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Abortion Paper

By terbabe Nov 18, 2010 5295 Words
Abortion is a procedure performed to end a pregnancy before birth occurs. I will succinctly analyze whether the act of abortion is morally right or wrong. Since the philosophy of ethics is very social and  states that we are all moral autonomous agents and are part of a moral community, we are defined as 'persons,' i.e. ethical individuals that legislate to reason right from wrong and thereby have a responsibility to do so. However, there is a fine line between being a 'person' and being a 'human being' -- they are closely related, but are not quite the same. The issue of 'personhood' is key and essential to any conclusion on the morality of abortion. There are three articles in which each author explains their own view on 'personhood' and abortion that will help me come to my own personal standpoint on this issue. The first article is named 'The Abortion Issue' by Mary Anne Warren, the next article is 'Why Abortion is Immoral' by Don Marquis, and lastly, 'Abortion and the Concept of a Person' by Jane English. Mary Anne Warren's basis for her argument is namely that abortion is justified, as she argues that a fetus is not a 'person.' Dan Marquis feels that abortion is seriously morally wrong even if the fetus is not considered a person because it is an act of killing a being with a right to life with a future. Jane English believes that it is impossible to define the fetus status as a 'person', and feels that abortion is morally accepted in the early stages of pregnancy but not in the later stages. I fully agree with Mary Anne Warren's claim that abortion is morally acceptable and that the fetus is not justified to be a 'person', therefore you are not killing a 'person', but the woman has a right to do what she wants with her body because she is a moral agent or 'person.' 1. Warren, M. A.. "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion." Monist, Vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 43-61, 1973.

I will begin with Mary Anne Warren, who believes abortion is justified since she argues that a fetus is not technically a 'person.' She first discusses the word, 'human' which she claims has two different meanings. One is that being human in the biological sense is not necessary for being a human person: "Only if 'human being' is used to mean something like 'a full fledged member of the moral community.' (It may or may not also be meant to refer exclusively to members of the species Homo sapiens.) We may call this the moral sense of "human." It is not to be confused with what we call the genetic sense, ie. the sense in which any member of the species is a human being, and no member of any other species could be."1 Her definition of "human being" claims that just because you are genetically human, as long as you do not have full moral rights, you are not a full human. Then, she offers an interesting approach to clarifying the concept of a 'person', which is the basis to her argument that fetuses are not 'persons'. She gives us an example of encountering an alien creature, and makes us wonder how we should treat this creature and if it has the same moral rights as humans. She then gives a list that defines that concept of personhood: "1. consciousness (of objects and events external and/or internal to the being), and in particular the capacity to feel pain; 2. reasoning (the developed capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems); 3. self- motivated activity (activity which is relatively independent of either genetic or direct external control); 4. 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 topics; 5. the presence of self- concepts, and self- awareness, either individual or racial, or both."1 1. Warren, M. A.. "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion." Monist , Vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 43-61, 1973.

 It is this list of features that seem central to moral personhood.  Consciousness is the capacity to be aware of the environment around you, essentially to exhibit special consciousness which is the reflexive capacity to be aware of your own awareness. A 'person' makes his/her own consciousness a topic of inquiry, while on the other hand, a dog is conscious, but cannot reflect on its own consciousness. The second variable involves reasoning and rationality which is a higher order of intelligence. The third involves self motivated activity, which involves acting under one's own free will. This entails having volitional action that is the author of actions and free will, and agency that is the capacity to have purposeful action connected to a goal. A moral agent or 'person' acts with purpose to achieve a goal, whereas a non-person can act freely, but not on the same level. The fourth criterion is the capacity to communicate, which is to say that the subject in question uses language -- a 'person' is a language user as s/he has a variety of ways to communicate, essentially s/he is a 'being of articulacy."1 A 'person" articulates their goals and reasons, and as one uses language more and more our consciousness becomes clearer and we demonstrate implicit and explicit awareness. She then states, "All we need to claim, to demonstrate that a fetus is not a person, is that any being which satisfies none of (1)-(5) is certainly not a person."1 Of course, in the early stages of pregnancy, the fetus would not possess a single one of the characteristics on this list. And even late in the pregnancy, the fetus would only fit the first criteria which is consciousness and the ability to feel pain; however, cats, dogs, fish, or any other animals have that ability as well, and we do not consider them full-fledged moral individuals. Next she poses the idea of the potentiality and resemblance to a 'person' that does not allow a fetus to be a person. She then discusses how the more the fetus comes to look like a person, is irreverent, that it must adhere to the list criteria. Warren concludes, "[I]f the right to life of the fetus is to be based upon its resemblance to a person, then it cannot be said to have any more right to life than, let us say,  a newborn guppy... and... a right of that magnitude could never override a woman's right to obtain an abortion at any stage of her pregnancy."1 The rights of an actual person outweigh the rights of a potential person. She ends with a postscript on infanticide stating that "It does not follow, however, that infanticide is permissible, for two reasons."1 First, even if the parents of a baby do not want it, it is very likely that someone will want the child, and destroying it would deprive those people of much pleasure. Second, as a society, we prefer to spend money on orphanages than to see infants destroyed. These two reasons, Warren claims, make it wrong in the normal case to kill an infant. I fully agree with Warren's definition of 'human', that only a moral human as the right to life, and not a genetic human.  A genetic human only has a full genetic code, therefore it does not have any moral worth. Warren uses the word ‘person' only to describe moral humans. Being a genetic human is not necessary for being a ‘person'. Infants and individuals with severe mental problems are not moral humans, rather genetic humans. After dividing the term human beings into two different variables, moral and genetic, she puts the two terms to replace the word human being in the premise and using the word moral human or 'person' makes her argument valid. In addition, I agree with Warren's criteria for personhood, and that one must exhibit all five to be considered a moral person. Since a fetus does not have any of the five criteria it is not a person. However, some might criticize her view on personhood because she excludes the other human begins, that are unmotivated, unconscious, not able to reason, not being able to communicate, and the unaware, that are not fetuses.  She describes "A man or woman whose consciousness has been permanently obliterated but who remains alive is a human being which is no longer a person."1 A problem with this is that this human being has only lost one of the five central criteria's of personhood, yet it still exhibits the other four criteria. Thus, this example is a major fault in which she doesn't clearly state how many criteria's a human should have to be a person. 1. Warren, M. A.. "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion." Monist, Vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 43-61, 1973. 2. Marquis, Don. "Why Abortion is Immoral." The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 86, no. 4, pp. 183-202, 1989.

