Late Term Abortions and Ethical Dilemmas

Seminar Paper, 2016

10 Pages, Grade: A

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Morality and Late Stage Abortion

Late Stage Abortion and the Law

State Law

Pro-Choice Advocates Perspective:

Pro-Life Advocates Perspective:



Morality and Late Stage Abortion

First trimester abortions have had their fair share of contention between conservative anti-abortionists and liberal pro-choice advocates. Late term abortions, which are usually performed after 20 weeks gestation and considered vary rare, typically have most people with high moral human code enraged. Personally, I fare more towards the pro-choice forum when it comes to woman's rights issues as I feel it is a woman's right and her autonomy to choose the best course of action pertaining to her person. The question of morality from the standpoint of late term abortion has a good deal of ambiguity from an ethical standpoint and could very well shift the views of the most devout pro-choice advocate.

For this portfolio project I will discuss the moral consequences for both pro-life and pro-choice decisions, the conflict when more than one ethical principle is at stake and how set in stone ethical rules are when a sensitive human rights dilemma exists.

Late Stage Abortion and the Law

When considering the ethical dilemma on late stage abortions I have to consider the State Policies and State laws that have been implemented. It is important to consider all ethical views, not only from a personal perspective but also from the state level as the state level holds the highest of ethical standards and considerations when comprising laws that effect their population.

State Law

Sense the induction into the public view in 1973, through Roe vs Wade and a few other suits, the ethics on abortion have been mixed. The U.S. Supreme Court held that a woman's right to an abortion in not absolute and that states may restrict or ban abortions after fetal viability, provided that their policies meet certain requirements (Guttmacher Institute, 2015). The high court held that there are some ambiguities and or exceptions to the ruling above.

- Even after fetal viability, states may not prohibit abortions “necessary to preserve the life or health” of the woman.
- “health” in this context includes physical and mental health.
- Only the physician, in the course of evaluatingthe specific circumstances of an individual case, can define what constitutes “health” and when a fetus is viable.
- States may not require additional physicians to confirm the attending physician's judgment that the woman's life or the health is at risk in cases of medical emergency.

Currently, states have restrictions onlate-stage abortions procedures from the standpoint of viability of life or limits based on a specific gestational age. As of 2015, forty-three states prohibit some abortions after a certain point in pregnancy. Twenty-one impose prohibitions at fetal viability, three states impose prohibitions in the third trimester, 19 states impose prohibitions after a certain number of weeks (Guttmacher Institute, 2012).

Circumstances where late term abortion are considered, also vary from state to state. Twenty-six states allow late-term abortions to preserve the the life and health of the woman. Thirteen, against the constitution, ban late-stage abortions, except those performed to save the life or physical health of the woman. Finally there are four states, also against the constitution, that will allow late-stage abortion only to save the life of the woman and does not consider her long term health as an acceptable reason for abortion (Guttmacher Institute, 2012). In some states the requirement of a second physician is required for some instances of survival of the fetus and treatment and to certify that the abortion was medically necessary in all or some circumstances (Guttmacher Institute, 2012). See for per state policies.

Pro-Choice Advocates Perspective:

There seems to be some misconceptions on what the verbiage “pro-choice” means. Pro-choice doesn't mean what most think it means; pro-abortion, rather pro-choice occupies the middle ground of neither pro-abortion nor forced motherhood. The pro-choice movement supports and works towards the prevention of unwanted pregnancies, reduction of abortions, promotion of contraception, educating women and youth, and ensuring families have the resources necessary to raise happy, healthy children (Arthur, 2000).Pro-choice advocates feel that it is a woman's personal right to decide what is best for them given their personal situation.

Typically under this advocates opinion late-stage abortion should not be a state issue to weigh in on.With the Supreme Courts ruling during Roe v. Wade, a milestone was set with regard to woman's freedom and equality, and that a woman's health should always be protected (NARAL, para. 1)

Late-stage abortion is very rare; according to the Guttmacher Institute only 1.1 % of abortions, or 13,310 happen after twenty-one weeks. An even smaller margin at 25 weeks 1,700. A study performed by the Guttmacher Institute on the reasons why women haveabortions taking place after 16 weeks but before the consideration of late-stage abortion at 20 weeks; 71% of women state their reason for abortion is due to not recognizing that she was pregnant or misjudging gestation. Some 48% found it difficult to make arrangements for an abortion, while others didn't seek earlier treatment out of fear, indecisiveness, relationship issues, timing, and fetal problem diagnosis (Waldman, 2011). Due to the statistical nature of this study and that only 1.1% of women choose to have abortions after 20 weeks gestation I will have to assume that most of the 1.1% of late-stage abortions happen for reasons very different then the ones stated above. Many women are excited about pregnancy and look forward to their new found roles as mothers; however, for some of these women childbirth can mean enduring great risk to themselves and to their unborn babies due to many adverse health risks.

