Before I start to discuss whether decisions about abortion can be a morally absolute I shall start by defining what a moral absolute’ is and what the ‘sanctity of life’ means. A Moral Absolute is the theory that there are absolute values. What this means is that it does not depend upon evidence or circumstance, it is either true of false no matter what the situation, there is always a fixed answer for every condition. By linking this to the question, a moral absolute would mean that abortion is wrong no matter what the circumstance, it will always been wrong with no exception. However there are Catholics, Priests Bishops who believe that abortion is right if the mother in danger. Ex Governor Gray Davis was criticised for supporting abortion rights yet he was in the minority. 20 The main rebuttal was that we should never interfere with Gods creation, yet we do with many other things such as cloning, so why not abortion. Therefore, to a Protestant moral thinker the rights of the mother and the exercise of agape (doing the most loving thing – situation ethics) and the rights of the foetus must all be considered. Even Roman Catholics argue that ‘indirect abortion’ is permissible; an example of this would be in the case of the fetus threatening the life of the mother.
The ‘sanctity of life’ is seen to be sacred because God gave it to us as a gift, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness;”1. Therefore many Christians believe that we all reflect the image of God and as such our physical forms are part of God. So God is a part of us and we do not have the right to interfere with his gift of life, nor to make life or death decisions concerning others. “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.”2. Our bodies were created by God and are the way they are because he made them that way, we should not interfere with his ways and if there are problems then that is because he wanted it to happen, but what if we have the power to change when we die? If god is omniscient then surely he would know that we would invent abortions, have them and then it is ok? If he disagreed surely he would not have allowed them to be carried out successfully? Conclusively the sanctity of life is “The value of life exceeds all other values. No other value overrides the value of life except possibly more life”
Now that we know that both our lives and our bodies are seen to be sacred and we know what a moral absolute is we can now discuss this in relation to abortion. There are two central issues surrounding abortion these are whether the foetus is a person or a potential person and what rights does it have.
The bible tells us that the foetus is a child and it has all the rights as a human and that because God gave it life so therefore it is sacred. “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.” 4 God also knows us intimately from the moment of conception as he would know any other human.
1. Genesis 1:26
2. I Corinthians 3:16
4. Psalm 139:13
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,”5. This therefore shows that God has given the foetus life and a soul as soon as it is conceived, and we already know that we should not tamper with God’s creations because they are sacred. This mean that if the mother were to have an abortion then this would be tampering with God’s creation and this would be wrong. However if abortion was wrong, then why has abortion never appeared in the Ten Commandments to not interfere with Gods creations and ways, God only tells that it is wrong to kill in the 10 commandments, and he also tells us “When men strive together, and hurt a woman with child, so that there is a miscarriage, and yet no harm follows, the one who hurt her shall be fined,”6 this lets us know that hurting the woman or child is a punishable action. Yet it does not clearly define about the fetus and abortion specifically. The fact of the matter is when does the fetus gain the soul and become all of the humans’ rights. As stated above God says that at the moment of conception we have our soul therefore a fetus must gain all human rights and consequently having an abortion is murder. If abortion really is murder, then the doctor performing the abortion should be treated like a murderer, while the mother should be treated like accomplices to murder. 3 Socially there are many reasons why it is seen as being wrong to kill a foetus, a major issue is that fact that you are killing; now, if it is seen to be right to kill a foetus due to abnormality or poverty then it would be seen correct for euthanasia and infanticide, as there is no real difference between all three. So abortion should always be seen as murder.
There are criticisms of the view that the foetus is fully human; if the mothers’ life is in danger and the foetus and the mother will die then it is better to save the mother’s life then let them both die. This is allowed to happen because they are not trying to kill or abort the foetus but trying to save the mother’s life. If the mother had uterine cancer or the foetus was developing in the fallopian tube then it would be seen as correct to save the mothers life over the foetus. If it is argued that all fertilised ova are human then even natural abortions are wrong and we should save them. However one could argue that God chose death for this person and if we try to save it then we are undermining Gods will. “And just as it is appointed for men to die”8
With regards to the thought that the foetus is a potential human as it develops it gains more rights, so if an abortion is wanted at a later into the pregnancy then a more significant reason for an abortion is needed. This is because that the foetus is gaining the rights and the respect that any human has and deserves. Yet it is not until birth that it is a complete person and thus gains the full human rights. Yet the foetus still has more rights than an animal or an object so when considering abortion there must be a compelling reason for it. Even though the foetus has rights these must be weighed against the mothers because she is a full human her rights are more important than the foetus’ yet she must have a legitimate reason for an abortion. So in the example of rape, incest or deformity an abortion would be valid. However I feel some reasons such as “already having too many, not having enough money, career comes first” are ridiculous and a child should take priority over these factors as it is the parents fault for not being fully aware of the contraception and also they could always hand over the baby for abortion because there are thousands of parents who long for children of their own but unfortunately cannot conceive.
