Medical Ethics PHIL 148 @ Binghamton University, Sum 11


‘Yes’ opposing legalized abortion imposes a moral obligation to adopt

Debate Question:

Does opposing legalized abortion impose a moral obligation to adopt, if one has the resources, on those who oppose?

Position Post:

The opposition of legalized abortion imposes a moral obligation to adopt for those who are both opposed and have the resources to support an adopted child.  Upon first reading this position you may think that it is on the extreme side and though this may be true, this position is both an ethically logical and morally relevant stance that warrants attention. The main source of dispute in this debate question is over who is to take responsibility for children once they are born to parents who are incapable of and/or unwilling to raise them. Those morally opposed to abortion are obligated to answer this call for responsibility and adopt an ‘unwanted’ child. This is due to their expressed interest in the child’s life and well being prior to their physical birth. If one wishes to take away a woman’s right to decide if she will become a parent, then it logically follows that they must also be willing to take on the responsibility of caring for the resulting child, given that the biological mother is still unwilling or unable to care for her child at time of birth.

One who is opposed to abortion inherently believes that a woman who does not wish to carry her child to term does not have a right to abort her fetus because that fetus’s right to personhood overrides her right to bodily control. There will always be a certain number of infants born to unfit and unwilling mothers who will be put up for adoption. Adoption is a frequently proposed alternative to abortion by abortion opponents. By putting the child up for adoption, the biological mother relinquishes her legal responsibilities for that child; we are left with the question of who will now take on the responsibility of raising this child? While there are individuals unable conceive who will adopt and those who wish to adopt out of a sense of social responsibility, this number is insufficient in meeting the demand for adoptive parents. There are literally thousands of children available for adoption through foster care and over 40% of the 127,500 adoptions that occurred in the United States were done through foster care. (The Administration for Children & Families) Each year about 3.6% of all children in foster care “age out” without ever being adopted (Children Aid Society), clearly indicating that there is a greater number of children who need to be adopted than people willing to adopt.  Those opposed to abortion have a moral responsibility to close this gap in supply and demand. Who better than those who were so extremely interested in seeing that mothers do not terminate their unwanted pregnancies and respect the “right to life” of their potential children. It is only logical that those who took such a personal interest in the rights of a fetus would take up the responsibility of seeing to the success of the child’s future and continued well-being as the child grows. The failure to adopt a child would prove an opponent of abortion’s stance to be only a shallow expression of a fleeting moral interest, a hypocrisy characterized by the refusal to take an active responsibility for the very life that they believed so sincerely had a right to be brought into the world.

This stance can be well supported by the arguments that Hornstra’s  presents in her paper, “A Realistic Approach to Maternal Fetal Conflict.” She states that, “Society claims an interest in the developing fetus, but no responsibility.” Although Hornstra is specifically speaking about society’s attempt to regulate the actions of pregnant mothers, this argument also applies to my claim that by opposing a woman’s right to an abortion, one has a moral responsibility to adopt a child.  In order to justifiably take an “interest” in another person’s private matters, one must also take a “responsibility” for them.

If an opponent of abortion dusts off their hands right after an infant takes its first breath, and immediately thinks “mission accomplished,” the opponent is acting rather naively. It is fair to say that the simplest part of one’s life is being born; the true hardships and trials begin as children grow older and face the world. These hardships and trials are compounded for children who are never adopted; in contrast to their peers, youth who age out of foster care are less likely to “have completed high school or earned a GED, more likely to suffer from mental health problems, be involved in or be victims of crime and be socially isolated.”  As adults these youth are more likely than their age peers to be unemployed or homeless and living in poverty” (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Health Policy Institute). A utilitarian would agree that if those opposed to abortion accepted their moral duty to adopt more frequently, it would be better for society as a whole. Fewer children would wind up aging out of foster care, and instead would be more likely to be raised and nurtured in a stable environment that will likely result in them becoming a more productive member of society.

In Marquis’s paper “Why abortion is immoral,” he states “what primarily makes killing wrong is neither its effect on the murderer nor its effect on the victims friends and relatives, but its effect on the victim.” It seems fair to say that this statement implies that what primarily makes bringing a child into the world “right” is neither its effect on the parents or the child’s friends and relatives, but its effect on the child. If abortion is immoral as Marquis posits, it seems that a mechanism must be in place to ensure that a child is better off existing than not existing at all. Since an abortion opponent’s primary goal is to see that pregnancies are not terminated, they have a moral responsibility to make sure that the effect of being born (aka having a life) on an unwanted child is more positive than nonexistence. There is no better way to practically accomplish this than through adoption.

According to virtue ethics, character is displayed through both actions and intentions. The actions that one performs are linked to the successful consequences of these actions. People must also have good intentions while performing actions and act on the good intentions that they have. It is not enough for someone who is opposed to abortion to simply believe that abortion is wrong and say that adoption is a better option. For their intentions to be morally relevant, they must reflect their good intentions towards unwanted children outwardly and take action by adopting, assuring first-hand that the child will have a safe and secure existence.  Thus, the successful upbringing of an adopted child would outwardly demonstrate the abortion opponent’s good intentions toward unwanted children.  Although they may not be able to adopt more than one child, the positive consequences that result from their decision to adopt one child demonstrate a high degree of morality and reflect their intentions for all children Additionally, virtue ethics places emphasis on the “naturalness” of one’s behavior. After taking a specific interest in a child prior to its birth, the abortion opponent refusing to adopt a child seems unnatural as it is quite contradictory to suddenly stop caring about someone’s future immediately after arguing that it had an independent right to that same future.

(1) The Administration for Children and Families

(2) The Children's Aid Society

(3) Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies Health Policy Institute


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