Ethical Theories on Abortion


Abortion is one of the controversial topics in health because it elicits ethical and legal issues. Since people have taken extreme positions, the issue of abortion remains a contentious matter. While anti-abortionists perceive abortion as an immoral and illegal act because it entails willful and premeditated termination of a fetus, pro-abortionists view abortion as a moral and legal action that grants women the freedom to make informed choices regarding their bodies. Amidst perceptions, principles, and views that people hold is a fetus without the ability to make decisions regarding its existence and life.

What ethical theory supports abortion? This essay aims to answer the question. It explains the views of deontology, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, natural law theory, and other ethical theories on abortion.

Utilitarianism on Abortion

As a consequential theory, utilitarianism defines the morality of an action based on its consequences for individuals and society. In essence, a moral action is the one that offers maximum utility, happiness, and pleasure to most people. For abortion to be morally and legally justifiable, the positive outcomes ought to outweigh the negative consequences. Utilitarianism supports pro-abortionists because it empowers women and gives them absolute rights to decide what happens to their bodies. Moreover, utilitarianism does not regard a fetus as a person for the rights of a mother override its rights. In instances where a pregnancy threatens the life of a mother, doctors prescribe abortion based on the utilitarian principle. In this view, saving the mother’s life is more beneficial than saving the life of a fetus. Stefan (2014) argues that a fetus is a potential person that can achieve the status of a human through successful birth. Thus, at the individual level, utilitarianism supports abortion because it gives more benefits to mothers than fetuses.

At the family and society level, utilitarianism determines whether a mother should procure an abortion or not. Since women live in a social setting, significant people such as a husband, friends, doctors, and relatives have marked influence on ethical decisions concerning abortion. From the utilitarian perspective, the importance of a fetus is dependent on its relationship with people in the family and society. Usually, fetal abnormalities, rape issues, and medical problems are some of the factors that influence the ethical decision of abortion (Stafan, 2014). For instance, rape cases cause unwanted pregnancies and violate the will of a mother, family, and society to bear children in a planned manner. In this view, mothers, families, and society apply the utilitarian approach to considering the welfare of unwanted fetuses.

Deontology and Abortion

Deontological ethics determines morality based on the nature of the action and the inherent attributes of humans. By focusing on actions but not consequences, deontological ethics perceive abortion as an immoral act. Since humans have the rational capacity, their actions can be moral or immoral irrespective of their consequences. The assessment of the case study of abortion shows that deontological ethics does not support abortion. Deontological ethics recognizes a fetus as a person with equal rights to life and care as the mother. Moreover, deontological ethics holds that abortion is wrong because it entails the termination of life. According to Stafan (2014), the right to life is a categorical imperative that prohibits anyone from ending the life of a person. Thus, abortion is an immoral act because it allows one to end the life of another person.

As humans have a rational capacity, they act according to their obligations, duties, and prevailing rules. The union between a man and a woman takes a rational decision, which gives them the obligation and duty to take care of their fetus and, later, a baby. In this view, abortion is unethical since it permits parents to be irresponsible by absconding their obligations and duties. Stafan (2014) asserts that the divine order requires humans to take responsibility for protecting and caring for their young ones. To pursue a career, afford parenting, and avoid single parenthood are some of the reasons women offer to justify abortion. Critical analysis of these reasons shows that they are luxuries rather than requirements of proper parenting. Hence, deontological ethics does not support abortion because it is against human nature and responsibilities.

Virtue Ethics and Abortion

Virtue ethics determines morality based on the moral character or virtues that a person exhibits. Virtue ethics does not support abortion because women who terminate the lives of their fetuses are not considered virtuous. Virtue ethics believes in the sanctity of life since it recognizes a fetus as an innocent human being with equal rights to life (Countryman, 2014). In contrast, pro-abortionists argue that a fetus is not human because it lacks viability and consciousness. Hence, from the perspective of virtue ethics, women who perform abortion do not have virtues in their moral character for they neither respect the sanctity of life nor recognize a fetus as a human.

The analysis of reasons that women give to justify abortion shows that they are against virtues that people hold in society. By having an abortion, women hope to attain happiness because babies restrict them from pursuing their careers, strain their finances and time, and make them single parents. Such reasons are callous and flimsy for they do not consider virtues associated with happiness. Countryman (2014) argues that abortion violates virtues such as kindness, temperance, selflessness, modesty, and friendliness, which enable people to attain happiness and satisfaction in life. Thus, virtue ethics opposes abortion because it degrades human character and violates the virtues of life.

Natural Law Theory on Abortion

The natural law theory utilizes established rights that are universally acceptable. The right to life is one of the principles that the natural law theory applies to the issue of abortion. The natural law criminalizes abortion because it violates the right to life of a fetus (Stefan, 2014). From the perspective of the natural law, women have limited rights over their body for they cannot abort a fetus according to their will. The natural law identifies a fetus as a human with equivalent rights to life as the mother. However, in some instances such as rape or medical interventions, the natural law permits abortion.

Another principle of the natural law is the right to care for fetus and babies in line with the precept of respect for life. As women have the right to conceive and bear progeny voluntarily, the natural law compels them to take care and provide for their children. In this perspective, abortion violates the right of a fetus to life and receipt of required protection and care from parents. Stefan (2014) explains that the universal principle of the right to life requires parents to protect and take care of their children. The natural law anchors on this principle by ensuring that mothers do not abort their fetuses.


The analysis of the case study on abortion using four ethical theories, viz., utilitarianism, deontological ethics, virtue ethics, and natural law theory, highlights different stances. From the case study is it evident that utilitarianism supports abortion for it does not recognize a fetus as human but grants women to have absolute rights over their bodies. However, deontological ethics, virtue ethics, and natural law theory do not support abortion since they identify a fetus as human and limit the rights that women have over their bodies. Therefore, the analysis concludes that abortion is immoral because most theories demonstrate that it violates the right to life of a fetus and degrades human values and virtues.


Countryman, J. (2014). Virtue ethics and abortion. CedarEthics: A Journal of Critical Thinking in Bioethics, 14(1), 1-4. Web.

Stefan, I. (2014). Arguments for and against abortion in terms of teleological and deontological theories deontological ethics. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 149(1), 927-935. Web.

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