute right to life and the dying person’s right to get anything that can save his or her life immediately, regardless of the outcomes for other people (45). Unlike the fetus, the woman is an independent adult person capable of making decisions concerning her health (McKinnon and Fiala 229). Taking the woman’s right to her body into consideration, it is not valid to ban abortions or significantly restrict access to them.
Abortions Can Prevent Children’s and Mothers’ Suffering
In many circumstances, a continued pregnancy causes negative outcomes both for the child and the mother, including poverty, inequality, and even child abuse. According to Bentham’s theory of utilitarianism, the appropriateness of actions should be defined based on their consequences and the degree to which they maximize positive outcomes for the majority of the involved parties (McKinnon and Fiala 231). If this principle is applied to abortion, it becomes clear that, for instance, pregnant women who have no education or steady jobs have high risks of ending in extreme poverty after delivery. Apart from women’s suffering, such situations are likely to impact children’s health, quality of life, and future educational opportunities (McKinnon and Fiala 231). Therefore, in some cases, abortions save both women and children from living unhappy lives in poverty.
To some extent, the principles of utilitarianism also apply to the cases of women who are not extremely poor but do not want to become mothers. If such women get pregnant and have no access to abortions due to bans, they are likely to search for other ways to terminate pregnancies that can leave them injured. Therefore, restrictions do not maximize positive outcomes for women and children, and this is why providing access to abortions is pivotal.
Criminal Abortions and Maternal Deaths
One more reason why women should have the right to safe and legal abortions is that restrictions contribute to maternal mortality. To begin with, abortion bans and the laws that do not take the risks for women into account do not reduce demand for procedures helping to get rid of the fetus. The only change initiated by such bans is the growth of the unsafe abortion industry (Latt et al. 1). According to the study conducted by Latt et al., the flexibility of abortion laws in both high- and low-income countries is among the key factors predicting the levels of maternal mortality (1). Based on the global statistics, about eight out of a hundred deaths of pregnant women occur after unsafe abortions (Latt et al. 1). With that in mind, limited access to this procedure significantly affects women’s health.
The argument in question focuses on the actual outcomes of abortion bans with no reference to the legal status of the fetus. The study by Latt et al. proves that maternal deaths caused by abortions are much less common in the countries with flexible laws related to the procedure (1). It is not a matter of dispute that some women regard unintended pregnancies as a problem to be solved. The failure to meet their needs will result in injuries and deaths associated with criminal abortions. Therefore, from public health considerations, this procedure should be allowed in numerous cases.
The Fetus as a Person
One major objection to the pro-choice position is that the fetus should be considered a person who has specific rights. The proponents of this viewpoint in many state governments establish the personhood of the fetus based on its physiological features, such as the presence of heartbeat (McKinnon and Fiala 224). This position raises numerous questions because if the fetus is a person, the act of its removal before delivery will qualify as murder.
To respond to this objection, it is necessary to pay attention to the meaning of being a person. This term can be defined as an individual human being, and this definition refers to some degree of independence from other people (Bergner 77). At the same time, before the end of the second trimester of pregnancy, the fetus is unable to survive outside of the mother’s body, which runs counter to the idea of its being a person (McKinnon and Fiala 224). Therefore, the position of pro-life politicians who support the personhood of fetuses does not seem to be consistent.
The Potentiality Argument
According to another important objection to abortions, this procedure deprives the fetus of an opportunity to fulfill its potential and experience positive feelings in the future. Using this argument, Marquis states that the termination of pregnancy is “in the same moral category as killing an innocent adult” (183). Although this objection does not substitute notions, the problem is that it focuses on the future of the fetus while ignoring the actual life situation of the pregnant woman and her experiences. The same logic can be applied to defend any woman who seeks an abortion. The unwanted pregnancy, associated health risks, and the need to take care of a child may run counter to her personal development plans and career opportunities, thus preventing her from eliciting her full potential.
To sum it up, taking the reasons explaining the importance of safe abortions into account, this procedure should be allowed and easy to access when it comes to unintended pregnancies. Given that the willingness to get rid of the fetus is drastically different from actual crimes, the existing abortion laws need to become more flexible. In particular, forced pregnancies and the risks of serious diseases should not be the only cases in which abortions are allowed.
Bergner, Raymond M. “What is a Person? What is the Self? Formulations for a Science of Psychology.” Journal of Theoretical and Philosophical Psychology, vol. 37, no. 2, 2017, pp. 77-90.
Latt, Su Mon, et al. “Abortion Laws Reform May Reduce Maternal Mortality: An Ecological Study in 162 Countries.” BMC Women’s Health, vol. 19, 2019, pp. 1-9.
Marquis, Don. “Why Abortion is Immoral.” The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 86, no. 4, 1989, pp. 183-202.
McKinnon, Barbara, and Andrew Fiala. Ethics: Theory and Contemporary Issues. 8th ed., Cengage Learning, 2015.
Thomson, Judith Jarvis. “A Defense of Abortion.” Biomedical Ethics and the Law, edited by James M. Humber and Robert F. Almeder, Springer, 1976, pp. 39-54.