Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Jess and Jeff discuss abortion

What is the issue?

Controversy surrounds the topic of abortion. For some, it’s been a tool of great social change, reducing crime-rates while inducing other beneficial effects. To others, it can’t be sugarcoated and is simply murder of the most innocent, defenseless members of our society. Evaluating this issue with a variety of different perspectives is integral in order to find the ‘right’ way to approach it. With a tie-in to subjects such as religion and ethics, evaluating the ethical implications of abortion can allow one to see the different viewpoints that people see the world through.

photo taken from the conversation.com

How can it approached?


  • Women who have had abortions
  • Women who will/may get pregnant in future
  • Men whose SO’s may get an abortion

Categorical Imperative:  

People who both a) do not agree with murder and b) do not agree with abortion would be agree with the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative would see abortion as bad because if you see murder as a negative or something completely unjustifiable, then abortion would, in terms of the categorical imperative, be seen as just as bad as, say, shooting someone on the street.


Utilitarianism is for the benefit of the whole. An article was cited in saying,

“The reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a single mother or was having relationship problems (48%). Nearly four in 10 women said they had completed their childbearing, and almost one-third were not ready to have a child. Fewer than 1% said their parents’ or partners’ desire for them to have an abortion was the most important reason. Younger women often reported that they were unprepared for the transition to motherhood, while older women regularly cited their responsibility to dependents.”

Many of these reasons are ones that we, if we were a utilitarian society, could approve of. To bring a child into the world when the financial situation of the parent(s) would not guarantee them a good life would mean that the child would have a higher likelihood of growing up and being imprisoned, homeless, impoverished, or a number of other things. Ultimately, to bring a child into a scenario where the parents are unable to care for them as they should would be seen as a negative thing, if viewed in a utilitarian sense.

photo taken from cbc.ca


Ignoring the fact that Rawls’ theory requires you to be behind the veil of ignorance and therefore a fetus (and thus, very much not in favour of being aborted), this theory still has the possibility of going in either direction. Perhaps it is more likely that one would be in favour of abortion if they were able to be put in the situation of having to decide — ergo, if they were born an impoverished woman — but it is still quite subjective.

How can it be addressed?

Abortion can only really be addressed on an individual level. Viewing it through a variety of different perspectives only enlightens the person further into which direction would be the ‘ethical’ way. Whereas utilitarianism would welcome abortion if it were done to people who could not raise their children in a safe environment, the categorical imperative would argue that there is no way to justify murder and that abortion is ethically wrong no matter what the circumstance. With Rawl’s theory, however, it all comes down to personal preference, and in the end, isn’t that all that it is?



5 Responses to Jess and Jeff discuss abortion

  1. liamb says:

    This is a very well thought out, and well put together post.
    I have one problem with this and with the point you’re making though. It sounds like you’re saying (or at least it sounded like this from the discussion in class) that abortion is okay (or at least should be allowed) because it will lower crime rates because of the unpreparedness of the parent(s) and therefor poor quality of life for the child. You also made the distinction that it would be impossible to know if one of these aborted babies would become an important world figure (leader, cure cancer, etc.).
    Imagine that the government were to order the execution of a large number of people, maybe the ‘criminal age or area’ of a very crime-filled neighborhood. They knew that in this group of people would be a lot of criminals, but there would also be innocent people.
    My problem with abortion (or at least what you’re saying about abortion) is that this seems almost equivalent to the situation above. It seems like capital punishment for a bunch of criminals and some innocent people, but before any of them have even committed a crime! It’s basically punishment for something that they didn’t do! Considering the fact that we don’t even have capital punishment for people who are actually criminals, I find it hard to understand why abortion would be okay.
    Maybe you don’t like the fact that I’m using the term ‘punishment’. Fine, then it’s the government allowing the murder of a ton of people who might be more likely to become criminals. Basically it’s saying that those children will probably become criminals so it’s okay to kill them before they get the chance.
    And THAT doesn’t make sense to me. That is not fair, that is not equality, and that is not justice.

    • jeff says:

      Hey Liam,
      You make some great points with your comment. However, the way I see it is a bit different. In our case, abortion is not compulsory (in comparison to your execution of a large number of criminal-age people), it only provides an option for a parent to terminate their baby if they believe that they do not want a child, or if they don’t believe that they have the resources to maintain another child. In many cases, abortion is only sought out as the last resort if they don’t believe that the child’s life will be pleasant if born in the situation.
      Additionally, when you say that “it’s the government allowing the murder of a ton of people who might be more likely to become criminals,” I don’t believe that is completely true. In my opinion, aborting a fetus is in no way comparable to murder. Aborting a fetus, especially in its early stages, can be compared moreso to wearing a condom or taking birth control, which I see as perfectly OK. We’re not taking away the lives of innocent people, we’re simply stating that the parents should have a say in whether or not they will have a child that they might see as a financial and social burden as well.

