Notes about Abortion


Abortion key words

Abortion- The termination of a pregnancy before 24 weeks.

Embryo- an unborn human baby after implantation but before the development of organs.

Foetus- an unborn human baby after 8 weeks.

Primitive streak- the faint streak which is the earliest trace of the embryo.

Viability- the point at which the developing foetus becomes capable of living outside the womb.

Fertilised ovum- a female reproductive cell which has been fertilised by a sperm cell.

Consciousness- a state of being awake or sensitive to one's surroundings.

Personhood- The ethical quality or human condition which denotes a morally significant or valuable individual being.

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When does life begin?

Catholics believe that life begins at conception when the egg is fertilised and the baby is an embryo.

An embryo could be believed to be a human at 14 days when it produces hormones that stop the mother from menstruating. This is called the 'primitive' streak. This is the faint streak which is the earliest trace of the embryo in the fertilised ovum of a higher vertebrate.

Some people believe that life begins at 8 weeks when the embryo becomes a foetus. This is when it has everything a fully grown human being has. 

Some people believe that life begins at week 23 when the foetus is viable. This is the point at which the foetus is capable of surviving outside the womb. Up until 24 weeks, women in Britain can legally have an abortion.

Some people believe that life begins at birth.

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Critics of when life begins

'Life begins at conception'-Judith Jarvis Thompson- 'There is a continuous growth from acorn to oak tree, but an acorn is not an oak tree' This means when a foetus is growing it is preparing for life, but that does not necessarily means that a foetus counts as a life.

Jonathan Glover- 'to call a foetus at the point of conception a person stretches the term beyond normal boundaries'. 

Viability- The moral judgement that the foetus is a person is dependent on medical technology, rather than anything inherent in the foetus.

At birth- Mary Anne Warren- 'Birth marks the beginning of the moral status'. We recognise this as an individual. She argues if the foetus is a person then the sperm and egg are persons.

Jonathan Glover- It is more reasonable to base the moral value of a human being in something inherent about the human being rather than the recognition of others. No father can legally stop a woman from keeping or aborting a baby.

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Christian views on abortion

Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Evangelical: Always against abortion. God alone is lord of life and death. Humans have no right to take a life. Human life begins at conception. Abortion at any stage is murder.

'Thou shalt not kill', 'Love thy neighbour', 'your body is the spirit of the holy temple.'

In Southern Ireland, abortion is illegal, women have no options except to have a backstreet abortion or come to England to have one.

Church of England- There are limited conditions when an abortion would be acceptable- If there is significant risk to the mother/baby, and ****. They look at what the most compassionate action would be.

Episcopal Church- Pro-choice- they support the woman's rights above the foetus.

The double effect rule is accepted by Christians in some cases- It is the idea that even if a good act results in bad consequences, then it is still right to do that act. 

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Issues arising from abortion

Does the definition of human life stop abortion from being murder?

-Religious/philosophical views consider human life to have the highest value.

- They conclude that abortion is a moral crime. 

Do we treat miscarried unborn children the same way as born children who die? 

- No we don't, miscarried unborn children get cremated.

Is there social recognition of the loss of an aborted child?

- No there isn't, because it doesn't have a name/birth certificate etc. 

Do we recognize the status of the unborn to the same degree as humans?

-No we don't, The unborn do not have the same legal status and aren't registered as a death. (no death certificate for an embryo/foetus, but there is one for a newborn).

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Difference between murder and killing 1

Murder- describes the intentional killing of human beings. 

Killing- describes the killing of other sentient life forms.

Self defence- an example of murder in which the situation is taken into account and the judgement and punishment may be changed by the courts.

Difficult to separate the moral question about the life of the mother vs the life of the child.

Can abortion ever be said to be good?

- Religious teachings- abortion is an intrinsic evil in any situation, irrespective of the consequences (cannot apply Utilitarian Ethics which look at the consequences of a moral action) 

- Sanctity of life- given the utmost priority when making a moral decision.

- It is difficult to consider the killing of an innocent life in any situation.

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Difference between murder and killing 2

2 situations- Self defence and war

-we can make exceptions in where lethal force may be necessary.

- can abortion be considered one of those exceptions?

- can we compare abortion to self-defence and just war?

How we answer the question of abortion being right or wrong changes depending on the situation the mother finds herself in or on the consequences of the action.

Some possible situations- medical risk to the mother of carrying through with the pregnancy, mental and emotional burden on an impoverished family by bringing a child into the world that cannot be cared for, psychological harm to the mother being forced to have an unwanted pregnancy as a result of incest or ****.

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Difference between murder and killing 3

Do humans have a right to life?

Right to life of the unborn (pro-life) vs Right to choice for the woman (pro-choice)

Human rights- universal rights and freedoms (United declaration on Human Rights)

The right to life is the most fundamental of these rights and on this right all other rights rest,

However, these rights only apply to born human beings. 

Society grants people 'moral recognition',

Are embryos/foetus' persons? (preference utilitarianism)

Are they granted moral recognition? If so, do they have rights?

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