The Moral Status of the Fetus in Abortion
Abortion is one of the most discussed and controversial issues of the contemporary time. Each point argued in support of and against its performance cannot offer an explicit explanation in terms of whether or not termination of the pregnancy is a right or at least justified choice to be made by an adult. Therefore, the paper presents an overview of this procedure from a moral and ethical perspective and a critical insight into the whirl of the debated social problem.
First and foremost, there should be a clear line with regard to distinguishing what circumstances exactly can be referred to as a centerpiece of the abortion debate. While abortion is a medical procedure aimed at termination of the pregnancy, this process in not always the subject of a moral dilemma. In particular, if this termination is predetermined by health conditions of fetus or mother or there is a chance of a miscarriage. In this respect, only if the issue relates to a person's choice of this procedure as elective, when the two aforementioned situations are not concerned, it becomes a focus for moral consideration. The moral side of this elective process assumes the analysis of fetus versus abortion in the light of moral implications, though both opponents and proponents of abortion have common starting points in terms of supporting their positions either rejecting or supporting the moral status of a fetus. Nevertheless, the greatest concern which raises immense amounts of debates in this regard is linked to the question whether an adult person has a moral right to determine life-or-death outcomes for a fetus based on one's own considerations. Namely, the main question to be answered remains if abortion is killing or not.
Drawing upon the rich and multidimensional scholarship on this topical subject, the extent of morality of this controversial problem is regarded from a variety of perspectives. First, when explaining the relevance of a fetus' rights, biology grounds its rationale on the five major principles of functioning of all organisms, which allow characterizing them as alive. Specifically, this set of characteristics involves the process of nourishment, capabilities to excreting waste, growth and reflexivity, as well as homeostasis. Whereas a fetus is able to perform all these functions, it is considered as alive. Thus, one's moral status should not be doubted as life itself is the only proof of having a moral status as innate. It follows that biological existence predisposes a justified moral right to life, positioning abortion as a detrimental force that intervenes and stops this existence. On a similar note, the opponents of this argument reject the relevance of such an assumption based on that being alive cannot be equated to having a moral status since these two domains of understanding existence are too distinct.
Another important factor to be taken into account in the scope of this topic is focused on the factor of human dignity that is to be respected in any case. The scholars who support the moral status of a fetus in abortion overwhelmingly assert that “fetuses are persons from conception forward” (Rae, 2013, p. 219). There is a need to underline that the concept of human dignity is used as justification by both opponents and proponents of the abortion. Among supporters, including religious activists and lawyers among others, this notion is explained as one's innate right for dignity and respect, even when it is just an embryo that is still evolving within its own mother's womb. At the same time, opponents regard human dignity of a mother as an influential factor to be considered. Namely, since a woman is a conscious human being and the fetus is part of her body, her dignity and the right to choose her and her fetus' fate respectively is to be respected and morally justified. From this position, abortion seems moral and the fetus' moral status is not defined.
Apart from that, a number of arguments in the field can be united into one group with relation to potentiality, negative social impact and deprivation of the fetus of the right for the future. Regardless of the fact that these perspectives refer to different aspects of a moral stance on the problem discussed, their general background is common. To be more precise, they all are focused on foreseeableness of the future of the fetus and projected outcomes of one's existence versus non-existence. First, the issue of potentiality also emphasizes all people's right to life, and thus, that of an unborn since one is a human being as well. Second, there is an assumption that a human being has a right to realize his/her future, similarly to any human born, while the abortion deprives the fetus of this right. Third, a predicted outcome may ground the reasoning on a subject matter from a negative viewpoint. Specifically, the projection of a future newborn's life can have negative connotations because a child born as unwanted, when abortion is prevented, will not likely be happy. Therefore, the above situation can lead to negative consequences both to this individual, his or her parents and the society at large. This rationale justifies the termination of the pregnancy.
