www.diseases-diagnosis.com Homepage Diseases Symptoms Diseases Diagnosis Diseases Treatment Diseases Living Care Diseases Prevention Diseases Research
March 26, 2016
Table of Contents

1 Introduction
Abortion debate



Throughout history of abortion|history, induced abortions have been a source of considerable debate and controversy. An individual's personal stance on the complex ethics|ethical, moral, and legal issues has a strong relationship with the given individual's value system. A person's position on abortion may be described as a combination of their personal beliefs on the morality of induced abortion and the ethical limit of the government's legitimate authority.

Political sides have largely been separated into moral absolutism|absolute extremes — either seeking to make all abortion illegal, or to permanently remove laws restricting all forms of abortion.

The abortion debate often centers around the fringes of actual practice (such as partial-birth abortion, late-term abortion or the abortion pill|pill), and the minority of those with opinions on the subject, "pro-life" and "pro-choice" advocates. Most citizens have more moderate or nuanced views than those espoused by pundits and politicians.

The abortion debate is part of a larger debate: Whom do we protect? In some tribal societies, only members of the tribe deserve protection; outsiders can be killed with impunity. In other tribal societies, the law of hospitality for the stranger is absolute. In city states, the killing of someone from a rival city was often sanctioned, as was the killing of a woman or a slave. In ancient Thebes (Greece)|Thebes, a child could be exposed and left to die up to the third day after birth. In England in the same period, a woman who said she fell asleep, laid on her baby and smothered it was not punished. According to the World Almanac, there are approximately 150 million women in the United States. Of these, approximately 100 million are of child-bearing age. Of these hundred million, approximately 35 million do not practice birth control and approximately 16 million became pregnant. About 12 million of the pregnancies self-abort, usually in the first few days after fertilization. Slightly more than 1 million women have had an induced abortion, most of them in the first trimester. About 4 million babies were born, of whom about 27 thousand died in the first few days after birth, in most cases due to preventable causes. In that same year, in the world, about 600,000 children died of starvation. Whom do we protect?

Abortion debates, especially pertaining to the legal ramifications of abortion laws, are often spearheaded by advocacy|advocacy groups. These groups tend to fall into one of two camps, with people in favour of legal abortion describing themselves as pro-choice, while those against legal abortion calling themselves pro-life. Both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" are loaded terms designed to make the opposition unappealing (anti-choice and anti-life). Individuals are also usually classified as either pro-choice or pro-life, thus reducing what may be complex views to slogans. See below for links to organizations of both types.

In reality, both pro-choice and pro-life are too simplistic to encompass the full complexity of the debate. A person may be personally uncomfortable with, and morally opposed to, abortion (thus being pro-life) while believing the option of abortion should remain legal (thus being pro-choice as well). Some would argue that such a position is flawed. For example, would it make sense to be personally opposed to slavery, yet believe in someone's else's "right" to own a slave? How, then, can you personally believe abortion is murder, and yet believe in a woman's right to kill her "unborn child"? The response to this might be to brand the dichotomy as false by asserting that, even though abortion isn't identical to murder, it's still undesirable.

An individual will likely have a stance that is in between the extremes of abortion being always/never moral and/or legal. For example, the same person may believe that the abortion of a fetus with Eisenmenger's syndrome is morally correct, but also believe that partial-birth abortion|partial-birth abortions should be illegal.

Underlying this debate is another debate, over the proper role of the state: to what extent should the state interfere with a woman's pregnancy to protect the public interest? This is a major issue in a number of countries, such as India and China, which have tried to enforce types of birth control (including forced sterilization (surgical procedure)|sterilization), and in the United States, which has historically limited access to birth control.

The abortion debate has a prominent place in political campaign|political campaigning in many countries. In the United States, the Democratic Party (United States)|Democratic Party tends to campaign in support of the legal right to an abortion, the Republican Party (United States)|Republican Party tends to campaign against this right. These positions may be part of a more general stance on such related subjects as sex education, birth control, stem-cell research, and euthanasia. Other closely related issues with political importance are the culture of life, adoption and feminism.

The debate is generally heated but nonviolent, though there have been a small number of cases where violence has been used.

Some of the most significant and common issues are:

  • The beginning of personhood (sometimes phrased ambiguously as "the beginning of life"): When is an unborn human considered a fetal personhood|person?

  • Universal human rights: Is aborting a zygote, embryo, or fetus a violation of human rights? What about fetuses with genetic disabilities?

  • Attendant circumstance|Circumstances of fertilisation|conception: How important are the circumstances of conception to the ultimate fate of the embryo or fetus? Does pregnancy induced by rape or incest or by poor or non-existent birth control use change the permissibility of abortion?

  • Alternatives to abortion: Is adoption a viable and fair alternative to abortion?

  • Limit of government authority: Are laws controlling abortion violations of right to privacy|privacy and/or other personal liberty rights?


The central dilemma in the abortion debate is the clash of presumed or perceived rights. On one hand is the embryo or fetus's presumed right to life, and on the other is a woman's presumed right to control her body. One aspect of the issue involves defining at what point an embryo or fetus qualifies as a person, and gains the legal and/or moral right to life. Even if that could be agreed upon, that right would still need to be weighed against the rights of the woman. Yet another debate is the use of byproducts of abortion, such as in stem cell research, and even the treatment of patients with Alzheimer's disease.


