8 Apr 2022


The Abortion Issue

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Abortion is defined as the deliberate ending of a pregnancy before the fetus or embryo can survive outside the uterus. In medical parlance, it is referred to as induced abortion to differentiate it from miscarriage, which is spontaneous. Abortion and its kindred debate have been in existence for over two millennia. Historical records of abortion date back to 2700BCE in China, 1550BCE in Ancient Egypt and 200CE in the Roman Empire. The contemporary abortion debate however, began in the mid-twentieth century and has divided the society into two groups; those for abortion known as pro-choice while those against abortion called pro-life. This classification is based on the best aspects of each group’s basic argument. Whereas this debate is usually carried out from a predominantly legal, religious, and political perspectives it is essentially a philosophical debate as all its debaters either knowingly or unknowingly argue philosophical arguments under their respective auspices be it law, religion or politics (Bachioch, 2011). My informed opinion on the issue however leans towards the pro-choice argument as derived from Kantian Ethics. In arriving at and defending this contention, I have evaluated the works of several philosophers with regard to abortion from a pro-life and pro-choice perspective.

The pro-choice debaters usually champion the right of the woman to decide whether or not to terminate the pregnancy on the basis that the pregnancy is within her and therefore her choice. This is the main fundamental argument while supplementary grounds include medical situations that make the pregnancy risky for the mother, commercial and environmental circumstances that may make life unpleasant for the infant, the increasing population density of a place, or psychological issues that may make the birth of a particular child traumatic to the mother. The Pro-life debate is premised mainly on one single issue that immediately or soon after conception, the zygote becomes a human being, an innocent human being whose killing is morally and legally wrong as well as against the doctrines of most religions (McCoy, 2011). 

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Since everyone agrees that it is wrong to kill an innocent human being, these arguments boil down to two major issues; at what point does a zygote become a human being who should be considered independently from the mother or is it part of the mother. This is what makes it a purely philosophical issue that has to be analyzed and decided upon from a philosophical perspective. The philosophical abortion argument is therefore right-based (deontological) in nature and to arrive at a decision regarding abortion from a philosophical perspective, one needs to look at this concepts and their related arguments so as to arrive at the right conclusion. 

The first issue regards the point at which a human being is formed; is it at birth, at conception or in between. The Kantian ethics, my main premises for being pro-choice interprets humanity on the basis of ability to make rational decisions. From this very fundamental reason, Kantian ethics automatically disqualify an embryo from consideration. Unfortunately Kantian ethics is not reliable in this aspect as it can also be extended to mean that killing a small child or an imbecile would also be in order. This leaves us with the philosophical debate regarding the beginning of personhood which regards the point at which a life is considered to be a full person.

From a genetic perspective, the zygote contains the same genetic makeup as the embryo and the infant leading to a common contention that personhood begins from conception (Sell, 2016). This contention can however, not hold water in light of the advanced stem cell research that has made it possible for human organism to be spawned in a laboratory for purposes of genetic research. The argument that personhood be termed from a genetic perspective would make genetic researchers the equivalents of God in the ability to make life and mass murderers since they harvest the stem cells from zygotes they create in the laboratories for the purposes of research. It is therefore, my informed contention that the argument premised on genetics does not hold water in this argument on the beginning of personhood.

The second argument with regard to the beginning of personhood involves the concept of the soul in traditional philosophy, which has now been translated to mean subjectivity, inter-subjectivity, mind and self which a human organism need to have developed in order to be considered to be a whole person. One of the philosophical ways of looking at this issue is differentiating between a person and a biological human. Upon conception, the zygote is definitely a biological human but to determine if it is a person, it need to pass the following yardstick as set by Mary Anne Warren an American philosopher and writer: the organism must have a consciousness of objects both internal and external to the being and the same should be testable through the perception and interpretation of pain. 

The second aspect of the yardstick involves the ability to reason out and solve relatively complex problems. Third, the organism should have an ability and capacity for independent and self-motivated activity; this can either be genetically oriented or premised on direct external control which essentially refers to the ability to follow instructions (Feldman, 1998). Next is the ability to communicate by whatever means possible but the message should be original and capable of interpretation. Finally, the organism should have the capacity for self-awareness in that the organism knows what it is as an individual with regard to issues such as gender, ethnicity or race.

