faced with a moral dilemma

Are Abortions Immoral?
by Carmen Tassone

ittle Lilly didn't mean for it to happen, it just did. Mom discussed her options, but Mom couldn't shed a ray of light on which one to choose.  Dad was the one with the answers, but he passed away several years back, so his wisdom could not be summoned for Lilly.  Mom just told her, "I leave the decision up to you Lilly dear."
     Compassion and understanding were always Mom's best virtues; but this time all she had to offer Lilly was her support.  Lilly just turned seventeen, and she was still but a child herself.  So how could she make such a decision on her own?  She had one more year of high school left, and she had planned to go to the University of Virginia the following year, but all that changed. Or did it?
     At the time, Doc Roberts, our family's physician, told Lilly that she was only eight weeks along, and he suggested it wasn't too late to make a decision; although he strongly recommended the sooner the better.  He even referred her to another doctor, who I guess was a specialist in this sort of stuff.  But, to me the decision to abort or not to abort the pregnancy was not a simple matter.  And little Lilly must have thought so too, and I guess that's why she turned to me, her big brother, to help her out. 
     Five years ago, when I returned home for summer break, I hadn't expected a moral dilemma to be awaiting me.  But when Lilly and I sat down and talked about it, I recalled a course I took a few semesters earlier that addressed this very dilemma facing her.  I told her the question was not whether the pregnancy should be aborted or not, but rather whether she felt an abortion was immoral or not.
     To help her think it through, I related to her the two required readings that debated the issue of abortion.  One author, a philosophy Professor named Don Marquis, viewed the termination of a fetus wrong because he felt killing deprived a future otherwise promised.  The other author, a Philosopher named Jane English, viewed abortion as being sometimes justifiable, while at other times it was not.
     At first, Lilly couldn't understand how a man could even consider an abortion right or wrong, because she felt it was a woman's problem and not a man's. But I asked her, "Shouldn't the father of the baby have a say in the matter? Or for that matter, other people who have some feelings toward the issue."
     And she replied, "No, it's my body, not anyone else's."
     "But," I then asked, "isn't the baby at least the guys child too? And doesn't the idea of the human family imply we should care equally for all?"
     After a long silent moment, she smiled and said, "I see your point. Though it's my body and I've the final say in what I do with it, I should at least respect the feelings of the father; and, I guess, I have to also respect other people's opinions, female or otherwise. I have to think about Mom too."
     I continued by explaining how Professor Marquis, in the beginning of his paper, showed both sides of the issue were pretty much at a standoff, and because of their different ethical ways of thinking, they probably will never reach a plausible solution. At first glance, both sides seemed to have based their positions on acceptable moral principles, but after careful analysis the same theme returned--the two sides could not agree upon what was a person and what was a human being. So, Marquis set out to find the answer to this dilemma. 
     I told Lilly first the professor wanted to know what makes killing a grown human being wrong or immoral. I asked her, "What makes killing me wrong?"
     And she joking replied, "Because you're my brother, dummy." But I asked again, and she said, "Well, maybe it's because people who know and love you will be hurt, and they won't be able to see you anymore, like Dad."
     "Well," I told her, "close, but not quite. It's not the effect on the killer or the family and friends, but on the victim. If someone killed me, what have I lost?"
     "Your life, silly."
     "More than that" I said. "I lost my future as well. Everything and anything I could have experienced or enjoyed or participated in would be lost, because I've been deprived of my future. And that's the worst thing anyone could do to another human being--take away their future. And that's why, according to Marquis, it's wrong to take another human life."
     "But," she asked, "what does that have to do with my choice? See, I told you men don't know nothing 'bout nothing."
     "Not quite," I replied. "It has everything to do with your choice. Can't you see? The life of that baby inside you right now would not only end if you abort it, but also its future is gone too, and that's what makes it wrong to kill it. Well, at least that's the case this guy tries to make."
     "Okay, so that's one side. What about the other?"
     "I'm glad you asked, because I liked what Jane English had to say. She addressed the issue a little differently than Marquis, but she, too, believed both sides of the issue were way off on their moral principles. She felt the anti-abortionists are wrong to believe a fetus is a human being at the time of conception. She also felt they are wrong for saying all killings of human beings were immoral, because, she says, they forgot about self-defense. She didn't like the pro-choice advocates view either. She felt they are wrong for believing a fetus wasn't a person unit it was born. Another thing she didn't think right was the fact they felt, as you said before, a woman can do whatever she wants with her body."
     "Yeah," she replied proudly, "but I said that because it's true." 
     "Okay," I said trying not to challenge her. "But if your tampering should result in an ill effect, does that still make it right?"
     "Well, I won't debate that issue, but I'll try to explain what I believe was Jane English's message. First, like Marquis, English agreed that the terms "person" and "human being," the two terms used by the two sides, were really impossible to define, and therefore, really couldn't be attached to a fetus."