There are a variety of positions regarding the timing of abortions:

  • Abortion should always be legal.

  • Abortion up to the third trimester should be legal; abortion in the third trimester (so-called late-term abortion) should be illegal.

  • Abortion in the first trimester (or before the embryo or fetus is viable outside the womb) should be legal; abortion after that time should be illegal.

  • Abortion should always be illegal, except in some special circumstances—for example, when the mother's long-term health or life is at stake, when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or when the infant is deformed or likely to be born disabled.

  • Abortion should always be illegal.


"Pro-life" opponents of abortion deem abortion to be an act of infanticide (child-murder).
"Pro-choice" activists claim the issue to be in the domain of women's rights to choose to terminate a pregnancy or carry it to term.

While both sides have sought to influence public opinion (pregnant women, doctors, lawmakers, voters) the main concern has been with influencing the law, and hence attaining legal support for their positions. Both have likewise drawn their rhetorical arguments from various domains — in religion, philosophy, law morality and social pragmatism.
Every aspect is controversial — the lethal nature and personal, social, and moral effects of the procedure are compared against the social burdens, and sometimes physiological dangers, of carrying the fetus to term. Even the use of terms in reference to the fetal human being are controversial — "life" proponents claiming that a pregnant woman carries a human life from the moment of conception, while "choice" proponents claim that reference to the fetus as a human "baby" or child are based in religion and politics rather than in medicine or law.

Many other related terms are controversial and often seen as incomplete or dishonest. For example, the word "choice" glosses over which specific choice is being considered, namely the ending of a life. Likewise, the word "life" doesn't specify what sort of life we're talking about, especially in terms of whether abortion is the killing of living cells (which everyone admits) or a living person (which is one of the key points in dispute). If anything, it implies that the fetus is "alive" as an independent being and therefore implies the status of personhood. Conversely, the clinical term "fetus" may be seen as presenting the problem of dehumanization|dehumanizing the fetal being as non-human. The term "unborn baby" goes in the opposite direction, equating a fertilized cell with a newborn. Calling a pregnant woman a "mother", in addition to being technically inaccurate, likewise adds emotionalism and glosses over the distance between fertilization and birth.

In the case of the murder of a pregnant woman, some U.S. states have passed laws which respect the status of fetal being as a living person — charging separate counts for woman and fetus. Note that there are people who agree that killing a woman who is known to be pregnant qualifies as a two counts of murder but also support the choice to abort. However, due to polarisation, pro-choice advocates who might otherwise support these laws often feel the need to oppose them due to the precedent they create, which might then be turned against abortion rights.

In spite of these polarising absolutes, most people hold a position divergent from either of the partisan camps. For example, they feel that abortion is acceptable in the case of rape, incest, disability of the child, or for the health of the woman, but not for the sake of convenience (age, finances or other circumstances of the woman, the primary motivation for abortion).http://www.publicagenda.org/issues/red_flags_detail2.cfm?issue_type=abortion&red_flag_graphic=rfabortiondepends.jpg

Likewise, many (even some otherwise staunch pro-choice advocates) claim that late-term abortions (developed to viable age), should not be socially sanctioned.


The "pro-life" argument is that an embryo (or, in later stages of development, a fetus) is a human being — entitled to protection — from the moment of conception and therefore has a right to life that must be respected. According to this argument, abortion is homicide. Many take it a step further and say that, unless this homocide is somehow justifiable homicide|justified, perhaps because it is necessary to save the life of the woman, then abortion is murder.

Pro-life advocates often argue against comprehensive sexual education on the grounds that it encourages extramarital sex and thus sends mixed signals to teens, especially girls. Some pro-life advocates also say that there is a positive correlation between widespread comprehensive sex education in schools and an increase in teen sexual activity, and that this results in a rising rate of teen pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted diseases, and the http://academics.hamilton.edu/government/dparis/govt375/spring98/moral/sex_ed/directive.html|social science research supports this. Pro-life advocates also promote maintaining strong families and community advocacy of Sexual_abstinence#Modern_abstinence_movements|abstinence until marriage.

The "pro-choice" argument is that a woman's right to control her pregnancy outweighs any right claimed for the embryo or fetus. This was the essential holding in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (see link below), and it is accepted by most in the pro-choice community.

Pro-choice advocates regularly argue in favor of comprehensive sex education in high school, contraceptive use, and greater involvement by parents in the lives of their teens as the three best ways to reduce unintended pregnancies and therefore the need for abortions. They may not necessarily endorse teen sexuality, but pragmatically recognize that it will exist even under "abstinence-only" sex education. They also note that teens taught only abstinence-only are less likely to use forms of contraception should they have sex, and therefore are more likely to become pregnant and develop Sexually-transmitted infection|STIs.

Religious groups
main|Religion and abortion
Most orthodox religious groups are opposed to abortion, some viewing it as murder. Christianity|Christians, including both the Catholic Church and Abortion and Evangelical Christians|evangelical Christian churches, usually hold this position. Some Christian churches that have become more theologically liberal in the last century hold a pro-choice stance. Buddhism|Buddhists also usually take an anti-abortion stance, citing the Pali Canon which states that life begins at conception, although they consider abortion preferable if the mother's life is at risk. Islam generally has the stance that if the mother's life is at stake, abortion is permissable under the principle of Shari`ah, the lesser of two evils. Otherwise, there is a wide range of positions within Islam. Abortions are usually not prohibited through the fourth month. Judaism places the value of the fetus below that of the woman, and is generally less anti-abortion, though this varies among the various branches of the religion.

