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Are there any (good, interesting, significant, etc) secular arguments against

Are there any (good, interesting, significant, etc) secular arguments against abortion?

Probably the most well-known secular argument against abortion is by Don Marquis. The paper is called Why Abortion is Immoral (sorry I don't have a link to a non-paywalled version) and the argument goes roughly like this:

Start by asking why death is a misfortune. Marquis' answer is that it cuts us off from all of the potential value in our futures. This is why it's worse than being robbed or injured. At least if I'm robbed I still have the hope of a worthwhile future, even if that future has been diminished in some ways. But a fetus is a being like us in this very respect: other things equal, it has a future with a potential for value of the very same kind that makes death a misfortune for beings like you and me. This is true even if we believe that the fetus isn't yet a person. And so ending the fetus's life does it a very great wrong: it robs the fetus of the possibility of a valuable future in just the way that killing your or me does. In short, abortion is wrong for exactly the same reason that killing a full-fledged person is.

That's the argument in brief. Notice that it doesn't claim that all abortions are wrong. For example: if a fetus has defects so severe that it wouldn't be able to have any conscious experience, Marquis' argument doesn't say that abortion is wrong. Likewise, if the fetus's life would be a life of unrelenting pain, Marquis' argument doesn't rule out abortion. But if it's a matter of a baby being born into poverty, that's not enough to justify abortion on Marquis' approach. It's clear that many, many people who are born poor and live poor still have lives worth living.

As with any philosophical argument, there's room for objections. For example: Marquis' way of arguing suggests that how wrong it is to kill someone depends partly on their age, with killing the elderly being less wrong: the older person has less potential for value in her future. But that's not a knock-down objection. For one thing, Marquis doesn't have to claim that the sheer quantity of potential value in one's life is the only thing that bears on the wrongness of killing. All he needs to say is that it's a very weighty consideration.

Whether it's an objection or not, another interesting question to ask is whether Marquis' argument shows more than it might have been intended to. In particular, If the argument is a good one, then essentially the same argument would show that most of our meat-eating habits are morally unacceptable. If so, people who object to abortion but not to eating meat have a serious consistency problem.

I think Marquis' argument does offer plausible non-religious objections to abortion. Whether the argument is good enough to justify stringent legal restrictions on abortion is a further question, but even if the answer turns out to be no, Marquis has shown that the "no" doesn't come quite as easily as the pro-choice side sometimes assumes.

Some people argue that a 15 year old should be required by their parents to have

Some people argue that a 15 year old should be required by their parents to have an abortion because they also can't get an ear piercing or attend an R rated movie without their parents permission. Is that a good argument?

I agree with Prof. Stairs: even if we fix the argument's conflation of permissions and requirements, the analogies to piercings and 'R'-rated movies aren't close enough to abortion. We need to consider procedures that are of roughly equal invasiveness and seriousness.

So imagine that the 15-year-old daughter needs a tonsillectomy but doesn't want one (maybe she's terrified of even routine surgery, or she's joined a religion that forbids undergoing surgery). Do her parents have the right to force the tonsillectomy on her against her will? I expect that many will answer yes.

Now instead imagine that she's pregnant, and her parents judge that an abortion is in her best interests, but she doesn't want one (maybe she thinks having a baby at age 15 is in her best interests, or she's joined a religion that forbids abortion). Do her parents have the right to force the abortion on her against her will? I expect that many who answered yes to the first question will answer no to this question, including some who say that they regard abortion as morally unproblematic surgery. Your original question is filed under "Abortion," and I think the issue of parental authority has interesting implications for the ethics of abortion in particular.

If it is illegal for a rape victim to kill the rapist after the fact, then why

If it is illegal for a rape victim to kill the rapist after the fact, then why should it be legal for the rape victim to kill a baby that is the product of the rape? It seems to me that abortion is "vigilante justice" in a sense. This is all assuming, of course, that the unborn child is considered a living, human being. If it isn't, then why is an unborn child not then considered "evidence" to be used by a third party? I do not think an unborn child should be considered anything in between a "living human" and an "object," but please take this distinction into consideration.