There are both Biblical and non-Biblical reasons for the belief that the foetus is a potential human. The non-Biblical are the fact that you are not conceived with the knowledge of who you are, you go through gradual processes of development. You can only develop your identity through interactions with others so it can be argued that you are not even human until later than birth. So before this stage you are a potential human. It is also argued that because not all body organs are there at conception that human personhood is developed with having a human body. This will mean that once the foetus reaches viability i.e. it has all of its organs and could survive on its own, the foetus could be seen as being human. Legally the foetus is regarded as
5. Jeremiah 1:5
6. Exodus 21:22
8. Hebrews 9:27
“A potential (human) life”9, this therefore tells us that the foetus is not a full human, therefore cannot have the right of life as a person who is already born.
Jonathan Glover 10 spoke about abortion as being yet another contraceptive, because pro-abortionists argue that because of the abortion this is a potential person whom we shall never know, well, a contraceptive does this too. Many people today in society seem to think that if they conceive by accident they can easily have an abortion. However I personally feel that this should not be allowed for these circumstances. Jonathan Glover went on to discuss how abortions have been rising in the years and many are charging on the national insurance and claiming for mental anguish however when it comes to their check up there are no signs of any mental pain.
The biblical arguments that the foetus is only a potential human and not so until birth are the fact that “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine. And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life….”11. This verse shows that if the foetus is killed then he should be punished yet with accordance to capital punishment if he then kills the mother then he should be killed. This shows that the mothers’ life is more important than the foetus’ potential life. The bible also shows that the foetus has to develop to become fully human. “For thou didst form my inward parts, thou didst knit me together in my mother’s womb.”12. This shows that the foetus is not fully human because it is in the process of being ‘knit’.
There are problems with both the biblical and non-biblical reasoning for the foetus being a potential human. The biblical face the problem that the interpretations are debatable. Because Umberto Cassuto13 said that from Exodus 21:22-23 it can actually be interpreted that if men strive to hurt a woman with child yet they do not die then he should be punished, yet if they both or either die then it is the case of a life for a life. This shows that the foetus’ life is just as important as the mother’s.
9. Roe v. Wade
10. Philosopher who wrote; Causing Death and Saving Lives
11. Exodus 21:22-23
12. Psalm 139:13
13. A Hebrew scholar.
The focus to abortion on demand is women’s rights, her right to decide whether she wants the child. Some decided that a child that is not wanted should never be born, because it is not right that the mother should be forced to have a child contrary to her desires, especially in the case of rape. This is allowed due to the fact that the foetus is only seen as a potential human yet because the mother is a human her rights are more important than the foetus’. And that the child if born and unwanted maybe subject to abuse and neglect, so having abortion is better than the abuse that the child will be inflicted upon
The non-biblical views for the foetus being subhuman are that the foetus is not physically dependent. It is completely dependent on the mother and cannot support itself, therefore does not have the right to demand life. The mother is going to have to let it inflict itself upon her for nine months. So because it is imposing on her she has the right to abort it. A different view is that if abortions were not legal then back street ones would be carried out. This would entail danger to the mothers’ life, so it is seen as better to save the mothers’ life rather than to let both die. It is also argued that to be human you should know yourself that you are human.
There are also biblical reasons for believing the foetus to be subhuman. Man only becomes a human when God gives us life. One of the requirements for life is breathing, yet we do not do this until we have been born. The bible says, “If he should take back his spirit himself, and gather to himself his breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to dust.”15. This shows that as well breathing being a sign of life, it is also given by God. So when we take our first breath this is give by God, as is the gift of life so this is when a foetus becomes a human.
In the bible there is also reference to the fact that a stillborn child has no meaning, it is simply dead, the same as any other dead person and they hold no special value. They have also never seen the light of day and know nothing, “moreover it has not seen the sun or known anything;”17. This would be the same for an abortion. “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born”18. This shows that if life started at conception then it would say this.
The criticisms of the view that a foetus is subhuman are that the view that it can not be when we start breathing that our humanness begins this is because there are many reasons why we do not breath before birth this is mainly because we would breath in embryonic fluid which would cause the foetus to drown and therefore die. Yet as Christians are taught there is life after death and after death we do not breath, therefore this cannot be the verification of whether you are alive or not. It is simply contradicting by saying at one point of life where you are not breathing you are alive yet another point in time you are deceased. Another view that it is not breathing that makes you human because all animals breathe yet are not human.
Criticisms against non-biblical views that the foetus is subhuman is that if the foetus has to know who and what it is to be human, then anyone who is in a coma are not human.
15. Job 34:14-15
17. Ecclesiastes 6:5
18. Matthew 26:24
The argument that legalizing abortions has saved lives is wrong because not many women would have an abortion before hand yet some could afford to bribe a doctor. So the legalization of abortion has just resulted in the death of foetuses and has also heightened the rate of casual sex because women know that if they do become pregnant then they can easily have an abortion. According to Dr. Bernard N. Nathason 1.5 million abortions are carried out each year in America19.