Both sides of the debate argue in terms of religion, science, morals, logic, and/or law. But they would hardly be drawn into the debate at all were it not for the very strong emotions involved. The pro-life side of the debate is driven by the strong attachment most people feel toward babies, without which the human race would have died out long ago. It is also driven by attitudes about sexuality, feminism and the rights of teenagers. The pro-choice side of the debate is driven by recognition of the fear of the pain and risk of childbirth, overpopulation, concerns with poverty, and of the lifelong commitment that comes with bearing children. It is also driven by concerns about invasive regulation, separation of church and state, and limitations on women's life choices.

main|History of abortion

Historically, it is unclear how often the ethics of induced abortion were discussed, since few ancient writers wrote about childbirth. Abortion and infanticide are thought to have been commonplace. Among ancient writers opposed to abortion are Hippocrates of Cos and the Roman Emperors|Roman Emperor Augustus. The early Christian churches generally opposed abortion, drawing upon early Christian writings such as the Didache (circa 100 A.D.). Since ignorance about pre-natal development prevailed, bans against abortion were in many western countries directed only to the period after "quickening" (the time when the fetus begins moving around, approximately the second trimester). By the mid 19th century, abortion was illegal in the US and much of Europe. In the 1960's, laws against abortion began to change in some parts of the world, but in Germany and Spain abortion is still illegal even in the first trimester, although prosecution is rare. Abortion is legal, and even sometimes encouraged in China and India. In a few countries, such as China, the government sometimes forces women to have abortions.

During the early part of the twentieth century, when abortion was illegal in the U.S., back-alley abortions were commonplace — often with the knowledge and tacit sanction of officials. The general rule had been that an abortion would not be performed if the child was "quick" or moving within the womb — which generally happens after about four and a half months of gestation. In Roe v. Wade, the Court established limits on abortion according to gestational trimester periods — sanctioning first trimester abortions, but making all third trimester abortions illegal (except in special cases). Second trimester abortions would be limited, but with greater discretion. Later U.S. Supreme Court decisions expanded abortion rights beyond those of Roe v. Wade, based on the right to privacy. (see: Abortion in the United States)

History of the debate in the United States

Image:PBAsigning wide.jpg|thumb|250px|right|The signing of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act was seen as a major political victory for the pro-life movement, though it was soon declared unconstitutional by some federal courts and has yet to be considered by the Supreme Court.
In the United States, as in many countries, the scientific, religious, and philosophical communities have remained polarized on most of these issues.

The political debate tends to center on questions of legality, though such debates are often based on moral questions. In the United States today, the political debate centers on two questions:

# Should "partial-birth abortions" (or "Intact dilation and extraction") for medical reasons related to the woman's health 1 continue to be legal?
# Should parental notification be required before a minor can have an abortion.

There are also those who believe that all abortion should be illegal. This could only be accomplished by the Supreme Court reversing itself by overturning Roe V. Wade, or by a constitutional amendment.

As of November 5, 2003, United States President George W. Bush signed into law the "Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act" which makes it illegal for anyone to perform the procedure. However, members of the pro-choice community, represented by the ACLU, filed a lawsuit protesting the law. At present, the matter is unresolved.

The chances of Roe v. Wade being overturned are mixed, but opinion polls consistently show that most Americans accept the court decision as necessary to protect a woman's rights. However, recent shifts in the composition of the high court may change things. Additionally, many opinion polls fail to adequately explain what Roe v. Wade actually did regarding the legalization of abortion in America. It is unknown if the public is possibly ignorant regarding this topic, and in turn, the opinion polls showing Americans strongly supporting Roe v. Wade are inaccurate as more direct questions regarding the morality and legality of abortion are not so lopsided.

Related issues, such as requiring parental consent for minors, waiting periods, education, and the "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" are also in contention in some states.

The controversy over abortion remains an emotionally charged issue.

Briefly, the basis of the view that all, or almost all, abortion should be illegal is the belief that the life of a person—and all political rights attending it—begins at conception. Given that, one is invited to consider the common assumption that each innocent person is entitled to the protection of society against the deliberate destruction of its life by another person. The latter is a rough statement of the right to life, which is guaranteed in many basic legal and political documents such as the United States Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is the basis of laws against murder. Twenty-five member nations of the Organization of American States (OAS) have ratified the http://www.oas.org/juridico/english/Treaties/b-32.htm "American Convention on Human Rights", which the United States has signed but not ratified; this Convention states in Article 4: "Every person has the right to have his life respected. This right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception." This does not take into account the fact that, even without intervention in the form of induced abortion, the majority of conceptions do not result in births. In any case, this is the view of pro-life advocates, that induced abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent unborn person, in violation of his/her human rights. The law should be consistent with this right to life, and thus induced abortion ought to be regarded legally as murder. Again, this is the basic argument against the legality of abortion. There exist people who morally disapprove of abortion but who, for other reasons, deny that abortion should be legally proscribed. This will be explained below.

