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How are religious and ethical principles used in the abortion debate?

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Introduction

´╗┐Maisie Thornton How are religious and ethical principles used in the abortion debate? Abortion is a complicated issue and raises many significant ethical questions, for instance the nature of the personhood of the foetus, the issue of rights; i.e. should the foetus be assigned any, the extent of state authority over citizens decisions, and more. For some people, their approach to these questions will be secular, while for others religious values may play a heavy part. Although religious judgements have no direct relevance concerning the legal aspect of abortion in the UK, these beliefs have great moral significance and have contributed towards the ethical issues and past laws. Many argue that morality and religion should be autonomous and therefore completely independent of each other. They argue that scriptural authority is unreliable and leads to problems of interpretation. Such people, would therefore say that any decision regarding abortion must be based on personal autonomy, without reference to any possible religious response. Religion is, by its very definition, founded on beliefs and practices which are derived from various sources of authority. The major centre of authority in Christianity is God, although sacred writings such as the Bible, are also given great prominence as they can be said to contain contains the ideals of God. In general the Christian faith condemns abortion, with most Christians believing it violates the sixth commandment 'You shall not murder' (Exodus 20). Christian beliefs on ethical issues almost invariably then include references to the Bible, yet for pro-choice campaigners - especially those who are atheists, often argue that the Bible doesn't say anything explicitly about abortion. ...read more.

Middle

a foetus becomes a fully fledges person, and thus when it is entitles to the religious concept of the sanctity of life. A Christian response to the personhood debate is the idea of ensoulment, which states that personhood is achieved upon the implantation of a soul, which many religious believers maintain that the soul is implanted by God. In the 17th century, the Catholic church affirmed that ensoulment took place from the moment of conception. This is significant as if a soul is introduced at fertilisation, then a fertilised egg or at least an embryo, must be a human person. St Augustine believed that an early abortion was not murder because the soul of a foetus at an early stage is not present. Thomas Aquinas, Pope Innocent III and Pope Gregory XIV also believed that a foetus does not have a soul until 'quickening' and therefore early abortion was not murder, though was at a later stage. Aquinas, the main developer of Natural law, held that abortion was still wrong, even when it wasn't 'murder', regardless of when the soul entered the body. A non-religious assessment of personhood is based on biological development and viability, of which, for instance, formation of the main organs or movement can be seen at the dividing line between potential and personhood. The problem with this approach of course is that every mother's experience of pregnancy is different, which is why Mary Ann Warren says 'birth, rather than some earlier point, marks the beginning of true moral status.' She rejects the idea that a foetus is a potential person: 'If a foetus is a potential person, then so is an unfertilised human ovum with enough viable spermatozoa to achieve fertilisation; yet few would seriously suggest that these living human entities should have full and equal moral status.' ...read more.

Conclusion

Allowing abortion is seen by many feminists as a way of emancipating women from a form of slavery to their bodies, used by men to 'keep them in their place.' Thus feminist Beverly Harrison states 'the well being of the women and the value of her life plan should be recognised as of intrinsic value,' and goes on to say 'a good society is one that assures the existence of basic conditions needed to pursue an individual's own life plan,' the latter being a utilitarian argument. She does not, however, clearly state why one should not take the happiness of the embryo/foetus into the equation, as many may argue that no rights can over-ride those of another person (the foetus being a person). Conflicts can also arise with the happiness of the father, which along with the rights of the father, which along with the rest of society must be taken into account. It can also be noted that there are alternative ways of 'freeing' the woman, such as child care services to help her return to work. In conclusion, the debate surrounding abortion is influenced heavily by both religious and ethical principles. This makes it hard to ever come to a definite conclusion about whether abortion is morally right or wrong. Since abortion affects the emotions as well as the mind, and as it involves considerations of the life and death, many people find that purely intellectual arguments about it are ultimately unfulfilling, and so perhaps the discussion of possible religious responses and the ethics that contradict or support then are necessary. As theologian Stanley Hauerwas articulates 'It may be that issues such as abortion are finally not susceptible to intellectual solution.' ...read more.

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