Abortion of a child implicates many emotional, moral, ethical and legal issues. Different people have different perspectives on this concern. Reasons for a mother to terminate the life of her own child may be deliberate or circumstantial. Proper use and access of birth control measures is a very important factor that can prevent unplanned pregnancies and hence reduce the rate of abortions. Different philosophers have given their theories judging abortion either moral or a sinful immoral step.
Motherhood is a blessing and aborting a child is always a very hard step for the mother. An abortion is the deliberate termination of pregnancy, which can be done due to many reasons. The debate on ‘Why would a mother choose to end her own child’s life?’ is never ending. There are various moral, ethical, health and legal issues involved. Abortion not only effects mother and her baby but also the rest of the family members: father, siblings of baby, grandparents, friends and everyone else involved in the process.
The reasons why women choose an abortion are many:
1. Measure of birth control: 98% of abortions result as a measure of birth control. It is the leading cause of death in America. Since no birth control method is 100% effective, women opt for a termination in case of an unplanned pregnancy (“Abortion 101,”n.d.).
2. Teenage Pregnancy: One of the major reasons of teenage pregnancy is unawareness. Most of these pregnancies are unintended resulting from unsafe sex. Teens choose abortion as they are not prepared to become parents at such an early age of life. In 1999, over 148,000 teenage pregnancies ended in abortion. Most of the abortions are performed without the consent and knowledge of parents. The best measure to prevent the teenage pregnancy is the education about safe sex and support of parents (Alford, 2003).
3. Rape and incest: Rape and incest victims account for 1% of the abortion cases (“Abortion 101,”n.d.).Abortion is often seen as a solution to the problem. But it can have serious long lasting effects on the mother such as depression, guilt, anger, loneliness. (Reardon, 1994).
4. Single parenting: In many cases, woman’s partner may not support her in pregnancy and wants to go ahead with the abortion. This leaves mother in dilemma to choose birth or abortion. Understanding the problems faced by single mothers in the society, mother may opt for an abortion (“Why Do Women Have Abortions?,” 2006).
5. Financial issues: Some mothers consider that they are not financially sound to support their child after birth. This situation may lead to inadequacy of indispensable resources in upbringing of the child. The future and security of both the mother and the child are at risk. Most of the times this situation is due to single parenting (“Why Do Women Have Abortions?,” 2006).
6. Pregnancy due to a dishonest premarital or extramarital relationship: Pregnancy resulting from an illicit relation may ruin a women’s family and social life. It may have serious impact on other family members such as her husband, other children, in laws and friends.
7. Pregnancy as a hurdle in education and career: College age women form the major abortion carrying group. Pregnancy is seen as hurdle in realizing their dreams.
8. Gender selection: It is also a major cause of abortions, especially in Asian countries like India and China. Families who do not have enough funds to raise and educate many children, opt for sons who will eventually earn for the family in future and abort girl child with the fear of raising her to be married into someone’s else’s home.
9. Domestic violence issues: Women subjected to domestic violence in their families do not want to give birth and raise their babies in such an environment and choose an abortion over birth.
10. Birth defects detected in the babies: If the medical tests detect birth defects in the babies, mothers can opt for an abortion instead of giving birth to a miserable and dependent life.
11. No more babies wanted in the family: If a family already has enough number of babies, then it can opt for an abortion. (“Why Women Choose Abortion Abortion Recovery Counseling,”n.d.).
There is no age group, race or religion that is not affected by abortion. Following statistics for U.S. show the same.
\'72 \'76 \'80 \'85 \'90 \'91 \'92 \'93 \'94
<=19 32.6 32.1 29.2 26.3 22.4 21.0 20.1 20.0 20.2
20-24 32.5 33.3 35.5 34.7 33.2 34.4 34.5 34.4 33.5
>=25 34.9 34.6 35.3 39.0 44.4 44.6 45.4 45.6 46.3
White 77.0 66.6 69.9 66.6 64.8 63.8 61.5 60.9 60.5
Black 23.0 33.4 30.1 29.8 31.8 32.5 33.9 34.9 34.7
Other 3.5 3.4 3.7 4.6 4.2 4.8
Table 1: Age Group & Race (“Abortion Statistics by U.S. State, Race, Age and Worldwide Statistics,”n.d.)
