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Abortion Dilemma in Pragmatic Ethics


The value of human life and its significance have always been disputable issues. Since the first stages of society’s evolution, people have tried to find the sense of living, its purpose, and central goals. At the same time, the attitude to every individual, his/her contribution to society, place in it, and importance had also been changing. Ancient Greek philosophers recognized the unique nature of life, its sacred nature, and its mystery. Their works served as the basis for multiple religious beliefs, including Christianity, emphasizing the necessity to acknowledge the divine nature of life and view it as the act of God’s will. Today, society cultivates humanistic values presupposing that every individual is equal and has the right to manage his/her own life as it is the most significant aspect. However, along with new opportunities for cultivating a tolerant society, this belief serves as the source of ambiguity as it might create ethical dilemmas.

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For instance, the case of Janice is a perfect example of the clash of values and how different philosophical perspectives can be applied to the same situation. Janice and Bob are 15 and 16 correspondingly, and they can become parents as Janice is pregnant now. Following the dominant perspective, they are too young to have a child and a family as it would prevent them from acquiring an appropriate education, building a career, and evolving. Abortion can help to resolve the problem as it will terminate the pregnancy, and Janice will have more time to prepare for her role as a mother. However, applying the idea that every life is sacred, this act can be viewed as unethical and immoral. Under these conditions, the resolution of the given dilemma might be complex as it is sophisticated and involves various philosophical concepts and paradigms that can be used to justify the perspective of every family member and provide Janice with specific recommendations.

Ethical Issue

The central ethical issue raised in the case is the value of human life and whether Janice, as the mother, has the right to terminate the pregnancy. Abortion has always been a disputable issue because of these concerns and multiple perspectives on it. Moreover, the problem is complicated by the question of whether a fetus can be considered a living creature and it has all rights peculiar to other people. The case study also touches upon the freedom to choose and manage life in the way a person wants. Janice can accept any decision, and there is no correct or wrong one, because of the existence of multiple philosophical theories and moral frameworks justifying her actions. The Catholic beliefs also affect the situation as they introduce the Christian perspective and how people should act in such cases.

In such a way, the complexity and sophistication of the issue come from the absence of clear and unified perspectives on such situations and philosophical underpinnings that can help Janice to justify her choice. The humanistic values, feminist ideas, religious beliefs, and philosophical concepts of rationalism, and utilitarianism can be utilized to analyze the case and understand the positions of all parties. At the same time, they offer contradictory perspectives on how the situation can be handled and what values should be dominant when making the final solution. Outlining all these frameworks and discussing them, it is possible to analyze the current situation through the lens of the most topical doctrines today and conclude whether Janice should follow some of them. Analysis of these paradigms can help to understand the complexity of the dilemma and its relevance.

Janice Mother’s Position

Janice’s mother represents one of the most conservative perspectives on the dilemma. Being a Roman Catholic, she cannot accept the fact that her daughter can have an abortion. Christianity views sexual intercourse before marriage as a sin, while abortion is even a more severe one. In such a way, Janice can become twice a sinner and violate one of the central commandments prohibiting people from killing others (Marquis, 1989). Nevertheless, the woman does not want to raise the child, preferring to give it for adoption. This position shows a certain ambiguity as the mother is not ready to accept the idea of abortion as she considers it a murder; however, she does not mind giving the child for adoption and limiting his/her chances for a successful life, compared to children who live with parents (McBryde Johnson, 2003). Under these conditions, the mother represents the philosophy of Christianity with its traditional views on abortion, modified by her lack of desire to raise a child who is not needed at the moment.

Religion and Abortion

Christianity and its philosophy have always condemned abortions as one of the heaviest sins. Catholic Church is known as one of those having the strictest views on it, stating that the impossibility of abortions comes from the belief that every human life begins at conception (Marquis, 1989). Moreover, it should be protected and respected by all means from the first moment up to the end (Glover, 1990). From this perspective, the position of Janice’s mother can be justified. The girl cannot terminate the pregnancy as it would be viewed as the act contradicting God’s will and violating the basic Christian values (Glover, 1990). Furthermore, birth is a miracle and one of the most sacred acts, meaning that Janice’s pregnancy is another manifestation of god’s will and the challenge that should be overcome (Marquis, 1989). Following this idea, it is impossible to terminate the pregnancy as it will violate the major rules outlined in the Bible and contribute to the emergence of a new ethical dilemma.

Sanctity of Life

Furthermore, in her cogitations about child’s future, the mother appeals to the idea that every life is sacred, which can also be viewed as one of the major postulates of Christianity. This philosophical paradigm also introduces some ambiguity and uncertainness because of various definitions. First of all, speaking about the sacred nature of life, most or religions often view only human life, while the importance of other creatures’ existence is disregarded (Belshaw, 2005). In other words, the concept of sacred life touched upon by the mother emphasizes the necessity to save the child as it deserves living, and every murder, including the abortion, is a sin that cannot be forgiven (Glover, 1990). From this perspective, the further adoption of a child by other people is viewed as a lesser evil and is more appropriate compared to the termination of pregnancy. At the same time, the sanctity of every life always comes with absolutes or judgments presupposing no other perspectives or ideas (Belshaw, 2005). However, some conditions or factors might impact this concept, its applicability remains limited.

