Monday, September 20, 2004


Even though I got bored with my analysis of the Prager-Harris interview, I thought it important to address one last issue in it, namely the issue of abortion. During the interview Prager issues the following challenge:

DP: Well, then, that may be a result of your secularism and my religiosity. For example, where does your secular reason lead you to on abortion? A woman wants an abortion for no other reason, no health reason, as in ninety-five percent of the cases, because she did not use birth control and she does not want to come to term. What is your rational, secular view of that abortion? Is it moral, immoral, amoral? I’m not talking legality, I’m talking morality.

Since Prager is not interested in the legality of it, I'll address the morality of it only. In general I would say it is moral, though in specific cases it may be immoral. I hope I will be allowed to specify context here as in some ways this is analogous to the morality of "killing." The morality of any given "killing" depends on who you are killing and why -- is it self-defense or murder? Now, admittedly in the case of abortion many of these questions are eliminated but not all. The morality of an abortion depends on two factors. First, it depends only in a limited way on the status of fetus. From an Objectivist viewpoint, following Aristotelian terminology, the fetus is a potential human being, not an actual one. Thus, rights do not apply to it until it is born. However, there is a further issue which has to do with the development of the fetus from a zygote to an embryo and fetus, all the way to what amounts to a baby.

Therefore I would say that at the beginning of the pregnancy, in what is usually termed the first trimester, since one is dealing with a rather undeveloped growth, abortions for almost any reason are moral. So in the case of Prager's question of "an abortion for no other reason, no health reason...because she did not use birth control and she does not want to come to term" I think the answer in the first trimester is clear. It is moral. I think it would in fact be immoral if she were forced to carry the child to term. The woman should however be condemned for not using birth-control, on egoistic grounds. It is not in the woman's rational self interest to prefer abortions to birth-control.

Further along in the pregnancy, the onus of moral justification falls more heavily on the woman than before both in terms of the rationality of the decision and in terms of the moral status of the fetus. A morality that upholds life as the standard value does not encourage life-destroying actions if they could have been prevented. As the fetus enters its second trimester and beyond, it becomes more and more like a baby, a fact that cannot be ignored by women. However, there are still cases even late when abortion can be moral. Clearly, the mother's life always trumps the fetus, as the born take moral precendence over the not-yet born, the actual over the potential. Additionally, there may be cases when substantial genetic defects are discovered late in the pregnancy. But barring those cases, in a case of a late term abortion "for no other reason, no health reason...because she did not use birth control and she does not want to come to term" the woman would be immoral and she should be condemned, both because she waited too long putting her own life at greater risk and now requiring a major operation and because the fetus is almost indistinguishable from a baby at this point and she had an opportunity to eliminate it before it reached this stage.

As an aside, the specific procedure used to abort the fetus seems completely irrelevant to the morality of the operation. Here, once the abortion has been evaluated as moral, the only question should be which procedure will be best for the woman in preserving her health.

For further information on abortion see this site.

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