I had mentioned above that there are still four states in the U.S. , despite it's constitutionalviolation, have banned abortion regardless of the health consequences of the mother. Abortion restrictions that have no exceptions to protect woman's health are dangerous (NARAL, para.5) By not allowing health exceptions women who have high-risk pregnancies would be forced to continue the pregnancy at the expense of their own health and sometimes lives (NARAL, para 5) . Some examples of these health risks are as follows:

- Diabetes and cancer diagnosis during pregnancy can not only cause severe anomalies in the fetus but could also pose severe consequence to the mothers health. One in 3,000 pregnant women also have breast cancer during their pregnancy. Health considerations in these instances are absolutely necessary (NARAL, para 6&7).
- Heart disease and heart-valve disorders

Health exceptions considerations should also be made for mental-health problems that may occur in pregnancy andsevere fetal anomalies. These disorders could cause a tremendous amount of emotional stress on a pregnant woman and her family(NARAL, para.11).

Ethical Dilemma of Pro-Choice. There are two things to consider when asking yourself the implications of ethical values in late-stage abortions. One of course is the rights of the mother. Would taking away her right to abortion at any stage disagree with her autonomy? Would forced motherhood be in the interest of upholding non-maleficence and beneficence, “benefit only” or “to do no harm”, when clearly this woman has choose a different direction for her life. Equal rights also come to mind; how can we force a woman to become a mother but we cannot force a man to become a father? Statistically, 33% of women that opted for abortion did so because she was afraid or found it hard to tell her partner. 8% of women had hoped that their relationship would change (Waldman, 2011).

I truly believe that most late-stage abortions happen for reason other than the ones mentioned above, which with the violation of autonomy, beneficence and non-maleficence, that alone should make late stage abortion the decision of the woman's; however, the second consideration is the health of the woman and the ethical considerations for the unborn fetus should the act of childbirth cause that child a miserable existence due to abnormalities or complications that would cause the fetus to not live after birth. Non-Considerations for late-stage abortion would absolutely be outside of both the woman's right and the rights of the fetus. By allowing health risk of any kind to the woman would be in violation of beneficence, non-maleficence and justice. Allowing a fetus to be born with major and un-survivable issues is cruel,outside of human compassion and also is in violation of beneficence, non-maleficence and justice.

Even though I have made a decent argument that not allowing a woman the right to choose what is best for her body and life is against her autonomy for sure and a bit of ambiguity to the values of beneficence and non-maleficence; I also have to consider the fetus should it be healthy andviable. Stated in our text, Health Care Ethics, chapter 5; fundamentalist Jerry Farwell insisted that unborn babies were the last disenfranchised minority- vote-less, voiceless, and unprotected in the most basic of civil liberties. Is there truth to this? If not allowing a healthy viable baby the right to be born be considered a violation of that humans autonomy? By choosinglate-stage abortion for mere convenience even though the fetus is viable and healthy considered a violation of beneficence and non-maleficence as this choice in no way benefits the fetus and could be considered doing harm to a viable human. These theorieswill be weighed and my personal determination of the topic will be addressed in the conclusion of this paper.

Pro-Life Advocates Perspective:

Continuing on the debate, the pro-life position is that a new human life is created the moment of fertilization and is entitled to the same legal and ethical protection as any other human being. Pro-life advocates look very closely to the link between what is considered a human life and scientific evidence. The pro-lifers make a very clear distinction that a new human zygote has a genetic composition that is absolutely unique from itself, different from any other human, including that of it's mother (Schwarzwalder, 2015).They feel that it is quite clear that the earliest human embryo is biologically alive and fulfills the criteria needed to establish biological life; metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli and reproduction (Schwarzwalder, 2015).

The Family Research Council, which is a supporter of pro-life and claims to be as big of a supporter or pro-women, state that “ women deserve better than abortion”, and that abortion is not an act of empowerment but rather the result of abandonment, betrayal, and desperation that has had a negative impact on their lives (Schwarzwalder, 2015). Feminist for Life, another pro-life advocate, agrees with the Family research Council and feels that abortion is a reflection that society has failed to meet the needs of women.

When it comes to the basic principles outlined under pro-choice, to consider late-stage abortions for ANY reason would constitute in the abandonment of their ethics and principles. The considerations that pro-life constituents take is that there is no moral ambiguity. By not allowing a human life to be born because of anomalies would be the same thing is allowing someone to murder a5 year old for having been handicap (Crutcher, 2007).

Pro-choice and pro-life advocates both have a common ground when it comes to the question about what is constitutional in terms of violating a persons constitutional rights would also be in violation ofa persons ethical values.The fifth amendment to the U.S. Constitution says that no person shall be deprived of his or her life without due process of the law. If the establishment was made on whether or not a human fetus could be considered a human life it would evaporate abortion at any stage for any reason (Crutcher, 2007).

People are very divided on whether legislation should be involved on a woman's right to start a family. Pro-choice defenders feel as if the state took away her right to her own choice that they would be denying her justice and autonomy and in some cases causing her harm. The pro-life defenders take the stand that because life is created from the moment of conception, the government not only has a the right to intervene on behalf of the unborn child it has an obligation (Crutcher, 2007).