 The second thinker, Don Marquis feels abortion is seriously morally wrong even if the fetus is not considered a person because it is an act of killing a being with a right to life with a future. He states, "that abortion is, except possible in rare cases, seriously immoral, than it is in the same moral category as killing an innocent adult human being."2 He begins with explaining the opposing viewpoints of the anti- abortion and the pro-choice claims, with anti-abortionists arguing that life begins with conception, and since fetuses look like genetic humans that is enough to be considered to be human. However, pro-choicer's argue that fetuses are not rational moral agents, or persons, and that abortion is moral. Marquis goes back and forth as to why one side would be considered right and how each has a problem with defending their view: "On the one hand, the anti abortionist will defend a moral principle concerning the wrongness of killing which tends to be broad in scope in order that even fetuses at an early stage of pregnancy will fall under it...On the other hand, the pro-choicer wants to find a moral principles concerning the wrongness of killing which tends to be narrow in scope in order that fetuses will not fall under it."2 Thus, he proves that the issue of the morality of abortion is a very systematic problem because a  human being can be taken into the account of a biological category or a moral category, in which each needs to be established. In addition, the personhood argument, must explain the psychological characteristics that are the criteria that make up a person, must be fully explained as well. Marquis adds, "After all, if we merely believe, but do not understand, why killing adult human beings such as ourselves is wrong, how could we conceivably show that abortion is either immoral or permissible?"2 Instead of proving why abortion is wrong, he starts off with what makes killing wrong in the first place and concludes that killing is wrong because it deprives the victim of all possible future experience. "When I am killed, I am deprived both of what I now value which would have been part of my future personal life, but also what I would come to value. therefore, when I died, I am deprived of all of the value of my future."2 This explains why we feel killing or murder as such a evil crime, and further explains the regret and sense of loss felt by people who know they are dying. This view is known as the "future like ours argument" -- in which his thesis describes depriving a being of the value of a future like ours makes killing it wrong, and killing a fetus deprives it of the value of a future like ours, thus killing a fetus is wrong. Marquis argues that the wrongness derives from the fact that killing "deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one's future."2 He gives four examples of why the future like ours argument is valid. First, it allows others, even alien creatures to have a right to life as strong as humans, that it doesn't rely on biological means. Secondly, he mentions the animals rights debate, in which some animals might be sufficiently like humans, therefore it is wrong to kill them as well. Thirdly, he accepts euthanasia and believes death may not be an evil compared to a continued life of pain and suffering. Lastly, he feels it is seriously wrong to kill infants and children that have futures of value as well. Because the future of a  fetus contains the same experiences, activities, etc as that with the futures of adult humans , infants and children, he concludes that abortion is morally wrong. He essentially abandons the personhood argument which is key to Warren's argument, and adapts the future like ours argument.  In addition, to the argument about killing, he discusses about the infliction of pain on animals.  Since pain causes suffering, it makes the infliction of pain wrong. Also, it makes the infliction of pain on adult humans wrong as well. Then, he goes on by saying, "If the structure of the argument for the wrongness of the wanton infliction of pain on animals is sound, then the structure of the argument for the prima facie serious wrongness of abortion is also sound, for the structure of the two arguments is the same. The structure common to both is the key to the explanation of how the wrongness of abortion can be demonstrated without recourse to the category of person. In neither argument is that category crucial."2 Marquis then brings up Kant's view on animals since they are not moral rational agents they do not have a place in the moral community, but nonetheless agrees that inflicting pain on them is wrong because people who are cruel to animals are probably likely to be cruel to humans. Marquis replies that this is implausible and feels that being cruel to animals would lead others to be cruel to persons if Kant was correct.  Marquis ends his essay by explaining that the abortion debate rests on the moral status of the fetus, "since a fetus possesses a property, the possession of which in adult human beings is sufficient to make killing an adult human being wrong, abortion is wrong."2 He 2. Marquis, Don. "Why Abortion is Immoral," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 86, no. 4, pp. 183-202, 1989.

