The use of the Categorical Imperative makes no room for compassionate treatment of women who want an abortion. Discuss.
In order to use Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative, you must apply the 3 maxims- this will tell you whether an action is morally right or wrong. This can be used to make a decision about any morally or ethically controversial action- in this case abortion.
The first maxim is to make a universalised decision. If every woman in the world were to have an abortion when they fell pregnant, then no children would be born and the species would die out. Even though Kantian Ethics is not teleological and therefore not concerned with the consequences of an action, this would still be conceived as morally wrong and therefore, by using the formula of the universal law, it would not be feasible for every woman to have an abortion.
Furthermore, there are many, many different views on abortion. Different religions, and even different denominations within religions think differently about abortion and whether it is morally acceptable or not- obviously no religion is going to say that all women should have abortions, but some may say that women ought to have the choice whether to have an abortion or not. This is largely because different groups have different opinion on when life begins. For example, Roman Catholics believe that life begins and conception and therefore they think that abortion is never acceptable (absolutism); whilst the Protestants say that the situation and the potential mother’s circumstances should be taken into account (relativism). As different people have different views on abortion, it can’t be universalised and therefore could not be agreed on by using the formula for the universal law.
The Second Maxim that the Categorical Imperative takes into account is the formula of ends in itself- in other words not using someone else as a means to an end. The key issue in this discussion is whether or not the foetus is a human or not, and whether it has the status that comes with being human or not. If it is a human, then abortion is definitely not allowed. The unborn, potential human would not be allowed to be used as a means to an end, and would have to be treated as an end in itself. The mother could not use the unborn baby growing inside her as a means to an end (by freeing herself of it), and so would have to give both t make the baby an end rather than a means. Again, this would largely depend on whether the foetus was a human or not and, as I stated previously, it would be very difficult to universally decide about this.
However, the other person that could be being used as a means to an end is the potential mother. She could come from a very strong religious background and has possibly been raped. If she is deeply distressed about her pregnancy, but her family are forcing her to have the baby (either to fulfil their religious beliefs or to bring them a new member of their family) then she is being used as a means to an end.
Moreover, Kantian ethics says that you are not able to make a good moral judgement if you are not free. The mother could be seen as trapped and not free. Hence she would not be able to make a moral decision for herself.
Finally, if you are to make a decision about [your own] abortion, then you are acting as a member of the Kingdom of Ends: you think that everyone should abide by the same rules and laws and that everyone has equal status and indiscriminate rights. On the one hand, you could argue that the mother has the right to make her own decisions as it could cripple her career or make her life very unhappy if she is forced to finish the pregnancy and give birth. On the other hand, you could argue that if the mother were to have an abortion, then you would be treating the foetus as an inferior part of the human species. However, if the mother is having an abortion to prevent the baby from having a poor quality of life, then the mother is possibly being a good parent and is treating her potential baby with respect.
When he was alive, Immanuel Kant would have largely preached that abortion was wrong. However, this is possibly because it was unacceptable at the time. He could have just been using relativism and judged by the social norms that abortion was wrong. Furthermore there wasn’t the technology for abortion that there is today. Abortion would have been seen as dirty and disgusting. This has been similar throughout history.
A key example of this is in the 2004 film Vera Drake, set in 1950. Vera (Imelda Staunton) dedicates her life to helping people. She takes care of her son, daughter, husband and elderly mother. She is a very respectful and kind woman-possibly a Christian. Unbeknownst to her family and friends, she performs illegal abortions for young girls. She does not want money for doing it, she is merely helping the young girls who are incredibly upset about having fallen upset.
When one girl falls ill after an abortion (through use of a syringe), Vera Drake is discovered as an illegal abortionist. She is taken to court, and eventually sent to prison for her actions. But was she evil and morally wrong? Or was she just trying to help the girls? The answer is, in the eyes of the law and absolutists such as the Roman Catholic Church, both. She has broken the law and therefore must pay the price in a jail sentence. Even in 1950, only 59 years ago- in our own country, abortion was always seen as wrong.
However, the times and social norms have changed (relativism). Nurses and doctors are now able to give information about abortions is asked for- something that many people 50 (or maybe even less) years ago would have seen as disgusting. In a modern time, Kant would possibly have believed that abortion was acceptable- we’ll never know.
Moreover, if Kantian Ethics is a religious theory, then it would also be wrong as God gave human beings lives, and therefore the potential mothers could not decided whether to not let their potential baby have life or not- only God could. It is unknown whether Kant wanted his theory to be religious or not. He claims that it isn’t, however, one of the conditions of the Categorical Imperative is that to achieve Summom Bonum, it is likely to take more than one lifetime. Maybe this is Kant saying it is near impossible to achieve, or maybe he is saying that he believes in an afterlife- and therefore God.