Analyse and interpret the pro-life and pro-choice perspective on abortion
The principal aim of this essay, is to give a greater understanding on the subject of abortion and the debate that surrounds this topic area, it would be an understatement to say that abortion is an utterly controversial subject, which as for many years, lead to numerous heated debates, as it is not uncommon that each individual holds their own strong willed opinion (Marsh and Chambers, 1981). The actual definition of abortion can be characterized as a procedure of removing prematurely a foetus from a woman’s womb and the term ‘abortion’ finds it origins in the Latin word ‘aboriri’, which signifies ‘failing to be born’ (Jenkins, 2002).
It should not be forgotten that abortion has not always be legal in the United Kingdom, therefore this legal status of abortion only changed with the adoption of ‘The Abortion Act 1967’ which took effect on the 27th April 1968 (Lee, 2000). There was further development brought by ‘The 1990 Human Fertilization and Embryology Act’, which set a new upper time limit reducing from the 28th week to that of the 24th week of pregnancy for the acceptance of an abortion (Talking Politics, 2002).
There are many reasons for why women decide to ask for an intervention, such as an abortion, whether it is for personal or for medical reasons, it is important to point out that an abortion will only be granted, if certain conditions are met, the grounds for the acceptance of this type of intervention maybe that the woman’s life and her health are in danger, but the mental and emotional situations are also taken into consideration, which are closely linked with other factors, such as social background and financial aspects, are all motives that may lead to an abortion being endorsed (Lee, 2000).
The second condition in the legal acceptance of an intervention, is the agreement of two separate medical practitioners, stating that the act is necessary because the physical health of the pregnant woman or the physical and mental well-being of the zygote-embryo-foetus being born are in some form of risk (Jenkins, 2002).
When looking at the whole abortion debate, it is extremely clear and quite evident, that it is headed by advocacy groups and these groups have the tendency to be separated into two camps, those who believe in that abortion should be legal and are therefore described as ‘Pro-Choice’, while the second camp, who are not in favour of the legalisation of abortion, are commonly known as ‘Pro-Life’ (www. quickoverview. com).
The main issue that is at the centre of many disagreements between the pro-life movement and the pro-choice movement is the subject of personhood and when this takes place, the pro-life campaigners believe strictly, that it is at the moment of conception that personhood and life actually begins, whereas the pro-choice activists argue that human life or personhood occurs at a later stage of the pregnancy (Jenkins, 2002).
It would be true to say that the whole debate stems around at what exact point that life begins, if the pro-life argument is to be taken into consideration, that both the embryo and the foetus that it becomes would be classed as a person, as a result in terms of abortion, this termination of a pregnancy could be lawfully considered as a form of infanticide (Lee, 2000).
Therefore, it is exceptionally important to define and understand what actually makes a person a person, consequently from a philosophical viewpoint; there are two different questions that need to be answered, firstly, and ‘with what are humans made? and secondly ‘do humans beings have a vital essence without which they would not be considered human? ‘. In answer to these two questions, Philosophy provides two solutions, in the form of Monism and Pluralism. Monism, states that each individual is composed of just one single substance, thus either mind or body, while Pluralism argues that every being has both of these substances, the mind and the body, which can be closely linked to the French philosopher Descartes and his ‘Dualism’ theory (Beauchamp and Childress, 2001).
In response to the second question, the Monists argue that humans are constituted only of physical substance, whereas the pluralists provide a holistic perspective, and believe that this vital essence is a combination of both, the mind and the body, and under certain circumstances it is possible to extend this approach to include the ‘soul’.
Consequently, in terms of foetal status, these beliefs are particularly important, because, if an individual supports the ‘physical substance’, then only the physical aspects of the foetus is taken into consideration, while, an individual who tends to sponsor the pluralism point of view, would place more importance on, at what moment the foetus has ‘mind and body’ (Lee, 2000).
In natural progression, and leading on from the previous point of view, it is important to contemplate other moral and ethical dilemmas that contribute to the pro-life and pro-choice divide on the subject of the zygote-embryo-foetus, questions such as ‘is it alive? ‘ and ‘to what extent is the foetus human? ‘.
Both the pro-life and pro-choice movements agree that yes, the zygote-embryo-foetus is a living element, which can be described as a biological system that is capable of transforming both nutrients and oxygen into reusable energy, which in turn allows its cells to proliferate and develop (www. lroy. net). It is based on these facts, that the pro-life movement base their central conviction that ‘life begins at conception’, it cannot be denied that all the necessary elements are present, the 23 chromosomes from the egg and the other 23 chromosomes from the sperm, to create a fertilized cell and therefore contains all the DNA essential to become a potential person.
