Attitudes to Abortion and Approaches to Ethical Issues

Sixty per cent of Australians believe that abortion is acceptable in most circumstances. Many others say that it is acceptable in some circumstances, such as if there is a serious defect in the baby. Some Australians say that abortion is not acceptable under any circumstances. According to the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes (2009), 7.5 per cent of Australians say that abortion is always wrong when there is a defect in the baby, and an additional 7.3 per cent say it is almost always wrong. This article explores Australian attitudes and the different approaches to ethics that underlie these attitudes.

While 14.8 per cent of Australians consider that an abortion is always or almost always wrong even if there is a defect in the baby, another 15.5 per cent of Australians consider that it is wrong sometimes, perhaps depending on the seriousness of the defect. Another 60 per cent of Australians say that it is not wrong at all in such circumstances

Attitudes to abortion are related to people’s views of human life. Those who consider that life begins at conception and that it is sacred, or of great worth, irrespective of its quality, will consider the termination of the life of an unborn baby as unacceptable. Such views of the sacredness of human life are most common among people who identify with a religion. Among those who identified themselves with a Christian denomination in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes, 23 per cent said that abortion was always or almost always wrong, even if there was a defect in the baby.

While many Australians have never thought through the specific issues related to abortion, their views are influenced by the ways they think about moral issues in general. Two-thirds of Australians (67%) indicated that they looked for moral guidance primarily in the consequences of actions. However, there were a variety of ways in which they looked at the consequences.

Younger people tend to look more to the consequences of actions than to authorities for ethical guidance. Excluding those who did not respond, 64 per of those over 60 years of age said they looked to the consequences, compared with 79 per cent of those under 30 years of age. Overall, there was no difference between males and females in the extent to which they turned to authority or to the consequences of actions, even though there were some small differences in the details of their ethical approach.

For most Australian adults, ethical guidance is found in looking at the consequences. These consequences are often unclear: hence, the variety of opinions. Nevertheless, in relation to abortion, many people make their decisions according to what they perceive the consequences might be.

For more information see: Pointers, Volume 22, No. 1, Pages 17-20

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