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The International Writers Magazine
: Comment: Life and Death

Whose Life is it anyway?
Josh Lineberry
The Ethics of No-Compromise Pro-Life Position

Abortion is murder. I have heard this statement many times followed by some variation of the phrase "unless it is a case of rape, incest, or it if threatens the life of the mother." I have trouble with this claim.

If one calls it murder and murder is always wrong, how could it be justified in any circumstance? Obviously, this must be why there are many who hold no compromise positions on the issue of Abortion. Even when the mother’s life is in danger, these people would claim that the right thing to do would be to let the baby be born. I also have trouble with this claim, even more so than the first.

Naturally, there are many who would disagree with the position that Abortion isn’t always murder. Utilitarian philosophers, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill among them, would not be in this group. Each instance would be examined individually apart from the others. Is the mother capable of rearing a healthy child? If this is not the case, the child could grow up to be an unproductive member of society. This certainly wouldn’t be a good thing, according to Bentham and Mill. After all, the big question Utilitarians must ask themselves when solving problems is this: What’s the greatest good for the greatest number? Society certainly doesn’t need another unproductive or undisciplined person walking the streets. Is the mother financially stable enough to well-maintain the child’s health? Is she physically capable of having a healthy baby? If not, how high are the chances of birth defects or brain damage? Society certainly doesn’t need more mentally or physically disabled children. No matter how horrifyingly elitist this may seem, these were the questions that would be asked.

The German philosopher Emmanuel Kant would likely refute with his famous "an ends to a means" statement. Could you will abortion to be a universal law under any circumstance? And I’m quite sure that, using the laws of duty based ethics, the duty to defend the life of the unborn would be something that could be well defended by those with no compromise positions on Abortion. But, as we can see with Kant’s opinions on lying, his reasoning is thoroughly capable of being entirely unreasonable. To illustrate, I call to light Professor Newsom’s (a Philosophy instructor) example of the axe murderer at the front door. If one is harboring someone inside, and the axe murderer asks where they are, naturally one would say, "I haven’t seen them." Of course, if you were to follow Kant’s laws, you could not lie under any circumstance. And, in this case, your insistence on telling the truth would likely cost both you and the one you harbor your lives. A much more reasonable manner of examining the situation would be the Utilitarian approach. Of course, you wouldn’t have time to apply Bentham’s Moral Calculus but you could certainly reason enough to come to the conclusion that telling the truth in this situation could potentially cause some very bad things to happen. This very error, that is the error of conflicting duties, is exactly why Kant is unreliable on an issue such as Abortion. While the Utilitarian approach can appear elitist at times, it is quite useful and even ethical in many situations.

The issue of conflicting duties is tied to Abortion because, in the case of when the mother’s life is at stake, no-compromise positions on Abortion would argue that the right thing to do would be to let the mother die. After all, as noted before, Abortion is always murder in their eyes. But, consider this; would not letting the mother die also be immoral? To further this demonstration, murder must first be defined. After some thought, I have arrived at this: The removal or allowance of an innocent life to be taken when the subject is unwilling. To clarify, this life would be guilty of no capital crimes or anything related. And, in this case, I am speaking strictly of human life. Let us say that, if the fetus is not aborted, the mother will most assuredly die. Let us also say that there is a law that has illegalized abortion, treating it as murder. And, finally, let us say that the mother does not will to die (of course). Using my definition of murder, to allow the fetus to be aborted would be murder. The fetus has done nothing wrong, and yet it dies. The fetus does not will to die, and yet it dies. The doctor knowingly lets the fetus be destroyed, as does the mother. So, can we not equate this to pre-meditated murder? No-Compromise Conservatives may believe so, however, another scenario looms. Also using my definition, to allow the mother to die would be immoral. Because of the doctor's actions, the mother will die. The mother has done nothing wrong, and yet she dies. The mother does not will to die, and yet she dies. The doctor knowingly lets the mother die. He would be, in a sense, violating his own code of medical ethics in refusing help to a woman who needs it. And, often times in criminal cases, accomplices to murder are treated as murderers themselves. Is the doctor not knowingly aiding the end of a life by refusing help to this woman?
A No-Compromise Conservative may then counter with the fact that we do not always know for sure whether or not the woman will die. Arguably, every pregnancy threatens the woman’s life. This claim seems reasonable. To most effectively prove it wrong, I must employ the use of another scenario. Consider this: A woman is tied to a railroad. The train racing towards her may be able to stop in time, but probably not. So, because we are not 100% certain that the train will hit her, should we simply leave her there and find out? Certainly not. This may be a bit of a stretch to some but the core idea is this: When we can be reasonably sure that a mother’s life is at risk, an abortion is justified. Could you really scream "murderer!" at a woman who had an abortion to protect her own life? It seems to me that this equates to basic self defense.

I've struggled for some time with the difficult task of justifying a woman's right to choose. It’s admittedly a very hard thing to justify. On one hand, whether a fetus becomes uniquely human at conception or not, this fetus is growing inside of someone. Would you not have dominion over something growing inside of you? Should you not have authority over something that makes its home within your body? On the other hand, this fetus is a life that would become a human infant. In ending this life, you certainly raise very difficult moral questions. But, at any rate, the No-Compromise position that Abortion is always murder can and has been proven unreasonable. Examining the situation and the consequences of that situation, as with many things, seems to be the most reasonable option in this case. You cannot defend the right of the unborn by simultaneously forcing a mother to forfeit her life and somehow call that ethical. A demand such as that is not only unethical but it can be likened to murder in itself.
© Josh Lineberry Jan 18th 2005
shoukanmahou at
Josh is studying philosophy.

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