The ethics of abortion has been a subject of conversation and controversy, that has been continually argued over many decades. Abortion is the deliberate termination of a fetus or embryo from the womb before it is able to survive independently. It raises ethical questions because it makes us consider when life begins and whether we should prioritize the life of the fetus or the life of the mother.
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Referring to abortion on an ethical basis can be understood through the description and evaluation of three of the most known theoretical approaches: utilitarianism, deontological (duty-based) and virtue-based ethics. In order to understand which of the three-ethical theory best view abortion from my perspective, we need to understand the differences and similarities, as well as, strengths and weaknesses.
Utilitarianism is a consequential ethical theory based on the Principles of Utility, which promotes the maximization of the welfare of society as a whole. Jeremy Bentham is one of the key philosophers of utilitarianism who suggested that a decision is morally right when that decision produces total utility and generates the greatest good for the greatest number of people with the least pain. Utilitarianism is concerned with predicting the consequences and the impact of an action, or the final outcomes. It treats the intentions as irrelevant. As a hedonist, Bentham believes that happiness was the only thing desirable in life and that the primary motivators in human beings are pleasure and pain. However, utilitarianism can also be a negative effect. Sometimes doing what provides the most pleasure to the most people would mean sacrificing your own pleasure and happiness in order to produce more good overall. Trying to achieve a utilitarian outcome, it can result in ignoring or even violating the rights of some people in an attempt to look for the greater good. Utilitarianism can also be criticized because the theory ignores the importance of one’s duty and responsibilities to others.
While utilitarianism requires weighing the consequences of an outcome, deontology and virtue-based ethics are nonconsequential that emphasized more on a person’s sense of duty and the actions itself. Like utilitarianism, deontologist agrees that a moral theory should apply equally to everyone, regardless of our religious beliefs, or lack of. From Immanuel Kant’s perspective, deontology ethical theory centers around certain duties or obligations we have towards others and a sense of consideration for other people. The morality of deontology is based on nature of the action itself, more specifically, the rules and reasons for which an action was taken. Kant believes that it did not matter whether you want to be moral or not; the universal moral laws are binding on all of us. Therefore, we have a duty not to tell lie, to cheat, to kill innocent people or to steal. Kant’s morality is very simple and straightforward but, with any theory, there are also conflicting views on its strength. Although, deontological view holds that principles provide us a basis for keeping commitments and promises, sometimes it also means disregarding the possible consequences of our actions when determining what is right and what is wrong. The ends do not justify the means when the means are immoral.
Rather than following a set of rules or worrying about the consequences, virtue-based ethics is influenced heavily by an individual’s character trait, which relies on the individual to be a virtuous person. We are made into a better person because of our decision making based on our character traits, such as kindness, honesty, respect, empathy, and generosity. Having virtue means doing the right thing, at the right time and in the right way. Like utilitarianism, according to the Aristotle, virtue ethics is the final goal of all human activity, which is happiness and eudaimonia. He reasoned that if we can just focus on being good people, the right actions will follow effortlessly. Conversely, with these traits, there’s also a possibility with other people taking advantage of one’s kindness. It’s hard to tell what someone’s motives are and whether they’re making that decision for someone else’s benefit or for their own personal gain. Virtue ethics can be a weakness because it is difficult to identify the virtues and it does not give us any idea how to handle an ethical dilemma. Rather than on the morality of the society, virtue ethics concentrates on the morality of the individual.
Each one of these ethical theories shares the consequence of action. It may not be the main focus of the action, but the outcome of the action’s consequences is primary as a result. Ultimately, I believe that utilitarianism is the most relevant out of the three theories to apply when discussing abortion because it looks at the consequences and not the moral questions about when human life begins. The controversy surrounding abortion is a product of differing morals and just because we have the ability to abort, should we? My opinion may differ from others but from my perspective, I am pro-choice. I believe that a woman should have the right to make that final decision about her own body. Pregnancy is a major responsibility that not everyone can take on and forcing a woman who is not ready to have a child should never be a requirement when mistakes can happen.
Although we are dealing with a human being, it is important to highlight the situation and circumstances that the mother or the parents are facing with. Bentham’s version of utilitarianism, known as Act utilitarianism, is particularly beneficial as it would take each situation into separate accounts of all others, which means that abortion would be very much up to the mother to choose whether to abort the child or live with the consequences. Circumstances, such as rape, incest, fetal abnormality, financial instability, and the mother’s safety needs to be considered under utilitarian thought. In the case of rape or incest, forcing the mother who became pregnant by this violent act to give birth could cause psychological harm to the victim and the child. The consequences of it can have a negative effect on the society. There will likely be an increased acceptance of rape, risks of poor mental health, marrying late in life, and even relationship failures. The benefit to the mother and all involved by aborting it can justify the means.
In conclusion, utilitarianism, deontology, and virtue are moral theories that evaluate morality on the bases of different factors. Each theory has its strength and weakness, as well as similarities and difference. In addition, from my perspective, by utilizing abortion, life will be much happier for those who are directly and indirectly involved.
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