Medical Ethics PHIL 148 @ Binghamton University, Sum 11


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

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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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Increasing Restrictions Leading to Alternative Methods.

Posted by$vrSDP9afpLnSBou5ZP/How-many-women-induce-their-own-abortions/



I have put two short articles here because I will be connecting the two. The first speaks about the rate at which women are inducing their own abortions by a cheaper, less invasive, and more convenient method. The second article talks about Oklahoma becoming the 4th state to ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. Mainly I would like to address the first article. It says that the rate at which women induce their own abortion is two out of every 100 and that would suggest that it is a rare phenomenon. It goes on to say that this is the report given by women who have actually been seeing a doctor for their induced abortion and so the statistics do not take into account the number of women who induce their own abortion without seeing a doctor about it.

A woman contemplating abortion must take a few things into consideration before going through with the procedure. She must think about costs (on average $430 in the first trimester, $1260 in the second trimester),  she must consider the uncomfortable doctor appointments and if she doesn’t have her own transportation then her spouse or a friend must take her which would mean she cannot keep the abortion a secret.  Therefore, an alternative that would eliminate the uncomfortable and expensive side effects of abortion, while allowing the woman to keep the sometimes embarrassing procedure private, would seem like a viable option for a woman in this sort of predicament.

The article shows that these rates are relatively low but the article also admits that the research is not sufficient enough to determine the exact rate of self-induced abortions. Many women who choose to take misoprostol usually don’t see a doctor about it and so they are not even measured into the statistics while those women who filled out the questionnaire skipped over those questions asking about their experimentation with the drug. Therefore, the actual rate is most probably higher than purported.

The second article talks about Oklohoma becoming the fourth state to ban abortion after the 20th week and also mentions that 23 other states are trying to get similar insurance restrictions for elective abortions. Many health insurance companies don’t even cover abortions today. This would show us that there are increasing restrictions being placed on a woman’s right to abort making it more and more difficult. Do you think that these increasing restrictions will cause women to search for alternative means of abortion?

Do you think these restrictions are being placed in order to make women more afraid to choose abortion?

Are these restrictions justified or immoral?

Using your own opinion or that of one of the authors we have read about this week, do you think it is moral for a woman to use an alternative means of abortion considering the complications it can bring about?



News Article- High school health center aiding in abortion?

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This is a pretty interesting news article. a woman from Seattle, WA, referred to as Jill in the article, is furious that 15-year-old daugher, with the help of Ballard high school's health center, had an abortion during school hours. Jill did not know or give consent to her daughter's abortion, as an individual can obtain an abortion at any age in the state of Washington. During school hours, Jill's daughter was sent in a gab to have an abortion, which was free of charge provided that Jill's daughter kept it strictly confidential.

This is a relatively short article, but brings about many issues that are worth discussing. One of those issues is one of autonomy; does the daughter, at only 15, have enough of a right to make a decision such as abortion without the consent of her parents? Legally, she does in the state of Washington, but does she morally? Is this a matter she should have discussed with her mother simply out of good virtue, or does the mother have no say as it is the daughter's body, therefore the daughter's choice? Furthermore, does it seem as if the daughter is rewarded for keeping her abortion secret? She was rid of any financial responsibility on the grounds that she keeps the abortion confidential.

In considering the daughter's  right to her own body, Thomson's example with the violinist immediately came to mind. Although that example is way more extreme than the one in this article, both share the question of the extent of one's rights over their own body. In this case, the mother feels that she should have known about the abortion, that her rights in the situation were taken away, and that she should have been given the power of consent over the decision. After all, her daughter is still a child at only 15 years old However, Washington's legal standing on abortion makes the daughter a consenting adult in making a decision. Should there have been more respect for the mother in the decision-making process, or was the health center right in allowing the daughter to make her own decision and leave her mother on the outside of knowing?

It's also very interesting that Jill's daughter is a pro-life advocate who decided to have an abortion. I always felt that someone doesn't truly know how he/she feel about a situation until he/she is actually in that situation. Perhaps the daughter felt that she was pro-life, but changed her mind upon becoming pregnant at such a young age. What do you think? Do you think someone can be a pro-life advocate and still support abortion?


Case Study:Abortion (Care Ethics)

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This week’s case study talks about a woman Susan who decided to have an abortion.  Susan met her husband when they both just graduated from law school. She and her husband Rick wanted a large family and thus they have four children. When the couple’s youngest child was old enough to go to school Susan decided that she would like to return to legal practice.  She realized how much she missed what she used to do before she became a mother and felt as if she had given up on her career. After she talked to her husband about the child care situation, Susan began her job application process as a legal assistant at a law office. While searching for a job Susan became pregnant and later on found out that the fetus has Down syndrome. The doctor was unable to tell Susan whether the Down syndrome will be mild or severe and knowing that having a child with a disability may prevent her from ever returning to the working world she decided to an abortion without her husband’s knowledge.

