Fetal Development and Abortion

The controversial topic of abortion has been central to many medical and social discussions for many decades. As expected, many of the people on both sides of the argument feel very strongly about the subject, often using both reason and emotion, science and religion, to persuade the other side. Regardless of the laws, which vary locally, the question of the moral status of the baby at different stages of fetal development is a personal one.

As early as five weeks into a pregnancy, earlier than the strictest cut-offs for legal abortion, the ball of cells that will or will not eventually be born develops a heartbeat. Although the size of the “baby-in-the-making” barely exceeds the size of a seed, over the next few weeks it begins to develop facial features and distinctive body parts. At 10 weeks, the fetus has grown functional major organs, as well as fingernails and toenails. At 12 weeks the heartbeat can be heard on the monitors during check-ups. Although by the end of the first trimester the fetus resembles a human largely, saying that it has become a person severely diminishes the value of the human mind in favor of physical characteristics.

Although by the start of the second trimester the baby has functioning organs, is able to make facial expressions, and can even detect light, it does not make it a person. It is of human form, but the exact point during which it crosses the threshold from “cells” to “human” is difficult to determine. I would argue that the fetus gains enough moral status to be entitled to protection at 10 to 12 weeks, when the baby’s organs have formed, and the heartrate can be detected. However, it might be necessary in some situations to extend the deadline for ethical abortions, such as in the cases where the mother might die during birth, as well as the child. Nevertheless, the “hard cut-off” point should be at the point the fetus can survive outside the womb if born, since after that point it should no longer be considered abortion but, perhaps, euthanasia.

Morality is subjective and depends on the individual, hence why it is difficult to turn any moral judgements into ethics, the socially accepted and agreed upon by the majority standards. For the most part, today, it is considered both unethical and immoral to end the life of a baby that has already come out of its mother. On the other end of the spectrum, it is mostly not frowned upon to prevent the process of conception altogether with the use of various contraceptives. Although both extremes see outliers from the global trends depending on the culture, the main controversy comes from the gray area of fetal development.

The moral status of the fetus throughout the phases of development is difficult to define, among other things, because of the innately unethical nature of the question. By quantifying the human life, giving it a concrete definition, we diminish its value. Defining someone with working organs, for example, as a human being raises potential questions on the moral standings of people that are physically or mentally disabled or deficient. Furthermore, by making universal moral claims on the status of the fetus we are, perhaps, diminishing the value of life of the mother. In many cases, abortion is the way to save a life of the already living human being. Furthermore, with the many risks and struggles of life, it could be considered more ethical to not bring a baby into the world when unable to provide it with a comfortable living. It is in the human nature to protect its kin, but to prioritize a life that has not yet begun over an existent one is immoral.

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