The age group of 19-24 or the college going woman is most open to abortion. Pregnancy seems to be hurdle in education and professional aspirations. Having a baby at such a critical stage of life, where students have to finish their studies, plan their future and fulfill the dreams and expectations of their families, appears to be a burden and shame. Whites have the highest rate of abortions as compared to other races. Each year over 200,000 or 18% of Christians, resort to abortion to escape unwanted pregnancies (“Abortion 101,”n.d.).
There are various methods of birth control such as condoms, birth control pills, sterilization, intrauterine device, diaphragm, spermicides, cervical cap, surgical implant (Norplant), injection (Depo Provera), female condoms, natural family planning, combination transdermal (Patch) (“Meadowbrook Women\'s Clinic: Birth Control Methods,”,n.d.). However, no birth control measure is 100% secure and even the careful use can result in an unwanted pregnancy. The access to these measures is difficult for the poor and uneducated women. Even if women want to avoid pregnancy, their partners are not willing for the same. Being pregnant again and again, accompanied with no financial help, poor health and family load, these women resort to abortions. Poor and uneducated women are less motivated to use birth control methods. It is difficult to access and use contraceptives for a single and deprived mother. Governments’ and health officials’ initiative to provide cheap contraceptives and education in such cases can help prevent unplanned pregnancies and hence reduce the rate of abortions (Schoen, 2005).
Planned Parenthood is a health care provider that takes various steps for ensuring the health of women. The main aim of this program is to provide education and counseling services to prevent unintended pregnancy. Planned Parenthood has many health care centers which provide health and informative services keeping identity of users as private. It also works in development of reproductive health care using new technology and research methods. Only in US, their services help prevent half a million unintended pregnancies each year (“Planned Parenthood - Planned Parenthood at a Glance,”n.d.). Planned Parenthood\'s objectives include:
• provide health services to women and men
• providing health care, sex education and counseling services to public
• educating about family planning in the United States and around the world (“Planned Parenthood - History & Successes,”n.d.).
Sex education is another practice that has been advocated worldwide as the best measure to stop unintended pregnancies especially among teenagers. Effective sex education programs take note of following aspects:
• Their main goal is to prevent teenage pregnancy and preventing HIV.
• Proper medical information about contraception, including condoms, tablets.
• Educating how to negotiate, communicate and refuse unsafe sex.
• Educating social, cultural facts to youth to help them decide better how and when to go about sex.
Researches have found that sex education delays the initiation of sex among teenagers. Also use of proper preventive measures helps reduce unintended pregnancy effectively alongwith HIV prevention (safer sex). This is an important achievement as teenage pregnancy is the major concern of unplanned pregnancies and effective sex education may help in resolving this major concern (McKeon, 2006).
Women prefer abortion over adoption. Adoption is letting some one else raise your child. It is a step that can be taken to save a human life and give the gift of child to someone in need. The mothers will not suffer from any depression or guilt feeling if they choose adoption over abortion. However, there are many reasons why preference of adoption is lower than abortion. One of the main reasons is the privacy. Women, especially teenagers, want to get rid of their unwanted babies as soon as possible so that the process remains strictly private and personal. They do not want their families, friends, husbands or other social circle to know about their situation. They find it shameful carrying the baby to its full term and delivering it, to be handed over to someone else. Some are concerned about the time and physical consequences of giving birth such as the change in their body figure, absence from school or work and so on. The fear of responsibility in case the adoptive families do not take proper care of the child or are not financially stable. If the child gets to know about his mother in future or demands the identity of his birth father, the situation can be awkward for the mother. An abortion ends everything while an adoption can reveal an illicit relationship, maybe accidentally in future. These and several other factors affect a mother’s decision of abortion or adoption.
Rape and incest account for only 1% of the abortion cases while 98% of abortions are done as a birth control measure. College-age women in the age group of 19-24 are most abortion vulnerable group. Each year over 200,000 or 18% of Christians opt for abortion to get rid of unwanted pregnancies. One of he major reasons of abortions is irresponsible use of the contraceptives resulting in an unplanned pregnancy, leaving only the option of abortion for the couples or the mother (“Abortion 101,”n.d.).
