Abortion: rights and privacy

abortion_by_pzkrolik.jpgThe abortion debate deals with the rights and wrongs of deliberately ending a pregnancy before normal childbirth, killing the fetus in the process. Abortion is a very painful topic for women and men who find themselves facing the moral dilemma of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. It’s one of the most polarizing moral issues – most people are on one side or the other, very few are undecided.

The moral debate about abortion deals with two separate questions: Is abortion morally wrong? Should abortion be legal or illegal? But the debate doesn’t end here. People feel particularly strongly about abortion because there is no way of getting any opinion from the foetus – the potential ‘victim’ – about the issue (as there is when considering euthanasia), and because the foetus can

easily be portrayed as an entirely innocent and defenseless being. Some people say that the foetus has the right to life because it is a ‘potential human being’.

The ‘potential human being’ argument gives the right to life to the unborn from the very earliest stage of development – the moment when the egg is fertilized. There is no doubt that a fertilized egg is a potential human being since, if the pregnancy runs its full course, it will be born as a human baby; the question is whether being a potential human being gives the foetus any rights.

As a general rule we don’t think that potential properties are the same as actual properties, or that potential rights are the same as actual rights. Children are potential adults, but that doesn’t give them the same rights or obligations as adults. Some societies ban abortion almost completely while others permit it in certain cases. Such societies usually lay down a maximum age after which the foetus must not be aborted, regardless of the circumstances.

At various times some of the following have been allowed in some societies: abortion for the sake of the mother’s health (including her mental health) abortion where a pregnancy is the result of a crime (such as crimes like rape, incest, or child abuse), abortion where the child of the pregnancy would have an ‘ unacceptable quality of life’ such as cases where the child would have (serious physical handicaps, serious genetic problems, serious mental defects) abortion for social reasons, including :poverty, mother unable to cope with a child (or another child), mother being too young to cope with a child . Abortion as a matter of government policy (as a way of regulating population size ,as a way of regulating groups within a population ,as a way of improving the population)

Most opponents of abortion agree that abortion for the sake of the mother’s health can be morally acceptable if there is a real risk of serious damage to the mother.

Abortion for social reasons is usually least acceptable to opponents.

What is infanticide?

Infanticide is the unlawful killing of very young children. It is found in both indigenous and sophisticated cultures around the world.

Female infanticide is more common than male infanticide, and in some countries, particularly India and China, is likely to have serious consequences on the balance of the sexes in the population.

The reasons behind it are almost always cultural, rather than directly religious

Female Infanticide is the deliberate killing of girl babies. It is also described as gender-selective killing or “gendercide”. (Similar words like ‘genocide’ and ‘femicide’ are used to describe the killing of females of any age.)

The causes :Anti-female bias. Societies that practice female infanticide always show many other signs of bias against females. Women are perceived as subservient because of their role as careers and homemakers, whilst men predominantly ensure the family’s social and economic stability.

Girl babies are often killed for financial reasons. Earning power: Men are usually the main income-earners, either because they are more employable or earn higher wages for the same work, or because they are able to do more agricultural work in subsistence economies. Since male babies have a greater income potential, they are less likely to be killed. Potential pensions: In many societies, parents depend on their children to look after them in old age. But in many of these cultures a girl leaves her parental family and joins her husband’s family when she marries. The result is that parents with sons gain extra resources for their old age, when their sons marry, while parents with daughters lose their ‘potential pensions’ when they marry and move away. This gives parents a strong reason to prefer male children. Some parents (particularly poor ones) who can’t afford to support a large family, will kill female babies. Girls are considered a drain on family resources during their childhood without bringing economic benefits later on. Dowry: Some girl babies are killed so that the family doesn’t have to pay a dowry when they get married. In Indian society it is tradition for the parents of the bride to give a dowry to the groom and his family. The dowry consists of large amounts of money and valuable goods. For families with several daughters this can be a serious financial burden

Governmental policies have also increased female infanticide as an unpredicted side effect. For example, when the Chinese Government introduced a One Child per Family Policy there was a surge in female infanticide. Families needed to have a son because of their higher earning potential, so a girl baby was an economic disaster for them, and there was a strong motive to ensure that girl babies did not survive.

Here are some of the women’s rights arguments in favor of abortion: Women have a moral right to decide what to do with their bodies ,The right to abortion is vital for gender equality ,The right to abortion is vital for individual women to achieve their full potential ,Banning abortion puts women at risk by forcing them to use illegal abortionists ,the right to abortion should be part of a portfolio of pregnancy rights that enables women to make a truly free choice whether to end a pregnancy.

This argument reminds us that even in the abortion debate we should regard the woman as a person and not just as a container for the foetus

Not all who support women’s rights support abortion, and many of them are active in trying to promote practical solutions to the causes that drive women to abortion.

Some argue that abortion does not liberate women, but allows society not to cater to women’s needs.

They say that what women need for equality is not free access to abortion but to be given what they need to survive financially and socially as mothers: Inexpensive, readily available childcare, a workplace or school that acknowledges the needs of mothers, e.g. providing flexible scheduling and maternity leave, state support that helps to reintegrate a woman into the workforce. They say that if women couldn’t have abortions so easily, governments would have to invest more money in supporting mothers.

Hindu medical ethics stem from the principle of ahimsa – of non-violence.

When considering abortion, the Hindu way is to choose the action that will do least harm to all involved: the mother and father, the foetus and society.

Hinduism is therefore generally opposed to abortion except where it is necessary to save the mother’s life.

Classical Hindu texts are strongly opposed to abortion: one text compares abortion to the killing of a priest; another text considers abortion a worse sin than killing one’s parents

And another text says that a woman who aborts her child will lose her caste.

Traditional Hinduism and many modern Hindus also see abortion as a breach of the duty to produce children in order to continue the family and produce new members of society.

Many Hindus regard the production of offspring as a ‘public duty’, not simply an individual expression of personal choice’ (see Lipner, “The classical Hindu view on abortion and the moral status of the unborn” 1989).

In practice, however, abortion is practiced in Hindu culture in India, because the religious ban on abortion is sometimes overruled by the cultural preference for sons. This can lead to abortion to prevent the birth of girl babies, which is called ‘female foeticide’.

Abortion is a contentious issue in our society. Some regard it as an immoral abomination while others regard it as fundamental to reproductive liberty and privacy. Contraception is starting to be treated in a similar manner. Is there a fundamental right to abortion?

Neha Vermani

Gurgaon, India

image © pzkrolik