Why is Abortion Controversial?

Today, abortion is common for a number of reason - sex is seen as being more for pleasure than procreation, wome have a greater social and legal status, low child morality has reduced the need for so many children and foetal abnormalities can be detected. 

Abortion is commonplace in many countries, with tens of millions of abortions taking place every year. 

Although it is legal in many countries, its morality is disputed. Religious organisations such as the Roman Catholic Church campaign against the availability of abortion, while women's rights groups campaign for greater access.

The key ethical dimensions in the abortion debate include whether there should be an absolutistis prohibition of abortion on the basis of divine law, natural law or human rights, or whether there are situations in which bad consequences would ensue as a result of going ahead with the pregnancy 

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Christians and the Sanctity of Life

In ethics, abortion refers to the intentional destruction of a foetus in the womb. Ancient views of abortion differ, just as they do know. 

  • Aristotle favoured abortion to control the size of a family, but the Hippocratic oath prohibited it. 
  • No biblical text specifically prohibits abortion, although a numer are cited as providng a framework for prohibiting abortion (Genesis 4:1, Job 31:15, Isiah 44:24 and 48:1)
  • Its prohibited in Christian writings such as the Didache ton Apostolon (a 1st century AD Christian guide to living) and those of Clement of Alexander and Terullian 
  • Christian writers disputed the point at which the soul infused with the body (ensoulement) and also whether early abortions were as morally grave as later ones, but essentially it was viewed as murder. 
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Christians and the Sanctity of Life

  • The act of killing ends the life, the autonomy of the person and any possible future contributions that life could have made. 
  • religious organisations argue that humans don't have authority over the taking of life as God is the life-creator and giver.
  • Christianity rejects the taking of innocent life and so abortion is considered a grave sin - intrinsically evil, and condemned absolutely by the Catholic Church, as it goes against natural law and the word of God 
  • God alone is the Lord of life and death and so abortion at any stage is the murder of an innocent 
  • Liberal Protestant Christians oppose abortion in principle and advocate the preservation of life, but allow for abortion in certain situations (e.g. where the mother's life is threatened - **** or incest or the mother's mental/physical health is endangered)
  • The "doctrine of double effect" principle may be applied to allow for an abortion to save the life of a mother than otherwise neither the mother nor the foetus would live - ectopic pregnancy 
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Personhood and the Status of the Foetus

  • While some form of life is clearly present at conception, whether that form of life should get the full protection of the law is disputed
  • Should status increase incrementally as the foetus becomes more like a born human being, or should it be bound to the point of conception or the point of birth?
  • Opponents of abortion argue that to kill a foetus is to murder a human person - the foetus contains the necessary genetic material 
  • Others argue that the fertilised egg is to different from anything that we normally recognise as a person to be called the same thing 
  • Personhood may be given when the foetus is viable, when it can survive a birth - although people who are dependent on continual medical assistance are considered to be persons despite their medical conditiions 
  • The following are suggested as defining aspects of personhood - consciousness, rationality, self-awareness, and our ability to develop complex language and make complex tools
  • Is a foetus a person or a potential person?
  • The definition of personhood is unresolved, as is agreement over the point at which a potential human being becomes a full human being 
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Abortion and Rights

  • There's a historical experience of female suppression and a patriarchal society, a defining women's roles in terms of motherhood
  • Mary Anne Warren argues that women should have the right to abort unwanted pregnancies, because if the state was to prohibit abortion undesirable consequences would follow 
  • Illegal abortions would claim lives - and basic women's rights would be lost, as control over the reproductive system and process is essential if women are to experience basic rights to life, liberty and self-determination 
  • Judith Jarvis Thompson sees abortion as an issue of self-defence - although, arguable, the foetus has the right of self-defence against the mother. 
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