Morality of Abortion


Is aborting the life of an unborn child in the fetus a violation of rights, and more importantly can we view that action as moral? There are many different ways to view and discuss the topic of abortion but for the purpose of this paper, I will be examining it as a right, that also has side constraints. Then, I will argue that since not being aborted is a right possessed by the fetus, we view this concept with side constraints which thereby makes it immoral. Additionally, it is imperative to examine the problem of self-ownership and whether or not mothers have the right to their bodies and their own reproductive organs. We can recognize that the morality of abortion is heavily debated in everyday politics, however I will be addressing why it is an issue that arises in philosophy. It becomes an issue in philosophy because there are different ways of viewing rights by different philosophers. Abortion also raises the problem of who possesses what rights, and whether or not one right can trump another. Throughout my paper, I will argue how to look at these problems and use them to show why abortion should be viewed as immoral.

In order to best convey my argument I will break it down into steps to show how I have arrived at my conclusion that abortion should be viewed as immoral. We can start off by agreeing that everyone has freedom of life, meaning everyone has a right not to be killed. Robert Nozick introduces the idea of rights as side constraints that cannot be taken away, thus freedom of life is a side constraint that everyone has and cannot be taken away.[1] When you add abortion into the mix, you see that it violates freedom of life by violating the right not to be killed. Violations are issues because the rights are possessed by the violated person while the violation takes place.  Therefore, abortion violates rights as a side constraint, thereby making abortion an immoral act.

When referring to abortion violating the rights to live, I am regarding the rights holder as the fetus. The fetus holds the right to live and not to be killed because it is their life, and it is the way he/she lives that is being directly affected. Some may argue that the rights holder is the mother, however this is not the case because an abortion will not kill the mother so she can not be the rights holder in this situation.

Accordingly, it is important to discuss the principle of self-ownership and how it relates to mothers and abortion. If one seems to accept the principle of self-ownership, it appears that mothers have the ability to do whatever they choose to do with themselves and their reproductive organs or things inside of or a part of them. An issue arises on whether or not to accept the rights of self-ownership and whether or not they extend to the morality of abortion.

I argue that the principle of self-ownership should be accepted but is not extended to abortion because of who the act is affecting. Just like I stated earlier, the rights holder in this case is the fetus, the unborn child, so abortion is violating rights to the fetus and not the mother and her reproductive organs. Aborting or giving birth to a child does affect the life of the mother, by changing her life or making it different, but it does not change whether or not she lives. Being aborted or being born however impacts the child and can take away their right to freedom of life. Therefore, abortion affects the child’s freedom of life and not the mother’s self-ownership because the argument of abortion regards life and not reproductive organs.

It has now become clear that there are two issues of violating rights in this situation and you cannot protect one without violating the other. This leaves us with the difficult task of choosing which one is more important to protect. When looking at both rights objectively and unbiasedly, we see that the mother’s rights of self-ownership are there to protect her body and what she can do with it, not her life as a whole. Then, when observing the fetus, the rights we are trying to protect concern his/her life and his/her body protection is not even in question because you have to have a life in order to protect your body. It is now clear that the fetuses freedom of life, or right not to be killed trumps the right of self-ownership possessed by the mother because of the severity abortion contains.

Like I have started to do, it is important to recognize that mothers are in fact rights holders in the sense that they have the right not to be violated and to do what they want with their bodies. That being said, it was the mother’s choice to get pregnant and to have a child. When she makes that choice she is making the decision to have a child and to give it life. Once she has made that decision, she has then given the fetus the right to live, and would be violating their rights to take it away. It could be argued that the mother is the one that has given the rights in the first place, so now she is in charge of taking it away. I think this is an absurd argument. To exemplify, say I gave a malnourished orphan child in Syria that lost a leg in a bombing a transfemoral prosthetic leg because I wanted to make sure she could walk and be mobile. Then an hour later I wanted to take it back so I made her remove it from her body and give it back. This action is violation of rights because the transfemoral prosthetic leg was a part of the child, so this action is therefore is a violation and is immoral to ask her to give it back. Seeing how ridiculous this transfemoral prosthetic leg example is, shows how absurd the parallel abortion situation is as well.

We have established that mothers do have self-ownership over their  bodies but those rights do not extend to the fetus because the fetus possesses the right to live and not be killed. This shows us that yes, both rights exist, but that the right to life held by the fetus trumps self-ownership especially in these moral situations like abortion. With self-ownership comes a strong sense and desire to do whatever we want with our bodies. This could be as harmless as eating a piece of cake, varying to a more permanent action like getting a tattoo, to an action that could change your life and someone else’s like an abortion. However, there still can be a fundamental right of self-ownership in some senses, but freedom of life and a right not to be killed trumps them all. Just like in those first two examples, a mother or anyone is free to eat what she wants and get a tattoo on her body because she has ownership of herself, unlike anyone else. However, she does not have self-ownership of her fetus because the freedom of life right trumps self-ownership especially in this case.

One may make the argument that the mother could have been raped and is pregnant as a result. I am simply arguing for the morality of abortion, not whether or not it is essential for a mother to pursue an abortion in a specific situation.  I do recognize that even though it is immoral, abortion is a necessity in some extreme circumstances such as rape or even if the mother’s life is at stake. I do not condemn or judge those that choose to abort a child. I am also not arguing for the sake of making abortion illegal but rather the morality of the action itself.

Like I mentioned earlier in the paper, another problem with this debate over morality of abortion is how rights are perceived. It is evident that there are many philosophers who have written and taught many different views on how rights can and should be held. I have been using the viewpoint of Robert Nozick when viewing and regarding rights in this argument. Nozick views rights as side constraints, which means that rights are claims that people have to protect themselves.

This view of rights (as side constraints) is the best way to regard them especially in this situation because you can fulfill them simply by not doing things to them because they are negative rights. In the context of abortion, the fetus has a right not to be killed, meaning that this right is not violated as long as they are not killed. This concept best explains the morality of abortion by simply breaking it down that abortion is immoral.  Fetuses have freedom of life or the right not to be killed. Abortion takes away life and kills fetuses. Therefore, abortion violates the rights of fetuses when viewing rights as side constraints.

We can now conclude abortion is immoral after exploring abortion and all of the philosophical problems that arise when digging deeper. I have shown how the fetus is the rights holder because he/she is the one who’s life is at stake. I do acknowledge self-ownership, but freedom of life or the right to not be killed trumps self-ownership of reproduction organs. Finally, I explained why this right should be viewed as a side constraint and what implications that entails. Therefore, it has become evident that abortion is immoral.


[1] Nozick, Robert. Anarchy, State, and Utopia. N.p., 1974. Print.


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