Given the above description of the existing arguments in terms of supporting and opposing the moral status of the fetus in abortion, I tend to believe that a pro-life standpoint is the one that should be a pillar in this debate. Although the scholars appeal to the fact that the issue of live existence cannot be equated to a moral status of the fetus, this objection is too uncertain to be found as a reasonable and one-sided explanation of the fetus dilemma. Of course, strict borders between the two spheres cannot be determined in order to provide an ample answer to this question. Nonetheless, there are a number of heath conditions and real-life situations when a person, whose right to life is undoubted, can be in a fetus-like condition. For instance, it can be relevant to refer to coma, brain death, serious health-related disparities with regard to personal comprehensive development or different diseases and severe health conditions, such as terminally ill patients. At the same time, these events in human life are perceived either as controversial (e.g. brain death) or as given which one's family has to deal with. However, these individuals are not killed in a one-sided manner, as contrasted to fetuses in elective abortions.
What is more, I believe that the focal stance on pro-life arguments for defining a moral status of the fetus in abortion should be grounded on one's perspectives within society in the future. I realize that the opponents of this perspective link this factor to welfare. Namely, while fetuses do not have individual welfare as they are unborn, they do not contribute to enhancement of the community`s welfare in its entirety. This issue has been stated by Steinbock (2011) among other scholars, who have underlined that “since presentiment fetuses lack interests, and therefore, a sake or welfare of their own, they do not have moral standing” (p. 50). Nevertheless, this proof is questionable. Indeed, fetuses have parents (or at least one) and other family members, with their individual interests and a particular welfare state. Moreover, they may have certain plans concerning the future of their unborn fetuses, multiplied by their hopes and aspirations. Hence, while the aspect of thea moral status of the fetus in abortion can be arguable, the aforementioned examples may be regarded as the factors predetermining the moral value of the embryos. Therefore, this argument evidences that “the stake the others have in their well-being” (Steinbock, 2011, p. 50) enables a sufficient moral value of the fetus, which allows adjusting one's moral status as more justified by ranking it to the higher, individual-focused value and significance in other people's lives.
By the same token, the scope of the welfare issue may be expanded to the above-indicated standpoints explaining a morally justified status of the fetus in abortion with respect to predictive outcomes. To be more precise, if individuals will be allowed to perform abortions freely as a moral and ethical action, it is likely that pursuing self-interests will result into decreased numbers of children born. This factor will eventually lead to detrimental impacts on the existence of society: for instance, the amount of workforce will be reduced, while the quality of those born and their diversity can be also doubtful in terms of ensuring successful functioning of society at large. It follows that the previously described argument concerning potential negative impacts of unwanted children on the productivity of society in future is equal to doubtful probability of more successful outcomes of the little number of children who will be allowed to be born between the growing number of abortions made while the question is still debated.
In this regard, the interests of a person may become an important factor to consider with respect to the argument on the deprivation of the future. Albeit there are assumptions that fetuses are projected individuals, this argument is not firm. All the above-indicated factors can be comprehended as a set of thoroughly intertwined supporting evidence in this case. Foremost, planning of the future is part of its successful implementation, and numerous marketing and leadership scholarly and practice-focused works written on the basis of personal experience confirm the relevance of this statement. Moreover, the above reasoning creates the moral value of the fetus through mediation of interests and welfare of adult individuals who are directly linked to determining one’s life or death. If individuals will not be projected in this way, the quality of their life after birth will be quite doubtful. As a result, this multiplied potentiality allows emphasizing the potentiality of “the dignity proper to a person” (Rae, 2011, p. 221) which determines the moral status of the fetus in abortion.
Summarizing the discussion held in the paper, it is to be noted that the issue of morality of abortion with regard to the fetus is both critical and controversial. Whereas only elective abortion is concerned as a subject of moral considerations, there are numerous objections and supportive arguments regarding this problem. The assumptions of both proponents and opponents of this question have similar grounds and are equally arguable. These create the arguments linked to the concepts of potentiality, bodily rights, and deprivation of the future, to list a few. The author tends to support a pro-life side in these debates that underline the moral value and status of the fetus in abortion. In this regard, the greatest emphasis is put on potentiality of favorable outcomes for the fetus as a future child, one’s surrounding and society as a whole in case abortion will not be performed.