Ethical and legal issues in relation to Abortion


The concept of abortion is a very sensitive and controversial ethical and legal issue which members of the society hold different views. Each side in the argument for and against abortion has important ethical and legal insights that might require paying attention, even if other insights outweigh arguments of the other side. The ongoing debates on abortion in regard to ethical and legal aspects may relate to conscience and choice. According to Australian legislation, abortion is legal when performed by doctors who are certified and perform the act only on licensed premises (Dean & Allanson, 2004). Thus women may do abortion in a lawful way. This essay will discuss the ethical and legal issues relevant to abortion and the relationship between them. It will also discuss theories of ethics and personal position in the relation to abortion.

The principal ethical considerations in abortion include the status of the fetus and the right of a woman who is pregnant. In determining the moral position of the fetus, the question that arises is whether the fetus is a person or not? In this case, it would be necessary to determine the stage of the fetus’ development becomes a person (Hinman, 2001). This relates to the concept of personhood which serves as a bridge explaining the fact that fetus has the right to life. Thus, when the fetus is considered to be a person, it should be given the necessary rights as other persons, such as the right to life (Kerridge, Lowe & Stewart, 2013). In addition, there is debate on what stage the fetus feels pain to permit abortion. While others argue that the fetus feels pain when it reaches ten weeks, others believe that it is likely to feel pain at 26 weeks gestation. Still, others argue that period lies between, without specifying the exact period (Hinman, 2001). Whatever standpoint, it is necessary for doctors, when performing a surgical procedure on abortion, to be careful to reduce risk of pain on the fetus.

Another ethical consideration in the debate on abortion is about the rights of a woman who is pregnant. This concerns the extent to which the pregnant woman can make decisions in regards to whether or not to carry the baby to term. According to the British Medical Association (2007) the society considers that the decision to perform an abortion is within the woman’s and doctors’ capacity. However, according to legal framework, the partner to the woman has no right to refuse or demand the woman to terminate a pregnancy. Ideally, it is appropriate for women to discuss the plans to terminate a pregnancy with their partners. Nevertheless, in case a woman does not want to share such information with her spouse or partner, there is need to maintain confidentiality unless otherwise (Kerridge et al., 2013). Still on the issue of confidentiality, it is expected that doctors will not disclose any health information considered personal to a third person without the knowledge of patient, in this case a woman who have done an abortion (BMA, 2007). Thus, women who have the intention to carry out an abortion would be interested in maintaining confidentiality of the situation and doctors are expected to be sensitive such concerns.

Another relevant issue relevant to abortion is the double effect principle. Under this principle, four conditions have to be met in relation to abortion. First, any action performed by an individual must be morally good, if not so, morally neutral. Second, when performing an action, there must be no intention for bad consequences. Third, the good consequences for an action must be in similar proportion to the bad consequences and lastly, bad consequences do not directly lead to good consequences (Hinman, 2001). In some situations, abortion is linked with sex selection, whereby some people are concerned that tying to determine whether the sex of the fetus by use of some techniques could result to sex selection, which could likely bring about fewer female babies due to bias (Kaczor, 2013). All in all, a common ground must be sought about the issue of abortion.

The law in Australia brought about pathologisation of women by the medical fraternity. In the Australian society, women are considered to as inherently destructive and seductive in the extent that laws should control their reproductive acts. Unlike their male counterparts, women are not trusted in deciding about their fertility (Dean & Allanson, 2004). In case of abortion, women are required to seek consent from their doctors before they can terminate pregnancy. In Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, abortion is allowed in some situations but women have to convince their doctors to be allowed to terminate pregnancy. However, in the Northern Territory and South Australia, abortion is only prohibited upon agreement by two doctors on the fact that when the pregnancy is continued it would put the life of the woman to greater risk (Dean & Allanson, 2004).

For a long time, women’s rights have been discarded in favor of the rights of the fetus. In deed, legal judgments have over time denied women their right in order to protect the right to life of the fetus. In other words, the woman has been dehumanized while the fetus have been humanize, a situation that has often resulted to conflict of interest as to whether Fetus rights or women’s rights should be preserved (McSherry, 2002). The conflict is even more forceful when the decisions made by women are likely to harm the fetus. For example, the courts in the United States have demonstrated the enthusiasm to override the decision by women to avoid going through a caesarean section or even failure to go for treatment so the life of fetus can be saved. This is evident in a case where the Courts in the United States ordered a woman who was pregnant to undergo a caesarean section based on the fact that the woman could not decline medical treatment because her religion does not allow (Jefferson, 1981 cited in Dean & Allanson, 2004).

As we consider the controversial issue of abortion, it is necessary to reflect on two aspects. The first one is whether or not abortion is ethically wrong and second, whether abortion should be illegal. According to Hinman (2001) these are two different issues. The fact is that not everything considered immoral is definitely illegal. For example, it is immoral to be unfaithful in marriage, but this does not mean that it should be made illegal. Therefore, in certain circumstances, a distinction between ethical and legal obligations can actually be made (Hinman, 2001). Considering the issue of abortion, some things which do not fall in the legal scope of conscience, such as completing abortion form, can be considered to be part of the procedure involved in abortion (BMA, 2007). In this regard, it can be argued that it is moral to complete the abortion form as provided for in the conscience clause. However, other procedures to the abortion process, such as clerking the patient in, are not major and are morally and legally outwith the span of the conscience. Ultimately, it would be appropriate for health professionals who are not happy with termination pregnancy to take care of women undergoing the process (O’Brien, 2008). However, they may be forced to care for women concerned by not being judgmental just in case such task cannot be avoided.