One could also oppose the legality of abortion on nonreligious grounds, which is a strategy employed by those who believe that their personal religious considerations have no proper place in public policy debate, or should play only a limited and qualified role. One could say, for example, that the proposition that all humans are persons and that because a human life begins at conception so too does personhood—and the moral rights that entails. This is a genetic view of "human life" which begins with the union of parental gametes that creates a new individual with a distinct genetic identity, initiating the process that ends with natural death. This does not take into account the fact that individual chromosomes in gametes are themselves unique due to crossing over during meiosis, whereas a fertilized egg contains only the pre-mixed chromosomes. There is also the question of how genetic uniqueness is linked to rights, especially given the status of (genetically) twin|identical twins. In any case, proponents of this view recognize that there is a period of several months during which the embryo or fetus is biologically dependent upon the woman to sustain its life, but they regard the obligation of a parent to protect the life of its child as one that ought to be an uncontroversial societal norm.

Opponents argue that biologists are by no means unanimous in their agreement about when a human life begins. Other views of the human identity place the beginning of human life at later time. For example, one embryological view holds that individual human life begins when an embryo no longer is capable of forming identical twins, approximately 12 days after conception. All induced abortions happen after the 12 day point since it is only around then that pregnancy becomes detectable, so this point seems irrelevant to the question of abortion. Similarly, it is sometimes argued that the embryo becomes a distinct individual when its blood is traveling in a closed circulatory system, but this happens within the first three weeks of pregnancy as well, which is also too soon to affect the abortion question (at least with regard to surgical abortions.)

Those who believe that abortion is morally permissible, and should remain legally permissible, typically have a different view of the issue as to when an embryo or fetus becomes a person that deserves a right to life. Many hold that one that is incapable of surviving outside the woman's womb (a status generally reached no sooner than 23 weeks into gestation) is not recognizable as a human life separate from the woman's body, while others hold that human life starts with the development or maturation of a nervous system. Those opposed to abortion at any stage counter by saying that it is arbitrary when an embryo or fetus is to be considered a separate human life; the same person who exists today is the same person who existed the day she was born, the day before she was born, a month before she was born, and so on with no objective and rational place to draw the line. They argue that future technology may make it possible for a human life to develop entirely outside of a woman's body, and can point out that even today embryos that are frozen are later birthed by other women. Others argue that a fetus does not have the capacity for thought, self-awareness, etc. required for personhood and thus does not have a strong right to life, in line with common treatment of severely brain damaged (vegetative) humans. The counterargument to this is that a severely brain damaged individual has a close to a 0% chance of regaining those requirements for personhood in the future, whereas a healthy fetus has close to a 100% chance of gaining those requirements if not aborted. This is countered by the argument that rights depend on the current state, not the future, which is why we don't give old people the rights of a corpse.

For those who believe that abortion should be legally permissible (regardless of its morality), one of the most common arguments is based on privacy rights. Abortion rights advocates hold that a woman's right to determine what happens with her body (including whether to carry a pregnancy to term) is private, is not to be interfered with by outside influences, and negates all rights of her potential offspring. See the Thomson argument in the next section.

Another common argument is political pragmatism. Where abortion is illegal, some women nonetheless seek to end their pregnancies and will resort to unsafe methods that endanger their own lives—so-called "back-alley" abortions. Since modern medical testing makes it possible to estimate early in pregnancy whether a child might be born with severe defects, some abortion rights advocates also argue that requiring such children to be born would be an unnecessary burden on society as well as the parents—and might even be an immoral offense to the children themselves. This, however, raises another contentious moral issue, that of "selective" abortion, where parents might choose to terminate a pregnancy based on desired traits of the child (such as sex) that can be determined before birth. At this time, selective abortion of Downs Syndrome fetuses has substantially reduced the number of people born with this disease.

Some abortion rights advocates point to global population pressures which many hold responsible for endemic hunger, overcrowding, and environmental impacts; they believe that making abortion illegal would result in further pressures of this sort, exacerbating these problems. They also sometimes refer to the difficulties and often miseries experienced by the children and their mothers, when the mothers are often single and impoverished. An increase of children born to such situations could result in an increase in social ills, including increases in crime, broadening of the population base of those living below the poverty line, and ballooning of the state welfare rolls. A related argument holds that the lower birth rates brought about by legal abortion result in fewer people competing for the jobs that are available, thus reducing the unemployment rate and creating labor shortages that drive up wages, particularly for the lowest-paid workers.

Abortion opponents observe that a related rationale led China to adopt its "one child" policy, which has led not only to increased abortions and sterilizations, but also to live baby daughters being secretly abandoned in hopes that the next child will be a son. When the answer to social ills is to reduce the number of people, the argument goes, other even less palatable ways of reducing existing populations may begin to look attractive as well. Abortion opponents also point out the abortion proponents rarely suggest killing infants and toddlers as a solution to hunger, overcrowding, and environmental impacts. In response, those that favor legal abortion point out that sex selection is possible in the United States but no preference for either sex is seen. Rather, families generally choose balanced sex ratios—sometimes using abortion to achieve this result. Moreover, most advocates of abortion rights believe that babies are persons and thus infanticide would be immoral.

