• Created by: Hope
  • Created on: 12-01-15 17:05


Definition: The deliberate ending of life after the fertilisation of the human ovum and before birth. 

Abortion is now more common because of...

  • Sex is seen as more common
  • There is a decreased need for so many children
  • Foetal abnormalities can be detected 


Abortion became legal under the Abortion Act in 1967. An abortion can only be carried out in the first 24 weeks and must be in hospital or specialised clinic. 2 doctormust give their consent. 

The 1990 Act lowered the legal time limit from 28 to 24 weeks. 

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Perception of Personhood: Potentiality


People believe that a foetus should be given the status of a person becasue it has the potential to become a person. Anything that has the potential to be a human is a human. 


  • Not very scientific
  • A potential victory is not a victory 
  • Anything can have potential 


  • Logical argument 
  • Morally in society we promote that everyone should achieve their potential
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Perception of Personhood: Pre-Exsistance

Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists believe in reincarnation. Reincarnation contains the idea of pre-exsistance. This is continuing to live until you live the ideal life and reach enlightenment. 

Therefore killing a baby before it can reach enlightenment is wrong. The foetus is already a fufilled person so the killing is murder. 

Life therefore has intrinsic worth.


  • Whole concept is based on reincarnation which has not been proved
  • If they get aborted they can move on anyway


  • It hasnt been disproven.
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Perception of Personhood: Conception

Conception is the point where the unique selection of genetic information is present

It is the moment the sperm and the egg have combined to create a fertilized ovum. If ovum is allowed to ocntinue to develop it will go on to be a unique human being. 

In 1869 Pope Pius declared a foetus is a human from the moment of conception. To have an abortion is to murder someone. 


A fertilised egg is too different from anything we would recognise as a person so it cannot be called the same thing. 

Thompson accepts there is continuos development of the foetus but there is a point where it is not a human being. ''There is a continuous growth from acorn to oak tree but an acorn is not an oak tree, just as a fertilized ovum- is not a person''. 

Glover- to call a foetus a human at the point of conception stretches the term beyond normal boundries. 

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Perception of Personhood: Primitive Streak

Primitive Streak 

The evidence of the start of nervous system at 2 weeks (when the embryo can start feeling things). Makes the structure of the person and up until this point it is not clear whether one baby or more babies will form also becomes clear what cells will form the placenta and which will go on to form the embryo.

14 days is the limit for embryo research. 


Glover- 'To call a foetus a human at the point of primitive stretches the term beyond normal boundries. It is completely unrecognisable.'

You can also use Thompsons critism for Conception

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Perception of Personhood: Viability

Viability is the point at which personhood should be recognised. 

It is the point at which a foetus could survive on its own. (20-24 weeks). The age at which a baby can survive out of the womb is decreasing. 


  • Even healthy born human babies would not survive without adult aid 
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The Issue

There are conflicting interests between the baby and the mother:

  • The severe danger of death: An ectopic pregnancy will kill both the mother and child if left interrupted
  • Changes of pregnancy aggrivating exsisting health problems: Mother with heart problems are under increased risk of serious problems 
  • If the mother becomes unwell there is the decision as to make the mother better even if it badly effects the baby 
  • That what may be good for the mother can sometimes harm the baby visa versa 
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Defence of Abortion- Judith Thompson

Thompson sees abortion as an issue of self-defence. 

If the foetus threatens the life of the mother then the abortion is a defensive matter.

Argues its irrational to risk your own life to save someone elses 

If cannot be suggested that someone should just sit and wait for death 

It is beyond a persons moral duty to give up their life for another, if case of an abortion if a womans life is in danger she should not be obligated to give it up. 

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Double Effect

One position which takes into account the threat to a mothers life is that which argues for a double effect way of thinking. 

The way of thinking tht when doing an action if you're intending to follow the rule then the consequences are ok. e.g. With an ectopic pregnancy the doctors are aiming to save the mother not kill the child.

The idea was insired by St Thomas Aquinus. 

Roman Catholics accept double effect as a justifyable ethical doctirine. 

Doctirine of Double Effect-

This doctirine says that if you're doing something morally good which has a morally bad side effect its ethically okay to do it providing the bad side-effect wasn't intended. This is true even if you foresaw the bad effect would probably happen. 

Good Action --------> Good Consequence

(but there is a bad consequence.)

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Ethical Issues in the Law

In Britian abortion is not legally avaliable at the request of a woman

After a woman has decided she wants to abort her baby she has to persuage 2 doctors to agree to her decision 

This requirement is paternalistic (a policy of treating or governing people in a fatherly manner)

It is also damaging as allows the 1 in 10 doctors opposed to abortions to stop it and this could create distress for the mother. 

