This section of the guide explores arguments in favour of abortion. It looks at abortion from the ‘pro-choice’ stance and discusses the various philosophical, religious, ethical and moral issues involved.

The other side of the debate is discussed in our anti-abortion section.

Many of the arguments in favour of abortion centre on women’s rights. They argue that equal consideration should be given to the woman’s wishes and needs as those of the foetus. She must be considered as a person in her own right and not just a carrier for the foetus.

It can be easy to assume that being in favour of ‘pro-choice’ means that you have a dismissive, somewhat casual attitude to the foetus but the opposite is true. People who support ‘pro-choice’ are concerned about the foetus and tend to see it as a being worthy of equal consideration.

In their eyes, an abortion is preferable to some of the alternatives. They do not see it as a ‘lifestyle choice’ or something done on a whim but as a decision which is only arrived at after much deliberation.

So, what are the main arguments in favour of abortion?

These include women’s rights, philosophical views, moral arguments and ethical concerns.

What about religious arguments? We tend to assume that all forms of religion are against abortion but, there are a few exceptions to that which appear in many religions.

What are these?

Many forms of religion are opposed to abortion per se, but, will permit someone to undergo it due to mitigating circumstances, e.g. serious risk to the woman’s health. In this sense it is seen as a ‘lesser of two evils’.

Religious arguments in favour of abortion

Let’s be clear here: all the religions have strong views on abortion and in principle, remain opposed to it. This is due to their strong sense of the spiritual and that by terminating a pregnancy, one is acting against God.

So, medical or intellectual arguments about abortion are seen as unsatisfactory as they do not deal with the real issue of life and death.

The following religions all remain opposed to abortion but many of them accept that there may be circumstances in which abortion is the only option. These religions include:

  • Church of England
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Islam
  • Judaism
  • Hinduism
  • Sikhism

The Church of England is opposed to abortion on moral and theological grounds, but does admit that there are a few cases whereby abortion is allowed. These include the risk of serious harm to the woman and/or the foetus.

Catholicism is strongly opposed to abortion but there are a few Catholics who are in favour of ‘pro-choice’ and see abortion as the least harmful option. They argue that a Catholic must act according to his/her own conscience.

Islam argues for the sanctity of life and is opposed to abortion. But it does argue that it is permissible in certain circumstances. These include carrying out an abortion to save the woman’s life.

Judaism does permit abortion but not elective abortion (on demand). It views abortion as something which can be performed if the woman’s life is in danger.

Every case is judged on its individual merits. The woman’s physical and mental health is taken into account as is that of the foetus. But if there is a situation in which a severely deformed or ill baby is likely to cause distress to the woman then abortion may be performed to spare her any further distress.

Hinduism is also opposed to abortion but does accept that there are situations in which it is necessary, e.g. to save the woman’s life. They argue for an action which is likely to cause the least amount of harm to the woman, her partner, the foetus and society as a whole.

This means that they are theologically opposed to abortion. But, one exception to this is in India where as part of Hindu culture, the abortion of female babies occurs due to cultural preferences for male babies.

This is discussed further in our selective abortion section of the guide.

Sikhism also forbids abortion. But, similar to the Hindu religion in India, abortion is carried out as a way of getting rid of female foetuses. This is also due to a cultural preference for male babies.

Women’s rights and arguments for abortion

Abortion affects women more than men although this is not to say that men are not affected in some way. But it does have a greater impact upon the woman.

Pregnancy and abortion

The abortion debate affects women to a greater extent due to pregnancy. Pregnancy has a major impact - both mentally and physically upon the woman and as a result of that, many people argue that she should have the final say on whether to terminate it or not. In other words, she has ‘pregnancy rights’.

Supporters argue that a woman’s body is her own to do with of her own free will. That she alone has the final say in how it is treated which includes pregnancy. So if she decides to end an unwanted pregnancy for whatever reason then as it is her own body then she has the right to do so.

They argue that no-one should have the right to tell a woman what to do with her own body.

These include:

  • A woman’s body is hers and hers alone. Only she has the right to decide what can and cannot be done with it.
  • The foetus resides inside her body and because of this, the decision as to whether it remains there rests with the woman.
  • If she decides to terminate the pregnancy then that is her right.

What this argues is that every woman has ownership over their bodies and that she can terminate a pregnancy on her say so. Banning abortion will deny this freedom of choice to women and in effect, is forcing them to carry a child which they do not want or are unwilling to give birth to.

Gender equality and abortion

Supporters of women’s rights also argue that abortion is part of the fight for gender equality and banning this places a restriction on their bodies which is not applied to men. The only way women can achieve parity with men in this manner is if they are allowed to decide whether they want to have a baby or not. If they don’t then they should be allowed to end that pregnancy.

This is one of several ways in which women can have equality with men.

Feminists and proponents of women’s rights also argue that forcing a woman to have a baby which she does not want places a burden on her, her family and society as a whole. She is expected to sustain that pregnancy and then care for the child for a large portion of her life which restricts her in many ways. It may deny her the career she has always wanted or the same life choices as men.

