An Essay on Abortion
The topic of abortion is a highly sensitive and controversial topic, that often leads to very heated debates. People get so riled up about the subject that it can lead to them doing terrible things. Just at the end of November a gunman stormed a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, killing three people and injuring nine others, presumably as a way to express his hatred for abortion and the clinics that provide such services.
What the abortion debate comes down to is the conflict between, on the one hand, the fetal interests in life, and on the other a woman's right to control her own body. This is such a difficult moral conflict to resolve that it's no wonder that it leaves people so divided on the subject. I personally am a supporter of the pro-choice view i.e. that a woman has the choice to do what she pleases with her own body. I understand that a lot of people will not share my view, and may even be extremely offended by it but this post is not meant to cause offence. Its merely a place for me to talk about the conflict surrounding the topic of abortion.
By not allowing a woman to terminate a pregnancy, even though this goes against her right to bodily integrity or dignity, you are essentially diminishing a pregnant woman to something less than a whole, self-determining, rights-bearing individual. Many would argue that by denying a foetus the right to life, you are also diminishing it to something less than a whole, self-determining, rights-bearing individual. However, [and here comes the controversial part] I don't believe that a foetus can be classified as an 'individual'... I know that this can be a very unpopular view, but its what I believe. A foetus cannot think. It has no concept of existence let alone death. It has no fears and no desires. Unlike the woman who is carrying it. By not allowing abortions to take place, you are essentially giving more weight to something which cannot yet be classified as an individual, over an actual person who has a life and their own personal autonomy. Of course there are debates over when a foetus becomes an 'individual', and this relates to the threshold of when an abortion can take place and whether or not it should be lowered. Once you get to the later stages in a pregnancy, things become even more complicated and confusing because you are dealing with an actual baby. However, at the moment, I'm talking only about the very early stages of pregnancy when the foetus has not yet fully developed.
A lot of people view an abortion as an 'easy' way out. However, just because a woman is having an abortion does not mean that she is taking the experience lightly. I read something once that I thought was very poignant, and it links in well with this point:
"No woman wants an abortion like she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion like an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg."
Often an abortion is not just care-free process that a woman undergoes. It is a means to an end of a desperate situation.
There are two different reasons that a woman chooses to have an abortion: medical or social reasons. People often view one of these as more worthwhile than the other. Many people would have more sympathy for a woman who has an abortion because of medical reasons i.e. if she continues on with the pregnancy there is a risk of death to her or the potential baby or both, than for social reasons. We still view reproductive rights through a lense of there being a hierarchy of 'good' or 'bad' abortions. However, social reasons can be just as worthwhile as medical ones. For example, a teenage girl from a poor background becomes pregnant. She does not have the experience, help, finances or ability to look after the child, and therefore it would be better for her life if she aborted, not to mention the fact that the potential child would suffer from being brought up in such circumstances.
At the same time, even if there is not a desperate situation like the one I've mentioned above and maybe the woman just doesn't want a baby right now, I think her personal autonomy and reproductive rights should be respected. It does not mean that I pesonally would have an abortion, but I think that everyone should have the right to control their own bodies and not have them controlled by the State. One of the presumptions of liberal democracies is that citizens should be free to make their own choices with regard to their own values, whether or not these choices and values are acceptable to the majority. Just because others do not like it or are made uncomfortable by it, this is not enough for the right of an individual to be limited; in the current case, the reproductive rights of a woman. Furthermore, if you reduce personal autonomy when it comes to a woman's choices over her own reproductive wishes, it paves the way for individual's autonomy to be reduced in other areas, where there is a risk that others will be offended by their choices
Personally I believe that the autonomy of a pregnant woman should be respected. Not because the foetus is insignificant, but rather because pregnant women are significant.