There are many social problems affecting the nation of Jamaica today. Prominent among these is the problem of abortion which seems to be ever present in the day to day conversation of members of society. Some deem abortion as wrong based on views they have about the sanctity of life ; while others simply believes that abortion should be legalized because a woman should have the right to choose whatever happens to her body.
According to Wikipedia, abortion is defined as the termination of a pregnancy by the removal or expulsion of a fetus/embryo from the uterus, resulting in or caused by its death. An abortion may happen any of three ways. These are Spontaneous Abortion, Clinical Abortion and Elective/Criminal Abortion.
An abortion induced to preserve the health of the gravida (pregnant female) is termed a therapeutic abortion, while an abortion induced for any other reason is termed an elective abortion. Though abortion is often used in connection with inducing the termination of a pregnancy, a miscarriage, which is caused by complications during pregnancy, is also referred to as abortion – spontaneous abortion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion).
Considering that these different categories of abortion and the factors which may impact upon a person’s decision to have an abortion; the act of abortion cannot be criminalized.
Abortion raises subtle problems for private conscience, public policy and constitutional law. A majority of these problems are in essence philosophical; requiring a degree of clarity about basic concepts that are seldom achieved in legislative debates and letters to media outlets (Feinberg, 1973). Those in the religious sector also have joined this debate and have based their conclusion for the most part, solely on spiritual reasoning. In analyzing all arguments surrounding this controversial topic, one will clearly see that there are just two things being argued. These being: the moral justifiability of abortion and the legal and constitutional issues.
As stated earlier, the act of having an abortion can never be considered wrong without exploring the three main categories given (Spontaneous, clinical and elective). Having understood these categories, one will clearly see that it is fatuous to absolutely criminalise the act of abortion. If criminalization should even be considered it should only be done under specified circumstances.
As was already explained in the introduction of this discourse, clinical abortion refers to the termination of pregnancy based on the advice of a doctor, due to the mother being at risk. One of the most compelling arguments of those who espouse a pro-life belief is that we must respect the sanctity of life. However, what this view does not acknowledge is the dilemma one faces in deciding which life is more valuable. Certainly, if the mother’s life is at risk, then who makes the call in deciding which life is more sacred. Does the state have that right? Does the church, the moral conscience of the society, have that right? Or, should that decision be left up to the person who has her life and the life she carries on the inside of her at stake? What if there are other children in the picture here? Would that be justice?
Furthermore, one of the most fundamental moral intuitions is that except in the most extreme circumstances, it is wrong to take a life; such as the mother’s life being at risk. However, this intuition is not particularly precise because the question is asked, when does life begin (Feinberg, 1973)? There are those who, with good reasons, claim that a fetus is a human being and in exception of extreme circumstance, taking its life is wrong. Based on this position destroying a fetus is as wrong as taking another person’s life. It is tantamount to murder. However, there are others, with an equally good reason, who claim that a fetus is not a human being and that, therefore its destruction is permissible in cases in which it would be wrong to take another human life (Feinberg, 1973). Not even scientists can agree on the fundamental question of when life begins. Even biblical scholars need to concede that the Bible is silent on the issue as well. Until a consensus is arrived at, the rest of the society cannot be held at ransom by the state and demonized by the church for having had an abortion.
Moreover, many argue against abortion based on the theory of natural law which speaks to reproduction. This argument acknowledges reproduction as an inherent component of the natural human condition, which are all a part of the natural human life span. Since this is the case, abortion is counter to this design. A response to this argument can be seen in the view of the principle of double effect. If a pregnant woman’s life is at risk due to her pregnancy, should she seek to bring the child to full term? This argument also fails to acknowledge that natural law is not always so clear cut in an imperfect world of anomalies. How would the natural law of reproduction explain barrenness? Or furthermore, how will it speak to those who do become pregnant but the baby is growing in the fallopian tube (ectopic pregnancies)? According to natural law, the woman should become pregnant and the baby should grow in the uterus, not the fallopian tubes. How do we treat those anomalies? Do we employ the generalized; one size fits all notion of the natural law justification for the criminalization of abortion?
Finally, it is our own biased or uninformed view of what abortion is, that may prompt us to say absolutely that abortion is wrong and must be criminalized. Francis A. Schaeffer and C. Everett Koop (1979; 89) , in their book, ‘Whatever Happened to the Human Race’, implicitly defined abortion this way:
Will a society which has assumed the right to kill infants in the womb – because they are unwanted, imperfect and inconvenient – have difficulty in assuming the right to kill other human beings, especially older adults who are judged unwanted, deemed imperfect physically or mentally, or considered a possible social nuisance… The next candidates for arbitrary reclassification as nonpersons are the elderly.
Both gentlemen have assumed, as many persons do, that abortion is, necessarily, the act of killing infants in the womb because they are unwanted and imperfect and inconvenient. They have not made argument based on what abortion is, essentially. They have brought into discussion the intents for which some might elect to have an abortion. This assumption ignores those who, for therapeutic reasons, have abortions; not even contemplating the unborn fetus to be inconvenient or unwanted. Certainly their concerns must be noted but it is not sufficient in justifying the criminalization of those who must elect to have one for therapeutic reasons.
Perhaps the debate on the “rightness” or “wrongness” may never end, as persons are guided by different value systems and world views. However, we must always consider what the term abortion means and the various categories of abortion so that we can make informed decisions. Further to, we must understand there are many ethical principles that collide on this issue, creating dilemmas that are not too easily resolved. To criminalise abortion will be to blatantly ignore a group of women whose life may be at risk if the law forces them to keep a pregnancy that creates medical complications and still it indicts a group of women who have no control over the phenomenon. In making a policy to control abortion, these factors must be considered and until that is done then abortion cannot be criminalized.