A Philosophical Analysis of Abortion: Yes or No

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The essay discusses the controversial topic of abortion - yes or no. Pro-choice activists believe that individuals have the right to make choices regarding their own bodies and that women should not be forced to give birth to a child after being sexually abused or raped. Philosopher John Stuart Mill argues that individuals have the right to control their own bodies and that laws prohibiting abortion do not reduce the number of abortions performed but actually increase the difficulties for women with unwanted pregnancies. The essay also presents a dilemma faced by a couple, where Angelina is considering abortion due to her child's rare medical condition that decreases their chances of survival past five years old and possible maternal death, while her husband is against it.

Ethical dilemmas

In society, there are many ethical dilemmas one faces that are virtually impossible to solve. These dilemmas can come about as a result of differences in beliefs, behavior, attitude, and organizational goals. In addition, these dilemmas make it difficult for both parties involved to come up with a solution that would be accepted by the other side. Dilemmas can also result from conflicts of interest. Ethical dilemmas force one to choose between two options that are often in opposition to one another. Dilemmas cause conflicts where the subject has to settle on the appropriate action to be followed for certain options available; hence unable to decide the course of action to pursue. Such are moral dilemmas because they conflict with ethics, beliefs, and sometimes the law; and also because of how one judges whether the action is right or wrong. For example, abortion. The topic of abortion is one of the most difficult and controversial issues of today. There are many strong arguments for and against the right to have an abortion that makes the topic impossible to resolve. The complexity of this issue lies in the different aspects of the argument. The essence of a person, rights, and who is entitled to these rights, are a few of the many aspects which are very difficult to define. There are also issues of what circumstances would justify abortion. Whether for or against abortion, it remains to be “one of the most polarizing moral issues” (BBC, 2014) today. The disputable issue is encompassed by numerous inquiries such as: Is developing a fetus a being? Should the law allow abortions for rape? Abortion advocates and opponents usually define themselves as purely pro-choice, in that they support the right of a woman to make decisions about her body, or strictly pro-life, in that they agree the fetus is a human life and should not be killed. Others are possibly confused about the topic since their faith has taught one view only. Women should have the right to abort, as it should be one’s freedom of choice. The following essay will attempt to apply John Stuart Mill’s and Immanuel Kant’s philosophies to the complex modern debate of abortion.

The following scenario presents a dilemma amongst a set of parents: Angelina and her husband have been married for two years and the couple is expecting their first child. Angelina is twelve weeks into her pregnancy. Her husband is very excited and cannot wait for the baby to be born. It is time for a checkup appointment for the baby. The scan reveals the baby has a rare medical condition that decreases the baby’s chances of surviving past five years old. The doctor classifies Angelina’s pregnancy as high-risk, and if she decides to give birth, there is a great chance the baby will have cognitive impairment. Furthermore, maternal death is possible since her pregnancy is considered high-risk. Angelina is now considering abortion as she does not like the idea of her child struggling to survive nor possible maternal death. However, her husband is strongly against abortion. If Angelina decides to have an abortion, she knows her husband will be very upset and there is a good chance their marriage will end. What should Angelina do?

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One who is pro-choice believes that individuals have unlimited autonomy with respect to their own reproductive systems, as long as one does not breach the autonomy of others. Autonomy is one of the main arguments presented by pro-choice advocates, with the most extreme form arguing that a woman has complete rights over her own liberty. Therefore, one should be allowed to terminate one’s pregnancy whenever and for whatever reason one wishes. Supporters of abortion argue that having an abortion is justifiable in certain real-life circumstances, such as rape or being sexually abused. Women should not be forced to give birth to a child after such an incident. Thus, having the child can bring back recollections of the incident. The decision is entirely based on what the mother wants to do, and that power no other than the woman should be able to change that preference. Lina (2012) stated it has been argued by feminists that “forcing a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will is treating her as a mere means for sustaining the fetus”. Add more sentences.


