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Abortion: The Law and Ethical Considerations
The abortion debate is a very sensitive debate which preceded us and will long outlive us. The reason for this is because it touches on many critical areas of human life. Some of these areas are religion, spirituality, philosophy and medicine among others. However, the most interesting thing about this debate is how opinions on it morph from time to time. There was a time for instance when the primary objections to it were largely based on religion. Spirituality and philosophy followed upto the point today where the main preoccupation of medicine is. People are now starting to judge this critical issue based on the nature of the abortion. There is even a raging debate on when life really begins. All this controversy is not likely to die down anytime soon rather assume new forms. This makes abortion an interesting area of study for this paper.This paper shall as a result seek to look at this sensitive issue from many angles. One of the areas has to do with the legal implications of abortion. The other area has to do with the ethical considerations made before resorting to these risky procedures. To achieve this end, this paper shall refer to different legal concepts and several moral and tethical concerns about this issue. There shall also be an effort to draw lines between ethics and law. Where do these two converge but more importantly, where do they diverge?
As has already been mentioned above, this is a multifaceted issue. It has several dimensions to it. One of the most prominent has to do with law. The other has to do with ethics. These two shall be the central occupation of this paper. However, first we shall look at the legal implications of abortion. All issues relating to the law from the viewpoint of abortion shall be discussed (Steinbock, 1992).
The first area of law where abortion presents itself has to do with individual rights. In any society, there are the inalienable rights that the citizens naturally enjoy. This individuality is tampered with through abortion law. Almost every country has an abortion law. This is an area that has to be legislated upon because of the sensitivity of the issues involved. These abortion laws seek to constrain the rights of women in as far as deciding the fate of the foetus is concerned. They only allow abortion under certain circumstances only. Any other attempt to practice abortion outside those restrictive boundaries is punished heavily. In some cases it can be punished through a short jail term. However, in some cases it is treated as murder and the victim is put in jail for life (Kaczor, 2010).
The big question of law that raises itself here is the extent to which the executive and the legislature should interfere with the private citizen`s life. In this case there is a feeling that there is an overreach into personal life. This has been opposed consistently by human rights groups in general but especially women rights groups. In the United States for instance this has been a raging debate at all times but especially lately. The Republican Party has especially come under a lot of criticism for supporting what are viewed as punitive anti-abortion laws. The Democratic party on the other hand has adopted a more conciliatory position with regard to this issue (Kaczor, 2010).
The other issue involves the privacy of those involved. The law provides that human beings have the right to privacy. This involves what is described variously as the right to be let alone or the right to autonomy. Clearly, to the anti-abortionists, abortion law does the exact opposite. It infringes on personal lives and makes decision for people when the law expressly states that those decisions should be left at their discretion. A popular debate is the Row vs. Wade debate. This has gone on in the United States for a long time now. This debate is also unlike to die down anytime soon considering that individual freedoms are beingbroadened over time and not curtailed (Steinbock, 1992).
There are also apparent contradictions in law concerning the issue of life. For instance, in a few jurisdictions, executions are still allowed for murderers and the like. In the United States for example there are the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendmentswhich state that no person shall be deprived of “life, liberty or property, without due process of law.”In the same country where punitive laws on abortion are meted out, the still allow death by either poisoning or the famous `electric chair`. This is a glaring contradiction especially on such a sensitive area of human life. This totally weakens even the intent of the anti-abortion laws (Oderberg, 2000).
The other legal area to be affected has to do with women`s reproductive rights. Women in law have a right to choose to bear life or not. This is curtailed by anti-abortion laws which tie their hands with regards to the issue of abortion. This seems like double standards to many. The fact that a woman for instance should be forced to bear life that they did not willingly wish to create is a specifically of concern. This happens in cases of rape. In some jurisdictions, a woman is strongly discouraged from aborting and even arm-twisted to bear life even in the case of rape. This is termed as an extreme case of interference with a woman`s individual medical decisions (Kaczor, 2010).
There is a litany of legislation that is being passed in different areas of the world seeking to make it as difficult as possible for women to obtain n abortions. Among those are laws seeking to force women to perform ultra-sound procedures before abortion. There are also laws seeking to ban insurance cover for abortion. Further still there are laws that seek to postpone the time when the abortion takes place to as late as possible into the pregnancy. The legal side to abortion is therefore clearly very restrictive (Steinbock, 1992).
As has been demonstrated above, there are differing viewpoints on abortion. There are three broad categories under which all those involved in this debate fall. There are those who believe that this is a decision which should be fully left at the discretion of the pregnant women. There are those who believe that abortion should be allowed but only in certain specific cases. Finally, there is the group that believes that abortion should be disallowed under all circumstances. Below shall be a discussion of the different viewpoints that these groups present in support of the positions that they have taken (Booni, 2002).
However, it is obvious in many areas of life that what is legal does not necessarily qualify to be ethical. Ethics has to do with right or wrong. At the most basic level, almost all people do seem to agree that abortion is wrong. After all it involves the taking away of innocent life. However, the law seeks to be more pragmatic. It seeks to shade some grey areas that are not covered by ethics. Ethics has in it opposites. However, the law is more all rounded. Them law for instance introduces several ideas that ethics either overlooks or generally downplays (Oderberg, 2000).
Among the areas that are of greatest controversy regards what is life, when life begins and the reasons informing a divorce. All these are areas of great contention along the ethics vs. law dichotomy. The law seeks to make life seem intelligible. However, this might not always be the case. Even animals have life as much as they are not intelligent. Therefore ethically, even a foetus should qualify to be considered as life. Ethics is also closely bound to religion. Religion states in cut and dried terms that life begins at conception (Oderberg, 2000).
