Different Views on Abortion

This week’s readings shed light on a very controversial topic in our world today.  In Hadley Arkes’ piece, he writes about abortion in an instructive manner that touch upon key elements of argumentation.  Early on in the reading, Harkes declares that the human life, and the right to law, are a matter of theology (360).  He furthers this by saying that, “it has become common public figures to declare in public that “they personally disapprove” of abortion, but that abortion is a “deeply religious and moral question,” and therefore that the laws should not impose an official policy on this matter” (361).  I found this to be quite interesting and prevalent to our world today, since the topic of abortion poses both a political and religious problem for high-up officials.  Although it is unproductive for the progression of whether abortion should be legal or illegal, it is advantageous for politicians to place the power in the hands of the mother and her religious values.  Instead of implementing something that changes the lives of all people, both good and bad, politicians declare the right to choice.


When discussing the case of Roe vs. Wade, Arkes breaks down the decision that was made in regards to when a human life begins.  More over, the fact that a human’s beginning means the ability for protection by law, and the effect that this has on abortion.  With the technology that we currently have, it is possible to save the lives of many of these embryos that will become humans with the proper, continuous process of growth. Another interesting point that Arkes brings up is the “benchmark of twenty-four weeks” that Blackmun set when specifying the viability and recognition of a child.  Consequently, “Blackmun and his colleagues had framed a momentous decision without even bothering to draw on the most informed technical understanding available to them”(376).  This decision and the technology at hand create a technological fallacy when speaking of viability.  He mentions that if the Roe vs. Wadecase, “really accepted the notion that fetuses may be protected by the law when they are “viable,” then that decision contains the grounds for its own dissolution as our technology makes it possible to rescue these threatened fetuses almost at the very beginning” (377). Modern-day technology has created the possibility for a human life to be established through other means at a very early stage in the pregnancy.  The takeaway here is the questioning of when a fetus gains the equal rights as the mother. This is seen in Judith Jarvis Thompson’s work, “A Defense of Abortion.”


Thompson does say that a fetus does become a person prior to the birth, but there is no specific point in which it can be marked simply because the process is nonstop.  One thing is for certain and that is a fetus is a person, and a person has rights. Both the mother and the child have the right to life, but there are instances in which one must sacrifice the other.  With the example of the woman who would die due to her cardiac condition if she gave birth to her child, Thompson poses some thought-provoking questions.  Her conclusion from these questions was that a mother is performing an abortion on herself, and therefore has the right to do what she sees fit.  Thompson states that, “it cannot seriously be thought to be murder if the mother performs an abortion on herself to save her life.  It cannot seriously be said that she must refrain, that she must sit passively by and wait for her death” (52).  It would be one thing if a person murdered a completely separate individual, but the idea of an abortion creates much more room for debate since it is the woman who is housing the fetus.


In Ginsburg’s reading, we are able to get some clarification on the difference between pro-life and pro-choice, something that is crucial in the debate on abortion.  Pro-choice activists see abortion as an, “essential safeguard against the differential effects of pregnancy on men and women” (7).  As seen in her example of rape, Thompson cites that abortion is beneficial in that aspect. This counteracts the view of the pro-life activist, who preach that women are distinguished from men due to their ability to become pregnant and assume the role of mother.  As we have seen in prior week’s readings, becoming a mother is an extremely coveted position in certain religions, and it is clearly wrong from these perspective to abort a child as that would take away this role.  In the end, for Ginsburg, she notes that pro-life and pro-choice activists come together at the end of the day to support the livelihood and well-being of women regardless of the view on abortion.  The opening of the Women’s health organization is a great example of both sides coming together.

4 Replies to “Different Views on Abortion”

  1. Ben,

    Thanks for a thoughtful blog post. You did a great job of introducing the key idea behind the reading at the beginning and smoothly progressing into the controversy that has clouded abortion for such a long period of time. As you mentioned, it’s interesting how Hadley Arkess’s declares that human life is a matter of theology. He blatantly wants his audience to view human life under a theological lens in order to facilitate a more accurate discussion of abortion, yet I don’t like how he does this. I feel that viewing human life solely under a theological lens can result in a bias discussion of abortion in the sense that it could blind people from the positive aspects of abortion and force them to focus on how abortion is foul and the destruction of life. For example, in the situation of a woman who gets pregnant by accident, or a couple that wants an abortion in order to not have a child with birth defects, abortion could be a very viable solution, yet if you only view life through a theological lens it could be very hard for one to see abortion as such a solution.

    Moreover, I really liked how you suggested that it is advantageous for politicians to place legal power in the hands of mother’s in order to more accurately sway the legal discussion surrounding abortion. I strongly believe in a woman’s right to choose and don’t think there should be concrete laws surrounding abortion because so many unique situations or problems can occur in which abortion could be a very viable solution, as I mentioned above.

    Lastly, you did a good job of transitioning from here into a discussion of legal examples like the Roe V Wade case and Judith Jarvis Thompson’s writing. Overall, great post!

  2. Hi Benjamin,

    Thanks for your post and summaries of the readings. In your last paragraph, you mention that being a mother is incredibly important in certain religions and cultures, a concept I did not initially think about while reading Ginsburg’s book or the articles. Although a main idea of Ginsburg’s book is qualifying both pro-choice and pro-life groups as seeking the best interests of a woman regardless of her opinion on abortion, the fact that there is even debate surrounding the rights and life of a fetus indicates underlying societal influences present.

    With new technology, people’s traditional kinship systems and ways of life become threatened, as we’ve seen in various readings throughout the course. I would even argue that such a perspective prompts theories such as Arkes’s and Thomson’s to have a place in discussions. In a different class I am this semester (along with a few others in our class), we were discussing just today the criminalization of pregnancy and women’s autonomies. Our professor informed us that only in the past one hundred years or so have fetuses begun to have a place in discussion and politics. Advances in science and their widespread use certainly complicate societal structures and norms. When discussing kinship and abortion, it is also important to remember populations with access to abortion services and the disparities present in the United States’ healthcare system that allow women to even consider abortion as a possibility rather than a choice.

  3. Hey Benjamin! Thanks for your post. You highlighted the main concepts from each reading very well. One thing that I thought was really interesting was the point you brought up about abortion being a safeguard against the differential effects of pregnancy on men and women. That’s a framework from which I had never thought about abortion until reading Ginsburg’s book. As Elizabeth mentioned, we’re in another class together in which we were discussing similar topics and I agree with her that they mesh very well. There is a lot of importance, especially from religious lenses, placed on women as mothers but this is not always beneficial. The label of being a “bad mother” if a woman has an abortion, is a drug user, etc is a very detrimental stigma. The abortion debate and politicization of women’s bodies removes their autonomy to make decisions based on the situation they are dealing with.

  4. Thank you for your post. Like the others it was very well thought out and gave a lot of good details. I think you do a good job of showing the differences between Arkes and Thompsons arguments. However, you claim that a fetus is certainly a person, and I don’t know if I completely agree with this comment. I am not saying your wrong, but that is a large accusation to just throw out there. I would be more inclined to agree with you based of Arkes argument that the fetus is a human, not a person. A person has conscious thought and ambitions, however, a fetus does not have these qualities, much like someone in a comma doesn’t have these qualities. I think you do a good job of giving an overall gist of the Ginsburg reading, however I think that Ginsburg gives an account that deviates from moral reasoning and logic, and focuses more on social discourse. I believe that her overall incentive in publishing this book was just to expose the early beginnings of what the abortion topic is in todays society, and how individuals (particularly white midwestern woman in Fargo) aligned themselves in the topic of abortion. Thanks again.

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