It is sometimes argued by anti-abortion advocates that, given that a viable fetus can be converted into an infant through a cesarean section, if infanticide is immoral then so is abortion. However, this argument rests upon the notion that we must either give full human rights or none. Even if abortion does not end the life of a person, it at least ends the life of a dependent organism that has the potential to become a person. If we grant this potential person some rights, which are substiantial yet subordinate to those of a full person, then it becomes consistent to oppose late-term abortion along with infanticide while not opposing the abortion of an early-term pregnancy. The logic here is that the woman's right to her own body trumps the right of a potential person to become an actual person by remaining inside her body. If she doesn't want to support an embryo or nonviable fetus, she can't simply remove it and expect it to survive; ending her pregnancy necessarily involves ending the life of the potential person, which is an unfortunate lesser of evils. On the other hand, if she has a viable fetus or an infant, she can simply give it away, so killing it is not justified. Of course, none of this is persuasive to those who would grant full rights at the moment of conception, but it might impact the stance of those who would make apparently unprincipled exceptions to allow abortion in the case of rape or incest.

Philosophical argumentation on the moral issue
Contemporary philosophical literature contains two kinds of arguments for and against the morality of abortion. One family of arguments holds that the issue can be settled without considering personhood: whether abortion is morally permissible or not does not depend on whether the embryo and fetus are persons. Another family holds that what is of essence is the question of personhood.

In favor of moral permissibility, regardless of personhood
Judith Jarvis Thomson in her celebrated article, A Defense of Abortion, argues that if one were to find oneself suddenly attached to another, adult human being, and in such a position such that, if one were to remove oneself, that other person would die, it is by no means clear that one would be obligated, morally or legally, to continue to be attached to that person. Her most famous case is that of the violinist. A famous violinist needs the use of your kidneys. Without consulting either you or the violinist, the Society of Music Lovers kidnaps you and hooks you up to the violinist, so that your kidneys are doing the job of his. In nine months it will be possible to disconnect the violinist with him surviving. Right now, however, disconnection will result in his death. Thomson thinks it is clearly permissible to disconnect oneself from the violinist even though she admits that this would be a killing. Thus even if the fetus has full personhood, abortion is permissible in some circumstances.

Abortion opponents find this argument unconvincing since the woman would only be "temporarily" attached to another human being—it is not as if she would be forced to be attached to the other indefinitely. Moreover, even if the attachment was permanent, from a legal and moral standpoint, the argument given by Thomson is arguably fallacious. Using conjoined twins as an example, for one twin to remove him or herself from the other when the known consequence would be death for the other is indeed considered murder legally and morally. (See Himma 1999 for discussion of this point). Also, given the logic used, the adult human being the woman suddenly finds herself attached to would possess as much right as the woman to detach him or herself from the woman even if the woman dies as a result. Also against this argument the objection is frequently made that in about 99 percent of all cases (rape and incest account for about 1 percent) it was, after all, the mother who made a choice which caused the baby to become attached to her, and therefore the analogy is imperfect. However, the choice to have sex is not the same as the choice to become pregnant or to carry a pregnancy to term. Thomson's analogy, as posed, only works for cases of rape; if one made a choice to engage in an activity they knew might result in a violinist being attached to their kidneys, indeed an act with the primary design and function of attaching a violinist to one's kidneys, the argument for that person's termination of attachment loses coercion as its moral justification. Then again, if the choice included an attempt to prevent the attachment (the equivalent of contraception), this may change things. This sort of reasoning leads into the moral exception (for some) regarding rape or incest. Others respond that women who become pregnant unintentionally were certainly not choosing to become attached to a fetus, though it is doubtful many would argue it should be only illegal to choose abortion if the pregnancy was originally planned. There are some who support the right to abortion, but consider the use of abortion as the primary method of birth control as immoral.

Furthermore, some argue that there is a disanalogy between cases like that of the violinist and that of pregnancy. Many medical ethicists see a difference between ordinary and extraordinary care. To withhold ordinary care, such as food and water, from a patient is simply to kill the patient. But by the Principle of double effect, it can be morally permissible to withhold extraordinary care, e.g., medical treatments so expensive that a number of other lives could be saved by using the same money, if one does not intend the patient to die. What one needs to receive in normal life circumstances, such as food and water, always counts as ordinary care (though this does not exhaust ordinary care: medical procedures that are easily available and cause no harm to anyone are ordinary care). Since a normal life includes nine months in the womb, what the fetus receives is argued to be ordinary care. On the other hand, the abnormal burden placed on the person to whom the violinist is connected is considered to be extraordinary care.

Against moral permissibility, regardless of personhood

Don Marquis in a seminal article argues that even if the fetus is not a person, abortion is generally morally impermissible. To get to that conclusion, he starts by analysing what it is that makes the murder of an adult human being wrong. Killing an adult human deprives that adult human of a future. That is, after all, what killing is: the deprivation of future life. Killing is a paradigmatic case of a crime that is wrong because of the harm it imposes on the victim, and the harm is this deprivation of future life. If one believes in the permissibility of capital punishment one may add the qualifier that the victim has to be juridically innocent for the imposition of this harm to be wrong, but since the fetus is not juridically guilty, it is not necessary to discuss this qualifier further.