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View on a Fetus

The mother’s position also presupposes that a fetus is the same human being as others, meaning that it has the right to live, and abortion will be viewed as murder. Contemporary Christians, and especially Roman Catholics, share this idea and believe that from the moment of conception, every life becomes sacred, and a fetus should be protected (Belshaw, 2005). Previously, the church stated that an embryo did not have a soul during the first several weeks of its development (Vaughn, 2019). This idea was linked to the formation of a fetus and acquisition of the human-like shapes (Vaughn, 2019). Only late in the 19th century, the thought of the interconnection of ensoulment and conception was accepted, and any abortion started to be a killing of a human being (Vaughn, 2019). However, from the scientific perspective, a fetus cannot be considered a human being during the first stages of its evolution. It does not have a formed brain and can be described as a set of reproducing cells that would later form organs and systems. For this reason, the conclusion of whether a fetus is a human being or not depends on the accepted paradigm and philosophy.

Janice Father’s Position

Janice’s father introduces a completely different perspective on the problem because of a different set of values important to him. Being an agnostic, he believes that it is impossible to know or get to know something about the existence of God. For this reason, he is free from the influence of religion and tries to select the most practical and appropriate solution. He insists on Janice having an abortion as the child will prevent her from studying a building a successful career. The father wants his daughter to succeed in the future and only then think about children, which can be viewed as a reasonable and understandable position. This view can be explained by applying the ideas of utilitarianism, rational philosophy, and the rejection of the opinion that a fetus is a living being. Nevertheless, the father’s position is also disputable as it has several weaknesses and is mainly explained by the consideration of Janice’s interests, while all rights of a child or a fetus are disregarded.

Utilitarian Approach

Utilitarianism is one of the philosophical and ethical ideas that can be used to determine whether an action is morally acceptable or not. In accordance with this framework, the value of any act or behavior is determined by its use and ability to promote happiness, well-being, or good for certain people (Kaczor, 2011). It also means that there are no completely good or bad actions till their results and effects on other people are known (Kaczor, 2011). Applying utilitarianism to various situations, it is possible to select the decision that is most beneficial for all parties. Analyzing the father’s recommendation to make an abortion, it is possible to realize the use of this solution. Janice will acquire the time needed to become educated, build a career, and prepare to become a good mother. Moreover, a child will not be adopted by another family, as the mother wants, which can also be bad for him/her. Under these conditions, the decision to terminate a pregnancy can have multiple benefits for all parties and follow utilitarian logic.

Moral Theory

The father’s position can also be analyzed through moral theory. These are the set of ideas and frameworks outlining actions viewed as permissible from the moral perspective. Contrary to other frameworks that accept the relativity of some acts, this one presupposes that decisions are good while others are wrong (Kaczor, 2011). It means that while making a certain decision, a person should consider the dominant value system and act in ways that can maximize a good outcome (Kaczor, 2011). The father’s position might seem immoral as it presupposes the killing of a would-be living being; however, this decision can avoid giving birth to a child that would suffer because of the lack of love, absence of caring parents, and adoption (Kittay, 2009). Under these conditions, the recommendation to make an abortion can also be viewed as the way to protect both Janice and a baby who should not be destined to problems and complex life.

Bob’s Position

Bob is another party in the conflict who has a significant impact on the decision-making process. As a father, he has much responsibility and can have his views on the current situation. His idea is to terminate the pregnancy and paid all expenses to Janice. His motifs are similar to the father’s ones. He feels too young to become a parent, and he also wants to become an engineer, meaning that he has to study and build a career. The child can be a barrier to achieving these goals as he/she demands much attention and money, meaning that Bob should find a job and forget about college or further studying. For this reason, his current position presupposing making abortion and moving forward to become successful members of a society and plan the family life carefully.

Pragmatic Vision

Bob’s view can be both ethical and unethical regarding the theory and values applied to analyze it. For instance, from the perspective of pragmatism, or pragmatic ethics, the decision to make an abortion can be acceptable and moral. This framework states that some proposition or idea is true if it works satisfactorily and can suffice regarding the current situation (Kaczor, 2011). In other words, contrary to deontology viewing any act as a result of the obligation to follow a specific set of rules, this theory is more focused on the consequences of a certain action and its long-term effects (Thompson, 1971). For Bob and Janice, the decision to save a child might introduce additional issues, problems, and challenges they are not ready to face. Moreover, the decision to give an infant for adoption might also cause harm to all parties. For this reason, using pragmatic thinking, Bob’s position becomes understandable.

