Abortion-Common Ethical Scenarios

Updated: May 7, 2020

By Usman Nasir


Before this article, check out the previous one called “Everything about ethics at interviews” to read about how to approach ethical scenarios and questions.


Abortion is also a very common hot topic at interviews, so I will give another breakdown for this scenario.


What is abortion?

A procedure to terminate a pregnancy. It can be performed using a medical drug or by surgery.


UK legal facts


England, Scotland and Wales

· The 1967 Abortion Act outlines the legal status of abortion.

· What does the 1967 Abortion Act say?

o An abortion can be performed for a pregnancy that has not exceeded 24 weeks if:

§ A) 2 medical practitioners sign off on it.

§ B) AND continuation of the pregnancy would put the mother’s life at greater risk than if the pregnancy were terminated. OR if the mental/physical injury of the mother and/or existing family would be put at greater risk by continuing the pregnancy.

o An abortion can be performed at any time of the pregnancy (WITHOUT ANY TIME LIMIT) if any of the following are met:

§ A) Termination of the pregnancy would prevent serious mental or physical injury to the mother.

§ B) Continuing the pregnancy would put the mother at greater risk than if it were terminated.

§ C) There is a big risk that the child would be born with either physical or mental abnormalities.

· Northern Ireland:

o The landscape of abortion in the Northern Ireland is changing, so if you are applying to any medical schools in this country, make sure you keep up to date with any developments.


Some ethics arguments to start you off


· Main ethical argument is the conflict between respecting a mother’s autonomy and respecting the foetal right to life. (MATERNAL AUTONOMY vs FOETAL RIGHT TO LIFE)

o A mother should have the right to make a decision about her own body, but there is also the issue that the foetus should be able to continue to live. This normally framed as the PRO-LIFE v PRO-CHOICE debate.

§ PRO-LIFE argument: Life begins at conception, so the foetus has a right to life and should be able to continue to exist.

§ PRO-CHOICE argument: mother’s right to autonomy trumps the foetal right to life. This is a big part of the legal status in the UK.

· When does life begin? Does the foetus become a living thing at conception, implantation, when brain activity is first identified or at any other stage?


How can we talk about the 4 ethical pillars in this ethical scenario?

o Autonomy

§ The mother has the right to make a decision about her own body, so this is an argument in favour of abortion.

o Conflict of Beneficence

§ An abortion may be considered an act of doing good, as it may be in the best interests of the mother, due to mental or physical considerations. It may be needed to prevent permanent and severe harm to the mother’s mental and physical state.

§ An abortion may also be deemed as a good thing, if it prevents the foetus being born severely handicapped and prevents them from suffering such a poor quality of life. BUT this is very controversial, as many argue that the foetus should be given the chance to live and it is unfair that this is decided for them.

o Conflict of Maleficence

§ Continuing a pregnancy that would put the mother at risk would be doing harm. So, an abortion would therefore be justified.

§ But if you believe that the foetus is a living being then an abortion would be doing harm.


Question bank


What do you understand by the term abortion?

· What is the current legal status of abortion in the UK?

· Discuss the ethical issues surrounding abortion?

· Do you think the limit of 24 weeks for an abortion should be reduced?

· Should abortions be made more accessible?

· Do you think it would be a good idea for women being able to take medication in the comfort of their own home to initiate an abortion?

Scrubbed up Tips


· Make sure you fully understand the legal requirements for abortion in the UK and Northern Ireland (especially the differences)

· Make sure you can set up the PRO-LIFE v PRO-CHOICE debate.

· Maintain a balanced argument and show considerations for both sides.

· Give a conclusion but show empathy for both sides of the argument.

· Use a clear and concise structure.

· Use the 4 ethical pillars throughout.


References

UK legal facts about the 1967 Abortion Act and what it says –

https://www.fpa.org.uk/factsheets/abortion#britain fpa Abortion

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