If what makes killing one of us adults wrong is that it deprives us of our future, then killing a fetus is equally wrong, Marquis concludes. For killing a fetus deprives the fetus of "a future like ours". This deprivation is what made murdering you and me wrong. If that which makes killing you and me wrong is present in the case of abortion, it follows that abortion is wrong. Observe that the question of personhood is irrelevant. In fact, if the fetus is not a person, then the fetus is deprived of more and hence harmed more—the fetus is deprived of a chance to live as a person.

More precisely, if the argument is sound, it follows that abortion is wrong in all the cases in which the fetus would have a future such that killing an adult with that future would be wrong. Thus, if involuntary euthanasia of patients with a future filled with intense physical pain is morally acceptable, aborting fetuses whose future is filled with intense physical pain will also be morally acceptable. Note that it will not do here to invoke the fact that some fetus's future would involve such things as being raised by an unloving family, since we do not take it to be acceptable to kill a five-year-old just because her future involves being raised by an unloving family.

A response to the Marquis argument is that the ovum and sperm have the same future as the fetus does. Hence, just as it is wrong to deprive the fetus of its future, it is wrong to deprive the ovum and sperm of their future. Therefore, the Marquis argument is claimed to imply the equal wrongness of contraception, which is meant to be a reductio ad absurdum (note that those who think contraception is wrong do not generally think it is as wrong as murder, so the reductio would seem to work for them, too). Marquis rejects the claim that his argument has such a conclusion. He says that it is not possible to point out which sperm is being deprived of a future through contraception—there are millions of competing sperm, and no one particular one can be pointed out as "the one" which is being deprived. Opponents, however, may note that if one were to see a particular sperm approaching a particular egg, preventing their union would 'still' either not be wrong or at least not as wrong as murder. Likewise, castration would be murder because it stops all sperm, even the ones that would otherwise have impregnated someone, from ever achieving a future.

Recently, a variant of the Marquis argument has taken on some popularity (see, e.g., Gomez-Lobo's Natural Goods). This variant is based on a slogan such as "You were once a fetus". The argument claims that we adult human beings are the same individuals that once were fetuses. Our mothers may talk of the time when we were in their wombs, and this all seems perfectly natural. One can then argue with Marquis that the essential harm imposed on one of us by killing is the deprivation of future life. If we were killed before birth, the victim would still have been the same entity, the same organism. The harm would be the same or greater (since more future life would have been lost). If the harm is the same and the victim is the same, and the victim is no less (indeed, perhaps, more) innocent, then surely the deed is just as wrong. Therefore, the argument concludes, it would be just as wrong to kill us before birth as after birth.

A crucial element in the argument is the claim that the same entity that once was a fetus is now you. One way to argue for this claim is as follows. The fetus in your past was a living organism. This organism is either alive now or is no longer alive now. If this organism is no longer alive now, then at some point it died. But the fetus never died. Throughout its career in the womb, it was growing, increasing its abilities, and did not undergo any transformation that would count as a "perishing". Nor did birth kill the fetus. Hence that organism that was once the fetus you developed from has not died. Where, then, is that organism to be found? Surely the right answer is that it is precisely where you are: you are that organism. Consequently, the fetus and you are the same organism, at different stages of development. Some would deny this conclusion, arguing that continuous change does not necessitate identical rights at all moments, pointing out that we grant rights upon adulthood that we would not consider giving to a newborn, even though it's clearly the same organism.

Other opponents of this version of the argument are likely to distinguish between two entities that are in the same place as you are. There is the animal or organism, on the one hand, and the person, on the other. This might be counterintuitive: surely you are both an organism and a person, rather than you being a person and the animal being something else. If you are an organism and the fetus is the same organism as you are, then you and the fetus are the same individual. However, please note that in this section of the overall discussion, the concept of person is supposed to be excluded. Only the organism is supposed to be under consideration here. If the Marquis argument for human organisms fails to withstand logical scrutiny, then opponents of abortion, in this section of the discussion, should not fall back to an element, which from-the-start was specifically excluded; they should find a different and more powerful argument.

A different kind of opposition to both this and the Marquis argument is to claim that what makes murder wrong is not just the deprivation of a future, but also the deprivation of a future that one has an interest in. The fetus has no conscious interest in its future. Hence, to kill it is not wrong, the opponent concludes. The defender of Marquis-style arguments may, however, give the counterexample of the suicidal teenager who takes no interest in his or her future, but killing whom is nonetheless wrong and murder. If the opponent responds that one can have an interest in one's future without taking an interest in it, then the defender of the Marquis-style argument can claim that every being objectively has an interest in that being's future even if the being takes no interest in it.

