In Virginia the Republican-dominated legislature earlier this year wrote legislation that requires "women to have a transvaginal ultrasound before they may have an abortion," (Glionna, 2012). The idea behind this legislation is apparently that when a woman sees the picture created by the ultrasound she will see a fetus and perhaps feel so guilty she won't want to carry through with the abortion. Or her moral side will kick in, and she will change her mind. Is it ethical for lawmakers to force a woman to have an ultrasound prior to a legal abortion? That in itself is another questions to be pondered; in the case of Virginia, the governor, Republican Bob McDonnell "ultimately rejected the mandatory transvaginal procedure" (Glionna, p. 1).
In Mississippi, a very conservative state, where some of the strictest anti-abortion laws are already in place, a piece of legislation is on the governor's desk awaiting his signature. That law would "shut down the state's only clinic" that offers abortions for women, Glionna continues. Critics of that legislation assert that "many poor women" will be forced into "seeking risky illegal abortions" (Glionna, p. 1).
Planned Parenthood has advocated against the Arizona legislation, suggesting that residents of Arizona could face the same "crisis" as a woman in Nebraska who was "forced to continue a pregnancy even after a health crisis meant that she was going to lose the baby (Glionna, p. 2). The woman, Danielle Deaver, was forced under Nebraska's 20-week abortion ban law to deliver the baby, albeit she knew the infant would die "minutes after birth" because her doctor worried that he might be prosecuted if he assisted in any way with her abortion (Glionna, p. 2). Deaver wrote the following letter to Arizona's governor Brewer:
"Because lawmakers in my home state of Nebraska passed this sweeping abortion ban, my family's personal loss a year and a half ago became a nightmare. That my pregnancy ended, that choice was made by God. How to handle the end of my pregnancy, that should have been private. But the decision that should have remained mine and my husband's at a very difficult time was decided for us -- and it was decided by politicians we'd never met" (Glionna, p. 2).
Deaver's tragic loss opens another angle into the ethical debate over abortion. Does a legislature have the ethical right to dictate terms of pregnancy to a woman whose pregnancy is already in trouble? Conservative lawmakers believe they have the moral right to come between a woman's right to choose and her own body, and in doing so they can be challenged on the same moral and ethical grounds they use to justify their extreme legislation.
Meanwhile professor of philosophy Bertha Alvarez Manninen (Arizona State University) discusses that very law in Nebraska that Danielle Deaver got caught up in. Manninen explains that when the Nebraska lawmakers passed the law, those legislators were actually "decreasing the window for abortion by 5 weeks, into the second trimester" albeit the most common medically accepted window of time for a safe abortion had been 25 weeks (Manninen, 2010, p. 33). The point of Manninen's article in the peer-reviewed publication The American Journal of Bioethics is that she has several serious concerns that are shared by others in this milieu; one is that the "anti-choice advocates are becoming increasingly emboldened in their efforts to pass Human Life Amendments." Manninen knows full well that the activists in the pro-life movement are not shy about admitting they ultimately hope to undue Roe v. Wade. She mentions two important legal cases -- Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey (1992) -- that in fact reaffirmed the right to an abortion but "made it easier for individual states to impose restrictions on abortion access" (Manninen, 34).
Based on those two court decisions, several states have taken the opportunity to impose more restrictions -- enacting laws that mandate pre-abortion counseling -- including: Wisconsin, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, South Carolina, and South Dakota. The women who are planning to terminate their pregnancies are read a "state-prepared script meant to warn them about the dangers of abortionthe psychological, physical, and emotional harm that can come from abortion" (Manninen, 34). Those thirteen states do not mention the "psychological, physical, and emotional harms that can come from childbirth and undesired parenthood," Manninen continues, noting that these thirteen states also require a 24-hour waiting period after the woman has been read the state's official anti-abortion narrative.
Manninen's second major concern in this discussion is that it appears the "pro-choice community is gradually losing the public relations battle" (34). She noticed this because her students in many instances would bring up what they believed was the "callousness with which many of those who espouse the position regard nascent human life" (34) These students had apparently read the narratives of some pro-choice advocates like Mary Anne Warren, who have claimed that late term fetuses are "no more developed than guppies" and that getting an abortion is as "morally innocuous as getting a haircut" (Manninen, 34). On page 43, Manninen insists that just because she is "pro-choice" does not mean she is "pro-abortion," since being pro-abortion implies that the act of abortion is "welcomed, encouraged, or celebrated" and that is not at all how the professor feels about abortion.
At the conclusion of her scholarly article, Manninen hopes that some "common ground" can be found between advocates and opponents of abortion rights. She agrees with what Barack Obama said when he was campaigning for the presidency, and she paraphrases Obama from his position in 2008: "What are the best ways to reduce the number of abortions so that they become increasingly rare?" Manninen -- no doubt speaking for herself -- asserts that just because one supports abortion rights doesn't mean that same person devalues fetal life (46).
Meanwhile professor Nathan Nobis (in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy) takes issue with a previous article by Francis Beckwith (in this same peer-reviewed journal). Nobis rejects Beckwith's core premise that: "The unborn entity, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community"; in other words, Nobis writes, according to Beckwith's viewpoint "the fetus has basic moral rights, is a person, is a moral subject and is intrinsically valuable, morally" (Nobis, 2011, p. 261).
Beckwith's argument is based on "a metaphysics of the human person" that is commonly known as "The Substance View" (Nobis, 262). But Nobis begs to differ with Beckwith, because Nobis' view is that "metaphysics does not support his abortion ethic"; instead of metaphysics, the "Substance View" is based on moral claims, Nobis insists. Hence, Beckwith's argument does not support the "Substance View" (262). An example of the Substance View is that if Christopher Reeve was "identical to his embryonic self, then we were no more justified in killing an embryo to acquire its stem cells so Mr. Reeve might walk again than we would be in stealing Mr. Reeve's eyes so Stevie Wonder might see again" (Nobis quoting Beckwith, 263).
However, Nobis points to scientific research that has empirically discovered the following: fetuses lack "consciousness or sentience prior to, at the earliest, 18 weeks of development"; and moreover, about 99% of all abortions in the U.S. are performed "well before this time" (264). Hence, an argument can be made -- based on "Mentalism" -- that "beings that have never had mental liveslack moral rights, are not persons, are not moral subjects," Nobis asserts (264). Beckwith has issues with Mentalism which Nobis uses several pages of his article to rebut.
But what is most poignant in Nobis' retraction of Beckwith's assertions is when Beckwith says that "metaphysicsoffers questions having to do with the ultimate grounding and nature of things in the world" (Nobis, 271). And so, Beckwith contends, the morality of abortion depends on the "nature" of the unborn; but Nobis notes that this is true with "nearly everything" -- indeed structural engineering depends on the nature of building materials and cooking depends on the nature of foods (271). Hence, Nobis is pointing to the circular, apparently pithy argument against abortion rights that Beckwith embraces by tossing metaphysics into the discussion.
In conclusion, it is the position of this paper, based on the ethical points raised, that Roe v. Wade is justified -- and should be left intact -- as a law that protects a woman's right to choose to terminate her pregnancy. But moreover, both sides of the issue should try to find common ground and should seek ways to reduce the number of abortions. This paper strongly agrees with a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Religious Health (Stephens, et al., 2009) that "for many women, religious doctrine…