Aristotle supports abortion when writing that "when couples have children in excess, let abortion be procured before sense and life have begun; what may or may not be lawfully done in these cases depends on the question of life and sensation" (Politics, 7:16) The issue of abortion involves a reflection on the reasons for or against terminating the life of a fetus. Much has been written on the issue of abortion both in the popular press and in the philosophical literature.
The debate focuses on two distinct issues: (1) whether a human fetus has a right to life, and, if so, (2) whether the rights of the mother ever override the fetus's right.Often the issues are discussed independently of each other. Abortion is an issue that stirs up, on all sides, very strong feelings and judgments and very heated allegations. The most radical formulation of the anti-abortion or "pro-life" side of the debate views abortion as the murder of unborn children, and so as the equivalent of out and out infanticide, making the legal use of abortion since Roe v. Wade, at a rate of around 1.5 million a year in the United States, into a holocaust of the innocent fully comparable to the Nazi genocide against the Jews.
Pros of AbortionI. Right of a Woman to DecideSome women want abortions. The woman who is pregnant due to rape may feel devastated by the idea of carrying and giving birth to the child of the man who violated her. The woman whose health is already at risk may not want to undergo the increased risk that carrying the fetus to term would impose on her. The woman who has already had several children, and has now been deserted by the man she lived with, may believe herself unable to supply a decent life for yet another child. A woman may discover that the child she will deliver will be horribly deformed.
A woman who is preparing to embark on a career that requires hard work and single-mindedness may prefer to wait until she is in a position to give a child the attention a child needs.However, if abortion were murder, all that would amount to little. Suppose that a fetus is a product of rape, or that allowing it to develop would constitute a threat to the woman's health or make it impossible for her to supply a decent life to other already existing children, or that it is deformed, or that allowing it to develop would interfere with plans that are central to her life. If Killing the fetus were murder, the woman would have to carry it to term, despite the burden on her of doing so. Morality, after all, does not permit us to commit murder in the name of avoiding such burdens.
You certainly may not murder your five year-old child just because it is a product of rape, or because its demands on your attention get in the way of your career According to Ronald Dworkin (Dworkin, 1994), however, opponents of abortion do not really mean it. In his interesting recent book on abortion and euthanasia, Dworkin argues that opponents of abortion do not really believe that the fetus has a right to life, but only something weaker, namely that "it is intrinsically a bad thing" when a fetus is deliberately destroyed.II A View of the MajorityA majority of Americans are "pro-choice" in the sense of believing that abortion should be legal far beyond cases of rape and incest; but a majority also regards abortion as in some sense "wrong" and endorses various obstacles to abortion, including waiting periods, counseling, parental consent, etc. Indeed, a New York Times/CBS News poll, reported in the January 16, 1998, Los Angeles Daily News, reported that 50% of Americans actually believe that abortion is murder, though only 22% believe that abortion should not be permitted.
This division is only possible if a substantial number of people see responsibility, not "right to life," as the decisive issue.From the poll, we might say that the 45% who believe in abortion with "stricter limits" reflect this view. The obstacles to abortion in that sense serve, not to prohibit abortion, but to make it difficult enough to drive home its seriousness. Of course, to them it is serious, and responsibility is an issue, because of a sense that an embryo or a fetus is a living thing, and a potential human being, so that abortion, even if it is not murder, is a morally serious form of killing.
As the fetus approaches viability in the second and third trimesters, and abortion approaches the palpable practice of infanticide, support for abortion drops off dramatically.III Abortion in Historical perspectiveIn 1955, the anthropologist George Devereux demonstrated that abortion has been practiced in almost all human communities from the earliest times. (Devereux, 1954) The patterns of abortion use, in hundreds of societies around the world since before recorded history, have been strikingly similar. Women faced with unwanted pregnancies have turned to abortion, regardless of religious or legal sanction and often at considerable risk (David, 1981).
Used to deal with upheavals in personal, family, and community life, abortion has been called “a fundamental aspect of human behavior”(Chase, 1989). In primitive tribal societies, abortions were induced by using poisonous herbs, sharp sticks, or by sheer pressure on the abdomen until vaginal bleeding occurred.Abortion techniques are described in the oldest known medical texts (David, 1981). Socrates, Plato and Aristotle were all known to suggest abortion. Even Hippocrates, who spoke against abortion because he feared injury to the woman, recommended it on occasion by prescribing violent exercises (David, 1981).
Roman morality placed no social stigma on abortion. . Up to 400 AD, as the relatively few Christians were widely scattered geographically, the actual practice of abortion among Christians probably varied considerably and was influenced by regional customs and practice (Watter, 1976).