Arguments concerning abortion take different positions including arguments for, arguments against and the middle position arguing that abortion is can be practiced in certain situations (BMA, 2007). However, this essay considers the first two stances on abortion. First, let us consider the arguments in support of abortion. Individuals who support abortion believe that it is not wrong to terminate pregnancy and should not entail consequences that are not desirable. Therefore, their arguments do not acknowledge the rights of the fetus or the idea that the fetus is a person. The consider abortion to be an issue to do with the right of women to take control over their own body therefore they can decide to perform an abortion as they so wish (Jones & Chaloner, 2007). Advocates for morality who evaluate peoples’ actions by the resulting consequences alone may attempt to equate abortion to intentionally failing to conceive a child because of the use of contraceptives, thus seeing no problem with abortion. Some people who support abortion argues that even if the fetus is a person, their rights are not comparable to those of people who are already born; therefore its life can be terminated to safeguard the life of the mother (Jones & Chaloner, 2007). All in all, people who support abortion base their arguments on the fact that women have the right to chose what takes place to their body in what is commonly referred as ‘choice’.

Unlike the proponents of abortion, some people consider abortion to be wrong in whichever circumstances due to the fact that it does not recognise the fetus’ rights. They also oppose abortion because it does not recognise the belief in sanctity of human life (BMA, 2007). People who consider embryo to be a human being having complete moral status, right from the time of conception, view abortion as murder just as any other person can be murdered. They believe that women who terminate pregnancy should encounter legal repercussions irrespective of whether they are experiencing difficulties in life (Jones & Chaloner, 2007). Most agreements against abortion are based on moral or religious convictions that life of all human beings has unassailable intrinsic value. This should not be reduced any suffering or impairment likely to be involved for a person’s life (BMA, 2007). Also, some people oppose abortion because it puts the life of a mother at risk.

Irrespective of the above positions on abortion, my person position in relation to abortion is that it is not unethical to perform the procedure; however the justifications for the same should be proportionate with the consequences. Just like other patients, women have the right to receive objective medical care and advice irrespective of health professionals’ views for or against abortion. In deed, ant health professional who in the course of their duty, fails to refer or delays to provide appropriate medical care making it difficult for a woman to obtain a termination should be sued for damages. Ideally, most women who seek for abortion are desperate and it would be appropriate for the society to allow them access abortion services in a safe environment and should be monitored and regulated. However, abortions considered as ‘back-street’ practices must not be allowed because of the poor conditions in which they performed.

Some of the theoretical perspectives on ethics relevant to this discussion are Consequentialism and utilitarianism theories. Consequentialism theory holds that many actions on consequences depend on consequences that are not moral that are brought about by the action (Kaczor, 2010). The theory considers morality of an action to involve both evil and good the action produces. According to the theory, people should perform only right actions in regard to good and evil. This is because there is no objective good and evil or right and wrong (Beauchamp, Bowie & Arnold, 2004). On the other hand, utilitarianism theory is based on the argument that the moral standard should aim at promoting the best long-term interests of all persons concerned. People who believe in utilitarianism argue that something intrinsically good is happiness and pleasure. This theoretical perspective aims at producing the greatest good for many people in the society (Attiyya, 2010). Although these theories of ethics are helpful in determining different ethical positions on abortion, they are not very useful in determining my own position.


Conclusively, the issue of abortion raises different arguments in support and against the procedure. People who support abortion believe that the woman has the right to make decision on her own body and they consider fetus not to have rights as other human beings. However, those who oppose abortion argue that the fetus has rights like just like the rights people have been born enjoy and termination of pregnancy is murder and concerned women should be held responsible under the courts of law. The writer’s argument on abortion is that it should not be viewed as unethical in itself; however, the justifications for terminating pregnancy should be proportionate with the consequences. Nevertheless, the decision to perform an abortion is not easy. It is necessary for patients and health professionals to ensure that the decision to terminate pregnancy is supported by right counseling and information concerning possible options and repercussions for the same.


Attiyya, A. (2010). Virtue ethics & abortion. Publications Oboulo. com.

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BMA (British Medical Association) (2007). The law and ethics of abortion. Department of Medical Ethics, London.

Dean, R. E., & Allanson, S. (2004). Abortion in Australia: access versus protest. Journal of law and medicine, 11(4), 510-515.

Hinman, L. M. (2001). Abortion: An Overview of the Ethical Issues.

Jones, K., & Chaloner, C. (2007). Ethics of abortion: the arguments for and against. Nursing standard, 21(37), 45-48.

Kaczor, C. (2010). The Ethics of Abortion.

Kaczor, C. (2013). The ethics of abortion: women’s rights, human life, and the question of justice. Routledge.

Kerridge, I., Lowe, M., & Stewart, C. (2013). Ethics and Law for the Health Professions (4th ed.). Annandale, NSW: The Federation Press.

McSherry, B. (2002). Legal Issues in Reproductive Rights. Journal of Law and Medicine, 9(3), 266-270.

O’Brien, J. (2008). Presenting the case for conscience. BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service), Abortion, Ethics, Conscience and Choice.

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