They also state that at one time, the main role in life for women was to have children which forced many in unwanted pregnancies, often against their will. Many women were worn out by frequent pregnancies and their physical health suffered as a result. In other cases, they were denied the same freedoms as men, such as employment opportunities and were confined in a narrow definition of what society considered a women’s role to be.

Denying women the opportunity to terminate a pregnancy means that they are solely responsible for the baby and its life afterwards. It absolves men from any responsibility and sees pregnancy as the ‘woman’s affair’ only.

Personal safety and abortion

One argument put forward is that enabling women to have a legal abortion is safer than forcing them to consult a ‘backstreet’ abortionist or to induce an abortion themselves. Allowing them access to these facilities will reduce this risk and the number of deaths that occur as a result of botched or illegal abortions.

Then there are arguments for abortion on the grounds of diminished responsibility, sexual abuse and a failure on the part of contraception.

Again, supporters argue that if a women has undergone sexual intercourse against her will, for example in the case of rape then she should be allowed to decide if she wants to keep the baby or not. In these circumstances it is understandable if she decides to have an abortion.

This also applies if the woman does not fully understand about contraception and how it prevents a pregnancy or has had little or no sex education. It may seem strange in modern times but there are women who are unsure about how sex leads to pregnancy and engage in this act without any thought of the consequences. This ignorance may be due to these reasons mentioned here or some form of mental disability.

Plus there is the argument for abortion on the grounds that the contraception failed to work or that a couple used all forms of protection but it still resulted in pregnancy. However, this is a very contentious area and is wide open to debate.

Philosophical arguments for abortion

There are many philosophical and ethical arguments surrounding abortion which take either the pro or anti stance.

Philosophical arguments for abortion often apply in certain cases only and are always considered in conjunction with the arguments against abortion. This is usually the case in these types of debates as these issues need to be placed in context.

One philosophical view in favour of abortion is that the foetus is not a human being in that it has consciousness, is capable of rational thought or emotions. In this sense it is not truly a ‘person’. If so then it does not have the same rights as a person.

If a foetus is viewed as a collection of cells then it is no different to any other part of the human body. It is the same as an arm, leg or an internal organ and is not subject to the same rights as a living, breathing human being.

Another view is that there are certain situations in which it is acceptable to end the life of an innocent person. For example, a case of conjoined twins in which surgery is needed to separate them but one twin will die as a result. However, doing so will enable the other twin to survive.

The decision here is which twin lives and which one dies.

Then there are the moral rights of the pregnant woman. She has rights which in certain situations override those of the foetus. These include the right to decide what happens to her body, the right to make her own decisions, independently of anyone else and the right to determine her own future.

Plus if there is a situation whereby the woman will die unless she terminates the pregnancy then her right to life overrides that of the foetus.

What is contentious is the argument about ‘right to life’. There are two schools of thought who argue that everyone has the right to be helped to sustain life and the right not to be killed unjustly or at a whim.

They are discussed further in the anti-abortion section.

Moral arguments for abortion

This can mean deciding whether to have an abortion based upon whether it is the morally correct thing to do. You take a course of action which you feel is a moral thing to do under the circumstances.

So, for example, if you are carrying a baby but tests show that it is not expected to live or will have a severe disability then you have a moral decision to make. You can decide to terminate your pregnancy based upon the fact that the foetus will have a very poor quality of life.

An ongoing issue in relation to this is that of ‘personhood’. How do we define what it is to be human? How does this relate to the foetus?

If a foetus is considered to be a ‘person’ in that it possesses the genetic code, is able to communicate and to feel then it has a right to life. That is the difficulty; if a foetus is not considered to be a person then the woman has the right to choose to abort it.

Ethical arguments for abortion

There are several ethical issues surrounding abortion. These include the decision to terminate a pregnancy if the foetus is disabled, the responsibility of the woman to accept the consequences of her actions, i.e. her pregnancy and the future life of the foetus.

But, ethical supporters for abortion claim that if the foetus is severely disabled or suffers from a life threatening disease then it is unlikely to experience any real quality of life. The foetus will not have any real life experiences to think about and discuss with others.

Another argument is that of allowing a baby to be born into a situation or society in which it is likely to come to harm or be badly treated in some way. In this case the baby may have a dreadful quality of life which could be avoided.

But, it could be argued that who has the authority to make that decision as any one of us could experience a similar type of situation.

Disability and abortion

This is an issue which many supporters of abortion find themselves in a quandary about. They argue that whilst a person with a disability should be treated exactly the same as someone without a disability; the issue remains that in many ways they are not.

People with a disability are still at a disadvantage in our society. The more severe that disability the less likely that person can live a normal life.

But it is possible to think this whilst arguing for an end to discrimination against disabled people.

Opposition to abortion on grounds of a disability is discussed further in our anti-abortion section.

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