Disclaimer: This article is intended to be read and understood as a discussion on the moral permissibility of euthanasia. It is not to be understood as an incitement to any action that is contrary to the laws of the jurisdiction in which the reader lives.
Today, in part two of our series on when it is right to end a life, we will be examining abortion or the killing of an unborn person. It is vital to the comprehension of the reader that before proceeding with this article, they understand that life and personhood are held to begin at the formation of the zygote immediately after fertilisation. This is discussed in greater detail in the article ‘When Does Life Begin’, but it means that under Codist thought, the killing of the unborn is essentially synonymous with the killing of any other person. Like all issues involving the killing of persons, this is a complex and controversial subject that can trigger strong emotional responses. As such, please be warned that this article may be distressing to some readers.
As discussed in The Code and in part one of this series, Codist thought does not hold the act of killing either a person or an animal to be wrong. Rather, it is the consequences of acting or not acting that make it morally right or wrong. We use the Moral Decision-Making Framework to examine the likely consequences of each choice. Looking to see if the outcomes will be positive, negative or neutral to us and our families (RP1’s), and if the consequences will be harmful to our communities. In each case, a negative outcome for either our families (RP1’s) or our communities is only allowed if it is essential to avoid a worse outcome.
Abortion involves, as a necessity, the killing/harming of a close family member for the individual choosing to undergo the procedure. Or the killing/harming of a member of your community if you are carrying out the procedure. Thus, excepting situations where a worse outcome to either your family or community is apprehended by failing to act, an abortion must be morally wrong either to undergo or to perform. This litmus test applies to the killing of any person, either born or unborn. Thus, essentially, where it would be right to kill an adult, it is right to kill a child (born or unborn).
When is Abortion Justified?
Abortion is justified only when it is essential to the welfare of the family or community.
In Defence of the Mother
The first situation where abortion can be justified is in defence of the mother. This is due to the unique situation of a child in utero being ensconced inside another person and relying on that person for all the necessities of life. As such, they pose unique risks and challenges to the health of their mother while simultaneously being completely dependent on her for their survival. Therefore, prioritisation is not as straightforward as in the post-birth environment, where the child generally has priority over either parent. Rather, as long as the child requires the mother’s womb to survive, its survival cannot have priority over the mother’s survival. This is due to the necessity of the mother surviving if the baby is to survive due to the complete reliance of the infant on its mother. This same necessity does not exist in the case of the mother, who (physically at least) can and will survive without the infant.
Therefore, in circumstances where the continuation of a pregnancy constitutes an imminent threat to the survival of the mother, abortion is morally justified. This moral permissibility exists whenever not killing the child would or is likely to result in death or severe injury to the mother without a corresponding positive effect on the child’s survival. I.e., any situation when to not kill/harm the child would result in the death or harming of both the mother and the child.
It should be noted that this is not the case in situations where either parent indicates a desire to kill or harm themselves or the child. In this case, if the parent was to harm the child, it would (morally) be murder.
In Defence of the Family and/or Community
The second situation when abortion is morally justifiable is when the child’s survival threatens the long-term welfare and/or survival of the family or community. This is the case when the child suffers or is likely to suffer from a severe intellectual or physical disability—provided that the deformity is severe enough that the child lacks any reasonable capacity to either achieve their purpose in life or contribute to the welfare of their family and community. I.e., the individual’s disability is significant enough that they will require full-time care throughout the entirety of their life. This category would include quadriplegics and some individuals with severe intellectual disabilities but not include individuals with more minor disabilities. This is morally allowable due to the consequences to a family or community of caring for an individual with such severe disabilities.
The care and support of a severely disabled person is an arduous and continuing burden for their families and communities. It requires a significant investment of time and resources, which often come at the expense of the families and communities’ long-term welfare. At the same time, the child, through no fault of their own, instead of contributing to the commonweal, actively harms it. This is so, as a disabled individual requires greater expenditures of resources of every kind. Yet, these expenditures, due to the irredeemable nature of permanent disabilities, are spent to no productive purpose.
