Before we consider some of the different ethical approaches to the issue of abortion, we should be clear about what exactly we mean with this term.
It’s important to be precise here because other ways of putting it can be misleading.
This is because they would have assumed the most important issue in the ethical question about abortion. That is, by calling it a “baby” they have given the fetus the moral status of a human being. But this is precisely what needs to be debated.
Most ethical theories agree that abortion is wrong if the fetus has the moral status of a human (something similar would be the case with stem cell research). Where they disagree is whether or not the fetus does in fact have this status.
But you should be careful here. The legal status of abortion and the moral status of abortion aren’t the same. Although the US Supreme Court appears to have followed an ethical line of reasoning here, a legal system doesn’t have to. For instance, laws are often made for merely practical purposes (e.g. traffic laws ensure things run smoothly) rather than ethical ones.
Even though the moral status of the fetus is important, there are other factors to be considered. Most notably, the moral status of the woman carrying the fetus. She clearly already counts as human, so the question is: what kind of rights does she have that may conflict with the (potential) rights of the fetus?
If going through with the pregnancy, for instance, would likely lead to the woman’s death, then it could be argued that she has the right to terminate the fetus.
There are other issues to be considered as well. The ethical evaluation of abortion could change if the woman was the victim of rape.
In this instance, it could be argued that abortion is morally permissible.
Now let’s see how different ethical verdicts could be produced through different ethical frameworks. First of all, consider it from the perspective of virtue-based ethics.
With this in mind, you can see that it depends on what kind of character the woman reveals in her action.
As you can see, virtue-based ethics will say it’s permissible if it manifests virtues, but impermissible if it manifest vices.
Now let’s see how a consequentialist will evaluate abortion. Like virtue-based ethics, it all depends.
Something similar could be the case if it was known that the fetus would have an extreme birth defect that would drastically reduce the quality of life of both parent and child.
But if going through with the pregnancy would bring about more benefit than harm, then abortion would be impermissible. Making these kinds of calculations can be very difficult.
The termination of a fetus prematurely ending pregnancy