The so-called Pro-Life movement in the U.S. has grown both in numbers and intensity since the 1980’s. The movement has been successful in popularizing the term “pro-life” so as to focus almost exclusively on the value of fetal life. For individuals in this movement, abortions are wrong, and for many with no exceptions such as incest and rape. For them, this issue alone represents the single gravest moral issue of our time. They want the right to abortion, as currently embodied in U.S. Constitutional law in the right to privacy, banned because fetuses, they believe, have full moral standing.
Advocates against abortion continue to do all they can to limit the right of women to abortion through legislation and have been successful in setting up barriers such as requirements of waiting periods, viewing imaging studies of the fetus, and having specific warnings about the risks before an abortion can be performed. Sadly, the focus on the full moral value of the fetus is also often connected to the view that contraceptive methods are wrong since, these groups believe, at least some methods may entail that early fetal life is being destroyed. This worry in combination with other worries, such as the availability of contraception may contribute to promiscuity and degradation to moral standards in various ways, has linked together abortion and contraception into a single moral perspective; the result is that not only is it always wrong to abort a fetus, it is always wrong to take measures to prevent abortions.
At the same time, for an extreme pro-choice advocate to claim that only the woman’s right to choose is important and that the fetus has no moral value does not capture how most people in the U.S. value human fetal life. Terminating the life of a fetus is not ethically the same as swatting a fly. I fear that some on the pro-choice side of the abortion issue have not taken the issue of abortion seriously enough as a moral issue—one can admit that a human fetus has moral value, though not necessarily full moral standing as babies, children, and adult humans, and still believe firmly in a woman’s right to reproductive freedom. Perhaps by taking abortion more seriously as a moral issue and focusing more on prevention of pregnancy, there could be a clearer differentiation of the issue of abortion rights and the right to contraceptives.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers graduate online masters in bioethics programs. For more information on the AMBI master of bioethics online program, please visit the AMBI site.