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AQA Religious Studies Abortion and Euthanasia Revision

Updated on June 7, 2013
Should a foetus have as much value as its mother in a society?
Should a foetus have as much value as its mother in a society? | Source

Arguments For Abortion

Women's Rights

  • Privacy
  • Ownership of body
  • Equality
  • Self determination

Should not be taken away by something that has not experienced or lived yet.

Judith J Thompson

  • Just as it's wrong to say an acorn is a tree, a foetus is not a human.
  • The analogy of the violinist: if you are kidnapped and wake up hooked up to a violinist, you are not obligated to carry around the violinist for the rest of your life - it's not your fault it happened, it's not your obligation.
  • Jane English - the rights still apply even if you know there is a chance that you will be kidnapped and attached to a violinist.

Mary Warren's Arguments

  • Denies the idea that a foetus is a person because of her 5 characteristics of being part of a moral community: 1. Consciousness 2. Reasoning 3. Self motivated activity 4. Communication 5. Self-awareness
  • A potential human (the foetus) does not have the same rights as an actual human (the mother)
  • Mary Warren's spaceman analogy: a space traveler is abducted by aliens and is in the process of being cloned thousands of times. The traveler does not have any obligation to stay so that the cloning process finishes, even if they all have the potential to grow into the same genetic being as the traveler. It does not matter how far along the cloning process they are, he is never obligated to stay.

Arguments Against Abortion

Logical Arguments

  • Moral obligation of the mother
  • Mary Warren's argument suggests infanticide is okay and disabled people have less rights
  • 2 million adoption requests a year in the USA alone

Finances and Women

  • NHS spends £1 million a week on repeat abortions.
  • 1/3 of abortions in the UK are repeat abortions and some women get up to 9 abortions, creating a financial burden on society that we could avoid.
  • Abortions allow society to overlook gaps in facilities for women. The money being spent on abortions should be spent instead on improving the quality, availability and price of child care and creating mother-friendly work environments and policies.

Counter Arguments

Logical Arguments

  • Why should a mother be morally obligated to drastically change her life by her own body?
  • It a naturalistic fallacy (G.E. Moore) to say that women must give birth because they are naturally supposed to.
  • Mary Warren's argument could only imply that infanticide and disabled people have less rights than functional adults in the case of life and death, and this argument can be supported e.g. utilitarianism would state that a giving, productive member of society would produce more happiness for others in his life than a comatose patient who will be a drain on society.
  • Many mothers do not want to know that they gave birth to a child that ended up in adoption because of the 'luck factor' that comes with doing so. How many of those 2 million parents would be good parents to their child and what is the chance of getting them? A mother is not morally obligated to take that risk and suffer uncertainty and discomfort for doing so.


  • You cannot put a price on the amount of suffering prevented by not allowing thousands of unwanted children being born into the world. £52,000,000 is not a large sum to spend on this cause a year.
  • Repeat abortions are not a convincing argument for abortions being a 'waste' of money because the reasons for unwanted pregnancies (high fertility rate, poor use of contraception etc.) stay with women even after one abortion has occurred.
  • £52,000,000 would not be enough to make a significant impact on women-friendly facilities and there would still be a huge need for abortions - the amount of unwanted children or the trauma of adoption is not worth it.

Religious For Abortion

The bible states that if two men are fighting and a pregnant woman's foetus is killed, he should be fined. If that woman is hurt then the man should be killed.

Religious Against Abortion

Bible Quotes

  • "Thou shalt not kill"
  • "Your eyes saw my unformed body"
  • "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be"

Facts and Important Points

John Paul II: "Abortion is a violation of God's natural law"

Church of England:

"Wrong but is accepted for love when: there is risk to mother's health baby will be disabled. Rape.

Facts Pertaining to "When Does Life Start?"

  • A foetus can survive outside the womb at 24 weeks
  • Foetus has a heartbeat by 4 weeks
  • Foetuses respond to external stimuli after 20 weeks.
  • British Medical Journal: Dr Stuart Derbyshire states that pain requires actions and relationships

Full List of Abortion and Euthanasia Past Paper Questions

  • January 2010:
    (a) Arguments Against Abortion
    Summarise arguments against abortion with reference to both ethical and religious teachings. (30 marks)
    (b) Mother's Rights
    'The mother's right to life should always overrule the rights of her unborn child.' Assess this view. (15 marks)
  • June 2010:
    (a) When Does Human Life start?
    Analyse the various answers to the question 'when does human life start?' (30 marks)
    (b) Unborn Babies
    'Unborn babies cannot be murdered.' Consider how far this is true. (15 marks)
  • January 2011:
    (a) Care for the Dying
    Examine the role of each of the following in the care of the dying: palliative care, hospices and voluntary euthanasia. (30 marks)
    (b) Hospices and Euthanasia
    'Hospices make euthanasia unnecessary.' Consider how far you agree with this view. (15 marks)
  • June 2011:
    (a) No Religious Justification for Abortion & Euthanasia
    Explain religious teachings that support the view that ending the life of another human being can never be justified. Refer to both abortion and euthanasia in your answer. (30 marks)
    (b) Right of Death
    'Human beings should be able to decide when to die.' Discuss how far you agree with this statement. (15 marks)
  • January 2012:
    (a) Active and Passive Euthanasia
    Explain what is meant by active euthanasia and passive euthanasia, and why some people might want euthanasia. (30 marks)
    (b) Religious View on Right of Death (Euthanasia)
    'No one has the right to keep me alive against my will when I have made it clear that I want to die.' How far can religious believers accept this view? (15 marks)
  • June 2012:
    (a) In Favour of Abortion
    Explain ethical arguments in favour of abortion. (30 marks)
    (b) Religious View on Abortion 'From a religious point of view, abortion can never be good.' How far do you agree? (15 marks)

An A Grade Example Essay (January 2010):

(a) Arguments Against Abortion
Summarise arguments against abortion with reference to both ethical and religious teachings.

The vast majority of the arguments against abortion base themselves on the following three questions:

  1. What makes a human valuable?
  2. When does life start?
  3. What is the societal implication of abortion?

Most Catholics and Protestants would agree that abortion is unacceptable on the grounds that humans are made in God's image and therefore it is a grave sin to kill anything human (Christians therefore believe all humans are equal in value). They provide evidence for the idea that life starts at conception with biblical quotes like "the days ordained to me were written in your book before one even came to be" and "your eyes saw my unformed body" suggesting that our personhood in God's view starts at as soon as the egg is fertilised. With that in mind, one of the ten commandments: "thou shalt not kill" would apply strongly to foetuses, and this is why many Catholics believe abortion is wrong under all circumstances. As for the societal implication, Christians could argue that allowing abortion could lead to a lesser respect for human life in general, which is disrespectful to God who gave us the divine gift of life.

From the perspective of Joseph Fletcher's situation ethics, abortion can be seen as unacceptable in many cases where the amount of agape love is not maximised. This could mean in cases where the mother could look after the child comfortably with love and care but chooses not to out of selfishness instead (one of the four functioning principles: pragmatism, would need to be applied to decide). This could result in a disappointed family and/or a depressed husband or boyfriend who wanted to father a child. Allowing abortion societally might not be the most loving thing to do because there is a great need for adoption (2 million americans each year) and so by selfishly not going through with the pregnancy, love is not maximised as a family loses out on children. This view of needing to share comes from one of the 6 propositions of situation ethics: 'justice is love shared.'

Most of the above points (other families who want adoption and pregnant woman's family who want a child both suffering because of abortion) would apply to most types of utilitarianism (except preference utilitarianism) but with the maximisation of agape love replaced with 'utility'.


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