I’ll be looking at this case from a care ethics point of view. Care ethics’ main focus is the care of the patient, understanding that individual/person as an interdependent being, meaning that we need others for emotional and physical support. Unlike deontology and utilitarianism, care ethicists make their moral decision based on objective consideration instead of making these moral decisions objectively and impartially. It also created from the closeness of relationships, particularly trust. So for a care ethicist to  figure out what is morally right or wrong in a situation the first thing they so is to identify the relationship involved, see if it is a health relationship and finally find what obligations they produce. For an individual to carry out this act he/she must be willing to put another person before him/herself.

Care ethics deals with a patient’s need and a doctor being able to fulfill those needs.  In this case Susan felt that having an abortion would be the best approach and her doctor should respect her decision. Her doctor should be there to guide Susan and also help her through this tough decision. Susan puts her trust in her doctor that whatever decision she makes her doctor will respect it and show empathy towards her. Susan needed someone to understand what she’s going through and to be there for her. Trust is a great factor, in the situation Susan has a greater trust with her doctor than with her husband, and she may feel that if she told her husband that she wanted an abortion he would talk her out of it because his dream is to have a large family.  But in terms of Care ethics regarding the fetus, shouldn’t Susan put the baby’s needs before her own needs? Yes her fetus has a disability but she can still care for her child and she could still have a career, her bay will be dependent on her, but what baby isn’t dependent. Susan’s child still can have a normal life, e.g. look at Becky in the TV show “Glee” she has Down syndrome but she also has a career. Susan will never know what her fetus would have become in the future.

  • Do you think that Susan should have told her husband about her decision to have an abortion?
  • What other Theories of Ethics can be applied in this case?
  • Is having an abortion because a child has a disability justified?

Sorry guys for the mix up with my previous post 🙂


Case Study : Deontology

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It is difficult to say whether Susan’s decision is moral or not. This is because of the way an abortion is being used. This non-traditional manner makes one question all of the conditions surrounding the case when deciding the morality of her decision.  The facts of the case are this; Susan has put her life on hold to have a family, she is the primary care taker of a very large family, she wants to return to her fulfilling life in the legal system, she then finds out that she is pregnant with a fetus that has Down syndrome, and she decides to have an abortion.

In Kantian deontology we must consider who is being affected by the decision because the categorical imperative must be met in order for this act to be considered morally correct. The categorical imperative here relies on what Susan is using as a way to get to her final goal of returning to her legal career. It gets tricky because normally, Kantian theorist would say it is morally wrong to have another human suffer to fulfill your own needs, but in the case of abortion the line between personhood and not is a blurred lined between theorists. In my eyes I agree with Thomson, that a clump of cells, not able to feel pain, should not be considered a human and therefore Susan is acting morally in relation to the fetus. Deontologists do not consider the uncertainty of the future when deciding what is moral or not and since we have considered the fetus non-human than the future of the handicapped fetus is not taken into consideration.

However, it is unclear if the husband knew about the genetic testing or the pregnancy in general. I am however sure that the husband would not be considered in methods to care for the child.  So although Susan is denying her husband the right to another child, another offspring to carry on his genetics (the goal of reproduction), it seems that the emotional experience with the child would not be felt if the child was born or not. That is why I think the Rossian deontologist would agree that the prima facie duty in this case is duty to oneself, not duty as a wife or as a pregnant woman. The prima facie duty takes in consideration all of the conditions of the case and would agree that for Susan to be happy and fulfilled she had to go through with the abortion.

It may seem cruel but the most important aspect is for Susan to retain her autonomy, and her civil right to govern her body as she may. Susan reminds me of Hornstra, and how she put her career before having a baby. I think Hornstra and Susan would agree that their bodies and their futures would come before a clump of cells.


Some questions to consider:

Utilitarian’s take into account the uncertainty of the future, but what would bring the greatest suffering for the future, Susan’s unhappiness? A handicapped life of the child? A familial rift between a husband and wife?

Which is more important fulfilling your duty to the community or to nature (mother hood)?

Would you consider abortion active euthanasia? And if so, who would you consider responsible for the abortion, the mother or the physician performing the act?



Case Sudy: Abortion (Utilitarianism)

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In this case there are several different factors that contribute to the decision to have an abortion. First you have the four children that already exist. Then there is the desire of the mother to return to work which she chose to give up to care for her children. Finally the discovery that the fetus has Down’s Syndrome.

There are also several factors that may discourage Susan from getting an abortion. The desire both partners had to have a large family, which four children may or may not be. It may also be assumed that they are in a financial situation to care for another child. Also their youngest is in preschool so for at least part of the day the mother will have the time to devote to a new infant.

The moral question to be considered is, do these factors balance out in such a way to justify Susan obtaining an abortion?

Act utilitarianism says that a person should act in such a way to produce the greatest balance of good over evil. For this case not having the baby could be considered good for several reasons. One possibility is not bringing a baby home when there are already four children who require time and attention. Bringing a new child into a home can be very traumatic to other children. Another reason this may be considered a good act is that it gives the mother a chance to improve herself and increase her happiness. Her increased happiness would most likely affect her whole family positively as well. Going back to work would also affect her family positively financially. It does not say they need the money but her extra income could help them have opportunities they may not have otherwise. Because she had genetic testing on the fetus it is more than likely she is 35 or older, which means she may not be as young and able to run around after another young child besides that child also being disabled.

