Abortion - medical ethics

Investigation of abortion in medical ethics

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An abortion is the termination of a foetus up to 24 weeks in a pregnancy.

The Abortion Act 1967 set the limit for an abortion at 28 weeks. Medical advances and The Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 1990 lowered the limit to 24 weeks which it still stands at today as a foetus has a higher level of viability.

The abortion debate is a controversial topic due to many areas including; when life begins, and whether a foetus has the right to life based on the principles of the Sanctity of Life and the Declaration of Human Rights.

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When does life begin?

  • Conception - Believed by most Catholics
  • Heartbeat (6 weeks)
  • When organs are active and formed (16-18 weeks)
  • Ensoulment (16-18 weeks) - Aristotle stated that it took 40 days for males to recieve their soul and 90 days for females to receive theirs. Roman Catholics look into the view.
  • Brain activity
  • Birth
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Principles of the Sanctity of Life & rights of the

The Principles of the Sanctity of LIfe are the most important aspect within the abortion debate for most religious believers.

  • Life is God given
  • Life is sacred and must be preserved
  • Every life has a purpose
  • Only God can decide when life ends

All of these principles point out that an abortion is wrong as God created life and therefore only He should be able to take life away. On the other hand, Life is sacred and must be preserved shows that a woman, using this principle, can be allowed to have an abortion if it will be the "lesser of two evils" and preserving her own life.
The SOL shows that the foetus has the right to be born and live it's life to find their purpose. If it is believed that life begins at conception, a foetus can be backed by the Declaration of Human Rights (shown later on) and therefore is protected by laws to have a right to be born.

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Abortion - the Facts

The Abortion Act 1967 made it legal to have an abortion if:

  • Two doctors agree it is needed
  • It is carried out on registered premises
  • The foetus is not yet viable and therefore won't survive outside of the womb.

Doctors - who have taken the Hippocratic Oath, must consider whether:

  • The life, health or mental health of the mother is at risk.
  • An existing family will suffer if the pregnany continues.
  • There is a reasonable chance that the child will be born handicapped.

Ann Furedi, the Birth Control Trust, "Doctors do not wish to inflict suffering on foetuses, but to relieve the suffering of women."

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The Declaration of Human Rights

Every human being is protected by The Declaration of Human Rights, however it is still debated as to whether a foetus is protected by these rights or not.

Out of 30 articles, there are several which relate to the abortion debate:

Article 1 - All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Article 3 - Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 18 - Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Article 19 - Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Article 25, part 2 - Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.

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Woman's Right's movement

The woman's rights movement have several reasons both for and against abortion.


  • Women need the choice of abortion as it is them who go through the pregnancy process.
  • Choice is needed for equality with men
  • A women has control over her own body - a foetus is within a women's womb and is therefore a part of her body.
  • Women's aspirations ultimately rest on when she decides to have children.


  • Kathryn Kolbert [On the decision to allow abortions] "This landmark decision ...has enabled millions of women to participate fully and in equality."
  • Margeret Sanger (Founder of Planned Parenthood) - "No woman can call herself free unless she can make the conscious decision of if she will or will not be a mother."
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Women's rights

Against abortion:

  • Abortion should be one of many rights in a portfolio of the pregnant women's rights.
  • Abortion allows men to exploit women 'on demand,' abortion can be seen as freely available to back up contraception.
  • Woman should be supported as mothers - Article 25, part 2 of DoHR
  • A woman should protect the life she helped to created - unless she didn't willingly e.g. ****.
  • Abortion does not solve some fundamental issues e.g. the issue of becoming pregnant by ****, an abortion resolves the pregnancy but doesn't solve the issue of ****.
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Mens rights

Men and fathers rights are rarely discussed in the abortion debate.

  • Armin A.Brott - "A woman can legally deprive a man of his right to become a parent or force him to become one against his will."
  • In 1987 and 2001, men attempted, in the UK courts, to prevent their formal partners having abortions; they all failed in their protests.
  • Most legal systems don't allow a father to escape responsibility for his child and for paying to support that child, this applies even in the father had wanted the mother to have an abortion.
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Religious views

Both Anglicans and Roman Catholics believe that life begins at conception, Roman Catholics further this by looking into Aristotles idea of Ensoulment.

Both Anglicans and Roman Catholics value the Sanctity of Life principles. Christians believe the SOL is the most important aspect in the Abortion Debate.

Roman Catholics:

  • Absolute view - Abortion is murder, refers to 10 Commanments - "Thou shalt not kill"
  • No sex before marriage
  • Abortion can be the "lesser of two evils" if the mothers life is at risk.
  • Excommunication for church if abortion takes place
  • Strict and outdated
  • Pope,Vatican,bible and church references
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Church of England

  • Relative - more modern than Roman Catholics
  • Sex within marriage is preferred (more cohabiting in today's society, casual sex takes place - Situation Ethics = Sexual revolution in 1960's)
  • Abortion not acceptable for several reasons but "lesser of two evils" is allowed.
  • Situation ethics (agape love) and Utilitarianism (Greatest good for greatest number) principles followed.
  • Bible, Archbishop, church support beliefs
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Other religions

Muslims - Allah has a plan for every individual - including handicapped ones so abortion shouldn't be allowed.

Islam - "Do not kill your children in fear of poverty. We shall provide for them and you. Killing them is a holy sin." - Qur'an

Hindu's - Every life has a soul, destroying a soul has a huge effect on there Dharma and Karma and would be viewed as murder.

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Other quotes

Tony Blair - "However much I dislike the idea of abortion, you should not criminalise a woman who, in very difficult circumstances, makes that choise." Refers to the stroy of the Republican taxi driver in Situation Ethics told by Fletcher - "There are times when a man has to push his principles aside and do the right thing."

George W.Bush - "We must appreciate the dignity of life in all its seasons ... to work towards the day when every child, born and unborn, is welcomes to life and protected by law."

Aristotle saw abortion as a "good way to control family size"

David Smith "God is the lord of life and death, and no human should have the right to take life, life begins at conception and so abortion at any stage is the murder of an innocent."

Glenys Roberts, the Daily Mail, 1996 - "Only ten years ago most doctors believed the newborn baby could not feel pain. Now we know a "child" still too young to be born can feel pain."

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Bible, "Your body is God's temple, and the spirit of God lives among you, if you destroy God's temple, god will destroy you, for God's temple is sacred."

Mother Teresa, "The greatest destoyer of love and peace is abortion which is war against the child. The mother doesn't learn to love but kills to solve her own problems."

Thompson - "An acorn is not yet a tree just because it has the potential to be so." - A foetus is not yet a human because it has the potential to be one.

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I had an exam about abortion the other day.

rebecca browning

Yeah same here :)


Great work :)




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