My co-panelist has drawn some genuine distinctions, but I'd expect many people to find his response unconvincing overall. One obvious reason: suppose I have a five-year-old child who poses a very substantial burden to me. Perhaps the child has a physical disability that makes extensive demands on my time and money. Most of us don't think this would provide even the slightest justification for killing the child. And unless I could be very sure that the child would be cared for, it doesn't even provide a justification for abandoning the child.

Now the analogy isn't perfect. After all, the rape victim is in no way responsible for the fetus. I may have chosen to become a parent; I may have accepted responsibility for the child. But even if we grant that those a re relevant differences, they don't seem to get us very far. Suppose the child wasn't mine but had been abandoned on my doorstep. It's hardly clear that this would make enough difference to justify killing the child or abandoning it once more.

It might be that with sufficiently subtle argument, we could wring out enough differences here to distinguish the cases. But that isn't my point. My point is that on the face of it, many people will find Stephen's reply unconvincing even if it can be defended at the end of the day. What interests me is what I'm guessing is the reason: if you reallu think of fetuses and five-year-olds as on par with one another, abortion is homicide. That said, I suspect very few people really think that a fetus and a five-year-old are moral equivalents. My guess is that this goes even for people who claim otherwise. For more on this point, see Peter Smith's excellent response to a question on abortion from 2011. You can read it HERE

From your last sentence, I take it that you at least think you think of a fetus and a five-year-old as being on the same moral level. I can't say for sure that you're wrong about your own views. (And yes: we can be wrong about what we really think. That's part of the point of the concept of self-deception.) But for anyone who doesn't see things that way, this will be a big part of the reason for the distinction: killing the rapist is murder; the victim is a person. Aborting a fetus isn't murder, because a fetus isn't a person.

It wouldn't follow from this that abortion is morally trivial. And it wouldn't follow that a fetus is nothing more than an object. But I'll confess that I find the view that a fetus is a full-fledged person all but incomprehensible. There are so many actual differences between fetuses and paradigm persons, not to mention so many differences (see Peter Smith's reply) in the ways we ordinarily think about fetuses and persons that I find the conceptual gap all but unbridgeable. Perhaps that puts me at the far end of the spectrum. But I don't think there's anything at all unusual in perceiving some significant gap here, even if one isn't prepared to admit it out loud. And if there is a gap, there's a big distinction between the two cases that potentially could do the work that I think Stephen's distinctions probably can't do.

Are sex selective abortions immoral? In countries where abortion is legal on

Are sex selective abortions immoral? In countries where abortion is legal on demand, does it make any sense to try and prevent sex selective abortion if the legal system allows abortion for any reason?

You've asked two independent questions: (1) Are sex-selective abortions immoral? (2) Does it make sense to try preventing sex-selective abortions where abortion is generally legal? Now, 'make sense' in (2) can be construed at least two ways: (2a) Is it a practical policy to try preventing sex-selective abortions where abortion is generally legal? (2b) Is it morally consistent to try preventing sex-selective abortions where abortion is generally legal? Question (2a) is a largely empirical question having to do with how effective such a policy would be versus the practical costs of enforcing it. Question (2b) is a philosophical question. One could consistently give different answers to (2a) and (2b).

As for (2b), I think that any legal system that regards abortion as lawful is committed to regarding abortion as not seriously immoral, because I take it to be one of the law's essential functions to outlaw seriously immoral things if there are any. But I also think that if abortion (as such) is immoral, then abortion is seriously immoral: I can't see how abortion could be immoral but only non-seriously immoral. So I conclude that any legal system that regards abortion as lawful is committed to regarding abortion as not immoral at all -- i.e., as a morally neutral medical procedure.

But if abortion is a morally neutral medical procedure, I wonder about the moral consistency of regarding sex-selective abortion as immoral. One might say that (3) sex-selective abortion expresses or reflects contempt for a particular biological sex, but (3) is a basis for questioning only sex-selective abortion of that particular sex rather than questioning sex-selective abortion as such. Furthermore, if the legal system then outlaws sex-selective abortions of one particular sex only, it might thereby express or reflect contempt for the other sex! One might say that (4) sex-selective abortion, as such, reflects a mindset that places too high a priority on someone's biological sex at birth. But (4) seems weak as a basis for regarding sex-selective abortion as immoral in any legal system that regards abortion per se as morally neutral. I'm not sure if (3) is any better as a basis for regarding sex-selective abortion as immoral where abortion is otherwise legal.

Is it possible to have a liberal attitude toward sex and be opposed to abortion?

Is it possible to have a liberal attitude toward sex and be opposed to abortion?

Why not? Though I'm not exactly sure what you have in mind about having a liberal attitude toward sex, I can imagine having permissive views about sex among consenting adults -- views that permit sex outside of wedlock, sex outside of stable monogamous relationships, kinky sex, etc -- and thinking that abortion is generally impermissible except in limited cases involving such things as rape, incest, genetic deformity, or the health of the mother. One might have the liberal view about sex, perhaps because one values individual autonomy. But one might think that responsibility goes with autonomy, making one responsible for one's autonomous choices and their reasonably foreseeable consequences. In this way, one could combine a kind of liberal view about sex with support for some restrictions on the permissibility of abortion. I am not endorsing this combination of views, but I don't see that it need be unprincipled.

"My body, my choice" is well known slogan from those who oppose laws that limit

"My body, my choice" is well known slogan from those who oppose laws that limit a woman's right to an abortion. Yet, the idea that a woman has a right to do what she wants to her body seems to have disturbing consequences. If a woman drinks too much alcohol or takes too many drugs then her baby will suffer the consequences. That child will then suffer many challenges in life because of his mothers supposed right to do what she wants with her body. Yet when I point this out to people they get angry and insist that I want to limit women's rights. In fact it makes me angry that anyone would disagree with the idea that a woman shouldn't be morally and legally responsible for the incalculable harm she can do to her baby by poisoning her fetus. I can grant that there are exceptions such as prescription medications but otherwise isn't the idea that women can't be held responsible for doing damage to a fetus that will then suffer after being born just a very extreme position even if its a popular belief? And I...

I'm no lawyer, but I believe that the courts in some U.S. jurisdictions allow a child to sue its mother for lasting harm she caused the child while it was in utero. (Here I'm assuming that the child is identical to something that was once in utero, an assumption not everyone will grant.) I don't know whether the plaintiff has ever prevailed in such a lawsuit. In any case, if someone can be assigned civil liability for causing such harm, then it's not a huge leap to hold her morally responsible for it as well. My sense as a non-expert is that the courts are still struggling with this legal issue, so it's an important time for philosophers to weigh in on the issue and thereby perhaps help the courts decide it wisely and justly.

In discussing abortion, I've been told that the woman has a right to bodily

In discussing abortion, I've been told that the woman has a right to bodily integrity. Therefore she has the right to withdraw consent at any time to the fetus using her body, regardless of the situation of the conception (consensual sex, planned conception). Some say any time prior to viability. Is there a fully fledged philosophical argument along these lines? I'm aware of Judith Jarvis Thompson's thought experiment about the room and the people-seeds, but that didn't invoke the intuition in me, "yes, the seeds can be pulled up at any time." Does the fetus have a competing right to bodily integrity?

@Thomas Pogge: Thomson's violinist analogy doesn't address the questioner's puzzlement, because it doesn't support "the right to withdraw consent at any time to the fetus using her body, regardless of the situation of the conception (consensual sex, planned conception)." Thomson seems to recognize that it doesn't, so she eventually proposes the people-seeds analogy, the analogy the questioner found unpersuasive.

Many pro-choice advocates maintain that, though abortions should be permissible,

Many pro-choice advocates maintain that, though abortions should be permissible, they are regrettable nonetheless. For instance, Bill Clinton famously said that he wanted to keep abortions "safe, legal and rare." I don't understand this view. To my mind, whether abortion is immoral turns on the question of whether a fetus is a person with a right to life. But this seems a clear dichotomy--either fetuses have such a right, or they don't. If they do, then abortion is immoral. If they don't, then not only should abortion be permitted, but there is nothing objectionable about them at all. Indeed, it is every bit as innocuous as using condoms. Sometimes I think that what is happening is that people who advocate this position are still captive to some kind of residual pro-life sentiment. They believe that abortions should be permissible, but they can't shake the feeling that they are still, somehow, a bad thing. (And not just because of circumstantial considerations, such as that women who need abortions are...

Thanks to everyone for their contributions, and especially to Bette for reminding us of the importance of hearing women's voices on such topics. I'll add one more point, along the same lines.

The questioner says that, if a fetus has a right to life, then abortion is immoral and should not be permitted; if not, then it isn't immoral and should. But surely this is wrong. I have a right to free speech, but it does not mean that I have the right to cry "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Other people have rights, too, and their rights can sometimes out-weigh mine.

The same is true in the case of abortion. The mere fact that the fetus has a right to life is compatible with a pregnant woman's having other rights that might out-weigh the fetus's right to life in some cases. For example, the woman herself has a right to life, and I for one have a very hard time seeing why that right should not trump the fetus's similar right if the pregnancy is endangering the women's life. Similarly, a woman has a right not to be made pregnant against her will, and it is the central point of Judith Jarvis Thomson's classic paper "A Defense of Abortion" that, when that right is violated, then, even if the fetus brought thus into being does have a right to life, even one as strong as that of the mother's (a claim Thomson concedes for the sake of argument), that fact does not make aborting that fetus impermissible. Thomson's argument for this claim has always struck me as absolutely compelling. But if so, then abortion is morally permissible at least when the life of the mother is threatened or in cases of rape, and that means that the mere fact that a fetus has a right to life does not make abortion morally impermissible.

That said, if the fetus does have a right to life, that might well imply that abortion, even in cases where it is morally permissible, nonetheless has moral costs or is morally regrettable. And, as Thomas Pogge has so ably argued above, there is nothing unusual about that.

The difficult question is what rights women have in this regard, and how those rights interact with whatever rights the fetus has. Are there other cases in which a woman's rights might outweigh the fetus's? Are unintended pregnancies such a case? Does it matter if the woman and her partner were responsibly using birth control, which failed (as sometimes happens), or were being irresponsible and simply ignoring the possibility of pregnancy? These are all good questions, even if, as I'd be inclined to argue, abortion's being morally impermissible in some such cases does not imply that it ought to be illegal. (I really do not want courts trying to make such fine distinctions under severe time pressures.)

But we can't even have this kind of discussion until we recognize that simply saying "The fetus has a right to life!" doesn't end it. It only begins it, because the women carrying these fetuses have rights of their own. It is because so-called "pro-life" advocates flatly refuse to recognize this fact that they continue to be vulnerable to the charge of sexism and, frankly, to have no decent response to that charge.

All of that said, I'll close by expressing what I think is agreement with Bette. I often find myself unsure whether the language of rights is really appropriate to the evaluation of such a profoundly personal decision. Might it not in some cases be a loving though still fraught decision to choose not to bring a child into the world, made in the full light of consideration of that child's prospects for health and happiness, even once his or her development has begun? A difficult, even heart-breaking, decision that a mother makes on behalf of her child, just as parents often are called upon to make hard decisions on behalf of their children? I have heard women describe their choices in terms not unlike those, but only rarely does one hear anything along those lines in our public conversation. Why not? Because women's experience is excluded from that conversation. That's why.

Try this account, written by a woman who got pregnant because of rape, if you want to start listening to the unheard.

Kant's contradiction of the will seems to suggest that it is inconsistent for us

Kant's contradiction of the will seems to suggest that it is inconsistent for us to allow abortion; that it is inconsistent to simultaneously will that we live and that allow that our mother could have had an abortion (meaning we wouldn't live...) However, I find this a little unconvincing but can't quite get it down. Is it not consistent to argue that the rights of me as a foetus are overridden by my mother's rights as an adult and that I will everybody to be treated according to the rights the can claim despite the consequences? Thanks a lot in advance!

Kant's contradiction in the will test suggests what you say it suggests only on the assumption that, as a rational agent, one necessarily wills one's own existence. Most human beings are happy to be alive, but it does not follow from this that any human (let alone any rational) being must will its own existence. Indeed, some philosophers have argued that, by giving birth to them, their parents violated their rights. So I think the best way to reject the Kantian argument you are suspicious about is to reject its premise that a rational being necessarily wills its own existence.

Something Kant did think rational beings necessarily will is the continued existence of rational life. Using this premise instead, we might get a moral rule against abortion when the survival of the human race hangs in the balance. Suppose rational beings found themselves in a world where, if they all took themselves to be permitted to act on the maxim to have an abortion whenever doing so promises a more pleasant life, rational life would go extinct. In that world, it would be impermissible to act on that maxim -- though a narrower maxim (e.g., "I will have an abortion if a scan reveals that my child would probably have some natural handicaps in regard to health or appearance") might still pass. In our actual world, survival of rational life is not endangered by a surplus of abortions (more likely the opposite!), so this premise does not look plausible as part of a Kantian argument against abortion.

Two more questions to think about. Suppose the permissibility of abortion did endanger the survival of the human race. And suppose we knew that there are other similarly evolved species living on other planets. Would abortion then be permissible? This question opens a possible individual-species analogy to the first paragraph above. Rational beings must will the continued existence of rational life, but not necessarily their own existence or that of their own species.

Second, what about the permissibility of sex-selective abortion when its universal permission does not threaten the survival of the human species? Are there other Kantian arguments -- related perhaps to the second formula of humanity as an end in itself -- that could support the impermissibility of aborting a fetus merely because it is female?

I have been conflicted over abortion for a long time, and I've reached a sort of

I have been conflicted over abortion for a long time, and I've reached a sort of stable state in which I accept that especially in early pregnancy a fetus does not have the same rights that an infant does outside of the womb, but later in pregnancy it does. For instance, it seems clear to me that a fetus the day before birth should have equal rights to an infant born the day after, since as has been noted that difference in residency does not seem particularly significant to moral standing. And, of course, the problem with that gradualist view - the inability to assign a time in which such full rights are obtained - continues to trouble me. But, another issue that concerns me is how practices like sex-selective abortion inform the debate. If a women really has the right to choose who or what may reside within her body, and has the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, shouldn't it be immaterial to a third party on what basis she makes those decisions? In this case, sex-selective...

You have clearly done a good deal of thoughtful and critical thinking about abortion, and I suggest that you take a look at some of the philosophical literature, starting with Judith Thomson's essay "A Defense of Abortion" (widely reprinted in philosophy anthologies.) She questions some seemingly obvious premises--like your assumption that a fetus the day before birth has the same rights as a newborn--by arguing that what is at stake is not only the personhood of the fetus but also the fact that the fetus is dependent on another human being. She uses creative thought experiments to explore whether dependent beings have the right to continued dependence on this human being, especially when the dependence came about without consent (e.g. if a woman became pregnant as a result of rape). She also makes a distinction between what is clearly wrong and what is selfish/uncaring.

Even if you continue to think that sex selective abortion is discriminatory and wrong, you need not conclude that a woman has no right to choose. We think that breaking promises is usually wrong, but we still think that people have a right to decide whether or not to do so. The law should not enforce all our moral judgements, for pragmatic and other reasons.

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