Ethical Dilemma of Pro-Life. Very different from the pro-life standpoint, there is not a great deal of ambiguity when it comes to the ethical principles outlined by pro-life campaigners. Its very simple, life begins at conception and anomalies during gestation does not give anyone the right to “kill” another human being; however, as explained by Focus on the Family, it would not be considered immoral fora woman to accept treatment that is necessary to save her life, but which may endthe life of her pre-born child. This distinction, as with pro-choice supporters, inevitably puts the life of the mother ahead of the life of an unborn child should the life of the mother be at risk. Focus on the Family makes it very clear that there is a difference between the “life” and the “health” of the mother and abortions should never be considered for the “health” of the mother. They feel there is a great deal of ambiguity in these phrases and by allowing abortion for health reasons could imply that discomfort experienced during childbirth and pregnancy could warrant an elective abortion.


Both sides of this debate can make very clear and concise arguments to the topic of abortion in general. When it comes to the topic of late-stage abortion both sides of this fence cringe at the thought of having to make a decision. When assessing both sides of the issue I have found that the mother's life is of the utmost importance; therefore, allowing the autonomy to make the choice. If situations during late-stage pregnancy arise that could have contributing factors on the health of the woman it would be in support of beneficence and non-maleficence, justice and her autonomy to make a decision for her life and for her health.

But what of the fetus you ask? Doesn't the fetus have rights being it is a human being? These questions also must be considered in late-stage abortion issues. There are many contributing factors that play a role in the ethics of these factors.I will first state my feelings on late-term abortion from the standpoint of a healthy woman and a healthy fetus. Late-stage abortion is considered an abortion after 20 weeks. At 20 weeks of pregnancy the heart is developed and beating, a human-like form has begun to take shape, you can determine the sex of the child, brain development has begun, this “fetus” at this point, in my eyes, is human. The human fetus should be allowed the same rights as any other human being. By not considering the human rights and support late-stage abortion for any other reason but convenience is against the autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice of that unborn child. I have always considered my self pro-choice and nothing has changed, even from this scenario. The healthy unborn fetus also has the rights for those same choices once the fetus is considered living, after 20 weeks. I do not feel as if violation of rights would occur for the mother other than autonomy. In this instance, there is far more ethical dilemma and rights violations against the unborn, viable fetus. I guess I would put it that the majority of ethical violations rule in this case.

I feel very different when it comes to the ethical conundrums with regard to the health of the mother or the quality of life for the unborn fetus. Should a woman be stripped of her rights to an abortion if her health and life are at risk you would be in violation of all her rights. I also feel the same as to let the woman decide should major anomalies develop in her fetus that would cause the child discomfort and minimal quality of life expectancy. The morality in this situation would be the quality of life for the fetus. If the fetus was to be born and would experience a miserable existence, by not choosing to end the pregnancy would be against beneficence and non-maleficence as this child as well as the mother and family would endure a great deal of suffering. I take a utilitarian approach when it comes to this later example as the choice that would be the best would be of benefit to most; the family, the mother and especially the unborn fetus.

As you can see that ethical rules are not as binding as one would think. They are clearly guidelines that need to be followed that is met with an outcome that is in the best interest of all involved. Autonomy alone should not overlook the importance of all the other ethical factors. As stated above the larger violation should have precedence over a singular violation for the standpoint of ethical question. You cannot look at moral obligations and ethics in a vacuum, there are considerations that could change your values based on who it will effect.


Arthur, J. (2000). Pro Choice Action Network. What pro-choice really means. [WEB] Retrieved on September, 23, 2015 from

Crutcher, M. (2007). Life Dynamics. Pro-life: What does it really mean. [WEB] Retrieved on September 24, 2015 from

Focus on the Family. (2015) Abortion and “health of the mother”. [WEB] Retrieved onSeptember 24,2015 from

Guttmacher Institute. 92015) State Policies in Brief. State policies on later abortions. [WEB]Retrieved on September 23, 2015

Morrison, E. et al. (2012). Health Care Ethics. Critical issues for the 21st century.(7th ed.) Jonesand Bartlett Learning. Burlington, MA.

NARAL Pro-Choice America. (2015). Abortion bans without exceptions endanger women's health. [WEB] Retrieved on September 24, 2015 from

Schwarzwalder, R. (2015). Family Research Council. The best pro-life arguments for secular audiences. [WEB] Retrieved on September 23, 2015 from

Waldman, S. (2011). Huffington Post. The inconvenient truths (for both sides) about late term abortions. [WEB] Retrieved on September 23, 2015 from

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Late Term Abortions and Ethical Dilemmas
Colorado State University
HSM 410
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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486 KB
Abortion, Ethics, Healthcare, Colorado State University global Campus, Gretchen Dade, Colorado, Decision making
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Gretchen Dade (Author), 2016, Late Term Abortions and Ethical Dilemmas, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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