The Moral (and Legal) Status of Abortion: A Reply to GreyianStorm

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This is a reply to the article titled “Abortions Should be Legal ” by GreyianStorm. I am not under the illusion that my post will decisively settle the issue, but I want to make some points and raise certain questions that I feel are legitimate as responses to what (s)he wrote.

Some Preliminary Comments
First of all, I would like to compliment GreyianStorm for writing with a courteous and non-confrontational tone on a topic that often gets people to a very emotional and aggressive state of mind (this is true on all sides of the debate).

Secondly, I will admit that my primary focus will be somewhat different than that of GreyianStorm, in that I am mainly concerned with the moral status , rather than legal status , of abortion. However, as Aristotle once stated, “Law rests upon the necessary foundation of morality.” Therefore, moral conclusions can and should have legal implications.

The Status of the Unborn as the Central Issue of the Debate
In my opinion, there is no doubt as to what should be the central issue in the abortion debate. If the unborn is a human being with intrinsic value, it becomes clear that the types of arguments that are presented in favour of abortion rights are insufficient to warrant the conclusion that abortion should be allowed (on the other hand, if the unborn is not a human being with intrinsic value, the situation is very different). It is somewhat unclear to me whether GreyianStorm agrees with this point or not. His/her comments about not advocating abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy (but abortion’s being OK within the first 1-2 months) could be taken to imply that (s)he thinks that some morally significant change in the status of the unborn happens at some point during the time period beginning 1-2 months after the pregnancy and ending at the completion of 24 weeks of pregnancy. Obviously, I can only guess what that change might be, but my best guess would be that the significance is related to the way that the unborn gradually becomes “more like typical human” during that period. However, if this is what (s)he has in mind, it can lead to very problematic definitional matters concerning which of the typical human properties have moral significance (and wich of such propertied do not have moral significance). If it is argued that having some kind of in-principle verifiable conscious thought life is the morally significant difference here, one should at least be very clear on the implications of such view (for example, can it be consistently affirmed that the unborn at such stage of development that includes potential for becoming conscious but no immediate actuality of such consciousness is not to be thought of as having full human rights, whereas an adult who is in the state of coma does have full human rights?).

I think there are some circumstances that could be reasonably thought to constitute an exception to the general principle of seeing abortion as morally wrong. The protection of the health and life of the mother would fall within that category, and a case can be made that rape would also constitute such exception (even though this is a bit more problematic — after all, if the unborn truly is a human being with full rights, can it be right to “punish” him/her by death, while the law would not allow even the rapist to be punished in such a way — but for the sake of the argument, however, I will grant that this too constitutes a legitimate exception). In my view, the incapability of the parents to care for the child is a clear example of what does not constitute an exception. Adoption would be the right form of action in such situation.

One Final Observation
I think that the following argument by GreyviaStorm is implicitly assuming a position on an issue that should be at the center of the debate, namely, the moral status of the unborn:

“If you’re against abortions, you don’t have abortions. Why should one group get everything their way, and affect the lives on others , when allowing abortions won’t change the lives on people who are against abortions, but they will give those who need an abortion the choice of having one?”

The problem that I see with this argument is that it is only by assuming that the life of the unborn is not a human life in the morally significant sense that (s)he can imply that it is only the pro-life/anti-abortion side that is trying to act in a way that affects the lives of others. For if we assume the contrary with regard to the moral status of the unborn, it is false that the pro-choice/pro-abortion side is not trying to affect the lives of others. Surely, the causing of death is among the most radical ways that one can affect the life of others.

Recommended Resources
The Bio-Ethics Articles of Stand to Reason
Life Training Institute

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