Aethics: On Abortion


Aethics is what I’m tentatively calling my own attempt at an objective (or at least only human-subjective) moral philosophy. The idea being that by incorporating ideas from Epicureanism and Utilitarianism you can come to a fact-based, rational and logical moral decision on difficult problems. There’s some important key components to this though:

  • Facts first: Any decision must be based on facts.
  • Provisional: An ‘aethical’ point of view accents that any decision made through it is provisional, not absolute.
  • Situational: Any moral or ethical decision depends on context. What is wrong in one instance may not be wrong in another. No decision is set or settled in its entirety.
  • Emotions & Feelings Have Value: People’s emotional pain should be taken into account and weighed up in a decision.
  • Strive for Objectivity: While emotions have value and meaning they should not guide the moral decisions.

Given recent objectionable events in the US (and oh, there’s been so many) and a couple of discussions from anti-abortion atheists it felt like this would be a good subject to take these thoughts on a test-run.  I am not used to seeing anti-abortion sceptics and atheists and it was disappointing to see that they had no real, co/gent or fact-based arguments against abortion.

What’s the Goal?

To maximise liberty, minimise pain and to consider what is the best possible course of action in most circumstances.


What are the Facts?

What are the facts that might influence our decision whether abortion is right or wrong?

  • Scientific consensus is that a foetus cannot even potentially feel pain until at least the 24th week.
  • The very first stuttering of foetal consciousness occur around 20 weeks but this is intermittent, they’re only synchronous and ongoing from 27 weeks. The best evidence that we have that the transition has been made from ‘lump of flesh’ to a human being.
  • In the UK elective abortion is allowed up to 24 weeks.
  • In the UK abortion for medical reasons (mental or physical problems for the mother, or deformity and issues for the foetus) is allowed later.
  • In the UK 91% of abortions take place beneath 13 weeks.
  • Medical abortions made up 47% of abortions in the UK.
  • 1% of abortions were due to foetal deformity.
  • Abortions cause distress and regret is some people (whether this is down to abortion itself or social disapproval is unclear).
  • This is a contentious public issue.
  • Unwanted children or children raised in care are more likely to be societal problems as a demographic.
  • Contraception fails.
  • It is unrealistic to expect people not to have sex.
  • An unwanted pregnancy can curtail a woman’s academic or professional career.
  • The man may not want to be a father as much as the woman may not want to be a mother.

What Can I Conclude and What’s the Reasoning?

Given that what defines our humanity is our consciousness we can consider abortion completely problem free up to 24 weeks. Nothing is being lost, nothing we should rationally consider human is being lost and there’s no question of the foetus feeling, comprehending or understanding pain. Given the relative uncertainty over brain function this is probably the best cut-off point for elective abortion in any case.

Given that a foetus can probably feel pain after 24 weeks abortions after this period should include anaesthesia to prevent needless suffering on even the most basic level.

In the case of medical abortions past 24 weeks we need to consider what does the most or the least harm. When it comes to mental distress and illness this is more difficult to process but mental illness is real illness and pregnancy and birth can be stressful and even life threatening to someone with mental issues. It should be treated as seriously, then, as physical risks to the mother. Ultimately, the mother – a fully realised, actualised, thinking, feeling human being with experience, talents and societal contributions has more inherent worth by any measure than a potential human being.

How should we approach the interface between the desires of the mother and the father in the case of an unwanted pregnancy?

It is the mother’s body and thus, ultimately, it has to be her decision. We cannot ethically either force a woman to become a brood mare or force her to get an abortion. Either would be an absolute violation of personal autonomy and would devalue a real and present human being compared to a potential human being.

unwanted pregnancyWe cannot ignore the role of men in this though. An unexpected pregnancy can and does create a burden for the father that they may not want and over which they are given no choice. If we are to respect the personal autonomy of the mother we must also respect the personal autonomy of the father. Since the father cannot either demand a pregnancy be continued nor that it be aborted we have a problem. A man who wishes the child to be carried to term is simply out of luck. There is no way to compensate him for the loss of his potential offspring without causing a very negative effect on others. There is no simple way to negotiate this issue. The other way around we do have an option though. An unplanned, unexpected or accidental pregnancy that a man does not wish brought to term he might be able to legally disconnect himself from his responsibility to that child. A sort of ‘legal abortion’ that allows him to evade child support and other responsibilities for a child he never wanted, in exchange for giving up all rights and claims to that child.

