Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.
Ever since the Supreme court made its decision in 1973 in the Roe vs Wade supreme court case, abortion has been a hotly debated topic on a legal and moral level. One of the increasingly popular ways abortion is being discussed is by applying the ethical theory of utilitarianism. The core idea of utilitarianism, like other forms of consequentialism, is that the morality of an action is based on the positive and negative results this action would have on the general population. More specifically, utilitarians believe that the purpose of morality is to increase the amount of pleasure and happiness in the world by simultaneously reducing pain and unhappiness. When applying a utilitarian framework for evaluating the morality of abortion it becomes clear that this method of understanding the social and economic changes set in motion by legalized abortion favors the ability of a woman to choose whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. This is because utilitarianism highlights how legalized abortions allow the woman and her family the option of maximizing her and the family’s pleasure and happiness by being able to weigh the total utility this child would or would not have in its lifetime. This in turn can have global social and economic consequences. I agree with the verdict of the theory as through legalized abortion fewer resources would be used (therefore fewer greenhouse gases emitted) leaving more to better the existing population, and there would be a decrease of children born into unhappy households or families unable to take care of the child, and rape victims would be spared the emotional distress of having to raise the child of their attacker. So, should abortion be legal?
To begin with, in the developed world, a person consumes a significant amount of resources, making the prospects of future people considerably worse. The average cost of raising a child in the United States is almost $13,000 per year.
Hence, by aborting a fetus, a family would save a significant amount of money that could go towards bettering their own lives, increasing their overall happiness and pleasure. This in turn would affect their productivity in their work environment, as it has been proven that positive emotions influence the capacity for innovation and improve performance and memory. This would imply that even people who are financially capable of raising a child a theoretically morally obliged not to, as this would have a greater negative outcome on society than the negative outcome of aborting a fetus. Aside from the financial implications of raising a child, it is important to consider the overall environmental impact that results from adding to the population. The average person in the U.S. emits about 27 tons of CO2/year, and according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2012, carbon dioxide (CO2) made up about 82% of calculated United States greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans. Therefore, if a woman chooses not to have an abortion she is increasingly among the population of the world, which would increase the number of greenhouse gases produced, therefore decreasing the amount of utility that the world would experience if she had terminated that child. Furthermore, as the global population is already steadily rising, having a child can contribute to the likelihood of a food shortage leading to famine. Instead, by having an abortion, the woman could use the resources she would have exhausted on a child for things that would increase the overall population’s utility, such as donating to education, as education has been directly correlated with economic growth and stability. If a mother is allowed the option of whether or not to terminate her fetus there would be a significant decrease of children born into unhappy households or families unable to take care of the child, maximizing the happiness of the majority party while decreasing suffering. For example, if an unmarried woman of a lower socioeconomic status becomes pregnant, many statistics show she is more likely to remain in poverty compared to married individuals. Similarly, children who were raised in single-parent households are less likely to experience financial gain. Therefore, if a single mother believes that she does not have the resources to efficiently raise a child, she should be given the choice to terminate the pregnancy.
While many states where abortion is illegal maintain that exceptions are made for cases of rape or incest, it is becoming increasingly apparent that these exceptions to the law that generally prohibit abortions do little to help the women in these situations. Aside from being a time-consuming, confusing, emotional ordeal for the victim, the process can cause additional emotional distress by placing the burden of proving that the event took place on the victim. Therefore, legalizing abortion would be morally correct from a utilitarian point of view as it would spare the victims of rape and incest a significant amount of emotional distress as well as increase overall utility by saving them time and money that would have been spent in court.
A common argument of people who believe abortion should not be legalized is that it is wrong to terminate a conscious fetus as it can feel and is self-aware. However, if you consider that a woman’s interests override the simplistic interests of a fetus, this argument becomes irrelevant. In Peter Singer’s book Writings on an Ethical Life, Singer suggests that as we “accord the life of the fetus no greater value than the life of a nonhuman animal at a similar level of rationality, self-consciousness, awareness, capacity to feel” we should not hold the interests of a fetus above the interests of a grown woman, as we would not hold the interests of a non-human animal above the interests of a human. However, even if one grants that a fetus is a human being and should not merely be valued at a similar level as a nonhuman animal, utilitarianism would still argue in the defense of legalized abortion. Judith Thomson presents this framework in her essay “A Defense of Abortion”, where she argues that determining the fetus’s existence as a person is not enough to show that the fetus is entitled to the continued use of the mother’s “resources”, as this would not necessarily be in the best interest of the majority. For example, if the mother needs to be bedridden for the nine months of her pregnancy, or perhaps heavily afflicted by morning sickness, the overall happiness of the mother is significantly decreased, and she is most likely unable to work, which of course would have financial implications.
In conclusion, when a utilitarian framework is applied to discussing the morality of legalized abortion, the theory is in clear support that women should be allowed to choose whether or not they wish to carry out their pregnancy. I agree with the verdict of this theory, as all of the points outlined in this text highlight how by giving a woman this choice, she is not only able to increase her utility and happiness but can indirectly have a large impact on global issues such as global warming and the world economy. That’s why should abortion be legal.