Various philosophers have given their perspectives on actions like abortions based on different theories. The Divine Command Theory decides the morality or immorality of an issue based on the God’s will. Anything that is good is ordered by God and anything that is bad is forbidden by God. However this belief gives rise to various questions such as what or who can be our guide in knowing and deciding the will of God. We should follow the Bible but who will give us the correct interpretation of the messages from the God or anything else can be our guide. The difference between good and bad is based on the God’s will only, or there are some ethics associated with the action which will make it moral or immoral. Believers of the divine Command Theory do not question God’s commands; they blindly believe whatever God does is good and whatever he does not is wrong. This thinking is perhaps illogical, irrational and random, based on no sound reasons that can help us decide what is good and what is bad (Richter, n.d.). There are several ambiguities associated with this theory such as ‘something is wrong because God forbids it or God forbids something because it is morally wrong’, in which case the action will be wrong independent of the presence or absence of God. Morality of issues such as abortion is decided by some people based on God’s will. Christians believe that abortion is a form of murder and is immoral. Even then 18% of Christians or over 200,000 choose abortion as a birth control measure every year. Christians though, following the teachings of the Bible have disagreeing arguments on issues such as abortion, wars, slaughtering of animals and so on. In deciding good and bad one must not depend on the religion or read any religious book. The teachings of all the religions empower us with the ability to identify well and evil ourselves. The question whether abortion is immoral or moral can be answered depending upon various reasons. Aborting a child when the life of the mother or the baby are in danger cannot be considered immoral or a murder but if the abortion is practiced as a mere measure of birth control due to the irresponsibility and negligence of the parents then it is definitely a sinful act from the point of view of religion as well as mankind. Mother opting for the abortion of her child may be under various kinds of pressures for taking this hard step. A victim of rape or incest may opt for an abortion; giving birth in this case will remind her of her victimization throughout her life resulting in never ending pain, shame and social rejection. Aborting the child in such a case and starting life afresh is not a sin. Man being a social animal demands social acceptance and takes some steps in response to this situation (Shaw, n.d.).
The utilitarianism decides whether an issue is ethical or not, weighing its happiness versus sadness. In case of an abortion, we need to consider both joy and sorrow if baby is aborted and if the baby is born. So while deciding whether an abortion is ethical or not according to utilitarianism, requires an insight into the causes that lead to an abortion and people who are affected by this decision. In most cases, cause of an abortion is an unwanted baby, so considering happiness of all that are related to baby, it may be concluded that abortion is ethical. If unwanted baby is born, that may lead to bad relationship with parents, internal conflicts among parents and all the near and dear ones of the baby. Parents would not be able to provide a healthy and loving environment for the baby. But in case of an abortion, a small time period of depression will persist in the life of parents especially mother, which may erode with time. The reasons can be financial or social problems or even unhealthy or unintended child, but in all these cases even if the baby is born it would not make the baby and his concerned ones happy. The conditions and circumstances play an important role in deciding utilitarian prospect of abortion as ethical (Rice, 2006).
Ethical egoism considers an issue to be moral only if benefits one’s self-interest. According to this belief one should do whatever is in his own interest. Ethical egoism is personal, individual and universal. Personal ethical egoism states that one should do everything for his own concern and nothing is defined about what approach should others use. Individual ethical egoism states that ‘all persons should fulfill my self-interest’. Universal ethical egoism says that ‘all persons should pursue their own interests solely’. There are various contradictions associated with this theory that make ethical egoism incomplete. However actions like abortion are considered moral if they are in the interest of the mother. As discussed earlier mother can be under various pressures to abort her child and this action may result in her and her family’s happiness, which makes abortion an ethical deed (“Ethical Egoism,”n.d.).
