Ethical Key Issues

Abortion on Demand

A woman's desire, or "choice" to be "un-pregnant", is considered by advocates to be her legal right, with no justification required. The current debate centres on the issue of "personhood" and when it applies.


With the current reluctance of doctors, in New Zealand and around the world, to perform abortions there are initiatives to make abortion a mandatory part of training for gynaecologists.

Defining Personhood

Bioethicists, such as Peter Singer, argue that because all human infants (newborn as well as fœtal) do not actively exercise rational attributes or sentience that they are all not persons. These arguments for “personhood” - i.e. "individuality", "rational attributes" or "sentience" - are based, not on scientific fact but on philosophical grounds.

Fœtal Abnormality

Doctors can now test for disabilities in the early weeks of the first trimester (12 weeks) although most testing is done around 15 to 20 weeks. Advocates of testing argue that some babies have a right not to be born as disabilities impose a poor quality of life on people. Disability action groups fear that medical attitudes of "search and destroy" will influence people to regard them as "burdens" on the community.

Fœtal Remains

With fœtal experimentation, the main issue is the question of the status of the fœtus. While most foetal remains are incinerated as medical waste, some are sold to laboratories for research purposes and even to cosmetic companies for their collagen. The request for specific tissue samples can determine the method of abortion.

Mother's Life at Risk

Abortion activists claim that each and every pregnancy threatens a woman's life... therefore, every pregnancy can justifiably be aborted. Opponents of abortion state that the situation where a mother's life is at stake were she to continue with a pregnancy is no longer a clinical reality. Two exceptions are uterine cancer and ectopic pregnancy.

Personal Autonomy and Abortion

Modern liberalism emphasizes the ideal of individual autonomy -the belief that individuals should be free to do as they choose as long as their actions do not harm others. Advocates of abortion believe it should be a matter of concern between a woman and her doctor, denying the father of the child any say in the matter.

When Rape is an Issue

For a variety of reasons, the rate of rape-caused pregnancies is less than one percent. In the only major study of pregnant rape victims ever done, 75 to 85 percent chose against abortion. Sexual assault victims who became pregnant are routinely left out of the debate about rape and abortion.

Selective Reduction

A procedure that essentially aborts one or more of the foetuses in multiple pregnancies (twins, triplets, etc...) to improve the outcome of the others. This is especially common with IVF and fertility treatment.

Quality of Life

When abnormalities are discovered, or indicated, during testing, women are usually counselled to abort. Sometimes women are accused of being "selfish" if they refuse to be screened, or to abort. Doctors making the decisions about what constitutes a "low quality of life" are frequently give negative judgments about the lives of disabled people.

Abortion and Infertility

When it comes to selective reduction, it's hard to deny that abortion is a part of IVF treatment. It involves the doctor selecting the most accessible foetus in a multiple pregnancy, then inserting a needle containing a potassium chloride solution into the heart.

Contraceptive Back-up

Every culture and subculture which has opened the doors to contraception has likewise experienced an increased practice of abortion.

Pre-natal Tests for Disabilities

Most pre-natal tests are done to find out whether the foetus has a disabling condition so that she/he can be aborted. When a disabling condition is diagnosed, parents are sometimes put under heavy pressure to abort. Disability groups are concerned that pre-natal testing sends a message to adult disabled people that society would rather they did not exist.

In Vitro Fertilisation

Some infertile women wishing to have a child, may seek an 'egg' donor. This is not always possible. It has been suggested that eggs harvested from aborted females be used in IVF treatments. As in other organ donations, a "live" body is the optimum condition, the most suitable method of abortion would be hysterotomy and removal of an intact fœtus.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Most people would support stem cell research which offers potential in treating disease. At the heart of the controversy are proposals to use foetal tissue transplants. The media, while championing the cause of embryonic stem cell research, tend to overlook achievements that have already been made with adult stem cells.

Genetic Abnormalities

Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis in the determination of selection of embryos, and pre-natal testing, is seen by some to discriminate against people with disabilities, and to have eugenic implications.


Abortion doesn't always benefit the pregnant victim of incest, and may protect the perpetrator from exposure. Studies have shown that incest victims rarely ever voluntarily agree to an abortion.

Moral Relativism

Moral relativism teaches that there are no absolute moral truths...what is true for you may not necessarily be true for me. It teaches there is no right or wrong, good or bad, that anything goes, because life is ultimately without meaning. Most religions believe that right and wrong are concrete truths.

Partial-birth Abortions

In 2003, 72 abortions were performed in New Zealand after 20 weeks gestation. Abortion, in some circumstances, are legal through all nine months. The method used in New Zealand is either D&E (dismemberment) or poison injected into the foetus' heart followed by an induced delivery.

Value of Life

When it comes to arguments over whether or not a life has "value," there is a clash over who gets to make the decision and what criteria they will use to reach that decision. A person's perceived quality of life may differ greatly depending on individual attitudes and preferences of the person making the decision. Disabled rights activists are concerned that economic factors may be used to determine whether a life is deemed valuable.