Janice’s Position

Finally, Janice is the central figure in the given case, meaning that only she has the right to make a final decision. Her position is affected by several factors, which makes the situation even more complicated. First of all, she is influenced by religion as she has been raised as a Roman Catholic. It means that her mother’s ideas about abortion are close to her. Moreover, a priest in the church insists on saving a child as abortion is a mortal sin. At the same time, as a young and progressive girl, she realizes the need to make a career and build the basis for her successful future, and a baby can limit her opportunities. Finally, the position of the father and Bob also might be confusing for her. For this reason, Janice faces a complex ethical dilemma that can be viewed from different angles and presuppose various solutions.

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Feminist Perspective

First of all, it is critical to state that Janice has the right to control her own body and make the final solution regardless of other people’s recommendations. From the feminist perspective, any woman has the right to terminate the pregnancy as it is the basic aspect of reproduction control (Sherwin, 1991). It opposes the forced abortion or the forced birth, meaning that every woman should have access to voluntary, safe, effective, and in-time birth control (Sherwin, 1991). Additionally, abortion decisions should be based only on women’s visions and ideas, meaning that they should not be made under the pressure of society, stereotypes, or parents (Sherwin, 1991). Any female is free in her decision-making because she will experience all impacts of pregnancy and will have to care for a child (Sherwin, 1991). Under these conditions, Janice can listen to all close people’s recommendations; however, she should remember that no one can judge her for the solution and selected option.

Moreover, feminism offers a specific view on the fetus, its right to existence, and development. This paradigm recognizes the fact that it exists in the context of women’s bodies rather than in the imagined isolation, meaning that all pregnancies occur in the lives of particular females (Sherwin, 1991). This assumption preconditions the emergence of a specific view on the fetus and women’s rights to manage it. From this perspective, an embryo is not an individual placed in the female womb, and it cannot be considered a full person who can influence a mother’s life (Sherwin, 1991). This factor is vital for discussing the moral aspect of abortions and its acceptability by society.

Accepting this paradigm, it is possible to state that the feminists view the fetus as a vital, morally significant creature who should be respected (Sherwin, 1991). However, the status cannot be considered as an absolute one, and it depends on different situations (Sherwin, 1991). As against a woman, an embryo does not have an independent existence and free will, which is essential when thinking about abortion. Under these conditions, because of the relational status of the fetus, a woman has the right to manage her own body as it possesses all features of a person necessary for society and playing an important role in it.

Thus, through the lens of feminist ethics, moral discussion of abortion is accepted and should be the part of philosophic discussions. It leads to a better understanding of the role abortions play in society and women’s lives. Janice, as an independent and free woman, has the right to discuss all options related to her pregnancy and be free from social stereotypes or pressure. It means that the decision should be made regardless of her mother’s Catholic views or Bob and father’s ideas of a career. The discussions of the moral status of abortion in society can also be one of the factors pressing Janice and impacting her decision-making (Sherwin, 1991). However, a woman’s right to choose and manage their bodies means that only a female is responsible for the final decision its consequences, and it cannot be judged by others. Women’s liberation accepts the idea that the fetus cannot be more important than a female as it exists only in the context of her body, meaning that there is a space for discussion and other options.

Recommendations and Conclusion

In such a way, Janice has multiple options that are not limited by a dominant opinion. Making some recommendations for the girl, it is necessary to consider her vision and goals. However, considering the current situation, abortion might be the most beneficial option. First, Janice is too young and might not be ready to become a mother. Second, giving a child for adoption might be serious stress for the girl and cultivate the feeling of guilt and psychological problems. Third, Janice and Bob do not have sources of income to support a child as they are too young to have good and well-paid jobs. That is why they should build a career and become specialists with a stable financial position vital for raising a child. Finally, a lawyer’s work demands much time and effort, and a baby might limit Janice’s chances to succeed. For this reason, Janice can have an abortion, but only if she wants it.

Altogether, the case demonstrates the complexity of the discussed problem. The moral acceptability of abortions has always been a disputable issue. The religion views it as a mortal sin, while the development of feminist views and more tolerant philosophies provided the basis for discussion and new options available for women. Analyzing the case and positions of all participants, it is possible to conclude that Janice is the only person who has the right to make the final decision, and it cannot be judged by society or her family. Her goals and visions of the future should be the only factors affecting the choice and the life of the girl.


Belshaw, C. (2005). 10 good questions about life and death. Blackwell Publishing.

Glover, J. (1990). Causing Death and Saving Lives. Penguin Books.

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Kaczor, C. (2011). The ethics of abortion: Women’s rights, human life, and the question of justice. Routledge.

Kittay, E. (2009). The personal is philosophical is political: A philosopher and mother of a cognitively disabled person sends notes from the battlefield. Metaphilosophy, 40(3-4), 606-627.

Marquis, D. (1989). Why abortion is immoral. Journal of Philosophy, 86(4), 183-202.

McBryde Johnson, H. (2003). Unspeakable conversations. The New York Times. 1-18.

Sherwin, S. (1991). Abortion through a feminist ethics lens. Dialogue, 30(3), 327–342.

Thompson, J. (1971). A defense of abortion. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1(1), 47-66.

Vaughn, L. (2019). Bioethics: Principles, issues and cases (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

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