A case for abortionIs it ethical to prevent a woman from getting an abortion and make her carry a foetus to term that clearly has no chance of living?
Abortion, as defined by The Oxford Dictionary of English, is the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, as opposed to a miscarriage. Currently, there are two methods for having an abortion: medical abortion and a surgical one. Abortion has been performed since the ancient era; the first recorded evidence of an abortion comes from a 1550 BCE Egyptian Papyrus. The topic of abortion is widely debated and contested, with passionate opinions on both sides. The divide on abortion stems from its biological, philosophical, ethical, religious and legal issues surrounding it. But should we allow abortions to occur?
As the world continues to transform and adapt, so must our views on abortion. Abortion is fundamentally linked to a woman’s reproductive right; until and unless we empower women with the right to their own bodies, we cannot deal with the issue of abortion effectively. Since it is her body, it is her choice whether to undergo an abortion or not. From a legal perspective, allowing safe and legal abortion is the best viable option to take as it empowers women to make their own choices. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has affirmed abortion to be a basic human right. Amnesty International’s global campaign ‘My Body, My Rights!’ campaigns access to abortion. Yet, six countries still have a total ban on abortion. The rest have varying laws, with some granting abortion on request while other permitting it only in specific cases (such as danger to mother’s life). By denying abortion, nations deny the fundamental right for women to choose.
One striking argument against the favour of abortion is that abortion is murder. Accordingly, human life begins from conception and we should protect it. An example of this view can be seen in the 1983 Irish constitutional amendment, which made the state acknowledge ‘the right to life of the unborn’. Is it justifiable to consider abortion as murder? Yet, we must remind ourselves that a person is a person after birth, not after conception. The concept of ‘life’ as we know it does not begin at conception, since the egg and the sperm are both ‘alive’ in some sense. Life is rather complicated to define; rather, we should say that the potential of life begins from conception onwards. It is a well-known fact that as much as 75 percent of fertilised eggs are discarded due to various causes. A person as we know is stems from meaningful brain activity, which remains undeveloped till around 24 weeks. The features which we can call something as a ‘human being’ are not highly developed in a short span of time. This is crucial if we are to distinguish between a human being and an embryo, and hence abortion and murder.
Anti-abortionists claim that abortion is painful for the foetus. This is blatantly untrue; the foetus as per current scientific consensus is not capable of feeling pain until the third trimester. A 2005 meta-analysis by researchers from University of California, San Francisco reported that foetuses are unlikely to feel pain until the third trimester. A 2010 report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) concluded that “the sensory structures are not developed or specialised enough to respond to pain in a foetus of less than 24 weeks.” Developmental neurobiologists agree that certain connections required for pain registration are absent until late second trimester. Furthermore, a review by Mellor and his team noted the presence of various sedatives, indicating that the foetus remains sedated in the womb.
The question of moral and ethics regarding abortion is a heavy-handed philosophical thought with many different answers. However, there are many different factors coming into play when abortion and morality are concerned. Should we allow the foetus to live and impede a woman’s reproductive choices? A woman has certain reproductive rights and it should be respected. There are also cases when the foetus endangers the mother’s life, or when pregnancy is resulted after rape or incest. The question of an acceptable way of life also applies when the foetus has life-impeding conditions such as anencephaly (absence of a large portion of the brain). Is it ethical to prevent a woman from getting an abortion and make her carry a foetus to term that clearly has no chance of living? However, this is not simply a rhetoric; a Texan woman was forced to give birth to a stillborn baby as a Texan law prevented her from getting an abortion. We can also take the case of a 10-year-old Paraguay girl who was denied an abortion after she was raped and impregnated by her neighbour. In 2012, Savita Halappanavar died from septic miscarriage after she could not get an abortion due to the restrictive laws regarding abortion in Ireland. These are but a few cases regarding restrictive abortion and its implications. Is denying abortion still ethically justifiable?
Access to safe and legal abortion is vital for developing countries. When performed in a legal medical setting, abortion is safer than childbirth. The risk of death from abortion stands at 0.7 per 100,000 procedures against 8.8 per 100,000 live births. Despite claims that abortion and breast cancer are linked, World Health Organisation, US National Cancer Institute, RCOG among other reputed institutions have found no link between the two. Safe and legal abortion also ensures the safety of the woman’s health; after South Africa legalised abortion in 1996, death related to unsafe abortion dropped by 90 percent. There is also the consideration of economic and social backgrounds; by legalising abortion, we encourage women to be economically independent. Abortion helps in family planning, a great rhetoric for developing countries.
Back in Nepal, abortion on request has been legal since 2002. This is a much-welcomed step, as it empowers women and gives them a choice to their own future. Progress is being made elsewhere; Chilean president Michelle Bachelet has made it her mission to change the restrictive laws regarding abortion in her country. By allowing safe and legal abortion, we empower women and respect the right to choose, and move forward to a truly egalitarian society.
Angdembay is a recent A-levels graduate from St Xavier’s College, Maitighar