Negative effects of the abortion could include disappointment from her husband. He wanted a large family and even though she felt they were done he may have wanted to continue. If he feels very strongly about it, it could lead to anger, resentment, and divorce all of which would be very harm for the other children. It could also lead to guilt on the part of the mother alter on, especially if she does choose to have more children later.

I’m sure there are many other reasons for each side but I believe the balance of most good is on the side of obtaining the abortion. Are there any more valid reasons that could tip the balance? How would this situation change if the child would be normal? Would it be justifiable by any ethical principle to obtain an abortion if the fetus was normal and all other factors stayed the same?


Week 05>Quiz

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This week we covered the abortion. Test your knowledge of the readings using the quiz.

After you've completed the quiz, email the instructor the percentage answered correctly and receive full credit.



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Lecture 06/27>Abortion

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There are two central moral concerns in abortion: the moral status of the fetus and the rights of the mother. The moral status of the fetus can best be understood in terms of personhood. For some reason, Marquis seems to think he is not talking about personhood when he is talking about “the category of having a valuable future like ours” . Yet, it is difficult to see why he thinks this. In philosophy, person is a term that signifies an individual that satisfies certain criteria that allow them to be categorized as morally relevant. For Kant, a person is a rational being. For Peter Singer, a person is a being that is able to feel pain. For Warren, a person is a being that is part of the proper moral community. Likewise, for Marquis, it would make sense to say that a person is a being that has “a valuable future like ours.” [This definition has a bunch of other problems (like how similar does the valuable future have to be and how does the degree of similarity affect our obligations to these beings?), but that is something that we can get into in discussion, if anyone is interested.] Given that Marquis’ distinction between the category of personhood and his category of a valuable future seems to be meaningless, I think it makes sense to talk about personhood as one of the central moral concerns in abortion.

As you can see above, personhood can be satisfied by many different criteria. What is important, however, is that personhood bears with it the stamp of moral status. If someone is a person, then they have moral relevance. This is most easily understood in terms of obligation, but it also applies to consequentialist theories. As is pointed out in several of the essays for this week, the most common form of argument for and against abortion relies on the question of whether an embryo/fetus is a person. If a fetus is a person, then they have moral status and abortion is immoral. As Thomson points out, this is not as steadfast a conclusion as it is usually taken to be, as even in everyday life we recognize that there are situations where killing a person is not only not immoral, but right. Further, Thomson points out, one of the central tenets of western thought is the right to bodily integrity. Even if a fetus is a person, it does not follow that the rights of a fetus trump the mother’s right to bodily integrity.

The debate on abortion then is a debate about the balance of the rights of a person (where the fetus satisfies the criteria of personhood—it may satisfy it as a fetus, but not as an embryo—or where there is a sufficient argument from potential personhood) and the rights of bodily integrity. Notice that most debates about abortion that we are familiar with (from taking place very publically and vocally) are predicated on one of these sides in absolute terms: either the fetus’ personhood trumps the mother’s bodily integrity or the mother’s bodily integrity trumps the fetus’ personhood. It is likely that the moral situation is nowhere near as clear cut as this, as can be seen by the various arguments put forward by the writers in your text. The mere possibility of rape and the death of the mother speak to these complications, and it is only the most extreme supporters of abortion that allow that the death of the mother is preferable to the death of the fetus (after all, that situation makes the debate about identical situations: dying person versus dying person). The abortion debate becomes about the point where the mere rights of personhood do or do not trump the rights of bodily integrity.

This debate is impacted by many different details. As I pointed out above, an embryo may not count as a person, while a fetus might. Likewise, the mother’s involvement in the creation of the embryo might impact the strength of her right to bodily integrity (the status of a child resulting from failed birth control might be morally different than a child resulting from rape). For instance, while bodily integrity may be a prima facie right, that right might be overcome if the woman’s own actions led to the creation of the fetus—in other words, the woman may end up with a positive duty to support the child that overcomes the woman’s other right to bodily integrity.

An additional detail that strongly influences the position of those who support the legalization of abortion is the fundamental vulnerability of a woman’s position in reproduction. After all, if a woman has a positive duty to support even an unwanted child, then it follows naturally that so does the father of the child. Practically, however, forcing a father to provide for a child is much more difficult than preventing a woman from obtaining an abortion. A system that makes abortion illegal contributes to this the naturally more difficult position of the woman in such a situation. In talking about the balance of the rights of the fetus as a person and the rights of the mother to bodily integrity, we have been talking about the balance between duties of beneficence and duties of autonomy. Vulnerability, however, introduces an additional duty of justice. If the natural vulnerability of pregnancy (based solely on biological factors) is compounded by social circumstances (both systemic and non-systemic), does this bolster the woman’s right to bodily integrity or does it have no impact? What kind of system would have to be in place to make abortion morally unacceptable? Or does justice play no role in abortion?

Some Questions to Consider:

  • Do the rights of personhood trump rights of bodily integrity? Or vice versa?
  • What makes a being a person? What details make a being morally relevant?
  • What role should justice play in the abortion debate?
  • What relevance do biological differences make to how abortion should be treated?
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