Ethics of Abortion: Controversial Issues Essay

September 21, 2021 by Essay Writer


The issue of abortion has always raised controversy in its discussion due to the differences in the opinion that most people present in matters regarding morality. Most societies prescribe to a specific standard with regard to the establishment of moral values, with some societies being more liberal than others are. For instance, the legal age for alcohol consumption varies depending on the society. In addition, people have varying opinions on moral behavior due to the application of personal biases such as upbringing and the environment. This paper explores the background of the matter and some popular opinions that people have raised over the years, including their justification for such opinions. The paper also presents a personal perspective on the matter based on the arguments raised in the paper and justifications for the same.


In the United States, controversy regarding abortion began in the early nineteenth century with the formulation of laws governing its practice. In the 1800s, before the formulation of such laws, people freely practiced abortions for various reasons, including cultural norms. For instance, in some cultures, it was taboo to conceive before marriage and thus people in such communities used abortions as an avenue to remedy such situations, in cases where the man or boy responsible for the pregnancy was not ready to acknowledge it or marry the mother (Sorenson et al. 241). It was also the option of choice in instances where the pregnancy posed a threat to the mother’s life. Although viable reasons for the justification of the practice varied for different communities, one of the main concepts that were agreeable at the time was the abortions before the ‘quickening’ period, which is the time frame within which a fetus gains the ability to stir the mother’s womb, thus enabling her to experience sensations related to the pregnancy (Cohen 93).

In the nineteenth century, abortion became illegal for various reasons. One main reason was the nature of the procedure. Abortion is a surgical procedure like any other and given the lack of proper medical education on the procedure, medicine, and equipment at the time, it was difficult to even for skilled individuals to guarantee its safety. Many women died while some of those that survived the ordeal developed complications (Sorenson et al. 252). The combination of these facts necessitated legal restrictions on the procedure.

Another reason for the illegality of abortions at that time was the need to raise the indigenous populations in most areas. There were fears that immigrant populations would overrun the indigenous populations in most areas. Most communities thus felt a need to populate their territories adequately and retain superiority. However, as circumstances changed, so did opinions about the issue. In 1973, through the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court made abortion legal (Alford 1027). In essence, the court held that a woman’s right to privacy should extend to the right to decide on whether or not to have children. In addition, the court decided that a woman and her doctor should exercise the right to privacy, without interference from the state. The judiciary has since upheld the decision, with a few modifications to its rules of application. For instance, the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey established the rule that the law has the right to restrict the viability of abortions in within the first trimester of pregnancy, as long as the restrictions do not place an undue burden on the woman (Alford 1019).

Although the main controversial area is in the morality of the procedure, some individuals present other perspectives, including the practicality on the application of abortion laws and philosophical views on abortion laws.

Controversies: different perspectives regarding abortions

Moral perspective

The concept of morality varies depending on various factors including personal prejudice and cultural norms. This assertion implies that what one individual may consider immoral may be moral to another. Morality is part of behavioral studies that have led to numerous controversies including those on matters regarding abortion and prostitution. Some people argue that legalizing abortion is wrong as it indicates society’s acceptance of values that encourage sexual irresponsibility. Proponents of this view argue that acceptance of abortions in society encourages young adults to engage in sexual behavior without prior consideration of the outcome such as pregnancy. Individuals in this school of thought exhibit moral absolutism, a theory that suggests that human behavior results in acts that are either wrong or right with no middle ground (Cohen 71).

Moral absolutism lays its basis on the premise that human beings are innately moral and thus the determination of whether the behavior is wrong or right is the same in every society given similar circumstances. John Locke, a proponent of the theory, states that every human being is innately moral, but some act against reason resulting in immoral behavior and the need for the formulation of laws (Cohen 92). Thomas Aquinas was a proponent of universal morality and he stated that society needs a standard of morality set through the establishment of certain basic laws. In his view, such laws guard against vices that society believes to be wrong. Issues such as prostitution and abortion are some of those that proponents of this school of thought believe to be universally wrong and thus immoral (Finer et al. 112). Although the concept explains the need for some laws, the determination of the standard of morality remains controversial, thus leading to current issues facing the morality of abortions.