Social contract theory helps the formation of a society. People have to give away some of their freedoms to abide by the rules formed by ruling administration. Without social contract theory, there will be no rules and everyone will be free to do anything he wants to. There will not be any social interdependence and people will live in a state of nature. Absence of law and order will not guarantee security, progress and development of human race; since only few things can be achieved without the association of others. Social contract gives the governments the authority to implement rules and regulations. All the persons living in such a social structure must obey these laws that will ensure security and growth. One cannot take the decisions that will harm others and benefit only his own interests. However if you do anything that is in your own interest and it does not harm anyone, there are no legal constraints in such case. There are certain things not included in social contract theory such as “
• Prohibitions on abortion (because fetuses can’t be parties to a contract)
• Prohibitions on harming animals (for the same reason)
• Establishment of any particular religion . . . .
• Paternalistic laws. . . .
• Anti-sodomy laws. . . .” (Gaskill, 2007).
Immanuel Kant gave the theory known as Categorical Imperative (CI). According to him anything is moral and ethical if only supported by good will and reason. People should form rules for themselves which they will always abide by; it must be something they wish to become universal law. His theory values the rights and perspectives of all human beings. Categorical Imperative focuses on whether our course of actions under certain circumstances can be adopted universally. Do we want others to act similarly under same conditions? It does not support any conditions such as ifs, buts. Categorical imperative clearly identifies right and wrong, black or white. There is nothing grey. There are several contradictions to the theory given by Kant. He does not give the importance to the nature and basic moral system. According to Categorical Imperative abortion will be moral when supported by a reason and good will (Guthrie, n.d.).
“Virtue ethics is a branch of moral philosophy that emphasizes character, rather than rules or consequences, as the key element of ethical thinking”. Virtues are habits and behaviors of a person that allow a person to lead a good life. A system of virtue ethics, allows practicing these virtues. These virtues seem to be ambiguous in most of the cases as a good and moral notion is different for different persons. For example traditions and virtues of 18th century may not fit in today’s society. Also, telling a short height friend about his size may hurt him. So virtues change their meanings on how individuals conceive them and also there is no particular path defined to be followed in this case. Considering abortion, people may have different notions about it. Depending upon their persona they may consider it as ethical or immoral. A person considering only the fact that an unborn life is going to end with abortion may consider it as unethical and inappropriate solution. While mother of the child, who wants to be happy in her life and considers that abortion will ease pressure of her will look into all aspects like financial status, social and future life after birth of baby and may consider this decision as best. Virtues are formed according to principles and habits formed by an individual over a period of time, while practicing and resolving the problems of life. It is also highly impacted by the society and the culture. Consider abortion in case of women belonging to a Muslim family of some Arab country. Whatever be the situation, it will be regarded as the biggest sin on her part as her child is God’s gift and no one dares to abolish God’s gift. Virtue ethics involves developing a good character to live good life. To become a generous person, one must be kind, although definition of generosity varies from person to person, place to place and even time to time (“virtue ethics: Definition and Much More from Answers.com”,n.d.).
Ethics of caring state that caring is the foundation of ethical decision-making. Ethics of Care accentuate the roles of mutual interdependence and emotional relationship. It focuses on being partial towards person with whom we share a concrete relationship. Our moral importance of being responsive to such relationships is more important than others. So this approach allows us to form an ethical point of view keeping in mind our relationship. Considering abortion especially in the cases where partner is not ready to take responsibility or does not want baby, ethics of caring conclude that abortion is justified. It is about the inner relationships of our values or ethics to actions. But in case of a single mother, this viewpoint supports heavily against abortion as single mother will get a new relationship with birth and be responsible to the new relationship. Here governing factor is happiness of self and relationships to come to a conclusion (Smith,2004).
Morality or immorality of an abortion depends on various issues. Different conditions like single parenting, financial issues, pregnancy by rape and incest, career, gender selection, domestic violence decide if it is ethical for the mother to opt for an abortion or not. Government initiated programs, birth control measures and health care centers are the various means that can help prevent unintended pregnancies by providing cheap resources, education and counseling services to the women in need. Proper and responsible use of these methods can reduce the rate of abortions significantly. Different theories like Divine Command Theory, Ethical Egoism, Utilitarianism, Social Contract Theory, Kant\'s Categorical Imperative, Ethics of Caring and Ethics of Virtue have justified or condemned the practice of abortion based on their own logics and objectives. However the reason may be any, abortion is never an easy step for the mother and has various long lasting effects on her physically and emotionally.
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