Philosophy And The Morality Of Abortion

2428 words - 10 pages

Many arguments in the abortion debate assume that the morality of abortion depends upon the moral status of the foetus. While I regard the moral status of the foetus as important, it is not the central issue that determines the moral justifiability of abortion. The foetus may be awarded a level of moral status, nevertheless, such status does not result in the prescription of a set moral judgement. As with many morally significant issues, there are competing interests and a variety of possible outcomes that need to be considered when making a moral judgement on abortion. While we need to determine the moral status of the foetus in order to establish the type of entity we are dealing with, it does not, however, exist in a moral vacuum. There are other key issues requiring attention, such as the moral status and interests of the pregnant woman who may desire an abortion, and importantly, the likely consequences of aborting or not aborting a particular foetus. Furthermore, I assert that moral status should be awarded as a matter of degree, based upon the capacities of sentience and self-consciousness an entity possesses. In a bid to reach a coherent conclusion on the issue, the moral status of both foetus and woman, along with the likely results of aborting a particular foetus, must be considered together. Given the multiple facets requiring consideration, I assert that utilitarianism (Mill 1863) offers a coherent framework for weighing and comparing the inputs across a variety of situations, which can determine whether it is ever morally justifiable to have an abortion.

To ascribe an entity with moral status ― whether an adult human, infant, foetus, or non-human animal ― is to declare that its treatment by other moral agents is morally important (DeGrazia 2008: 183). Moral status depends upon an entity being, at a basic level, sentient. This means that it must have the ability to experience sensation or feeling, which will see it having interests in avoiding sensations, like pain and fear, and desiring others, such as pleasure and happiness. Without such basic capacities, and therefore the ability to be harmed, moral status is meaningless and can not be awarded to an entity (Jaworska & Tannenbaum 2013). Conversely, once it is determined that an entity can experience things such as pain, this alone should be enough to make those capable, considerate of the entity's interests. The philosopher Peter Singer states it clearly: "If a being suffers, there can be no moral justification for refusing to take that suffering into consideration" (Singer 1993: 57). It is important to pause here and note that there is no restriction on the type of being that, because it can suffer, would compel us to give it consideration. Sentience alone is enough, regardless of characteristics such as age, gender, species, or importantly, stage in foetal development (Bentham 1907).

Granting moral status based upon sentience and self-consciousness, however, restricts...

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