Identifying and Evaluating Three Arguments against Abortion: Analytical Essay
Abortion is a common occurrence in society yet is still a very controversial topic. According to NHS (2016), an abortion can be defined as a process in which a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy. 16.7 in every 1,000 resident women in England or Wales have had an abortion (Department of Health and Social Care, 2017). The means by which the pregnancy is terminated is dependent mainly on the country’s laws regarding abortion, the stigma surrounding it and the cost of undergoing a medically induced abortion. A medically induced abortion is the safest means of dealing with an unwanted pregnancy as it involves medical assistance (NHS, 2016). According to the department of health and social care, in 2017, 197,533 women in England and Wales have had a safe and documented abortion. Unfortunately, not all women have access to a safe abortion method. In addition, not everyone is in favour of these women having that fundamental right. This controversial disagreement has caused an immense debate between the supporters of both sides. Those in favor of abortion being a choice are identified as pro-choice and argue that abortion should be a viable choice for all. That is because regardless of whether abortion is legal or not, people still require and will unchangingly access abortion services. According to the Guttmacher Institute (2018), the abortion rate is 37 per 1,000 people in countries that forbid abortion altogether (or permit it only in instances to save a woman’s life), and 34 per 1,000 people in countries that openly allow for abortion, a difference that is not statistically significant. This essay aims to refute ethical, medical and mental health-related arguments against abortion and express the need to remove the stigma surrounding it. Additionally, this essay discusses the topic of abortion generally and not addressing any specific or exceptional case studies. This paper has been divided into three parts. The first part deals with an ethical argument, the second part deals with the medical argument and the final part deals with a mental health-related argument.
One of the most recurrent ethical arguments made against abortion is that the abortion patient is depriving an individual of a future like ours and therefore is committing murder. If pro-life supporters sincerely believe in that perspective, then they ought to believe that both the patient and the doctor performing the abortion should be sentenced to death or imprisoned for life. Research shows that they do not believe the mother nor the doctor should be penalised to that extent (Jones, Frohwirth and Moore, 2008). Furthermore, a woman carries out the abortion, in the vast majority of cases, in the first trimester and therefore not actually killing the foetus as it is still an embryo (Lopez, 2012). The percentage of women who undergo an abortion in the third trimester only do so if the woman’s health is in jeopardy or if she is unable to afford an abortion in the first trimester (Lopez, 2012). The woman simply stops supplying her bodily resources to keep the foetus growing. In other words, the refusal of a human to donate their kidney is justified, while the refusal of a woman to utilise her uterus by carrying a baby for 9 months is not. The impact that this notion has had is the creation of a stigma surrounding abortion and all the women who choose to have one. Research has indicated that it is in agreement amongst both parties that forced use of organs is immoral, however, the uterus always seems to be the exception (Lopez, 2012). Abortion patients frequently report the desire to be a reliable parent to their future children as the most important factor in their decision (Jones, Frohwirth and Moore, 2008). If the woman feels incapable of bringing a child into a world brimming with affection and in which she is unable to support their needs for any reason, she should be given that right with no judgment. This raises the question regarding children that are born against the mother’s will and their potential negative contribution to society. If a child feels that their mother is not meeting their needs, is there a chance that they turn out to be displaying hateful anti-social or even criminal acts against society? Overall, the woman is already an individual, fully formed life and must, according to this view, have preference over the potential life of the foetus growing inside of her.