  2. aileen4 says:

    Like you guys already stated, abortion is a controversial topic. I personally feel like no matter what you say about the subject, you’ll always be able to find someone who’s ideas are completely clashing with yours. Fortunately, I feel like you presented the idea in a very tasteful and thought out manner. Your post is from an educated perspective and you incorporated ethics into it very nicely. Good job!

  3. shiyun says:

    Good job on the post you guys! For me, I would approach the subject of abortion using utilitarianism. I think that the maximum happiness for the mother would be best because it wouldn’t benefit the child if it was born into a family with a resentful mom. For example, if a teenager happens to get pregnant, her choosing to have an abortion might mean that a potential Einstein would never walk this Earth, but it could also mean that she herself could meet HER full potential and perhaps cure cancer or stop global warming. Because she DIDN’T have her child, she was able to focus on her studies and move forward in her life. Maybe this is just what I feel is best, but to me, whether or not abortion is okay completely depends on the situation and how it affects the mother carrying the child.

  4. liamb says:

    Thanks for the reply Jeff, those are good points. This is a really interesting post and comments so I just can’t stay away!
    To your point about abortion being more comparable to a wearing a condom or using birth control, I realize that this is a widely used pro-choice argument; however, I don’t agree (and like aileen said, there will always be people who disagree). I mean just scientifically, with a condom or birth control, the sperm and the egg actually don’t like produce (or whatever), so the process of creating a new human is never even started. With abortion though, a human has come to life in the womb, regardless of what stage in development they’re at, they are still the early developing human (aka: fetus). If that’s not enough just look at a picture of a fetus at 11 weeks. That looks a heck of a lot like a baby to me, and they are moving around in the stomach of their mother. Before technologies allowing abortion existed, a thing called infanticide was the option for mother’s who didn’t want their child. People would simply leave their newborn child to die, maybe throw them outside the city gates to starve or be eaten. I am pretty sure no one would be okay with this happening, but really the difference is a couple months and the leaving of the womb. Also I was referring to the statement in your original post saying, “The categorical imperative would see abortion as bad because if you see murder as a negative or something completely unjustifiable, then abortion would, in terms of the categorical imperative, be seen as just as bad as, say, shooting someone on the street.”

    But regardless of anything else, I believe that abortion can be deemed immoral solely on the basis that it takes away a baby’s right to life. In an age where equality is on everyone’s mind, where we are quickly and shamefully seeing the discrimination that has happened and continues to happen (as seen with many of the ethics posts), it baffles me that everyone only talks about the right that the woman has to pursue her career, reach her potential, have freedom, and to be able to give up a child because of the inconvenience that it will cause her. I don’t think a lot of abortions are by homeless, maybe drug addicted women, but rather of the college student who doesn’t want the added stress of a child, or an already-mother who just doesn’t want another. Definitely a woman should have the right to pursue a career and maximize her potential, but absolutely not at the expense of a life especially when it can easily be prevented from happening in the first place. I cannot comprehend how someone’s right to convenience or ‘happiness’, or any right for that matter, could supersede someone’s life – someone’s innocent life.
    I understand that rape does happen, and definitely that is a terrible thing, and the victim of that should not have to bear that responsibility and there definitely would need to be exceptions for abortion to be illegal.

    I believe in equality, and in equality, everyone has rights – equal rights, rights for women and child, black and white, etc. – and I don’t think that someone can be considered not human because they haven’t exited the womb yet. We used to believe that African people, Native people, women, and slaves were not people, and I see this as very similar, except this group physically cannot campaign for their rights, they can’t have a civil rights movement, and they don’t have someone like Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out in inspiring speeches to stand up against their oppression (obviously not a perfect comparison, but you get the idea).

    I guess I am just one strong side of this great debate, siding to one of the arguments highlighted in the main post, “To others, it can’t be sugarcoated and is simply murder of the most innocent, defenseless members of our society.”

    PS – if I seem offensive to anyone, I apologize. I do not mean to be at all harsh or anti-women or whatever. (argue with me)


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