Military Medical Ethics – Scenario Database

A Shipboard Request for Abortion

ID/Number: 104
Last updated: 22 Jan, 2019
Revision: 2
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The San Antonio Class Amphibious Transport Dock (LPD) is two months into a 6-month deployment. The crew consists of 336 men and 37 women. After finishing a practice Amphibious Exercise, the ship was preparing to pull into port four days from now for a three-day port visit to Italy.

Petty Officer Third Class Taylor is a crewmember on this ship, and she has determined that she is in her second month of pregnancy, and that she wants to terminate the pregnancy. She is an unmarried 19-year old. She is currently not having any medical complications, except for some very mild nausea in the morning. She is a 2.9 sailor who does her job, but her division officer says she "lacks motivation to excel." She has been in the navy for 14 months, and this is her first tour out of "A" school.

The Commanding Officer of the ship is well liked and respected by his crew for being tough, but fair. He is a deeply religious man, who prays at least twice a day. He has a strong personal relationship with his Command Chaplain, and the Captain has a daily devotional with his Chaplain every morning at 0830 in the Captain's Cabin. The Captain has encouraged and supported the Chaplain to begin many programs on board, including Bible study, adopting a small Catholic school in the homeport area to raise money for many charitable causes. As part of his upbringing and religious conviction, he has strong beliefs against abortion, and has deep respect for the sanctity of human life.

Four days before the ship pulls in for a port visit to ltaly, Petty Officer Taylor submits a Special Request Chit to her Commanding Officer to go on emergency leave at the next port, in order to go back to the U.S. to get an abortion. The chain-of-command up to the captain has recommended approving the chit. The Commanding Officer asks to talk to Petty Officer Taylor.

"Sir, Petty Officer Audrey Taylor reporting as ordered, sir."
"Come on in, Petty Officer Taylor, and please leave the door open."
"Yes, sir."
"I have your special request chit here for emergency leave, and I have a few questions. First of all, I'm not sure this meets COMSIXTHFLT requirement for emergency leave. You appear healthy to me. But I would like to understand more about why you want to have the abortion?"
"Sir, I didn't intend to get pregnant, and I'm not ready to raise a kid… by myself. I have two more years in the Navy, and I'm not sure what I'm going to do after that. I may go back to college. I don't know. But I do know I don't need a kid right now."

The Captain finished his conversation with Petty Officer Taylor, and dismissed her.
He is sitting at his desk, with his ball-point pen in hand, looking at the Request Chit trying to decide whether to approve or disapprove.

Questions for the discussion of this scenario

1. Should the Commanding Officer approve or disapprove the chit?
2. What should be his considerations in this reasoning process (primary consideration, second, 3rd, …)?
3. Should he take into account his own strong beliefs about abortion?
4. What would you do if you were the Captain of this ship?
5. Do your religious beliefs in this area in any way affect your decision?
6. What is wrong with allowing our religious beliefs to guide us in our decision making? Don't we want our leaders to be moral?

Source: Rubel, W. Rick and Lucas, George R. (2004), Case Studies in Military Ethics (Boston: Pearson Education), p. 138.

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