On the other hand, proponents of moral relativism argue against a set standard of morality by proposing that morality is dependent on different variables and thus abortion is neither completely moral nor immoral. One of the theories that support moral relativism is utilitarianism. Individuals relying on this theory form the opinion that abortion is only immoral if the resultant outcome affects people other than the woman procuring it. Proponents of utilitarianism argue that in the determination of morality, individuals should weigh actions according to the amount of happiness or pain and the number of people they affect (Cohen 69). Essentially, a person’s actions qualify as moral if they cause more happiness than pain to the largest number of people. Therefore, from this perspective, abortion is only moral if it results in the greatest happiness to the most number of people in society.

Emmanuel Kant, the founder of the theory, was of the opinion that people should have the right to do as they wish as long as their actions do not affect others (Cohen 70). This assertion coincides with the application of the right to privacy in allowing women to procure abortions. Although the theory displays more objectivity than moral absolutism, the determination of whether people other than the woman share the effects of abortion remains difficult. Pro-abortionists argue that only the woman bears the effects of abortion and thus ought to have exclusive rights in determining its suitability, while anti-abortionists argue that abortions affect people around the woman psychologically and emotionally and thus procurement of such procedures are more than personal decisions.

Legal and practical perspectives

Although there has been an uproar from anti-abortionists on the authority of courts to declare the legality of abortions, it is important to consider the functions that courts have including the protection of the common good of the people. This assertion means that in the determination of the legality and illegality of society’s issues, courts have to consider every possible variable. Unlike individual opinions, courts represent the collective opinion of the majority of the people while minding the welfare of the individuals concerned in a case and the long-term implications of their decisions. In addition, although the application of the law is reliant on set standards, there are always exceptions to the general rule, depending on the uniqueness of the circumstances in every case (Grimes et al. 1917). Therefore, even though some issues put the morality of society to question, the application of evidence creates another variable for courts. Abortion procedures are matters that rely on the discretion of the woman and her doctor and considering the fact that the Roe vs. Wade case exempted the government’s interference, it is difficult to prove matters concerning abortions. The combination of these facts makes first trimester regulations established in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania difficult. Additionally, even in states where abortion is only allowable based on a doctor’s determination of the mother’s safety, the provision of discretion to the doctor in such determination makes it possible for women and fraudulent doctors to collaborate and make the procedure possible.

Personal opinion

Although the issue of abortion is mainly moral in nature, abortion should remain legal for practical reasons. Firstly, making the procedure illegal increases the number of ‘back alley’ abortions instead of reducing their procurement, thus endangering the lives of thousands of women and affecting the lives of children already born to such women. Secondly, legally speaking, every case has its own unique facts and it is thus impossible to create laws that cater for all possible exceptions to an abortion’s illegality. For instance, in some cases, the manner of implantation of the fetus may present a danger to the woman, while in other cases the woman may develop a disease that compromises her health if she carries the pregnancy to term. It is thus up to the doctors to establish cases that require the procedure and those that do not. Approaching the issue with a hypocritical attitude does not help in solving the problems associated with the matter. Thirdly, the discrete nature with which the procedures occur coupled with the fact that numerous doctors operate private institutions makes it difficult to regulate the performance of the procedures. Even with the establishment of abortion clinics, it is still difficult to establish clients obtaining legal abortions and those procuring illegal ones.

It would thus be better to allow for laws that enable women to obtain the procedures safely while creating restrictions on the procedures such as controlling the establishment of abortion clinics. Public education would ensure that individuals do not act out in ignorance, thus increasing objectivity on matters surrounding the issue.


Although the moral aspect of abortion has generated controversy over the years, it is important to look at the matter objectively as a necessary surgical procedure that is sometimes misused. Individuals should weigh the pros and cons before establishing their immorality or illegality.

Works Cited

Alford, Suzanne. “Is Self-Abortion a Fundamental Right?” Duke Law Journal 52.5(2003): 1011–29. Print.

Cohen, Martin. Philosophical tales, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. Print.

Finer, Lawrence, Lori Frohwirth, Lindsay, Dauphinee, Susheela Singh, and Ann Moore. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives.” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 37.3(2005): 110–8. Print.

Grimes, David, Janie Benson, Susheela Singh, Mariana Romero, Bela Ganatra, Friday Okonofua, and Iqbal Shah. “Unsafe abortion: The preventable pandemic.” The Lancet 368.9550 (2006): 1908–19. Print.

Sorenson, Susan, Douglas Wiebe, and Richard Berk. “Legalized Abortion and the Homicide of Young Children: An Empirical Investigation.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 2.1 (2002): 239–56. Print.

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