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.
We 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.