The Different View On Abortion In Austriaco And O’Brien’s Works

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Yes, women should have the right to abortion. No, it is the murdering of innocent humans. So which is it: pro-life or pro-choice? Abortion is a complex topic: there is no black and white because both views have exceptions. Nicanor Pier Giorgio Austriaco of Biomedicine and Beatitude: An Introduction to Catholic Bioethics focuses on pro-life, while George Dennis O’Brien of The Church and Abortion: A Catholic Dissent discusses both sides.

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According to Catholic Church’s teachings, Austriaco thinks abortion is morally impermissible with the exception of certain circumstances. He states that one must be familiar with the term, human dignity to understand the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding the human being. “Human dignity is intrinsic…a quality that is inherent, essential, and proper to the thing… [and] is constitutive of human identity itself,” thus Austriaco believes that the fetus has human dignity and should be considered a human being at the start of fertilization (44-45). However, pro-choice advocates say life does not begin until post-conception. The author further rebuts this claim by citing the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith: “From the time that the ovum is fertilized…it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already” (51). Abortion is therefore impermissible in Austriaco’s eyes.

The author also states that abortion after rape is immoral because the “sexual violation, no matter how despicable cannot justify the killing of the innocent child…” (61). He admits this is a complex issue, but the decision to abort does not eradicate the psychological issues that arise from rape. It will just prevent the healing process (61). Before reading “Bioethics at the Beginning of Life,” I thought abortion after rape would be one of the few circumstances in which abortion is permissible. The author clearly thinks otherwise and I disagree. I think it is permissible for women to seek an abortion after rape, especially if they are psychologically unstable. In addition to mental instability, other factors such as cultural and financial conditions should be taken into account. Carrying the baby to full term under unfavorable circumstances would only jeopardize the mother’s health and the potential baby’s health. However, I do agree with Austriaco that a majority of women choose to abort because they are scared of what lies ahead after the baby is born. In fact, most women who abort probably only think of the “bad” changes that come with a newborn. In this situation, I agree with the author that counseling and support is needed “to give a woman reasons that would strengthen her fortitude…[and] help her understand that there are certain goods in life, in this case, the life of her child and the happiness that this child could bring…that outweigh important but lesser goods, like the physical comfort and well-being…of her pregnancy” (71). In the end however, the final decision of whether to continue with abortion or not should be the pregnant women’s.

While Austriaco clearly demonstrates himself as a pro-life advocate, George Dennis O’Brien is rather vague on his stance. O’Brien presents both sides equally, but he seems to side with pro-choice a little more. He thinks both pro-life and pro-choice are too focused on the rights: “right to life, [and] right to choose” (62). Both groups are neglecting other important factors that affect the moral assessment of abortion (61). Pro-life supporters, like Austriaco believe that “forty million babies have died since Roe because forty million abortions have been performed” (71). O’Brien counters this claim by stating that “90 percent plus of induced abortions occur very early in pregnancy, [so] it is highly unlikely that the majority of the forty million would have made it to birth” (71). O’Brien’s point is valid, but knowing that the forty million would not have made it to birth does not justify the forty million abortions that occurred after Roe vs. Wade. Majority of those abortions may have been done with immoral excuses, such as sex choice. Overall, I do not think the statistics of abortion provide a strong support for neither sides.

O’Brien also notes that many anti-abortion arguments are derived from biblical citations, which might help pro-choice more than it does pro-life. The most common biblical citations that indicate the “personhood” of a fetus are Jeremiah (1:4-5), Job (10.8), and Psalms (139:13). O’Brien thinks these citations are problematic because people are seeing the contents of the Bible as literally true. He thinks the poetic language of the Bible should be read for interpretation. I concur with O’Brien on this claim and believe that there are contradictions in the Bible. Catholic teaching, as Austriaco explained, regards the fetus as a human being at conception. If that is true, why does the Church not hold funerals for miscarried fetuses? (75). Both Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas believe that the answer to this question is because the fetus is not a human being: “you do not have a human being, human ensoulment, or a ‘person’ until you have a functioning human body” (74). This means that a miscarriage or an induced abortion does not equate to murder.

The previous deduction of Aristotle and Aquinas’s beliefs rebuts the pro-life argument that abortion is the murdering of an innocent life, but it does not justify the act of abortion. O’Brien states that “there must be a moral excuse for abortion” (85). I think this is the common belief that most people would believe, whether they are pro-life or pro-choice. O’Brien supports his claim by providing two cases: abortion in Nazi concentration camp and the pregnant nine-year old girl. In both cases, the author expresses that the officials who performed the procedure should not be convicted because both situations had a moral excuse (87).

I believe that women should have the legal choice on abortion because the pregnant person knows her own situation the best. She should know, more than anyone else, if she is in a good situation to carry the baby to full term. Others might object by stating that women are neglecting the potential baby’s right to life. However, that right does not hold as much weight as the rights of the pregnant person because the fetus is not a fully functioning human being yet (O’Brien 70). We, as society relate more to the women than the fetus because they are able to think and interact with society. The fetus has no direct interaction with society because it has yet to develop that kind of human quality, thus abortion is legally permissible when the life of the mother is in danger.

I was pro-choice before reading Austriaco and O’Brien’s works and still am after analyzing each other’s arguments. Austriaco provided many evidence from the Catholic Church’s teachings and scripture to support pro-life. His interpretations forced me to look at abortion through a different perspective, one that I was not familiar with. On the other hand, O’Brien wrote about the validity and flaws of the arguments of both pro-life and pro-choice. The introduction of his work demonstrated a neutral stance, but the sprinkles of his opinion throughout the chapter suggested he was leaning towards pro-choice. Many of the evidence and examples O’Brien provided were not new to me, but his in-depth explanations taught me that the debate on abortion is more than who has what rights. His work left a greater impression because the examples he wrote about were more relatable, making it easier to understand. This might have also been the case because I was not familiar with the religious perspective that Austriaco provided. Overall, I agree with O’Brien that women should be the final judge in whether they want to abort or not.  

24 May 2022

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