While a crucial premise in Marquis' argument is that the human fetus has a "future like ours", and hence is different from a whale or a mosquito, he does not explain exactly why a future like ours matters. Those who agree that a future like that which you and I will have is of deep value, a value of a kind different and greater than that of a whale or a mosquito, will be untroubled by this assumption. At the same time, philosophically, querying the source of this value is of deep interest. The concern here is that when personhood is disregarded, his results apply equally to whales and mosquitoes as to humans. However, defenders of Marquis will &mdash; in spite of the fact that his argument is supposed to be entirely independent of the concept of personhood &mdash; insist that he can avail himself of considerations of personhood. For, our future life would be the life of a person, and if a fetus has a future like ours, then that fetus's future life would also be the life of a person. Since it is the future life that the argument is rooted in, it is irrelevant to the argument as Marquis presents it whether the fetus now counts as a person or not. On the other hand, that interpretation of Marquis' argument implies that there is such a thing as a right to experience the future. Certainly there is a right to <i>try</i> to experience the future, because that is the essence of "living" in action. But success at it is by no means any sort of right. Else the concept of "death" would be utterly unknown, even for mosquitoes. Note that if we do not presume a moral right to a naturally unfolding life, we cannot define murder as immoral as discussed, since the victim of murder has simply failed in his or her efforts to experience the future, whereas the murderer has potentially enhanced his or her experience. Nevertheless, murder can be defined in another way: It is more than simple killing because it ALSO unfairly terminates someone's right to make choices. That is, we all claim a right to make choices simply because we have the mental ability to make choices. There is plenty of evidence that the behavior of insects and many other animals is purely stimulus-response, programmed like robots they are &mdash; and killable with no taint of murder they also are. Only beings with significant mental abilities have the power to make choices outside the program, and therefore also have the distinction of being murderable, not merely killable. The element of immorality (or "cultural fiat") can now be added to this definition due to the simple fact that a culture cannot prosper if its members go around arbitrarily murdering each other. So, if it is the unfair termination of choices that is immoral and murder, then capital punishment, if correctly procedurally implemented, would be a fair termination, and abortion during most of a pregnancy would not even be a blip on the unfair/immoral scale, since for several months a fetus utterly lacks the amount of brainpower needed to make nonrobotic choices.

Mary Anne Warren, in her famous article arguing for the permissibility of abortion, begins by criticizing Thomson's violinist argument as only applicable in cases of rape. Warren holds that moral opposition to abortion is based on the following argument:

#It is wrong to kill innocent human beings.
#The fetus is an innocent human being.
#Hence it is wrong to kill the fetus.
Warren, however, thinks that "human being" is used in different senses in (1) and (2). In (1), "human being" is used in a moral sense as meaning "person". In (2), "human being" means "biological human." That the fetus is a biologically human organism or animal is indisputable, Warren holds. But it does not follow that the fetus is a person, and it is persons that have rights, such as the right not to be killed.

To help make a distinction between "person" and "biological human", Warren notes that we should respect the lives of highly intelligent aliens, even if they are not biological humans. She thinks that there is a cluster of properties that characterize persons:
#consciousness (of objects and events external and/or internal to the being), and in particular the capacity to feel pain
#reasoning (the developed capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems)
#self-motivated activity (activity which is relatively independent of either genetic or direct external control)
#the capacity to communicate, by whatever means, messages of an indefinite variety of types, that is, not just with an indefinite number of possible contents, but on indefinitely many possible topics
#the presence of self-concepts, and self-awareness, either individual or racial, or both
A person does not have to have each of these, but if something has all five then it definitely is a person whether it is biologically human or not, while if it has none or only one then it definitely is not a person, again whether it is biologically human or not. The fetus has at most one, consciousness (and only after it becomes susceptible to pain&mdash;the exact timing is not yet agreed on), and hence is not a person.

Alfonso Gomez-Lobo has also claimed that Warren's criteria beg the question: she has simply listed the qualities that adult human beings have, and noted that fetuses do not have them, without showing that these qualities are what makes for the right to life. Nonetheless, it seems plausible that applying something like Warren's criteria would be how we would figure out if it was acceptable to kill members of an alien species.

Some critics also point out that infants (indeed up to about one year of age, since it is only around then that they begin to outstrip the abilities of non-human animals) only have one of these characteristics&mdash;consciousness&mdash;and hence have to be accounted non-persons by Warren. Warren explicitly agrees with this conclusion in later writing, but denies that the conclusion leads to morally repugnant conclusions such as the general permissibility of infanticide. For, Warren claims, once a human being is born, there is no longer a conflict between it and the woman's rights, since the human being can be given up for adoption. Killing such a human being would be wrong, not because it is a person, but because it would go against the desires of many people willing to adopt the infant and to pay to keep the infant alive. Nonetheless, Warren grants that her argument implies that infanticide is morally acceptable under some circumstances, such as those of a desert island. Opponents of her argument can claim that this concession in itself provides a reductio ad absurdum of the argument, while supporters can shrug it off as an example of unpleasant acts being justified in unusual cases.

Opponents argue that the sense in which the properties apply to a comatose adult human being is also not completely clear. This is probably an area for further philosophical development on both sides.

Moreover, opponents of the Warren argument may argue that if it is these qualities that make the life of a human being valuable, then this may be thought to suggest that a human being that has these qualities to a greater extent is deserving of greater respect while one that has them to a lesser extent is deserving of lesser respect. After all, most of the qualities listed are on a continuum, admitting of lesser and greater degrees. Furthermore, this continuity makes the exact point at which personhood ensues be something vague, and human beings around that point, say between one and two years of age, will have a shadowy moral status. If one thinks that there are no shadowy moral statuses, then this will be a reason to reject the argument.