This criterion automatically disqualifies an unborn child from the interpretation of personhood and therefore settles the debate on whether abortion amounts to the killing of a human being. While it can be argued that an embryo can feel pain, this is the only item in the yardstick that it qualifies in. All the others require autonomy which the zygote an embryo cannot possibly have. Other related arguments including legal status, bodily integrity and natality also support the contention that the personhood only begin after birth (Bachioch, 2011). Indeed, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled severally that when the assault of a pregnant woman amounts to an abortion, the assaulting party cannot be indicted, let alone convicted for murder but only for aggravated assault.

The second issue regards the capacity and need of the mother to decide on the fate of the child as long as the child is inside her body since this decision regards her body and life too making her fundamental right as well as the other consequentialism and utilitarian grounds that make the abortion necessary like population density and the anticipated life available for the infant upon birth. Further the pro-choice supporters argue that that illegalizing and condemning abortion does not stop it; it only increases the prevalence of unsafe backstreet abortion that has contributed to the deaths of thousands of teenagers. 

There is also the argument with regard to the quality of life for children born of mothers who are not ready for parenthood which encourages the child develop criminal tendencies. This is the arguments that have been subject to vigorous and sometimes violently acrimonious debate. It is however the position taken by Kantian Ethics that puts the matter to rest. Susan Feldman in her treatise How Kantian Ethics Should Treat Pregnancy and Abortion a woman, being an autonomous person as defined under humanity should be allowed full control of her body including the unborn child as German philosopher Immanuel Kant suggested (McCoy, 2011). This contention has been supported by Carl Cohen, and Dean Harris, two other leading supporters of Kantian ethics.

The strongest argument against this contention is the slippery slope argument that argues that the moment any aspect of life is considered as dispensable for any reason whatsoever, the definition will continue expanding from abortion to infanticide, to euthanasia and even capital punishment and murder. This is coupled in the pro-life philosophers’ consequentialism and utilitarian argument regarding the probable negative effects of abortion including the existence of post-abortion syndrome and the theory that abortion encourages breast cancer. They also argue that abortion leaves a permanent psychological problem in the person who procures it.

There is obvious validity in this arguments just as there are valid arguments against air transport, surgery, war, stem cell research and all the other necessary but contentious activities. However, any and all arguments are quieted by scenarios that make abortion absolutely necessary like when a child is sexually molested by her biological father and ends up pregnant, should such a child be allowed to give birth? It is these extremities that should tilt the opinion of even the most fervent pro-life philosophers to admit that under some circumstances, abortion is an absolute necessity. 

From the upshot of the foregoing is that albeit there remains valid philosophical arguments against abortion, the factors that make it absolutely necessary outweigh this arguments thus settling the matter by confirming that albeit the decision to procure an abortion should only be taken as a last result and after deep reflection, it should in the final analysis be up to the woman within whose body the zygote or embryo is going. Most religious beliefs on abortion however are premised on beliefs and not valid arguments and more often than not amount to hypocrisy since the highest contributors to backstreet abortion are members of religions who condemn abortion. A reasonable and level headed debate premised on sound philosophy like the one outlined herein is therefore the best way to ensure universal consensus on abortion. 


Bachioch, E. (2011). Embodied equality: Debunking equal protection arguments for abortion rights. Harvard journal of law & public policy, 34 (3), 889-950

Feldman S. (1998). From occupied bodies to pregnant persons: How Kentia Ethics should treat pregnancy and abortion. Autonomy and community: Readings in contemporary Kantian philosophy . New York: State University of New York Press. 

McCoy, R. (2011). Kantian moral philosophy and the morality of abortion . Retrieved from <http://research.monm.edu/mjur/files/2011/04/Kantian_Moral_Philosophy_2011.pdf/>

Sell, M. (2016). Hartselle lawmaker pushes abortion bill saying life begins at conception. Decatur Daily, The (AL).

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