Can Abortion be Morally Justified?*


If human life is valued, truncating or aborting life inside the womb that may be human is a moral issue and begs the question: Can it be morally justified?


At conception, the human male sperm impregnates the human female egg and triggers or begins the creation and growth of a mass of cells. Science confirms the mass is life. That is, the mass is alive and growing is size and complexity. But science does not confirm the mass is human initially, leaving open the possibility that it is not yet human but merely human potential. Moreover, science leaves open the question as to when the mass becomes human if at all during the fetal stage of development.

It would not matter that science has not resolved these questions, except for the fact that people value human life. They need to know when life is human, and since they do not know, they are faced with a moral dilemma when attempting to decide when it is acceptable to terminate, abort, or truncate life in the fetal stage of development without compromising the value they place on life that is human.

Without a scientific resolution, the need to know has driven people to come up with a host of unscientific resolution. Some argue life is human at conception on religious grounds—God says according to the Bible or the Koran. Others argue that the mass of cells is human potential at conception but becomes human at some time thereafter as it grows in size and complexity. Times thereafter include, six and eight weeks; when there is a heartbeat; and when the life is viable outside the womb, for example, when born.

The arguments have become heated in the United States, and unfortunately, people either ignore or are unaware of the fact that without scientific support, these arguments are mere assumptions or assertions. It is argued that there is only one way to resolve the moral dilemma, namely choose the alternative associated with the least moral risk or is the safest morally. And that alternative is the one that asserts life is human at its beginning or conception.

The alternative provides people who value human life with the morally safer assertion that life is human at conception, which is the basis the argument that the truncation of life inside the womb is not morally justified. The problem with the basis is that only one value, the value of the asserted human life inside the womb, is taken into consideration.

In fact, there are other values relevant to a more comprehensive approach to resolving the moral issue as to whether it is morally justified to truncate the asserted human life. And it is an approach that is already used in deciding whether to truncate human life, namely in cases of capital punishment and military action against foreign adversaries.

In the case of capital punishment, there is the value of relieving the undue burden caused by those who would truncate the human life of another or others unlawfully. And that value must be weighed against the value of the human life of the perpetrator. If people judge that the former outweighs the latter, capital punishment is on balance morally justified.

Similarly, in the case of military action against a foreign adversary, the value of truncating the human lives of foreigners and military personnel must be weighed against the value of relieving the undue burden caused by the foreign adversary. If the benefit in terms of relieving the undue burden exceeds the cost in terms of truncating human life, military action is on balance morally justified.

And similarly, the approach can be used to justify the truncation or abortion of life inside the womb under the same assertion in the morally safer argument, namely life is human at conception and throughout the stage of fetal development. The other values that must be weighed against the truncation or abortion in the decision-making process include the value of an impregnated female’s life if it is in mortal danger as a result of the pregnancy, the value of the relief from the undue burden an impregnated female faces when pregnancy results from rape or incest, and the value of the relief from the undue burden associated with the inability of an impregnated female to emotionally or physically care for the life in her womb after birth.

If any or all of these values outweigh the value of an asserted human life inside the womb, truncation of the latter is morally justified. It must be noted, however, that there are no actual measures of the conflicting values. As such, any conclusion is purely subjective and as assertive as those that are made about when life become human inside the womb, if at all.

And clearly, in the absence of scientific confirmation, society is in no position to dictate to an impregnated female that truncation or abortion is morally prohibitive. It is not society’s choice because it does not know when life inside the womb becomes human, if at all. Neither does the impregnated female know, but in the world of assertions, her assertions, given her circumstances and moral valuations, are no less valid than any other.


*Author’s Note: Pro-life people and publications that cater to them hate the essay because I argue that abortion may be justified. Pro-choice people and publications that cater to them hate the essay because I argue that abortion is a moral issue. They all hate it. Oh well, my Momma said there would be days like that.


Copyright © 2020 Frank Zahn

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