Those who argue that abortion is morally impermissible can argue that what matters is not that one be actually exhibiting the five qualities Warren identifies, but that one have in oneself a self-directed genetic propensity to develop the qualities, and a fetus has that. Alternately, one might argue that a person is an individual that normally exhibits these qualities at some point of its life, even if it does not actually exhibit them because of not having developed them (embryo, fetus) or having lost them (Alzheimer's). In this way, the opponents of the permissibility of abortion can try to make use of the arguments in the previous section to the effect that the human fetus is the same entity as is later a human adult in a relevant way. If one grants that claim, and if one thinks that personhood is an essential property, one that one has throughout one's existence and cannot gain or lose, then one will accept that the fetus is a person.

When discussing the concept of personhood, it is possible to make a distinction between the person and the body in which that person resides. One could liken the body as a kind of "vehicle" in which the person travels from place to place. Evidence for this assertion is offered by every pilot or driver who ever felt at one with the vehicle. That is, if a person's point-of-view can encompass a body not-its-own as if that vehicle was its body, then the person is indeed something distinct from any type of body. When telepresence technology matures, everyone will have an opportunity to experience the truth of the preceding statements. Therefore the concept of personhood is so unique that all mere physical attributes of any specified body can be ignored. Whether whole or handicapped, albino or violet, Earth-born or alien, carbon-based or otherwise, biological or cyborg or purely robotic, the body-as-vehicle is overshadowed by the special concept of personhood. Thus, returning to the body with which a human person is born, looking out through the eyes is like looking out through a windshield, and accidents, of course, are to be avoided. Like any other vehicle, the body requires proper maintenance, and it is known that for an adult human body a certain amount of sexual activity is healthful. This naturally can lead to the special situation of pregnancy, in which biological machinery manufactures more biological machinery &mdash; a new vehicle, that is. When personhood is regarded, much of the argumentation over abortion actually pivots on the question of whether or not the new-vehicle-under-construction is occupied by a driver. If one identifies the presence of a "driver" with the existence of someone who exhibits consciousness at present, the available evidence indicates that the answer is negative early on. Prior to the point of the appearance of consciousness, therefore, arbitrary termination of the construction project is not the killing of a person, and hence by this argument can be morally permissible. Do note that we have the technology to test for the appearance of consciousness, because it is known that late in a pregnancy a distinct awake/asleep cycle can be detected, the same as exhibited by all humans after birth.

  • Abortion law

  • Abortion and Evangelical Christians

  • Religion and abortion

  • Nuremberg Files

  • Person - for a discussion of personhood

  • A woman's right to choose

  • Human life begins at conception

  • Artificial womb

  • English, Jane. “Abortion and the Concept of a Person,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, vol. 5, no. 2 (October 1975)

  • Himma, Kenneth Einar. “Thomson’s Violinist and Conjoined Twins,” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, vol. 8, no. 4 (Fall 1999)

  • Luker, Kristen. Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood. (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983)

  • Marquis, Don. “An Argument that Abortion is Wrong,” in John Arthur (ed.), Morality and Moral Controversies, 5th Ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999)

  • Thomson, Judith Jarvis. "A Defense of Abortion," Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 1, no. 1 (1971)

  • http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=410&invol=113 Findlaw: full text of Roe V Wade decision, plus discussion

  • http://www.publicagenda.org/issues/red_flags_detail2.cfm?issue_type=abortion&red_flag_graphic=rfabortiondepends.jpg Public opinion on when abortion is acceptable

Pro-life links
  • http://abortionno.org/abortion_no.html Abortion no.org

  • http://www.consistent-life.org/ Consistent Life

  • http://www.feministsforlife.org/ Feminists for Life

  • http://www.l4l.org/ Libertarians for Life

  • http://www.nrlc.org/ National Right to Life Committee

  • http://www.pldaily.com/ PLDaily.com

  • http://www.prayerforlife.com/ Prayer for Life

  • http://www.prolifeaction.com/ Pro-Life Action

  • http://www.ProLifeCommittee.org/ Pro-Life Campaign Committee

  • http://www.ProLifeCommitteeNews.com/ Pro-Life Campaign Committee News

  • http://www.abortionfacts.com/ Abortions Facts

  • http://www.all.org/ the American Life League

Pro-choice links
  • http://www.choiceusa.org/ Choice USA

  • http://www.ms4c.org/ Medical Students for Choice

  • http://www.naral.org/ NARAL Pro-Choice America

  • http://www.prochoice.org/ National Abortion Federation

  • http://www.plannedparenthood.org/ Planned Parenthood

  • http://pro-choicelibertarians.net/ Pro-Choice Libertarians

  • http://www.protectchoice.org/ Pro-Choice Public Education Project

  • http://www.abortionlaw.org/ Quotations About Abortion

  • http://www.rcrc.org/ The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

  • http://www.religiousconsultation.org/summary_of_sacred_choices.htm Summary of Sacred Choices

  • http://www.utdallas.edu/~jfg021000/thomson.html Full text of Judith Jarvis Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion"


This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Abortion debate".

Last Modified:   2005-12-23

All informatin on the site is © www.diseases-diagnosis.com 2002-2011. Last revised: January 2, 2011
Are you interested in our site or/and want to use our information? please read how to contact us and our copyrights.
To let us provide you with high quality information, you can help us by making a more or less donation: