Abortion Dilemma of Mentally Challenged Mother

Ethical Dilemma and Stakeholders

Emily, a mentally challenged young adult, is eight weeks pregnant. Her doctor’s prognosis for the unborn child is grim. The doctor said that the unborn fetus is at exceptionally high risk for congenital defects. She is pressured to abort the baby in order to spare the family the unnecessary burden of caring for a physically defective infant. Since she is within the first trimester, there is a legal basis for abortion. This is the first major ethical dilemma.

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Emily rejected the idea of abortion. Her parents argued against her judgment on the basis of her diminished mental capabilities. Her parents threatened to file for guardianship over Emily in order to compel her to abort the baby. This is the second dilemma.

The two significant stakeholders are Emily and her parents. Emily feels that it is her duty and obligation to take care of the child. In the same way that her parents took care of a mentally handicapped child, she wants to return the favor by taking care of her own child, even if there is a high probability that the baby will come out of her womb with multiple defects.

From the point of view of her parents, they simply want the best for their child. Emily can barely take care of herself; how much more if, she is forced to take care of a baby with multiple congenital problems.

Abortion in the First Trimester

Her parents will cite a legal basis for their decision. They will also use a bioethical framework to justify their actions. Her parents will cite the landmark U.S. case, Roe vs. Wade, and argue that abortion is not unconstitutional as long as the pregnancy is terminated within the first trimester or within 22 weeks (Menikoff, 2001). Her parents will also argue about the fetus’ moral standing. They will use the argument that the baby has no real place like that of an average human adult. The basis for this conclusion is linked to the idea that in order to have a moral standing, the baby has to have a rational mind (Caplan & Arp, 2013). According to this bioethical framework, a sensible mind is non-existent until there is a nervous system. A fetus does not have a central nervous system until the end of six months of gestation.


Her parents cannot use the legal arguments found in Roe vs. Wade because the context of that case is not applicable to the ethical dilemma faced by Emily. In Roe vs. Wade, Ms. Roe, the pregnant woman, decided to abort her baby. In this particular case, Emily did not give her consent. The subsequent argument about the moral standing of the fetus is rendered moot and academic. The bioethical framework cannot stand on its own without the legal approval of the mother. Thus, the parents cannot force Emily to abort her baby. There are several factors that will make it extremely difficult for the parents to take control of the situation and force their daughter to abort the fetus. First, Emily is already 20 years old. Second, Emily can function as a productive citizen. She does not need the help of anyone when it comes to taking care of herself. The use of the “moral standing” argument can backfire on the parents. One look at Emily and the judge will conclude that she has a rational mind and people must respect her decisions.


Caplan, A. & Arp, R. (2013). Contemporary debates in bioethics. NJ: Wiley & Sons.

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Menikoff, J. (2001). Law and bioethics: An introduction. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.

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