Two of the latest topics we have discussed in class were utilitarianism and abortion. With this being said, it would be very interesting to use Mill’s views on utilitarianism to try and determine what his stance on abortion would be. To find this out, it will be imperative to show just exactly what John Stuart Mill means when he talks about Utilitarianism as well as defining the six different positions we constructed on abortion during class. With the 6 given stances on abortion, and Utilitarianism according to John Mill and his views on the Greatest Happiness Principle I believe that he would have chosen both the second and the third of the six positions on abortion.
To help better understand what John Stuart Mill’s position on abortion would be let’s try and better understand what Utilitarianism is. In the second chapter of Utilitarianism titled “What Utilitarianism Is” Mill states that “Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure, and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain, and the privation of pleasure.” (Mill 14). This is a rather long quote but it does a good job of summarizing the view points of John Mill. In this quote, Mill basically states that the rightness and wrongness of actions depend on how much pain or happiness you feel. Actions that receive more happiness will be seen as right and actions that receive more pain will be seen as wrong. Mill goes on to say that the amount of pleasure and pain depend on the quantity and quality of the specific pleasures and pains you feel. After all of this was stated and understood in class, it only makes sense that the Greatest Happiness Principle would give the great amount of pleasure to the greatest number of people.
With the main principles of Utilitarianism being understood, let’s move on to discuss the six different positions of abortion. The positions closest to position one correlate with a pro-life view and the positions that are closest to position six correlate with the pro-choice view, with positions one and six being the most extreme prospectively. Position one’s main point is that the right to life is most important. In position one the baby’s life is more important than the mother’s life and abortion is seen as immoral. Position two states the life of the mother is more important than the life of the infant. The position holds the view that if the life of the mother is in danger due to health problems during her pregnancy than it is acceptable to have an abortion. Abortion is still seen as immoral, expect under these circumstances. There is also psychological harm that can be avoided if position two is taken. Position three believes that getting an abortion is immoral if the mother was impregnated through a rape. In this position it is alright to get the abortion because the pregnancy was unwanted, unplanned and psychological harm could possibly occur to the mother. Position four is the first position that gives the mother a right to bodily integrity. Although position four views getting an abortion as immoral, it still holds the view that the mother should be able to choose whether or not she wants to keep her baby. Position five is a unique view that believes getting an abortion is neither moral nor immoral, but amoral. This position, like that of position four believes that the mother should have the right to bodily integrity, except this view believes abortions have nothing to do with morality. Position six is also unique for the fact that it is the only position that believes getting an abortion could be a moral act. This position holds the same views as position four and position five, that the mother should be able to have a right to bodily integrity, however, this position also holds the view that it’s alright for a mother to get an abortion if it’s going to interfere with her already good life.
I believe that if you were to combine John Mill’s views on Utilitarianism and the six positions on abortion that we just discussed it would be inevitable to come to the conclusion that John Mill’s position would be a mix between both position two and position three. I came to this conclusion in direct accordance with the Greatest Happiness Principle which was brought about by John Mill. According to Mill, Utilitarianism and the Greatest Happiness Principle suggest that we are to live our lives and make decisions regarding the fact the rightness and wrongness of the decisions we make are based off of the amount of happiness and pain we receive after making those decisions. It’s hard to say how Mill would subjectively view abortion from a moral standpoint, but it is much easier to look at the objective facts that go along with positions two and three and compare them to the Greatest Happiness Principle.
Positions two, as well three, both are in the best interest of the mother, who already has thousands of social ties and relationships to society, while the baby has no ties to society and relationships besides with the mother. With this being said in accordance with position two, there would be more people upset if the mother were to die than if the baby were to be aborted. There would be greater initial pain if the mother was to be lost and the baby was to survive. While looking through the lens of the Greatest Happiness Principle, it is easy to see that there would be a greater amount of happiness if the mother’s life was given priority due to all of the prior relationships she has already made.
Much like that of position two, position three is also in the best interest of the mother. I believe that Mill would hold position three as well as position two because of all of the pain being avoided by choosing position three. It would go against everything that the Greatest Happiness Principle stands for if Mill did not choose position three. The main points that position three holds is that a pregnancy through way of rape is unwanted, unplanned and can cause much psychological harm to the mother. While using the Greatest Happiness Principle, position three is not as much about receiving happiness as it is about avoiding pain. Continuing with a pregnancy after someone has been raped would cause pain on many different levels. The mother would most likely have a hard time loving the child knowing its father is a convicted rapist. A lot of pain would also ensue if the mother was forced into raising a child without even planning for it as well as not even wanting it. The amount of pain that would correlate with raising a child after being raped would not agree with the principles of the Greatest Happiness Principle which states that the rightness and wrongness of decisions are based off of how much pain of pleasure you receive after making those decisions.
I believe that Mill would choose positions two and three and not any positions where abortion is not seen as immoral which seems because there is still a great amount of pain associated with aborting an unborn fetus. I believe that Mill would hold the positions of four, five or six because they do not hold good enough reasons to abort a baby. Killing is seen as a very wrong decision regarding the Greatest Happiness Principle and only the positions of two and three can justify the killing of the babies that take place. I also believe that Mill would not hold position one because of the potential pain that could arise. If Mill held position one than a mother could die giving birth and much more pain much occur with that than if the baby were aborted. I also believe that Mill could not hold position one because if someone were to get raped, it would cause much less pain to abort the baby than for the mother to keep and raise the child.
It is very interesting to use the writings of a certain person to try and find out what position they would hold on a fairly modern debate. I believe that given all of the facts and information in Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill, the only logically assumptions one could take on his position on abortion would be two and three. The total amounts of happiness and the lack of amount of pain associated with position two and three make them the easy choices for Mill’s potential positions on abortion. For the reasons stated in the previous paragraph, all of the other choices would not coincide with John Mill’s beliefs. It is impossible to say for sure what Mill’s exact position would be, but it seems that given his information on Utilitarianism and the Greatest Happiness Principe, position two and position three are the most likely choices.