Although these facts are true, the pro-choice counter-attack this judgement, by arguing that there are other single cells that are equally capable of transforming oxygen and nutrients into energy in order to divide and grow, one such cell is the ‘amoeba’. Similar to the human zygote, the amoeba has its own full DNA, and commonly shares many aspects with the zygote, except at no given moment will the amoeba become a potential person, it will always remain an amoeba and never a human being (www. lroy. net).
It has been shown that on certain points, the two movements, agree to disagree, when investigating the debate that surrounds the moral ethics of abortion, it is apparent, that there is not just one central issue, but the whole abort or not abort question, is founded on numerous other matters, other than the moment of personhood, another popular topic area often revolves around whether or not the foetus is human, and if so, at what moment does foetus become human (www. lroy. net). It is a common argument put forward by the pro-life camp, that the foetus is human, and is so from the moment of the conception, this genetic viewpoint is based on the DNA of both the parents being united, which in turn produces a new unique DNA, which is totally specific to the foetus (www. religioustolerance. org).
There are a certain number of pro-choicers who simply disagree with this definition of the term ‘human’, they argue that at the moment of conception, that the newly formed zygote is unable to see, taste, hear or smell, it does not have the ability to think and does not have any bodily limbs or internal functions, they also proclaim that even after a one month gestation period, it is impossible to differentiate a human embryo from that of a cat or a dog embryo (Jenkins, 2002).
Many ‘pro-life’ activists, believe that it is the actual existence of the new DNA that changes the status of the zygote into that of a human person, but should this opinion be true, how is it possible to defends this viewpoint, when the pro-choice movement advance that at the base of each of the hairs that cover an individual’s body, there is a follicle, which in reality contains a full set of unique DNA, hence, it would be true to say that both the follicle and the newly formed zygote share many elements in common, but it is not for this reason that a hair follicle would ever be considered as being a potential human person (www. lroy. net). In the human / non-human debate, an important issue is that of viability, if someone is said to be viable, it therefore has the ability to live and survive as an individual, without being dependent on another, in terms of a foetus, to what extent is it capable of living separated from it’s mother, would determine at what point it might be considered ‘human’.
If the foetus was able to live independently from the mother, it would lose its status of being a foetus in favour of ‘baby or ‘child’. It cannot be denied that due to the continual progress that is being made in the medical world, the foetus’ viability is surely going to become more and more early, and it is for this same reason that the question of viability is becoming problematic as criteria for describing a foetus as human (Lee, 2000).
Yet another topic that is seen as an important issue surrounding abortion; is that of rights, be it legal or human… the rights that maybe accorded to the zygote-embryo-foetus, but also the rights that are given to pregnant women, from a purely legal point of view, the zygote-embryo-foetus has no legal rights, it is only at the moment of birth, will any rights be obtained, when the baby becomes an individual in its own right (www. abortionrights. org. uk).
The pro-life advocators believing that personhood begins at conception are enthusiastic to accord the foetus with a full set of human rights, therefore it is on this belief that they argue that abortion is the killing of innocent lives, and is always wrong, even though in certain and extremely rare circumstances, it might be seen as the lesser of two evils. The pro-life lobby believe with these new found rights comes the ‘right for life’, which they argue outweighs that of the mother, and that life is sacred, precious and unique and should only be taken away by God (Donnellan, 1997).
The pro-choice movement do not agree with this viewpoint, on the simple basis that the foetus is not human and consequently not eligible for any rights, they argue that life does not start until birth or at the moment of viability. It is their beliefs that the women rights have a predominance over that of the foetus, especially when the woman’s health and life are in some form of danger and that a woman should have the freedom of choice, when it concerns her own body (Lee, 2000).
To further emphasise to the pro-choice approach, in 2004, a woman who had seen her pregnancy unfortunately terminated by error, lost her legal battle, when the European Court ruled that the six month old foetus was not considered to be a human being and as a result, was not accorded the right to life under the European Convention of Human Rights (http://news. bbc. co. uk). The aim of this essay was to investigate both the pro-life and the pro-choice perspectives concerning the subject of abortion, and based on the evidence obtained, judge which of the two approaches seem to be the more reliable.
It cannot be denied the due to the subject matter; the decision was going to be exceedingly difficult to make and would largely be influenced by personal opinions and convictions. It is very difficult to remain insensitive to the whole idea of the abortion procedure, in the same way; it is possible to understand why a woman actually choose to make this decision, as it must be a difficult and painful choice to make, which for a certain degree must leave not only physical scars, but psychological ones too.