Then there is the argument about when life starts. The law seeks to state that life starts after conception. However, ethics which borrows from religion states that life begins at conception . Religion also states that God `knows us long before we are born`. If God knows us long before birth then we can say he has granted us life. Therefore, life actually begins as a foetus. This is the correct interpretation. Ethical standards are known to be very rigorous, therefore the law introduces some sort of practicality into this whole debate (Oderberg, 2000).
Finally there is the debate over reasons informing a debate. The most common is if the mother`s life is in danger. Indeed it is now widely accepted that mothers should not die while giving birth. This has been accepted to a large extent as valid grounds for divorce. The other reason is in the case of rape. This is also increasingly being accepted as sufficient grounds to justify abortion. It is an acceptable reason since the woman ever gave her consent. However, the most contentious ground for abortion is if the mother does not want to raise a child or a family. In this case, the woman has to give birth. After all she consented to the sex . Ethically, if she was not ready to raise life, she should have used one of the many preventative measures that are there today (Booni, 2002).
Technology has had a key role to play in as far as abortion is concerned. First of all it has led to an increased number of abortions. The invention of several medicines such as abortion pill for instance allows pregnant women to ether, orally or through an injection, trigger a miscarriage. Because it needs less training to administer, women have taken it into their own hands to terminate pregnancies (Booni, 2002).
The morning-after-pill has also been invented. This is like a contraceptive with large levels of female hormones. It is taken soon after sex, advisably 72 hours. For those wishing to conduct an abortion taking it in large quantities expels the foetus from the body. This is a very dangerous procedure. It poses huge risks even to the person using it. Not only this. The abortion pill mentioned above is said to have side effects (Booni, 2002).
There is also the fitting of an intra-uterine device up to five days after unprotected sex. There is also vacuum aspiration abortion where a tube is put in the womb and then sucks out the contents. Dilation and evacuation and partial birth abortion also exist.
As can be seen, there have emerged a parade of abortion methods. All of them seek to get rid of life. Some of these methods are gruesome and can be equated to murder in ordinary life. They should not be allowed. Unfortunately, there seem to be methods of getting rd of life at any stage of the pregnancy. As a result, the foetus seems to be t the mercy of the mother. This is a sorry state of affairs considering that the foetus is just a consequence of improper behavior on the part of the woman in some cases. The women who become pregnant due to their own fault should be made to bear the consequence of their own actions (Kaczor, 2010).
Technology has however impacted this debate in a very interesting way. On one hand it has made it safer to obtain an abortion thus led to the passing of several laws supporting it. It has done this by denying anti-abortionists a very effective stick to beat their opponents with, that abortion endangers the mothers own life. However on the other hand it has also strengthened the hand of anti-abortionists. Technology has invented several methods to conduct abortions and has therefore led to an increased number of abortions. Abortion has now been legislated as acceptable after certain procedures have been carried out. Notably there are the ultra-sound tests. This has been the biggest legal impact of abortion (Booni, 2002).
My own position is that abortion should only be accessed by mothers whose life is in danger or victims of rape or only in circumstances that meet an equally high threshold. The simple reason is that it has become far too easy to obtain an abortion nowadays. This has made it easier for some women to freely engage in irresponsible behavior knowing there is an easy way out. Research shows that someone who has had an abortion once is more likely to have another one compared to one who has not (Steinbock, 1992).
The idea that any woman who is not willing to bear life should access abortion is immoral. It quite literally allows them to get away with murder. This cannot be accepted in a society that is busy giving out the maximum death sentence to offenders of other kinds. Life is life. No life is more precious than another life. If that was the case, people would not be pre-occupied with first protecting children in the event of war even before adults. It shows that their life is equal, if not superior, according to our own judgement, to that of adults (Oderberg, 2000).
This area of law can be improved by stating clearly all the possible circumstances under which abortions can be conducted. The doctors should have no role outside such legislation to decide whether or not to do an abortion. This has opened a Pandora`s Box that cannot be closed. Doctors can be easily corrupted to offer abortions even in undeserving cases (Kaczor, 2010).
Another way of strengthening abortion law is to seek to strike a reasonable balance between law and ethics. This can only be done if current law is amended to reflect the fact that the abortion debate is not merely a quest for freedom but an ethical issue too. Currently, pro-abortionists are gaining more ground because they portray the limitations on abortion as an infringement on personal freedoms. They should be made to realize that they are seeking more freedoms on behalf of one group while severely curtailing the right to life of several other unknown beings (Booni, 2002).
On the whole, abortion is a sensitive area that will continue to be even more sensitive over the years to come. This is because it touches on several areas of human life as has been discussed above. The main ones discussed above are law and ethics. The two hold huge sway in this debate. Improving technology is fuelling the debate even further. This has especially broadened the gap between laws and ethics as it has made it easier form many to access abortion outside the confines of the law. Abortion law must therefore be amended to reflect the primacy of ethics in this debate and not merely the extension of individual freedoms. If this is not done in time, we might realize too late that we are criminalizing murder in some areas while expressly sustaining it in others. This is a difference we can ill afford. It is a matter of life and death.
Booni, D. (2002). A Defense of Abortion. London: Cambridge University Press
Kaczor, C (2010).The Ethics of Abortion: Women`s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice. New York: Routledge
Oderberg, D. (2000). Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach. London: Wiley Blackwell
Steinbock, B. (1992).Life Before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Fetuses. New York: Oxford University Press
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