Abortion: A Woman's Right

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Abortion: A Woman's Right [A critical Exposition of L.W. Sumner's article "Abortion: A Moderate View]

By
Sarah Landau
on March 29, 2008 12:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

In, "Abortion: A Moderate View", L.W. Sumner outlines what he calls the "established" views on abortion. He follows by arguing for what he calls a "moderate" view. This essay will provide both an explanation of Sumner's philosophical position and a critical evaluation of that position. In addition to the above, Sumner's position will be juxtaposed against that of Mary Anne Warren and Donald Marquis' positions on the moral and legal status of the fetus and abortion.

Exposition

Sumner begins his article with an explanation of the interconnectivity between the moral status of the fetus and the moral status of abortion--that is, whether abortion is morally permissible or not. He argues that since allotting moral standing to a being affects the rights that we give to it, we cannot understand the morality or immorality of abortion without first determining whether or not the fetus has moral standing (Sumner 1992, p. 33). As a result, Sumner attempts to determine if and when the fetus has moral standing and the conditions that will determine this. Before he dives into this endeavour however, he first outlines the "established" views on abortion, including how they are similar, how they are different, and ultimately, why they are both flawed.

According to Sumner, the established views on abortion are the liberal/pro-choice view and the conservative/pro-life view. The former is characterized by the belief that the fetus has no moral standing as long as it is a fetus, that is, until birth. In contrast, the latter believes that the fetus has moral standing at every stage of pregnancy, that is, from the moment of conception (Sumner 1992, p. 34). As a result of their opposing conceptions of the moral status of the fetus, the pro-choice position concludes that abortion is a victimless act, as a being with no moral status cannot be wronged. It follows that abortion is morally permissible and is the moral equivalent of contraception. As a result, those on the pro-choice side of the debate advocate for a permissive policy on abortion; they believe that the decision to obtain an abortion should be left to the woman to decide (Sumner 1992, p. 34). On the other hand, due to its view that the fetus has moral standing at every stage of pregnancy, the pro-life position concludes that abortion does involve a victim and is the moral equivalent of infanticide or murder. Accordingly, those subscribing to a pro-life view advocate for a restrictive policy on abortion; they believe that the decision to obtain an abortion should not be left to the woman to decide (Sumner 1992, p. 34).

According to Sumner (1992, p. 34), the established views on abortion have one major commonality: they both hold a uniform account of the moral status of the fetus. Essentially, both positions argue that the fetus either has no moral standing at every stage of pregnancy or does have moral standing at every stage of pregnancy. Sumner (1992, p. 34) asserts that there is a logical space between these two positions and that one could hold the position that some fetuses have moral standing while others do not, as the fetus does not remain uniform throughout gestation, but progresses through different levels of development. Furthermore, Sumner (1992, p. 34) argues that the established views are also similar in the respect that neither believes the reason for an abortion is relevant to the debate. The pro-choice group believes that requiring a "good reason" for abortion is unnecessary because the fetus has no moral standing anyway. On the other hand, the pro-life group believes that no reason is sufficient to obtain an abortion because killing a being with moral standing is killing regardless of the reason (Sumner 1992, p. 34). As a...
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