Abortion is where the foetus/embryo is removed from the womb before it is able to survive independently. It raises ethical questions because it makes us consider when life begins, and whether we should prioritise the life of the mother, or the life of the foetus. Utilitarianism is a consequentialist ethical theory that views abortion, and other ethical dilemmas, through the Principle of Utility, which promotes the maximisation of welfare in society.
A clear strength of Utilitarianism when discussing abortion is that there is no absolute value placed on human life, meaning it avoids moral questions about when human life begins. Act Utilitarianism is particularly useful, as it prefers to judge each individual case on its own merits, meaning abortion would be very much up to the mother, and what the consequences would be for her life. This means circumstances such as severe foetal abnormality, rape, and financial instability can all be considered under utilitarian thought. However, judging abortion on the basis on welfare can be problematic, because we are often unable to establish the long-term consequences of the action, therefore long term damage cannot be assessed. In addition, Rule Utilitarianism states that we should create a rule about abortion that then applies to all circumstances; this is because decisions shouldn't be bound by individual welfare, but by societal welfare. Therefore, Utilitarianism is not the best ethical theory to apply when discussing abortion, as the conflicts between Act and Rule Utilitarianism make the best course of action unclear. Despite the consideration for all circumstances provided by Act Utilitarianism, ultimately it is too difficult to establish the full consequences of an abortion, meaning other deontological theories may be more useful.