Pro-choice activists believe that an individual should be allowed to make choices regarding one’s own body. Philosopher John Stuart Mill stresses that in regard to an action that only concerns oneself, “independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign” (Online Library of Liberty, n.d.). Mill does not directly claim abortion as a moral act but does imply stripping one’s ability to have control of one’s own body is immoral. When an individual is engaged in self-regarding activities that have no effect on the rest of society, one has the right to do what one desires. Abortion should be one’s choice because one knows best what will make one happy. Restraining the freedom of a human diminishes the principal foundation of human happiness and leaves the individual less rich and makes life less valuable to the individual. Laws prohibiting abortion do not stop abortions but merely drive them underground. Women who want abortions may use unqualified medical practices, which often result in serious medical complications and sometimes death. If an abortion is performed by a qualified medical professional, it can be safe as all other medical operations. Therefore, the effect of prohibiting the choice of abortion does not necessarily reduce the number of abortions performed but actually increases the difficulties for women with unwanted pregnancies. Regarding the legality of abortion, Mill would argue that prohibiting abortion is immoral because it can cause harm to both the mother and child, as well as jeopardize the mother’s wellbeing. John S. Mill is one of the earliest supporters of Utilitarianism, thus he wrote an essay to provide support for the value of utilitarianism as a moral theory. Mill defines utilitarianism as a theory based on the principle that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness”. This theory judges each consequence by pleasure and pain. Mill defines happiness as pleasure and the absence of pain. The rightness of action can be determined by the amount of pleasure it creates and the pain it prevents. Based on this, Mill would argue that the decision on whether or not to have an abortion should be based on the greatest amount of pleasure of the greatest amount of people, not just on the potential future of the fetus. In regard to the scenario, Angelina’s health is in jeopardy. Mill argues that pleasure can differ in quality and quantity and that pleasures that are rooted in one's higher faculties should be weighted more heavily than baser pleasures. Because Mill is not only concerned with the number of people involved but with the quality, he would say the choice is up to Angelina. In the chapter, “What Utilitarianism Is” Mill claims it is “better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied”. Likewise, the life of a human who has experienced both the higher and lower pleasures is more valuable than the life of a being that has only experienced the lower. Therefore, one would have to determine whose life holds more value, and in this case, Angelina’s life holds more value because she is already a part of society. Angelina has experienced “higher” pleasures, which outweigh the value of the fetus. Because the fetus does not have the same valued qualities as rational humans, Mill would state Angelina has more value than the fetus, and therefore abortion would be moral since Angelina’s health is in jeopardy. In circumstances such as rape, severe disability or illness, and financial strain, Mill finds abortion as moral due to the quality of life the baby will face. If Angelina and her husband were facing a financial burden, then the baby could become disadvantaged over time. As a result, aborting the baby would forgo the possibility of grief and stress in the future. The inability to function as good parents is a painful thing for the baby, Angelina, and her husband. In the scenario, it has been discovered that the baby has some sort of illness. The amount of pain that would correlate with raising the baby does not agree with the principles of the Greatest Happiness principle due to the pain both the mother and child would experience. Because of this, Mill would claim that at the expense of the baby and Angelina’s quality of life, abortion is considered moral. If the baby is going to suffer all of its lifespans, Mill would advise Angelina to choose a better and quicker way to relieve that pain. In a situation like Angelina’s, the gift of death may be viewed as a better gift than one of a bad and troubling life. It is safe to say no one derives pleasure from an abortion, however, the prevention of pain is equivalent to pleasure under Mill’s philosophy.