I think I’ve covered the main issues here. If I’ve missed anything or you see a flaw in the reasoning, please let me know.

14 responses to “Aethics: On Abortion

  1. Thank you for a broad thought provoking piece. Ethical issues are areas that I am passionate exploring and discovering what others think and why they think they way the think. I would be a liar to hide my bias on theistic position on this topic. I am a classical Christian theist who value reasoning and respect opposite ideas.

    I would like to know more, or how you would respond to some issues in your important key components ( Facts first, Provisional, Situational and Strive for Objectivity)

    Starting first with “facts first”

    a. (F) Any decision must be based on facts
    b. x is a person who decided to hold that (F) is true
    c. If (F) is true, then x must have based on facts to decide to hold that (F) is true.
    d. If x must have based on fact to decide to hold that (F) is true, then x must have based on the fact to decide that she must have based on fact to decide to hold that (F) is true, so on ad infinitum.

    In short, if (F)any decision must be based on facts, and I decide to hold (F) what are the facts for I doing so?

    • Deciding to hold that a ‘fact’ is true doesn’t mean that it is. That it is demonstrably so is what establishes that it is almost certainly true.

      There’s no infinite regress here. EG: It is a fact that a dropped object falls to the ground. This is demonstrably so as we can drop an object to confirm it.

      • So a person deciding to hold your first key component that any decision must be based on fact does not me that your first key component is true. If a person decide demonstrate it, does not that decision also must be based on facts?

      • Being clear, I think your first component cry out for facts it itself is based. If (F)any decision must be based on fact, and you made a decision that (F) is true as you dealt with the issue of abortion, then my point is which facts did you have in your decision making that (F) is true?

      • Facts are not matters of opinion. They are confirmable truths.
        EG: Your DNA was found at the scene of the crime. Your car was spotted on CCTV driving rapidly away from the scene. This person claims to have seen you there. Etc.

      • You are correct that facts are not matter of opinion and that they are confirmable truths. My question goes deeper to what is called epistemological justification. Following your first component, if I make a decision to accept that (O)”facts are not matter of opinion and they are confirmable truth” my decision must also, according to you, be based on facts. So my question is, if you and I have made a decision to accept (O), what are our facts?

      • Your questions makes no sense to me. The clue is in the ‘confirmable’. In science we see this in the scientific method of testing and confirmation – repeatedly – and reassessing if new evidence comes along. I drop a ball, it falls. This is a confirmable fact, confirmable by doing so over and over again.

      • It made no sense to you because you did not understand my question. I will try expound more:

        1. Let (F) = Any decision must be based on facts
        2. John made a decision to accept that it is true that (F)
        3. John decision to accept (F) must be based on facts(from 1,2)

        My question is, what is John’s facts to accept the proposition (F) namely any decision must be based on facts

        Your example of scientific method of testing and confirmation also assumes what I am asking for.

        Example John make a decision of accepting scientific methodology.

        If any decision must be based on facts, then John decision to accept scientific methodology, in the first place, must be based on facts. No?

      • No, because the scientific method is a way of gathering and confirming facts.
        How do we know they’re facts? Because the applications of the gathered information work – breaking the pseudo-circular argument you’re trying to present.

      • I am not talking about scientific methodology, but our decision to accept it(or anything else) based on your first component. Your first component asserts that any decision must be based of facts. You and I, being rational beings, have made a decision to accept scientific method as a way of gathering and confirming facts. Your first component, if true, asserts that we must, in our decision, base on facts. This is the ad infinitum I was pointing out. Do you follow?

      • You’re splitting philosophical hairs which I’m not particularly interested in. Given your god tag I wouldn’t necessary agree that you are rational – at least with relation that topic.

        Again, there is no ad infinitum because you have a constant confirmatory process. Scientific methodology is just the most familiar example for most.

  2. Great and informative. Although I don’t agree with abortion, I guess sometimes it’s necessary, considering it’s done for unselfish reasons. I didn’t know that the father had a legal right to evade child support and other responsibilities. I have always felt sorry for men with no choice in this matter, but can you imagine this man’s conscience (assuming he has one) knowing a part of him is walking the earth perhaps with the same eyes, fingers, ears.

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