One of the most widespread arguments against abortion is that by Don Marquis, in which he presents a non-religious argument about depriving a foetus of a “future like ours” (Marquis, 1989, p. 183). He does that by claiming that the foetus and its mother are “the same biological organism” (Marquis, 1989, p. 183). Furthermore, this argument has been said to be ‘‘the strongest’’, ‘‘the most sophisticated’’, and ‘‘one of the best’’ secular arguments against abortion by various authors (Strong, 2014, p. 727). However, Strong (2014) published an article in which he refuted Marquis’s claims by stating that the potential mother and the foetus cannot be considered the same entity. Strong argued that a woman is a fully formed person, a foetus is not a person and therefore the foetus is not identical to the adult. Women have the type of mental life that makes them an individual, a mental life that is lacked by forming foetuses. The ‘future like ours’ argument is flawed as there are many cases in which infants, children and adults do not have a ‘future like ours’ due to various reasons, one of which could be fatal illnesses. It would still be considered immoral to kill them (Strong, 2014). Therefore, this argument does not justify the illicit act of killing in the cases mentioned above and therefore would invalidate it being a reason as to why abortion would be considered immoral.
There are different ways in which one could abort and each procedure has its unique risks. There are two types of safe abortion, medication abortion and in-clinic abortion. Medical abortion involves the use of medicines, also known as abortion pills, prescribed by a doctor or nurse (Reproductive Health Matters, 2005). The pill will result in the uterus removing the pregnancy tissue, which will end the pregnancy (Reproductive Health Matters, 2005). The success rate of the abortion pill depends on how far into the pregnancy one is. If one is 1-8 weeks into the pregnancy, success rate is 94-98%. If one is 8-9 weeks into the pregnancy, success rate range is smaller at 94-96%. If one is 9-10 weeks into the pregnancy, success rate is 91-93% (Reproductive Health Matters, 2005). These statistics are significantly high in terms of success rates. In-clinic abortion occurs when a doctor or nurse use the gentle suction mechanism to terminate the pregnancy from the uterus (Reproductive Health Matters, 2005). The efficiency of in-clinic abortions is more than 99% (Reproductive Health Matters, 2005). The most obvious finding to emerge from these statistics is that abortion is considered to be one of the safest medical procedures when performed correctly (Reproductive Health Matters, 2005). As for post-abortion, 90% of women who have an abortion with the appropriate medical care have a speedy recovery (Reproductive Health Matters, 2005).
Although the odds seem to be in favour of those who undergo medically induced abortion, not all women are privileged enough to be able to expect these standards. In places where abortion is restricted by law or safe abortion services are not accessible or are expensive or are of poor quality, women are forced to resort to unskilled methods and providers and therefore risk severe consequences to their physical and mental health. In 2008, 47,000 women died due to unsafe abortions (World Health Organisation, 2012). Those deaths are a result of severe infections or bleeding caused by the unsafe procedure (World Health Organisation, 2012). Additionally, in 2008, there were an estimated 43.8 million abortions worldwide. 22.2 million of which were safe and medically induced, while the other 21.6 million abortions were self-induced and therefore unsafe (World Health Organisation, 2012). Unsafe abortions lead to countless preventable injuries per year (World Health Organisation, 2012). This can easily be prevented by legalising abortion worldwide and removing the stigma surrounding it. Safe and medically induced abortion should be in every healthcare system and is a basic human right.
Mental health argument
It seems to be a common misconception that when women undergo an abortion, it is immediately followed by waves of guilt, anxiety, and depression. While that is sometimes true, the majority of women (95-99%) report cases in which they describe feelings of relief after the abortion (World Health Organisation, 2012). That is because women who make the choice to get an abortion choose to do because of the negative impact pursuing the pregnancy would have had on their mental health and that of their existing children and significant others. The remaining 1-5% report that social stigma and low social support are the main reasons that lead to their hardship (World Health Organisation, 2012). Furthermore, the 1-5% include those who have suffered from depression prior to having the abortion, and therefore abortion was not the sole cause. A study done by Susan Ayers in the University of Sussex in 2007 revealed that during the perinatal period, data shows that women are at the most vulnerable phase in their lives (Ayers, 2007). Maternal mortality rates are at a maximum with regards to mental health problems. This data shows that the perinatal period can be regarded as a time of immense maternal hardship (Ayers, 2007).