One who is 'pro-life' believes that the government has an obligation to preserve all human life, regardless of intent, viability, or quality-of-life concerns. Even in the case of a child being born with cognitive impairment, the government has every right to step in to preserve the child’s life. Another side to this view is individuals who are angered by women choosing to terminate when there are many who are not able to conceive. Medical advancements do have the technology to bring a child to these families, but even then, some are left only with disappointment. Pro-lifers believe that if one has the opportunity to have a child and waste it, one is committing a sin and is known to be unworthy of even having the option. One may argue that abortion can lead to future medical problems for the mother. A study published by the peer-reviewed International Journal of Epidemiology estimated that about fifteen percent of first-trimester miscarriages are attributed to a prior history of induced abortion and stated that “Induced abortion by vacuum aspiration is associated with an increased risk of first-trimester miscarriage in the subsequent pregnancy (Yuelian et al., 2003). Another argument brought up by opponents of abortion is that it is morally wrong and essentially murder. Opponents express that having an abortion kills the fetus, which in one’s mind is a person. Likewise, “a fetus has the same moral status as a toddler” (Jackson, 2018). Many would argue that a fetus is a potential person because it has the potential to become what it is not yet. However, does a potential person have potential rights? By declaring that a fetus is a potential person, one is also stating that a fetus is not a person. As one can see, this issue of the essence of a person and whether a fetus is a person is a very complicated one. This becomes more complicated if one takes into account the issue of rights. Now, the concept of human rights, that is to say, what American society dictates as human rights, conflicts heavily with itself. On one hand, individuals form a deep and heavy opinion on one’s right to life. On the other, individuals hold an equally strong opinion on one’s freedom to live that life as one pleases. Advocates of pro-life may argue that there are other alternatives rather than having an abortion, such as giving up the child for adoption. That way, the baby’s life is saved. Religious views against abortion are that committing abortions go against God. It violates the sixth commandment which states one “Should not murder” (Zondervan, 2011, p. 177). Another claim against abortion is that it reduces the number the adoptable babies. So instead of having the option to abort, one should give their unwanted baby to one who cannot conceive. According to the National Council for Adoption, the number of U.S. infant adoptions dropped from about 90,000 in 1971 to 18,329 in 2014 due to the lack of women putting their children up for adoption. To help enter this debate, the following paragraph explores Kant`s Categorical Imperative on abortion as a moral dilemma.

According to philosopher Immanuel Kant, one must be pro-life because abortion is immoral. Kant is a famous philosopher of the eighteenth century whose greatest contribution to philosophy was in the field of ethics. Kant believes certain types of actions (including murder, theft, and lying) are strictly prohibited, even in cases where the action would bring about more happiness than the alternative. Kant holds the belief that “since we are rational beings, our actions always aim at some sort of end or goal, which our maxim expresses” (Rohlf, 2016, para 84). He believed that moral laws could be derived from reason and that all immoral behavior was, therefore, unreasonable or irrational. This led to his idea of the categorical imperative, a law of morality that all humans have a duty to obey. The categorical imperative consists of two different formulations, but the first one is most clearly a categorical imperative. His first formulation of this categorical imperative is the following: “Act according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Canvas, 2019). Kant believed that all moral duties could be deduced from this categorical imperative. It is important to know that Kantian ethics is based solely on a formal, universal, and a priori source. In the journal, Ethical Theory & Moral Practice, Yudanin (2015) presents Kant’s formal law; “All that remains of a law if one separates from it everything material, that is, every object of the will (as its determining ground), is the mere form of giving universal law” (p. 596). In essence, to decide whether an act is morally good, then one should be able to will that everyone else would act in the same way. In other words, a woman who wants to have an abortion could not will that every other woman also wants to have an abortion when pregnant. From this Kantian moral, abortion is rendered morally impermissible. By Kant’s reasoning, this makes abortion irrational and, therefore, immoral. One may not agree with Kant’s categorical imperative, but his theory does provide an interesting perspective on the issue of abortion.


There is a very large controversy between the ideas of abortion advocates and opponents. Different religious views, beliefs, and cultures all have a preference on the take of this political issue. While some believe in the typical idea of “your body, your choice”, others claim, fetuses are creatures with interests of their own right from the start. As Jackson (2018) stated, abortion remains to be one of the most philosophical debates of today. The thoughts on abortion will persistently remain controversial due to several factors – legal, moral, and religious. In regard to legality, the law has granted every woman the right to make a decision. Therefore, one can argue it is right to do so as long as one follows the law in that particular state. However, most likely the targeted response would be something along the lines of, “A fetus is a human being, and therefore, having an abortion is murder.” Abortion is not only a woman's right, it is a woman's choice. John Stuart Mill’s utilitarian philosophy would state that all unwanted pregnancies that will cause physical, emotional, and mental, financial hardship, should be terminated. In accordance to Mill’s moral standards, women may desire abortion as a means to their happiness.

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