Is regret enough reason not to have an abortion?

Michael Cook
7 Sep 2012
Reproduced with Permission

As if the existence of post-abortion trauma exists weren't controversial enough, an Oxford academic argues in the Journal of Medical Ethics that it makes no difference to the morality of abortion anyway. Kate Greasley neatly summarises a common feeling among pro-life groups: "That regret follows abortion around like a bad smell is a reason not to have an abortion. It is a reason to opt for an alternative solution to an unwanted or ambivalent pregnancy, namely motherhood or adoption."

But, hang on there, she says. Psychological trauma, regret and wrongness are very different concepts. She suspects that post-abortion trauma and guilt are largely mythical, but even if they exist, they do not affect morality.

"That a decision may yield regret is not enough, by itself, to suggest that it is the wrong one, and as we saw, regret over abortion decisions in particular can often be encouraged by factors not having to do with the moral justification of the decision or its effect on women's welfare. Consequently, using the possibility or likelihood of regrets to deter women from abortion is rationally unfounded at best, and at worst, emotionally manipulative."

The JME regards Greasley's long and detailed paper as "an original and important contribution" which helps to clarify issues in the on-going debate over the moral permissibility of abortion which she believes "substantially depends on what moral standing is rightly accorded to the fetus". - on-line first, Aug 28