The Debate that Divided a Country

Abby Hayes '21, Guest Writer

This paper was originally written for the Ethics class at Berkshire. It has been edited for length. 

 As of 2020, 24% of Americans considered abortion a key voting issue and required that their chosen candidate share their view. In 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled on Roe v. Wade, finding abortions constitutional, and, now, one in three American women have terminated a pregnancy by the time they reach menopause.1 People have continued to debate both the constitutionality and morality of abortion, which is why, years later in 2020, 47% of voters still say abortion is a key voting issue. 

 Abortions are always morally permissible, so long as they are the woman’s decision. Fetuses are not people, and, therefore, they are not worthy of moral consideration, or at least not as much moral consideration as the mother, a person worthy of the highest moral consideration. A person is someone who matters in their own right and therefore deserves our highest moral consideration. Qualities such as reason, intelligence, the capacity to speak a language, creativity, the ability to make moral judgments, consciousness, free will, a soul, and self-awareness have all been proposed at some point by someone. A fetus does not possess most of these and for those they do possess, it is in very small quantities, certainly not enough to make it a full person, like the mother is. Therefore, since a fetus is not a full person, it is not worthy of the highest moral consideration, and, thus, can be removed from the mother, who is a full person worthy of the highest moral consideration, at any point she chooses. 

 Every person has the right to determine their own future and to decide what to do with their own body, and it would be morally impermissible to take away a woman’s right to do so. Pregnancy doesn’t just affect a woman for the nine months in which the fetus uses her body, much like a parasite uses a host body. A woman can still experience the after-effects of pregnancy for months or even years later. These effects could be anything from stretch marks to losing out on valuable time to further her career, and after her pregnancy, finding herself far behind all of her peers. The woman’s future will be forever changed by someone else’s decision so that a partial human can use her body for nine months without her permission. That is morally impermissible: to take away a woman’s positive right to self-determination and body. 

 Many would argue that although, yes, it is morally impermissible to take away a women’s positive right to self-determination and body, it is more wrong to take away the fetus’s potential right to life. The longer the pregnancy goes on, the greater the potential becomes, and therefore the greater moral weight this fetus has. However, it’s important to point out the word that we continually use when discussing potentiality and that is potential. A fetus, I would have to agree, has the capacity to become or develop into a person in the future, but it still remains a potential person, not a person. Why would we afford the same rights to a potential person as we afford to an actual person? Potential people are still not people and, therefore, they should not be afforded the highest moral consideration, which we must afford to the mothers, seeing as they are full people. Thus, the woman’s rights will always outweigh the rights of the fetus because the rights of actual people will always outweigh the rights of potential people.