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The Spectrum of Permissible Abortion

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The Spectrum of Permissible Abortion

The longstanding practice of abortion has created a divide between those who find it to

be unacceptable and those who find it to be morally permissible. Moreover, some even find that it is difficult then, to draw a line between abortion and infanticide. Abortion is defined as the termination of a pregnancy prior to the fulfillment of the term through medical or surgical procedures, infanticide is considered as the act of killing a baby in its infancy. In many cases, the argument of the moral standing of the fetus is what ultimately determines whether or not it is justifiable to abort a pregnancy. In consideration of the various authors that we have discussed, I have concluded that abortion is permissible in the early-term, but becomes more problematic in the later stages of pregnancy; and therefore by no means is infanticide allowable.

On average, a pregnancy lasts thirty-eight weeks from conception to birth. These thirty- eight weeks are broken down into three trimesters that are determined by two categorical determinants in the development of the fetus—quickening and viability. The first trimester of a pregnancy, from months one to three, does not involve any drastic changes to the body as the fetus is simply starting to develop. The three-month marker is determined by quickening, which can be characterized as the mother first being able to feel the fetus moving within her. On average, at six-months, the fetus is considered to be viable. This means that the fetus is now capable of living outside of the womb. These distinctions that occur during different trimesters

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are the basis of many arguments, mostly because it allows for one to grant the fetus moral standings at any particular moment during the pregnancy.

The United States Supreme Court decided the case of Roe v. Wade in 1973 based heavily on the points of quickening and viability. The court determined that under the 9th and 14th amendments considering privacy, a woman was allowed to have an abortion. It was decided that a woman was entitled to abortion when taking into consideration the health of the woman and the protection of the child she was bearing. During the first three months of a pregnancy, a woman is allowed to have an abortion on any grounds, a second-trimester abortion is to be regulated but is still allowable, and a third-trimester abortion is heavily regulated and only allowed in extreme cases. The policies surrounding abortion in the United States have come to be problematic as sentiments towards the issue have deepened.

Sissela Bok in her work “Who Shall Count as a Human Being? A Treacherous Question in the Abortion Discussion” contends with the concept of humanity ascribed to a fetus and finds that it is wrong to make this the central argument in abortions. Instead, Bok finds that throughout a pregnancy, a fetus develops its humanness that is central to the justification of any abortion. Bok addresses a series of arguments that allow for a line to be drawn between abortion and subsequent acts such as infanticide. She begins with the notion of humanity attributed towards the fetus, in questioning various other authors she determines that the concept of humanity is relative and often times contrived to fit a specific worldview and simply forbid abortion (Bok, 212). Bok proposed that rather than focusing on the humanity of any being, we should examine the reasons for why any life should be protected—why the humanness of a being is sacred at any given time. In doing so, she provides four reasons for protecting life. Firstly, she mentions that “killing is viewed as the greatest of all dangers for the victim,” who would

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suffer from agony at the thought of having their life taken; additionally, the act would most definitely cause suffering to the victim (Bok, 215). Secondly, Bok finds that killing is “a threat to others and destructive to the person engaging therein” (Bok, 215). Next, Bok states that “killing often causes the family of the victim and others to experience grief and loss” (Bok, 215). Lastly, she says that “all of society... has a stake in the protection of life” (Bok, 215). As a result, in the prenatal period, all of these arguments fail to defend the sanctity of life—there is no pain experienced, the medical experiences no anguish, no affection is felt towards the group of cells, and lastly society is not at stake.

In concluding that first-trimester abortions do not violate any principles for the protection of life, Bok then proceeds to distinguish between the continuum of the degree of humanity of a fetus. She uses the points of quickening and viability to make such judgements of when a fetus begins to earn more humanness. The point of quickening proves to be a critical due to the abortion procedure becoming more difficult as well as becoming more upsetting for all involved parties. As a result, an abortion during this period must be regulated and must occur only in light of justifiable reasons. When viability takes place, a fetus is considered to be able to survive outside of the womb—thus, the trauma of the abortion is clearly heightened for both the parents and the medical personnel, and as a result society is now indirectly affected. Post-viability abortions are to be heavily regulated and will only be justified in extreme cases such as for the preservation of the mother’s life. Bok asserts that abortions of this kind must take place as a premature birth, where the fetus must not be harmed by an abortion. The case of viability becomes problematic as it occurs during different times for different individuals, additionally, it becomes subject to the technological capabilities of the medical realm. In this way, we can

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establish that abortions are justified within specific realms where the protection of life is taken into consideration and thus upheld (Bok, 216).

Acknowledging the positions of many regarding the linkage between abortion and subsequent dangers for humanity, Bok asserts

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