Ethical Issues Surrounding Abortion
Notwithstanding the laws being passed in various states against a woman's right to chose to terminate her pregnancy, the position of this paper is that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and a woman has the ethical and moral right to decide to have an abortion. There are many positions for and against Roe v. Wade, and there are many ethical issues that may be (and in many cases are) embraced on both sides of the issue. But the law of the land vis-a-vis a woman's right to the privacy -- regarding her own values -- when it comes to terminating a pregnancy has been determined by the High Court. As a nurse committed to fairness and ethics in healthcare issues, while I respect the rights of others to practice their own values in opposition to Roe v. Wade, I am in support of a woman's absolute right to chose what should happen to her body.
There were approximately 1.21 million abortions performed in the U.S. 2008, according to combined data from the Centers for Disease Control, the Guttmacher Institute (provided by Abort73.com) and those are the latest statistics that can be verified. This was a drop from about 1.29 million abortions in 2002. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that there were 1.21 million abortions performed in 2005, down from 1.61 million in 1990. Kaiser also reports that about 49% of pregnancies in the U.S. were "unintended" and of the unintended abortions, 42% resulted in abortions. There are two kinds of abortions, surgical abortions and medical abortions.
The Kaiser Family Foundation explains that 87% of all abortions are surgical, which relates to the use of "vacuum aspiration, dilation and curettage" (D&C), and "dilation and evacuation" (D&E). In most cases, surgical abortion is not performed until the pregnant woman is in her sixth week of gestation. The "medical abortion" is performed through the drug known as "RU-486" (mifepristone) that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000. The RU-486 can be administered any time following confirmation of pregnancy, and in 2005, about 13% of all abortions were done using RU-486, the Kaiser statistics reflect.
A 2012 report from Medline Plus (a component of the National Institutes of Health) shows that abortion rates among teenagers in the U.S. fell to "record lows in 2008" due to the increased use of contraceptives. About 750,000 women in the U.S. under the age of 20 years became pregnant in 2008 and 98% of those women were between 15 and 29; that is the lowest rate of teen pregnancies since 1972, writer James B. Kelleher (Medline) explains. As to the abortion rate for teenage girls, in 2008 it dropped to the lowest rate since 1972: 17.8 per 1,000 teenage girls and women received abortions in 2008. Those stats were down 59% from 1988 when 43.5 teenage women per 1,000 received abortions (Kelleher, 2012).
That having been said, African-American and Latino had pregnancy and abortion rates "two to four times higher than their white peers," according to the Guttmacher Institute (referenced by Kelleher), which is a nonprofit sexual health research organization. The speculation is that African-American and Latino females in their teenage years do not have the same access to contraceptives as Caucasian teenage females (Kelleher).
Ethical Issues and Abortion
Abortion became a legal option for women in the United States in 1972 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that under the U.S. Constitution, women have the right to privacy which protects "the right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy to term or to have a save and legal abortion" (Planned Parenthood). In the peer-reviewed journal, Nursing Standard, the authors provide arguments for and against abortion. The anti-abortion position by Jones and Chaloner (using deductive reasoning) is as follows:
Premise A: the fetus is an innocent human being; Premise B: it is "morally wrong to kill an innocent human being"; Conclusion: hence it is morally wrong to kill a fetus.
The pro-abortion position presented by the authors is as follows:
Premise A: the fetus has no "moral status"; Premise B: it is not morally wrong to destroy something that has no moral status; Conclusion: it is not morally wrong to destroy a fetus.
Given these two opposing premises, it then seems logical to zero in on the "accuracy of the premises" (Jones, et al., 2007, p. 45). The authors delve into auxiliary ethical issues in the article, beginning with the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" terms....
Moreover, a pro-choice person may support a woman's right to an abortion but at the same time be in opposition to legalizing euthanasia -- and hence be pro-life in that regard (Jones, 46).
Another ethical issue related to readers in this article is technological, that is, science is presently using stem cells in the search for diseases such as Parkinson's, spinal cord injuries, Alzheimer's, and other major medical problems. Stem cells can be obtained from aborted fetuses, setting up ethical conundrums. A "father's rights" issue is also at hand vis-a-vis abortions; should a father of the unborn baby have the right to share in the woman's decision regarding abortion? This issue has gained traction in recent years, Jones explains (46).
Consent is required in many states before a minor can receive an abortion; this is another ethical issue (does the state have a right to insist that a 17-year-old girl get her parents' consent?).
As to the moral status of the fetus, Jones points to the most pertinent question in this regard which is, "when does the embryo/fetus acquire a "moral value," and beyond this point, is it wrong to interfere with it?" (46). There is clearly a difficulty in determining which point during the process from conception to birth "beyond which abortion should not be permissible," according to the pro-life position. But is that point when the fetus has a human appearance, or can be sensitive to pain? This is a moral and ethical dilemma, Jones explains (46).
Jones presents the "Maternal vs. fetal rights" which essentially pits the value of a grown female human against the value of a fetus. Feminist activists argue that for a woman "to have equal rights regarding sexual freedom, abortion must be freely available" since in all other situations, in which adults are supposed to be competent to make their own informed decisions, the autonomy of a woman is respected," Jones explains (47). Hence, given the previous sentence, women should have the opportunity to make decisions regarding their bodies and not be "forced to act against their wishes" (47). That's the maternal side of the coin in this particular aspect of the abortion debate. The fetal rights side claims that, if life at that early period is "equal to that of any other human being, it may be claimed that society has a moral duty to protect it" (Jones, 47).
Given those opposing sides, either the rights and life of the fetus is equal to the life of a grown female, or it isn't, Jones continues. The viewpoint supporting pro-choice, given the above-mentioned situation, is that: a) the fetus is "only a potential life which is reliant on the pregnant woman for existence"; and b) the woman is "already an individual, fully formed life and must, according to this view, have preference over the potential of the fetus" (Jones, 47).
Yet another ethical issue brought up by Jones in the Nursing Standard is that if a doctor determines during a woman's pregnancy that the fetus is going to be abnormal, or disabled in some serious way, an abortion can be morally justified (or at least legally justified in some jurisdictions) on the grounds of a "serious handicap" (47). But the ethical problem then becomes, "how do we define "handicapped"?" Just precisely what constitutes a serious physical handicap? Each country and within the U.S. each state must make those difficult decisions. For example, if it is determined that the child has Down syndrome, does that justify an abortion? The pro-life camp would not agree with that, and possibly many in the pro-choice side of the issue would not want to abort a child just because it has a potential serious mental handicap.
There are states in the U.S. that see abortion as such an unethical practice that they pass laws designed to both discourage and even prevent abortions. Arizona recently passed a law that "restricts" abortion, according to journalist John M. Glionna with the Los Angeles Times. Republican Governor Jan Brewer signed legislation into law that bans "most abortions after 20 weeks"; the law also requires state officials to put up a website "with images of fetuses at various states of development for women to view" (Glionna, p. 1). The article does not explain how the state would coax women to view these images of fetuses, albeit there could well be some ethical issues surrounding the…
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