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Why do so many people feel that abortion is not a major issue? Regardless of

Why do so many people feel that abortion is not a major issue? Regardless of what end of the field you stand on, you’re either defending human rights or you’re defending human life, based on your perspective. Both of these things are clearly important issues so why do so many people attempt to devalue the controversy of abortion?

I wonder what you mean when you say that "many people attempt to devalue the controversy "?

I suppose that it is true that a lot of people are not at all tempted by either "end of the field" -- if that means holding at one end that abortion is tantamount to murder, or holding at the other end that even very late abortions are morally insignificant. Many people think that the moral status of an zygote/embryo/foetus increases as time goes by -- the natural or unnatural death of the immediate product of conception is of little or no consequence, the natural or unnatural death of a foetus near term a matter of very serious concern, with a sliding scale in between. If you take this "gradualist" view -- a rather attractive one, I think -- the loud controversy between extremists at either end will indeed seem wrongheaded: it's not that the gradualist ignores the controversy, or merely ducks out from taking sides, rather she thinks that there is a third option.

I've written a bit more about that kind of gradualism in answer to an earlier question here.

Why do so many people on the pro-choice end of the abortion argument insist that

Why do so many people on the pro-choice end of the abortion argument insist that life does not begin until after birth and that a fetus is not a human? I mean, you can say that an embryo is not a human because it has no cognitive abilities. You can use science to show that it has no cognitive abilities too, but you cannot use science to prove that cognitive abilities are the defining attribute of a person. As a matter of fact, don’t scientists identify organisms as members of their respective species based on their unique genetic signature? Human beings have a genetic signature of their own. Every human has it and no other species shares it with us. So, scientifically the fetus is a human, it’s only when we put religious sentiment into the mix that we can define it as anything else than a member of our species. The life argument is more effective except that biologically there’s no significance to the instant of birth. It’s culturally significant but is there any real transformation in the 32-week...

If someone says of a (human) foetus that it is not human, then presumably they are not making a biological remark. They are not foolishly assigning it to the wrong species!

Rather, they are expressing -- not in a very happy way -- a moral view. The claim is that a foetus. at least at sufficiently early stages in its development, doesn't have the same moral status as a developed human being (a fully-fledged person).

Now, given the gradual biological development, it would -- as the question implies -- seem intolerable to suppose that there is, somewhere along the line between conception and birth and beyond, a point where there is a sudden jump from having no moral standing to having the standing of a full person. The natural view is that there is a corresponding increase in moral standing as you go along. And indeed, that seems to be what almost everyone actually thinks when considering the natural death of embryos and foetuses. A high percentage of conceptions (over 25%) result in very early natural terminations: we don't, in practice, think of that as a moral scandal as we might regard a similar level of neo-natal death. We don't think of a woman's rejoicing when an unwanted pregnancy naturally comes to an end after a couple of weeks as being on a par with a woman celebrating the death of an unwanted baby. The fundamental "pro-choice" thought is that we should think of the seriousness of bringing about the death of embryos and foetuses in proportion to the seriousness with which we do in fact mostly regard natural deaths of such things -- i.e. not very serious (so not on a par with the killing of a developed person) at the very outset, more serious as time progresses. But putting that thought in slogan form, and saying that foetuses aren't human, would -- I agree -- be misleading, to say the least.

Is it rational to both maintain that abortion is entirely morally permissible

Is it rational to both maintain that abortion is entirely morally permissible (on the grounds that a fetus is not a person, let's say) and to regret having had one?

And for yet another persepctive on this, it seems as if it is morally permissible not always to be a "good samaritan". But of course one might reasonably regret not having been a "good samaritan" on some particular occasion, i.e., regret not having gone out of one's way---beyond the call of moral duty---to do something for someone. It therefore seems perfectly reasonable, in general, to regret things one had, and knows one had, every moral permission to do.

A cognate point is made explicitly in Judith Jarvis Thomson's classic paper, "A Defense of Abortion". To say that something is morally permissible is simply to say that it isn't morally prohibited: It's a fairly weak claim in some ways. In particular, it doesn't at all follow that the thing in question is, all things considered, the best thing to do, nor even that it is, all things considered, a particularly nice thing to do. So, if I remember correctly, Thomson says she is quite willing to concede, so far as her argument is concerned, that it might always be the nice thing to do not to have an abortion. That, however, is not what is at issue.

That morality leaves a good deal open is so intuitive that utilitarianism's failure to leave a good deal open, in this sense, is often considered one of the more serious objections to it.

The moral question of whether abortion is wrong is whether or not it is a person

The moral question of whether abortion is wrong is whether or not it is a person. Well, I don't understand why people say that a fetus is not a person. How are a fetus and an infant any different. An infant doesn't understand the future just the way a fetus doesn't. At 14 weeks a fetus begins to move and "explore" the womb and itself. That shows some curiosity and some sort of "thinking". On a genetic level or the form of the fetus also at 14 weeks it is "a person". So then at the very least shouldn't abortion be illegal after that? If we should not kill an infant, which is very illegal, why can we kill a fetus which in many instances is on the same level as the infant? If anything we should not kill the fetus because it is innocent and the infant is not. An infant cries just to be held where it should cry because it needs something. Just as a small example.

There is more relevant discussion in response to Question 2107, where I remark on the moral differences between early fetuses and newborn infants that we seem to make in our thinking about the natural or accidental death of fetuses as against babies.

One of the most common justifications I hear for abortion is "a woman should

One of the most common justifications I hear for abortion is "a woman should have control over her body." If humans reproduced oviparously, would that change the debate? Let's say a woman conceives a child, and then immediately lays an egg. The egg would still need incubation and maintenance, though this could be performed by any party, not just the mother. After nine months of development, the egg would hatch into a baby human. Would a woman be justified in crushing this egg? This mimics the abortion debate, except that in this case the fetus cannot be addressed as part of the woman's body. Would that invalidate any abortion arguments?

There are several different questions here. The first is whether, in the circumstances imagined, one would have a right to kill the developing ovum, or whatever. The second is whether a negative answer to this question would invalidate arguments in favor of the the permissibility of abortion.

Let me answer the second question first. I think the answer here is "No": At least, I don't see that there are any very plausible arguments it would undermine. If you consider, for example, the central argument of Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous paper "A Defense of Abortion", it depends crucially upon the fact that the developing fetus is dependent upon the woman's body and that the woman's body is affected by the presence of the fetus. Thomson then argues, largely by analogy, that a woman is not morally obligated to carry a fetus under those circumstances. It's this kind of argument that I take to be summed up by "a woman should have control over what happens in and to her body".

Thomson actually does consider the question whether a woman has a right to see to the death of the fetus, as well as having the right to remove it from her body. I don't recall exactly what conclusion she reaches. But my recollection is that she does not come down strongly in favor of saying the woman does have a right to see to the death of the fetus. What complicates the issue is the supposition that the woman is supposed to bear some responsibility for the fetus after its disconnection from her, and you do not say whether you are supposing that there would be such a responsibility if reproduction were oviparous. If not, then it's very hard to see why the woman would have a right to "crush" the egg. If so, however, then there is more to discuss.

What's important here is that this kind of argument, concerning the responsibility a woman would, in your example, have for the egg and its eventual human product is quite different from the control over one's body argument, and one could perfectly well have different views about them.

American Protestant fundamentalists who are against abortion frequently say they

American Protestant fundamentalists who are against abortion frequently say they are for a "culture of life." It seems that many of them also support the death penalty and have a low threshold for a willingness to wage war. Does anyone know how they justify this seeming contradiction? What is remarkable to me is that fundamentalist Christians who are against abortion seem to hold this value of "unborn life" above almost all else, saying that they are "single issue voters." Not only do I wonder how this is reconciled with their not seeming to value the lives of convicted criminals and those will die due to wars that we easily enter, but also how they put the value of a fetus' life above all the other things that Christians are supposed to value, that, if one is a single issue voter, one gives up fighting for. I guess what I mean is, how is this favoring of one class of lives justified philosophically/religiously against the valuing of other classes of lives and other "Christian" values? Thanks.

I think it comes down to a question of guilt or innocence. A criminal has committed a major sin, and hence deserves a major punishment: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life. Even just an ordinary adult will have some track-record of sin behind them -- none of us are perfect. They might not quite be evil enough to deserve to be targetted directly, but nevertheless it wouldn't be such a terrible thing if they were to become the victims of collateral damage in war. But an unborn baby, having had no opportunity to sin, is completely and utterly innocent, an unblemished soul, and consequently of greater moral worth.

As far as I can discern, that's roughly the idea that those fundamentalists have. Speaking for myself, I regard this attitude as wholly abhorrent, both antithetical to the teachings of Jesus and morally repugnant in itself. But, hey, that's just my opinion, and what do I know?

Women bring up the issue about having the right to choose to abort the fetus.It

Women bring up the issue about having the right to choose to abort the fetus.It takes two to tango and it also takes two to conceive a child. Shouldn't the guy have some sort of say when it comes to abortion?

It is true that abortion debates rarely, if ever, take into account the man’s perspective. People who oppose abortion believe that aborting a fetus is wrong regardless of whether the man (or woman) is in support of so doing. Most people who believe that abortion is morally permissible believe that it is the woman has the right to make the decision on her own – even if that decision conflicts with the man’s wishes.

Why do men get left out of the debate? Because it isn’t clear what rights they have that could outweigh the rights of the other parties involved. The central rights at stake in the abortion debates are the woman’s right to autonomy (which includes the right to decide what happens to her body) and the fetus’ right to life (or lack thereof). These two rights – the right to autonomy and the right to life – are generally to taken to be the most central of all of our rights, and neither the man’s right to autonomy or the man’s right to life are jeopardized by the prospect of an abortion. This is why men get left out of the abortion debate.

While some people believe there is a right of “procreative liberty”, which includes the right to reproduce, we wouldn’t want to say that the man’s right to reproduce overrides a woman’s right to autonomy, for (among other reasons) this would legitimize non-consensual sex. So, as your questions suggests, it seems that this is an instance where men are stuck: they bear responsibility for the fetus, yet do not have the right to make decisions about its future.

How can abortion be so easily accepted in a civilized society? Sure, it is

How can abortion be so easily accepted in a civilized society? Sure, it is important that a woman or any person be able to have control over their body, but the fetus is a separate entity, a new person completely, as is logically shown by the fact that a mother can give birth to a male child. Anyone can tell this without having to use the available scientific evidence which proves my point. So, what gives any person the right to kill someone else so that they can live the way that they want?

Allen Stairs rightly queries the claim that the foetus is already a new person: killing an early foetus is not straightforwardly killing a person -- it is at most killing something that would otherwise become a person.

Still, you might be tempted to say -- indeed, many people do say -- killing a potential person is as bad as killing a fully-fledged person.

Well, I disagree. But just asserting a disagreement is hardly very interesting. So what sort of grounds could I give to support my position? What sort of grounds could you give for yours?

At this point, we might be tempted to bandy about very general principles about the morality of killing or the "right to life" which are supposed to settle things one way or the other. Now this might help. But more likely, it will just shift the debate from a clash of intuitions about abortion to a clash of intuitions about these more general principles about killing and we will find ourselves going around in circles. What to do?

Well, I think it can help to set our thinking about abortion not just in the wider context of principles about killing but in the wider context of what we think about other early foetal deaths which happen naturally, or by accident or misadventure.

Now it does seem a notable fact that while the natural miscarriage in the very early weeks of a pregnancy may be, for some mothers, a misfortune, very few people regard it as the moral equivalent of e.g. the death of a newly born baby. Suppose a young woman has accidentally become pregnant, to her distress, and then a couple of weeks after a very early test gives a positive result she has a natural miscarriage. She feels much relieved and cheered at the outcome. Her girl friends even buy her a drink to celebrate. Very few of us would morally condemn the woman or her friends for their feelings! Very few would regard the woman as morally on a par with a mother who cheerfully celebrated the death of an inconvenient baby.

Here's another notable fact. It is estimated that 25% of all pregnancies are miscarried by thefourth week. Yet no one seems to campaign for medical intervention toreduce that figure in the way that they might campaign to raise money to reduce a highrate of child deaths in a developing country. We let nature take its course, even if that course involves the spontaneous miscarriage of a very large number of "potential people".

You can probably multiply such examples for yourself. And they do suggest that -- when we turn our attention away from the intentional causing of an abortion to other 'natural' cases of early foetal death -- we do not in general seem to regard the death of an early foetus as morally on a par with the death of a child. (I'm not saying we think of it as entirely insignificant, just that we seem to give the death increasingly more weight as the foetus develops.)

But now the question obviously arises: if in practice we do not believe that the death of an early foetus is in other cases straightforwardly the moral equivalent of the death of a full-fledged person, and if we are happy to reflectively retain that general view about foetal death, then why should we think that the intentional killing of an early foetus is the moral equivalent of the intentional killing of a full-fledged person? If the natural death of a potential person doesn't matter as much as the natural death of a child (think again of all those spontaneous miscarriages), when why should the unnatural death of a potential person be thought of as particularly grave -- a sort of infanticide? I for one find it difficult to see any reason for treating the gravity of the natural and unnatural deaths very differently.

Now, there are of course various further things that might be said here (but not in the confines of a short answer!). But at least we have here a hopefully illuminating suggestion about how to start thinking about abortion. Try thinking first about the moral weight you actually do give to other kinds of embryo/early foetal death at various stagaes, in particular to natural or accidental deaths. Consider whether you are content to rest with those views you have. Now try to make your moral views about the level of seriousness of causing foetal death fit together consistently with those views about the seriousness of natural and accidental deaths.

When there is no clear solution to an issue, it would seem to me that assessing

When there is no clear solution to an issue, it would seem to me that assessing risks would be the most reasonable way of dealing with it. In the case of abortion we risk a mother losing the civil right to address her pregnancy within her own moral reasoning, verses a child losing its fundamental right to live. The latter risk seems more pressing and with greater consequence. Can a struggle for justice be assessed upon risk?

Just one comment, not really on the main thrust of Allen's response, but on his remark "Some people see the death of a fetus -- even a very early-stage fetus -- as the moral equivalent of the death of a full-fledged person such as you or I."

I think it is much more accurate to say that some people, when discussing abortion, proclaim that they see the death of a very early-stage fetus (we ought to say "embryo") as the moral equivalent of the death of a full-fledged person. But though some might proclaim that, very few indeed seem actually to believe it. And that is revealed by the fact that very few indeed think of the natural death of an embryo as the moral equivalent of the natural death of a full-fledged person (or indeed, of a neonate).

While the natural miscarriage in the very early weeks of a pregnancy may, for some, be a misfortune, very few people regard it as the moral equivalent of the death of a newly born baby (for example, if a woman is rather cheerfully relieved to find that she is no longer pregnant when she feared she was, then very few would regard her as morally on a par with a mother who is glad at the death of a healthy newborn). Again, who campaigns to reduce the rate of natural miscarriage in the very early weeks of pregnancy? It is estimated that 25% of all pregnancies are miscarried by the fourth week. Yet (almost) no one campaigns for medical intervention to reduce that figure in the way that they might campaign to reduce a high rate of neonatal deaths.

You will be able to multiple such examples. (Almost) no one in practice believes that the death of an embryo is in general straightforwardly the moral equivalent of the death of a full-fledged person.

Yet many claim to think that the intentional killing of an embryo is the moral equivalent of the intentional killing of a full-fledged person. It is a nice question whether that view about killing is consistent with the view about death in general.

How should we think of abortion in view of common sense beliefs about death? In

How should we think of abortion in view of common sense beliefs about death? In Question #1596, Professor Gentzler's solution to the problem of death-as-punishment was to suggest that we should see death, not as placing a person in some worse state (since a dead person is in no state at all), but as depriving him of what benefits he might have enjoyed had he lived. Yet by this same brand of reasoning, couldn't we argue that aborted fetuses are harmed in an analogous way? In both cases we have a puzzle about people who in some sense don't exist; the dead person because he is no longer conscious, the fetus because it is not sufficiently developed.

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