If these resources were used instead to support the survival and welfare of a non-disabled individual, they would yield a positive return. Instead, they provide only for an increase in suffering both of the disabled child and for their family. Thus, it is morally permissible under Codist ethics to abort a child, which the medical investigations have assessed as being likely to be severely intellectually or physically disabled. To do otherwise would be to harm your family by making a choice that you know will negatively affect their and your long-term welfare.
In the same way, choosing to have the child and place it into the care of the state while seeming to be the easier choice is also morally wrong. It is wrong as by placing the burden of supporting the child onto the community, you are choosing to harm the welfare of the community. Therefore, as horrible as it is, the only morally right choice is to kill/abort a child in these or any other similar circumstance.
When is Abortion Not-Justified?
Abortion is not justified under any other circumstance so long as other options exist that would neither harm your families nor communities’ long-term welfare. Some examples of this include but are not limited to reasons of convenience or the associated costs of raising a child.
Choosing to kill a child in utero simply because it would be inconvenient at that time is morally prohibited under these ethics. So long as the child is likely to be sufficiently healthy to contribute to society and achieve its purpose, it sits higher up the hierarchy of duty than its parents. As such, the child has a greater priority than its parents (see prioritisation). What this means is that for a parent to kill their child (where it is not otherwise essential that they do so), they are actively harming their own achievement of the purpose and subsequently harming themselves and their families. Additionally, by killing a healthy child, they also harm their community by denying their fellow citizens the support and benefits the child would have contributed in the future.
Therefore, it is as morally wrong to kill a child in utero as it would be to kill them post-birth simply because they are an inconvenience. This is not to say that you must raise and support an unwanted child; rather, only that killing such a child is morally prohibited. If the parents do not wish to raise their child, then it is permissible for them to give the child to the community to raise for them. This is acceptable with a non-severely-disabled child, where it was not with the severely disabled child as the healthy child will develop in time into a productive member of the community, likely providing a positive return to their community or adoptive family.
Due to the Cost
Likewise, killing a child due to the financial burden of raising them is morally prohibited under Codist ethics. At first glance, it may appear that if you are unable to support your child, it would be acceptable to kill them. However, excepting extreme circumstances where the birth of the additional child would lead to the death of the family due to starvation or some other calamity, it is not permitted. This is due to the existence of extended family and the community, which, in most cases, is both able to support and is benefited by the additional member.
Provided that this support exists in some form, killing the child must be considered to be wrong. This is as it is not essential to kill the child but is rather a choice being made for convenience or for the comfort of the other family members. In these cases, the parents should resort to placing the child into the care of the community rather than killing their child.
My Body, My Choice
Any article examining the morality of abortion would be incomplete without addressing the primary argument for the permissibility—moral or otherwise—of abortion. The argument is that as it involves the woman’s body, it should be her choice. This argument rests on the incontrovertible position that an individual’s body belongs to them. I say the position is incontrovertible as even if you were born a slave, you and you alone have possession and control over your body. Thus, even while experiencing external compulsion, you retain sole possession of your body.
This principle is sound when we are discussing other people doing things to your body. Any individual should have the right to decide what they wish to do and have done to their body. This allows them the freedom to align their choices with what they judge will best promote their survival and their welfare. This is something that Codism unapologetically champions, promotes and seeks to enhance in all of our communities. Yet, in the case of abortion, we are talking about two peoples’ bodies. We are talking about the mother who must carry the child inside her body and about the child to whom it is a matter of life or death. Whichever decision is made, someone’s bodily autonomy will be violated. Therefore, the question is, who would suffer more through the violation, the mother or the child?
It is true that, for the mother, pregnancy is often an uncomfortable, inconvenient and painful experience. If the child is unwanted or unplanned, this burden must be all the harder to bear. The physical discomfiture may be compounded by the added distress of the interruption of studies, work and social commitments as well as the restriction of her freedom of choice when it comes to food, drink and recreation. Yet, at its greatest extent, this burden/harm does not exist above twelve months. After which, the child can be given over to the community, the father or other family members if the mother so desires.
For the child, the situation is quite different. If it is killed, it will cease to exist. Everything it could have been or done will be extinguished. Thus, the harm done to it will be far greater than anything the mother is likely to suffer from by carrying the child to full term. This discrepancy between the levels of harm caused to the two parties is so significantly skewed against the child as to seem to leave little room for the argument that the woman’s bodily autonomy trumps the child’s.
The mother stands to have her bodily autonomy affected for little more than one percent of her life. The child, however, through its death, would have its bodily autonomy affected for the entirety of its life. As this is hardly an equitable outcome for those who recognise a child’s personhood before birth, the ‘my body, my choice’ argument does not hold water.
Alternatives to Abortion
In those circumstances where a child cannot be cared for, is unwanted by its parents, yet abortion is not morally justified, what can people do?
As the saying goes, ‘prevention is better than cure’. As such, it is better that a child not be conceived rather than that it be born into a family who is unable or unwilling to look after it. Family is a major contributor to an individual’s welfare and long-term survival, and for a child to be placed into state care and potentially lack this support is not a small thing.
Therefore, if a child is not desired or cannot be cared for, it is best if the individuals involved use contraceptives to prevent or avoid conception. These preventative methods include methods like abstinence, the condom, the female diaphragm, various pills for males or females or even the permanent options of vasectomies or hysterectomies. Whichever method or methods are chosen, it is both parties’ duty to prevent the conception of an unwanted or unsupportable child.
Adoption/the Care of the State
If contraceptives fail or are not used and a child is conceived, the only other resort is that of placing the child into the care of the community or with extended family. While in many cases, adoption or placing the child into the care of the community is not an ideal outcome, it remains better than the alternative of the child’s death. At least with adoption or even the foster system, the child will have a chance to live.
The least bad option in the event that adoption is chosen is for the child to be placed with the extended family of either parent. If this is not possible, then the charity of the community can be imposed upon and, failing this, the sympathy of strangers can be invoked. It must be said that even though placing a child up for adoption outside of the family is an acceptable resolution to the birth of an unwanted or unsupportable child, it cannot be considered without a certain amount of opprobrium as, in its essence, it is an abrogation of the parents and their families’ duties to the child. Instead of actively providing for the welfare of the child and protecting it from harm, they are only refraining from harming it.
In conclusion, abortion or the killing of an unborn child is generally prohibited under Codist ethics, being allowable only when:
1. The mother and the babe will die if no action is taken, but the mother can be saved by killing the child.
2. If the child is severely disabled and, if born, will be unable to contribute to its family or community positively but will rather constitute a severe and persistent burden on its family and community.
In all other cases, the killing of a child is unwarranted, being done more for the convenience and comfort of the parents rather than from true compulsion.
The argument that as the child is within the mother’s body, her bodily autonomy should trump that of the child is also examined. While Codist philosophy is sympathetic to the principle of bodily autonomy, we do not support the conclusions of the pro-choice movement in this circumstance. This is due to the discrepancy in the magnitude of harm visited on each party. The mother is found to suffer an impairment to her bodily autonomy for slightly more than one percent of her life due to the pregnancy. In contrast, the child is found to suffer an impairment for the totality of its existence due to its death. Due to this, we do not accept this argument and rely instead on the principles of prioritisation set out in Chapter 17 of The Code.
As an alternative to abortion, we suggest that contraceptives be utilised to prevent the conception of inconvenient or unsupportable children. This is suggested to be the optimum solution as it causes the least harm. Failing this, we encourage parents to resort to adoption. Placing the child into the care of extended family, members of their community or even strangers, while far from ideala remains better than the alternative of death for the child.
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