With the problem of rape and whether abortion is right, it is out of sympathy that we allow abortion yet it does not answer the question of if the foetus is a person and what rights does it have? If the foetus is a human then the rape victim has now committed murder, and two wrongs do not make a right, so if we accept that the foetus is a human then having an abortion is taking away his or her rights as a human. It is accepted that rape is wrong, but why should this innocent victim be punished from an event that it had no part of? Also due to the immense psychological and physical hardship that the rape victim is under most do not result in pregnancy, and even if it does half of the women what to keep the baby. But for those who do not want the newborn adoption is a greatly superior answer.
From the evidence and arguments against the three views of whether the foetus is fully human, a potential human or a subhuman, I believe that each view has its problems yet it impossible to understand the reasoning for each opinion. I think that you cannot just restrict the reasons for having abortion to just these three views I think that other moral ideas should be taken into account such as Jeremy Bentham’s Hedonic Calculus. This involves applying pleasure or pain of a situation to a certain criteria. This criterion was set up to decide which action would cause them most pleasure of a high quality; it is a form of utilitarianism. The criteria is:
* The intensity of the feeling.
* The duration of the feeling.
* The certainty that this will occur.
* The extent of the feeling.
* The remoteness of the feeling.
* How rich the feeling is.
* The purity of the feeling
This criterion helps to decide in each situation the best action. All parties have equal rights, so in the case of abortion the mother, the foetus and all other parties are equal.
An example of the Hedonic Calculus in the case of abortion could be if the foetus was found to be developing in the fallopian tube, and in this case the mother was in immense pain and could die if
19. Bernard N. Nathason, http://www.vanderbilt.edu/SFL/sstrans.htm
the foetus is not removed. In the case of if the foetus was a full human then an abortion is not allowed, so both mother and foetus would die. However if the Hedonic Calculus is used then the outcome could be different.
o The intensity of the relief that the mother had survived would outweigh the loss of the foetus, however there would be a small sadness that the foetus had died; yet the mother’s life would bring about more happiness.
o The duration of the happiness for the saviour of the mother’s life would be long, especially on the close relations, it may decrease in time yet there would always be that happiness. There would also be a long length of time of sadness for the loss of the foetus, if that family had been trying for a child, yet this would not happen in every case. The happiness would be of a greater proportion of the feelings and the duration of the feelings.
o The certainty of the feelings held by the effected is not guarantee able because we cannot see into the future. However you can be certain that without the abortion the mother and foetus will die.
o You cannot be sure of the extent of the affect of an abortion will have on the world. Someone will never be the best friend, spouse or child of the foetus. However this will be the case with or without the abortion. So you need to look at the extent of the loss of the mother. She may already have children; her loved ones as well would be without her, as a friend, a mother, a daughter or a wife.
o The feelings held by the family members and others would be tainted by the loss of the child. However the richness of their feelings would be great.
I think that in this situation the loss of the mother and the child would be much greater than the loss of just the foetus. Due to the extent and the duration of the happiness felt by those involved for the saved life of the woman, the abortion should be carried out.
I do not believe that a foetus should be considered be considered as subhuman, and I do not agree with abortion for a ridiculous reason, so out of all three concepts I think that abortion should be a combination of the sanctity of life and the emergence of life. Yet I do not believe that any one view is supreme. I personally think that the use of the Hedonic Calculus would make a better choice of action in the case of abortion. I think this because you cannot lie down a rule for abortion because each case is different so the use of Situation Ethics would be applicable.
Situation Ethics would also be useful to use in the case of abortion because like the Hedonic Calculus, (and as the name suggests), each situation is dealt with on its own and unrelated to a different case. Fletcher’s ethical theory is based one four working principles. The first is pragmatism. This means that any decision made must be a practical possibility, e.g.: a teenage facing an unwanted pregnancy could reasonably argue that abortion was the only practical solution. The problems of trying to earn money, finding accommodation and support a baby would seem in surmountable to most young people. Fletcher’s second point of relativism rejects absolute statements. Decisions can only be made for each individual case and it makes no sense to say, “Abortion is always wrong”. This means that every situation must be judged with no pre-conceived ideas of right and wrong but with the one rule of agape.
Positivism was very important to Fletcher it puts Christian faith and belief in a God of love at the centre of every decision. Christians would see that the most loving thing to be a way of making it possible for everyone to keep their baby and not be forced in to abortion because of their circumstances. The Cardinal Winning Centre that has recently opened in Glasgow is a good example of Christians who offer practical help and advice and therefore make it possible for some people to keep their babies even if they have very little money. Personalism is the fourth working principle and puts the people involved in the case at the centre of any decision. In any situation involving abortion the mother, father, grandparents, any other children if that couple have any and the foetus should all be considered. In conclusion, situation ethics is opposed to moral absolutism, but attempts to put people first in any situation and reach a decision according to agape.
With the use of the sanctity of life being a moral absolute, I have found that this would not be applicable because in some situations it would be a more loving thing to have an abortion. Yet the view that the foetus has the same rights as the mother I believe is right, so abortion should not be considered lightly. Agape should be used in deciding, not a moral belief that in some cases seems unfair and unjust.