Amid passionate viewpoints from both sides of the abortion debate, L.W. Sumner offers a refreshingly moderate view. His article titled A Moderate View points out the logical flaws in the arguments of conservatives and liberals alike. A particular criticism is with respect to the unchanging moral status of a fetus throughout pregnancy. He explains,
“the common source of these defects lies in their uniform accounts of the moral status of the fetus. First, they require that all abortions be accorded the same moral status regardless of the stage of pregnancy at which they are performed. Thus, liberals must hold that late abortions are as morally innocuous as early ones, and conservatives must hold that early abortions are as morally serious as late ones. Neither view is able to support the common conviction that late abortions are more serious than early ones.” (Sumner, p.406)
Sumner then proposes a middle path approach to the debate, under which, early term abortions are generally morally sound. And later term abortions are only permitted after thorough deliberation of various factors. A general rule of thumb that Sumner seems to recommend is one of deterrence to abortion commensurate with the maturity of the fetus. Of all the various views studied in the readings, Sumner’s seems the most workable and fair solution to the debate surrounding abortion. While not siding with either sides of the debate completely, Sumner offers a moderated protocol for arriving at abortion decisions, where a nuanced understanding of the moral status is brought to bear on the decision. This moderate approach has much going for it, for there are clear flaws in both pro-choice and pro-life framework of analysis.
In criticism of Sumner, one should note that the moral rightness or wrongness of any particular instance of abortion is not a black and white situation. Instead, each individual case can be evaluated and placed in a gradient of moral correctness. Hence to cite the lack of personhood and a fully developed consciousness on the part of a nascent fetus is not a sound rationale for committing abortion (even at an early stage).
To the various authors’ perspectives discussed above, the following comments can be added. Late term abortions can be permitted in exceptional circumstances such as risk to mother, incest pregnancies, age and maturity of the carrying mother, drug addictions, etc. In particular, pregnancy through rape or incest challenges pro-lifers’ stance. Similarly, when continued pregnancy poses a threat to the life and wellbeing of the mother, abortion has to be considered. On the other hand, while a mother’s rights on her body are recognized, it is not a license to reckless sexual behavior that leads to pregnancy. Those women, who voluntarily indulge in sexual intercourse, knowing that this could lead to pregnancy, bear certain responsibilities for consequences thereafter. In this scenario, aborting is akin to depriving the fetus of its innate rights and thus constituting an injustice. With due respect to the rights of women over their bodies, a developing fetus is much more than an appendage to the woman carrying it.