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The Feminist Approach

Feminists say that omwn are oppressed by a patriarchal society (a male dominant society). One form of oppression is not letting them have an argument when they want one. 

Feminists believe the foetus is irrelevant compared to the mother. If the foetus has same rights it would be able to stop the mother from doing what she wants so thats why shes being opressed. 

Mary-Anne Warren

Arugment: Women should have right to abort pregnancy as it should become part of peoples right to life. She argues this becasue she thinks if women cant abort at any time it could lead to illegal abortions or self-harm. In Romania the death rate went up when abortions became illegal. 

This suggests that the foetus has no proioetry over life of the mother as she believs forcing someone to not have an abortion is to take away their freedown of lfie, liberty and self determination 

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Feminist Issues with the Law

The law and requirement for abortion is paternalistic. Because the doctor says no its unfiar because they should be able to do what they want with their body. 

THe foetus has more priority as its hard for women to go through the painful process that she is not aloud to go through with what she wants. 

Savita Halappanavar:

Savita died due to her not being able to abort her child. She had severe back pains and miscarrying and risked her life. 

She asked to be induced but couldnt because there was a foetal heart beat. 

What does this say about Ireland's view on the priority of the foetus over the life of the mother?

Ireland is catholic and even though she was indian they would not allow it. Whne it has a heart beat it is equal/more important. 

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Bible Quotes:

Matthew 22:39 

'The second most important commandment is like it: Love your neighbour as you love yourself'

1 Cor. 3:16-17 

'You are God's temple and that God's spirit lives in you! So if anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him!' It is wrong to kill. 

Exodus 21:22-25

'If some men are fighting and hurt a pregnant woman so that she loses her child, the one who hurt her is to be fined' If it wrong to kill a foetus.

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The Sancity of Life & Religious Perspectives

The religious perspective revolves around the sancity of life. 

THis view states that all life is created by God and therefore, only God has the right to take it away.

Religious arguments against abortion:

The limits of human authority ver the taking of life and tend tend to be disapproving of abortion 

Claim that God gave life and therefore we cannot destroy what God has given

There is something intrinsically good about life and creating life 

Claim life is scared 

Conservative traditions are deontological and absolutist - support complete ban of abortion (catholics and evangelical)

MOre proportional view - willing to allow (liberal prodestants and church of england)

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Catholic View

Catholic- Abortion is intrinsically evil 

Abortion goes against the natural law and work of God. No exceptions. 

The foetus deserves the same status as a born human being 

Having an abortionleaves you open to excommunication- The act of banashing a member of a church from the commmunion of believers and the privileges of the churhc. 

A foetus is ensouled (the process by which a body is endowed with a soul) at conception 

It should be given all rights of a person because it has a soul

It should be considered as murder

The natural purpose of sex is to create life 

A one week old foetus has potential. 

Humans as stewards have a duty to protect human life so that it may develop and flourish to its end. 

Pope John Paul; 'the church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of human procreation must be guarranteed that unconditional respect...(from) the moment of conception' 

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Orthodox Church and Evangelical

Both oppose abortion because God is the authority of life. 

David Smith identifies 4 principles that roughly summaries the Christian absolute rejection of abortion 

  1. God alone is the Lord of life and death 
  2. Humans have no right to take life 
  3. Human life begins at conception
  4. Abortion at any stage is murder of an innocent 
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Church of England and Liberal Prodestants

Church of England 

Leaves Anglicans to make their own decisions using their conscience. 

The General Synod have expressed opposition of abortion considering the Right to Life Argument and Contravenes Moral Law but they allow you to make your own decision. 

Concerned with growing number of abortions, accepted in limited number of circumstances. 

Liberal Prodestant Christians 

Oppose abortion in princple and advocate the preservation of life 

Allow it in some circumstances- e.g.

  • Prior to formation of nervous system and brain
  • Where mothers life is threatened
  • **** or incest 
  • Mothers mental or physical health is in danger
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Double Effect with Catholics

In practice:

Remove fallopian tube ---mothers life is saved (first 'good effect') ---Foetus dies (second 'bad' effect)

Catholic thinking:

Accepts double effect as a justifiable ethical doctirine in order to save the life of the mother. 

Vardy and Grosch identify an error-

New laser technology will enable women to have a safer operation but it involved foetus being lasered which is seen as killing the foetus directly therefore not applying to rules fo double effect. 

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