Should Abortions Be Ruled “Non-Essential” Medical Procedures In The Pandemic Crisis? An Ethics Decision-Making Exercise

News Item:

Texas and Ohio have included abortions among the nonessential surgeries and medical procedures that they are requiring to be delayed, setting off a new front in the fight over abortion rights in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Both states said they were trying to preserve extremely precious protective equipment for health care workers and to make space for a potential flood of coronavirus patients.

But abortion rights activists said that abortions should be counted as essential and that people could not wait for the procedure until the pandemic was over.

On Monday, Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, clarified that the postponement of surgeries and medical procedures announced by Gov. Greg Abbott over the weekend included “any type of abortion that is not medically necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.” Failure to do so, he said, could result in penalties of up to $1,000 or 180 days of jail time.


Is abortion truly a non-essential medical procedure? Is it ethical to treat it as one? This is a perfect storm of an ethics conflict colliding with an ethical dilemma, with so many of the factors that confound ethical analysis present. For example, is the shortage of beds and the stresses on medical services really the only factors being considered by those in making the policy decisions in Texas and Ohio? Is the pandemic really a cover, in whole or in part, for other motives, like a desire to limit abortions generally for as long as possible? Is the ethical response by a pregnant woman to comply with the policy, even to the point of giving birth. There are many ethics decisions involved here.

Let’s just focus on one of them, the decision to call abortions non-essential procedures, and run it through one of the ethics decision-making systems. I’m going to use Professor Laura Nash’s 12 Questions, from her Harvard Business Review article, “Ethics without the Sermon” (1981)]

1. Have you defined the problem accurately?

In other words, “What’s going on here?” Continue reading

The Ethics of Bloomberg’s Soft Drink Ban

It’s a serious problem.”

“Something needs to be done.”

“This is a public health issue.”

The media defenses of New York Mayor Bloomberg’s controversial decision to ban the sale of large soft drink servings in New York City, and Bloomberg’s defense as well, set up a classic utilitarian argument for a government intrusion into personal choice and lifestyle. It is, simply, that the ends justify the means, and as we all know, sometimes they do.

Sometimes, however, those means sacrifice too much: lives, dignity, fairness, liberty, fun. Sometimes employing those means require crossing lines that have not been crossed before, opening the door to more and greater sacrifices that even advocates of the particular measure would find objectionable and wrong. This leads to the slippery slope dilemma, and invokes absolutism. Some things must never be considered as just means, no matter what the ends being sought may be. Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of absolutism declared that it was always wrong to use human beings against their wills to solve problems, no matter how great the problems are. The Declaration of Independence holds that a human being’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness must never be breached by government. Continue reading