Philosophy - Abortion Rectitude


There comes a time in the lives of most women when an
ovum, fertilized with sperm, will implant itself into her uterine
wall. This is nature's first step in its attempt to continue the
human race. Currently, when this implantation occurs, the
impregnated woman has the right to allow the embryo to nourish
itself into existence or to eliminate all chances of that embryo
attaining life through abortion. Every species of plant and
animal on earth reproduce in one way or another. How could
something as ancient and fundamental as reproduction turn into
one of the most hotly contested moral debates in history? The
question can only be answered if we first examine the
intellectual psyche of the human animal.
Since we are currently the most intelligent beings on
earth, we use our critical thinking capabilities to selectively
choose what should be morally acceptable and what should be
deemed unacceptable. To the best of our knowledge, we as humans
are the only species in existence that wrestle with moral
dilemmas. Absolute morality that will be agreed upon by the
majority of a society is extremely difficult to determine since
each individual has the ability to decide for themselves what is
morally acceptable. It is because of this decision that our
American culture intensely debates issues of morality such
as abortion. The debate over abortion pits the rights to
life of an unborn fetus against the rights of rational women
who want to control what happens to their own body. Does
the termination of a pregnancy deprive a human of their right to
life? Should our government be allowed the power to regulate
what a woman can and cannot do with her own body? These are two
of the questions which will be deliberated over throughout the
course of this paper.
In his article "Abortion and Infanticide", Michael Tooley
tackles two important questions about abortion. The first is
"what properties must someone have in order to be considered a
person, i.e., to have a serious right to life?" Tooley answers
that anything which completely lacks consciousness, like ordinary
machines, cannot have rights. If a being does not desire
something such as consciousness, it is impossible to deprive that
being of his right to it. In other words, Tooley argues that
since a fetus does not show outward desires to have life, it is
morally permissible to abort that fetus. There are three
exceptions to this rule that need to be clarified. First, if the
being is in a temporary emotionally unbalanced state, such as a
deep depression, he should still be allowed rights to life.
Secondly, if the being is unconscious due to sleep or some sort
of trauma, he should not be deprived of his rights to life.
Finally, if the person has been brainwashed by a religious cult
or any similar institution into wanting death, he should still be
given a right to life.
The second question addressed by Tooley is "at what point
in the development of a member of the species Homo Sapiens
does the organism possess the properties that make it a person?"
The law in America currently implies that the fetus possesses the
properties that make it a person when it reaches the third
trimester or the sixth month of its germination inside the
uterus. Is this a reasonable assessment of when a fetus has a
right to life? Tooley says "No". An organism does not have a
right to life unless it possesses the concept of a self as a
continuous being of mental states. This definition of possessing
a right to life can be applied to newborn babies that do not yet
have a concept of a self as a continuous being. Therefore, it is
morally acceptable to deprive them of their right to life,
for they don't show desire for life. According to Tooley,
the fetus does not have a right to life at any time therefore,
the mother of that fetus should have the right to terminate her
pregnancy as she so chooses. Tooley implies that until the fetus
reaches the age of about three weeks outside the uterus, it does
not show signs of wanting life. Only when the child shows signs
of desiring life should the child be given a right to life.
These arguments are controversial to say the least. However,
they contain a rational opinion of when an organism should be
given a right to life.
Mary Anne Warren also examines the morality of abortion
in her article titled "On the Moral and Legal Status of
Abortion". She attempts to address the question "how are we
to define the moral community, the set of beings