Philosophy essay abortion

A Defense of Abortion

It justifies a growing belief that some non-human animals are non-human persons. It explains why rational space aliens, if there are any, would be non-human persons. It explains why divine or spiritual beings are or would be non-human persons. On this theory of personhood, early fetuses are not persons. Any later abortions, affecting conscious and feeling fetuses who are persons or close to it, however, would likely be wrong unless done for a justifying medical reason.

Does that potential give fetuses, say, the right to life or otherwise make it wrong to kill them? At least, we are due an explanation of why it would, since potentiality never does that for anything else. Fetuses have no awareness of their futures whatsoever, and this is one important difference between their futures and our futures. Contraception even by abstinence! Thus, it is not wrong to perform some action that prevents such a future from materializing.


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  • Creation and Abortion: An Essay in Moral and Legal Philosophy.

Finally, suppose these arguments are all wrong and all fetuses are persons with the right to life. Does that make abortion wrong? Each is worthy of further discussion and reasoned debate.

This more sophisticated argument is not discussed here. Beckwith, Francis J. Cambridge University Press, Benatar, David, and Michael Benatar. Boonin, David. A Defense of Abortion.

An encyclopedia of philosophy articles written by professional philosophers.

George, Robert P. Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. Lee, Susan J. Marquis, Don. McMahan, Jeff. Oxford University Press, Nobis, Nathan. This is one reason why many philosophers think that early human embryos may be destroyed even though they too have the potential to become persons. This potential can make them more valuable than embryos without that potential e. Another reason some philosophers think it is important whether the fetus is at a stage where it is a person is that the death of a being is often thought to be bad for it because it loses out on goods it would have had in its future.

Suppose the fetus has not yet developed into a person and so a person is yet to arise from the fetus if it is not aborted. Then, some argue, an abortion that prevents the future life of that person with all its goods from coming into existence as is also done by contraception or abstinence would not deprive the fetus of its future life, it does not lose out on goods it could have had in its future. On these grounds, some argue that its death is not bad for the fetus given that it would not have continued on as a fetus.

The second philosophical approach bypasses the need for empirical information about what brain structures are present at different stages of fetal development.


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A person is dying of kidney failure and the only thing that can save his life is to be attached to your kidneys for 9 months, after which time he can safely be detached. Thomson thinks it would be permissible for you not to attach him and so let him die. If you did attach him, it would be generosity beyond the call of duty because even his urgent need does not give him a moral right to such use of your body.

However, without your permission, his friends attach him to you. The only way to detach him would either lead to his death as a result of not using your kidneys or as a result of killing him in the process of detachment. Thomson thought that it would be permissible for a doctor to detach the person at your request even though he is not responsible for being attached and so morally innocent in that sense. The reason she gave was that if he were not removed he would get to be where he had no right to be even to save his life.

However, even if this is true might he have a right to be there in order not to be killed in removal, since many think there is a moral distinction between killing someone and letting him die? To answer this objection and try to argue for the permissibility of abortions, some think it helps to use additional hypothetical cases. It might have been created by rape of the woman or by her having voluntary sex when contraception failed or perhaps by her deliberately creating it. Next, ask yourself for each way in which it might have been created, if you think she is morally required to put the fetus into her body or back into her body , carry it for nine months and go through labor and delivery if this is needed to save its life or instead whether she is morally permitted to let this fetus die.

Some things to consider that might help in answering these questions are whether the genetic connection by itself is strong enough to underwrite such a duty, whether the fetus is worse for living and dying than never having been created at all, how much someone would have had to do to avoid creating a fetus that it was known could not be saved e. Suppose the woman is morally permitted to let the fetus die when it came to be created in at least some ways e.

Next, suppose the fetus is already in her body as in ordinary pregnancy , created as a result of one of the ways that you thought would have permitted her to let the fetus die if it were outside her body. Ordinarily, there is a big moral difference between letting someone die and killing them but not necessarily when what the person killed loses in being killed is just the life they get from assistance to which they have no right in order to be provided with that life.

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The Best Pro-Life Arguments for Secular Audiences

Here the case for the permissibility of letting it die and also killing it so that the woman who is a person does not have to share her body against her will is especially strong. The first and second approaches can also be combined if we imagine for the sake of argument that the fetus gradually develops from a nonperson embryo to be a person and we want to determine what efforts should be made to abort before a person is present and whether this bears on the permissibility of killing once a person is present. I discuss this issue further in Creation and Abortion.

This is just a brief introduction to some of the ways philosophers have argued about abortion that seem relevant to second trimester abortion in particular. Needless to say, there has been much additional philosophical discussion pro and con about these approaches.

Essay on Philosophy and the Morality of Abortion

I hope I have stimulated your interest in pursuing such arguments further because only reasoned argumentation can ultimately settle moral questions, not empirical research, surveys or personal stories on their own. Share This. This article is based on a talk given at Harvard Medical School. You might also like