Recent studies find that, in the majority of cases, there is actually no link between increasing mental health issues and abortion. This claim is supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who helped discredit a widely cited article by Coleman in 2011 stating that there is actually a link between mental health and abortion (Cantwell, 2011). According to Coleman (2011), abortion increases the risk of mental health problems reaching up to 80% in women and in some cases even leading to suicidal ideation. An article then released by Steinberg et al. (2012) and supported by the Royal College of Psychiatrists states that the methodology used in Coleman’s meta-analysis is invalidated due to a number of errors, such as violating guidelines for constructing a meta-analysis. It is concluded by Dr. Major et al. from the American Psychological Association (2008) and Dr. Cantwell et al. from Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (2011) that abortion does not interfere with a women’s mental health. The methods used in this study have been accepted universally. The study also showed that when a woman experiences an unwanted pregnancy, the rates of mental health problems associated will be largely greatly uninfluenced by whether she decided to have an abortion or give birth.
Abortion is a basic human right that should be accessible to all women worldwide, as unwanted pregnancy is an unavoidable fact of life. As a part of a woman’s maternal right, undergoing a pregnancy should be a healthy and positive experience for both her and her child. If the mother feels the pregnancy will have the opposite impact, then it is her right as a woman and human to say so. As for legalisation of abortion, the foetus, up until the instance of birth, does not have any separate legal interests able to be presented for a court to consider and thus the legal position is that the woman’s right to refuse having a baby overrules all other legal motives (Brannan et al., 2012). A woman does not choose when to get pregnant, a woman only chooses pregnancy if she decides not to have an abortion. Even methods of contraception have failure rates and are not available or are too expensive to be purchased in some countries. Taking responsibility over a pregnancy includes having the right to make the decision over it as opposed to being forced into having the baby or resorting to unsafe methods. Motherhood comes with years of the upbringing of another human being into this world, which involves a great extent of responsibility. This responsibility includes immense emotional and financial support from the mother and is a life-changing factor in one’s life. If a mother feels she is not able to provide her full potential for her child at a time in her life, then it is her right to decide so.
- Ayers, S. (2007) ‘Thoughts and emotions during traumatic birth: a qualitative study’, Birth, 34(3), pp. 253–263.
- Brannan, S. et al. (2012) Medical ethics today the BMA’s handbook of ethics and law. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
- Cantwell, R. et al. (2011) Induced abortion and mental health: a systematic review of the mental health outcomes of induced abortion, including their prevalence and associated factors. London: Academy of Medical Royal Colleges.
- Coleman, P. (2011) ‘Abortion and mental health: quantitative synthesis and analysis of research published 1995–2009’, Journal of Psychiatry, 199(3), pp. 180–186.
- Department of Health and Social Care (2017) Abortion statistics, England and Wales: 2017. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/763174/2017-abortion-statistics-for-england-and-wales-revised.pdf (Accessed: 22 May 2019).
- Guttmacher Institute (2018) Induced abortion worldwide. Available at:
- https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/factsheet/fb_iaw.pdf (Accessed: 22 May 2019).
- Jones, R., Frohwirth, L. and Moore, A. (2008) ‘How issues of motherhood influence women who have abortions’, Journal of Family Issues, 29(1), pp. 79-99.
- Lopez, R. (2012) ‘Perspectives on abortion: pro-choice, pro-life, and what lies in between’, European Journal of Social Sciences, 27(4), pp. 511-517.
- Major, B. et al. (2008) ‘Abortion and mental health: evaluating the evidence’, American Psychologist, 64(9), pp. 863-890.
- Marquis, D. (1998) ‘An argument that abortion is wrong’, The Journal of Philosophy, 86(4), pp. 183-202.
- NHS (2016) Abortion. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/abortion/ (Accessed: 22 May 2019).
- Reproductive Health Matters (2005) ‘Medical abortion: a fact sheet’, Reproductive Health Matters, 26(13), pp. 20-24.