     "So, why do they continue to use those terms?"
     "Probably because they have no choice. They've changed their meanings several times, but each time the other side was able to exploit its weakness. Basically each side leaves itself open for criticisms. So, English contends that a fetus doesn't become a human being over night, it takes time; and she is more in favor of the trimester system setup by the Supreme Court. Do you know them?
     "Yeah, the doctor said I'm in my first, and Mom said that if I did have the abortion, this was the time."
     "Well," I said, "English would probably agree with you, but maybe not for the reason that you may have. See, she devised an analogy that used a mad scientist who hypnotized innocent people to kill other people.
     "Think of it. A crazed scientist wants to kill people, but doesn't want to get caught. So, he hypnotizes people to jump out of the shadows in the park at night. These people have knives and guns. Well, let's say you were in the park and one of these guys jumped out at you swing a knife. What would you do?"
     "I'd run."
     "But what if he chases you and catches you?"
     "I'd scream."
     "And while you're screaming he slices your throat open."
     "What was I suppose to do?"
     "Well," I said. "I guess, that was a little unfair. Okay, I'll give you two options; you can kill him, or you can let him kill you. Which do you pick?"
     "Of course, the one where I kill him."
     "Well, this seems a little silly."
     "No, not really if you look at it this way." I said. "The innocent person doesn't want to hurt you, but he has no choice, and you have no choice but to kill him in order to save your own life. And so, this, as English describes it, is why killing an innocent life is morally okay or justifiable."
     "But," she asked, "what about if he's only going to bother me or inconvenience me in some way?"
     "Like what?"
     "I don't know," she said. "Maybe he only what's me to be miserable for the rest of my life."
     "Do you think that would be justification enough to kill him?"
     "Yeah," she replied. "I don't want to be miserable."
     "Exactly," I said. "In English's analogy she justifies the killing of an innocent life if your life or health should be threatened, or if your future expectations should be drastically challenged or lost, or your mental and physical well-being are handicapped in some severe way."
     "And the innocent life is the fetus?" she asked.
     "Yes," I replied. "English pretty much said that to save the life of the mother, to prevent the mother from being somehow handicapped, mentally or physically, and to save the mother's life prospects are reasons enough for an abortion not to be immoral."
     "So, if I feel this baby is going to screw up my life, it would be okay to have the abortion?"
     "Yes," I replied. "Or so it seems. English, also, said that the trimester system should be a key to gauge the immorality of an abortion. Normally, the first trimester is between the patient and doctor, and, as like you said, it's usually up to the woman during this stage. The second trimester is questionable, but is permitted in all States. However, most require the procedure to be performed in a hospital. The last trimester is when most agree the fetus has achieved some sort of moral status, and an abortion at this point is usually performed when the life or the health of the mother is at risk."
     While Lilly sat quiet for a few minutes seemly to take all this new information in, she rubbed her stomach as only a mother can, humming a long forgotten melody, one our mother had sang to us. After finished humming the song, and while she continued to look at and hold her stomach, she whispered to me, "So, according to Ms. English, if I had an abortion now it would be okay, because I expect my life to be screwed up by this baby."
     "That could be one possible conclusion that might be reached."
     "Thanks Dave. You're the greatest" she said as she gave me a big hug before leaving my room. 
     That conversation took place five years ago, and I'm proud of how my little sister handled the situation. And now as I watch her graduate from college, I'm even more proud of her. She has endured through some rough times, and my heart goes out to her and other people like her who, at some time in their lives, may have had to make a choice like Lilly's. Sure, Mom and I did what we could to help her through that period of her life, but I think anyone would have done the same for someone they loved.
     In my opinion, society should allow abortions to be performed and let the woman make the decision to have it done or not. I feel society should not pressure her in either way. Give her the options, and let her weigh the decision. She's the one who will have to live with her decision and live with the results. If she has the abortion, support her. Don't apply a label to make the matter worse. If she decides to have the baby, help her. Don't complain about the tax dollars that help feed her child, because I believe society is responsible for taking care of the needy and less fortunate. Without this show of compassion for our fellow person, a society wouldn't be worth living in.
     The answer to the question of whether or not an abortion is immoral, is really up to the individual faced with the decision. Sure, we all could give our opinions, but until one is forced to see the big picture, one can't really comprehend the possibilities. And no matter how it may be explained, killing is killing and it's not an easy decision to make, and shouldn't be made lightly. There are too many factors that are involved with this issue, but one clear line of reasoning is apparent. If it were immoral for a woman to abort her pregnancy, then no condition would justify it, even if the woman's life were in danger. So, I conclude an abortion is not immoral when a mother's life, future or health is in danger, however an abortion could be considered immoral when these conditions are not met. 
     As the auditorium rises to applaud the new graduates, I feel a slight tug on my coat jacket and hear, 'Uncle Dave, I can't see mommy." Thus belying the suggestion that neither outcome is to be preferred except in the judgment of the woman.