focuses clearly on the ethics of killing and the infliction of pain, rather than the personhood argument. I disagree with the basis of Marquis argument, in which he avoids the fundamental question of the status of a fetus and whether the fetus is a person. I feel the personhood argument is the only clear, valid, and evident way an anti abortionist can prove that abortion is wrong. Marquis falls short in avoiding this topic altogether and I feel instead of mentioning why the act of killing and inflicting pain is morally wrong, and mentioning that fetuses  have a valuable future like humans, he should have skillfully proved that fetuses are persons, therefore killing a person is morally wrong. A critic named Robert Card disagrees with Marquis, and gives an hypothetical example where a scientist was able to brainwash people and fetuses, put them into blank slates, and reprogram their minds. Card then states:

"the loss accruing to each individual to his or her future of value, would clearly not be equal, I maintain. To reprogram the adult is, in essence, to obliterate her as an individual. The same is not true of the fetus...the fetus does not undergo the loss of its psychological life and its associated plans and their effect on its future, yet an adult person does undergo this loss from being reprogrammed. This thought experiment highlights the point that adult humans presently possess values and have invested in their future. The killing of adults is morally worse, contrary to Marquis's argument, since it deprives them of this investment as well as of what they would have come to value with regard to their future. Abortion only deprives fetuses of what they would have come to value, since they have not invested in their future. Depriving a fetus of its future of value is not as bad of a thing as depriving an adult human of her valuable future."3

3. Card, Robert. "Two Puzzle for Marquis's Conservative View on Abortion." Bioethics, Vol. 20, no. 5, pp. 264-277, 2006. 4. English, Jane. "Abortion and the Concept of a Person." Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 233-243, 1975.

The third thinker, Jane English believes that it is impossible to define the fetus status as a 'person', and feels that abortion is morally accepted in the early stages of pregnancy but not in the later stages. She begins with pointing out the conservative view on abortion in which "human life begins at conception and that therefore abortion must be wrong because it is murder."4 Then she states, "Liberals, on the other hand, are just as mistaken in their argument that since a fetus does not become a person until birth, a woman may do whatever she pleases in and to her own body."4 English introduces the reader to her argument which is based on two premises, "I first examine our concept of a person and conclude that no single criterion can capture the concept of a person and no sharp line can be drawn. Next I argue that if a fetus is a person, abortion is still justifiable in many cases; and if a fetus is not a person, killing it is still wrong in many cases."4 She names different thinkers like Warren, Tooley, Ramsey, and Noonan and how they either feel fetuses are persons or not. English feels that a " 'person' is a cluster of features,"4 which has certain biological, psychological, rational, social, and legal factors that are part of a person. English proceeds to argue that concept of personhood is not needed to understand the morality of abortion. She then brings up Judith Thomson's article, "A Defense of Abortion," in which a fetus is a person, and that English feels that killing an innocent person is not always wrong, in the matter of self- defense. She mentions this scenario in which a scientists hypnotizes innocent people to jump out of bushes at night and attack innocent people with knives. Of course, since you are being attacked you have a right to kill the attacker in self defense. English wonders how far does self defense go, and agrees that "our laws and customs seem to say that you may create injury somewhat, but not enormously, greater than the injury to be avoided."4 She feels that the self defense argument is very similar to pregnancy in that some abortions are justifiable as measure of self-defense. English thinks these include more than just cases where the mother's life is at risk. She states, "Birth is the crucial point not because of any characteristics the fetus gains, but because after birth the woman can defend herself by a means less drastic than killing the infant. Hence self- defense can be used to justify abortion without necessarily thereby justifying infanticide."4 On the other hand, if fetuses' are not considered persons, does this justify killing them? English says no but states "non-persons do get some consideration in our moral code"4 and feels we as persons cannot torture animals just because we feel like it. She then discusses  why it is wrong to torture animals, and how do we decide our actions  of non-persons. The consequences of actions deals with utilitarianism in which she feels we must follow a system of morality that involves feelings such as guilt, compassion, and sympathy and feels a morality that is disconnected from our moral philosophy will be unable to help us. Therefore, "our psychological constitution makes it the case that for our ethical theory to work, it must prohibit certain treatment of non-persons which are sufficiently person-like."4 This explains how we cannot make such a drastic distinction between early fetuses' and newborn infants.  To conclude, her argument ends with these statements, "In the early months of pregnancy when the fetus hardly resembles a baby at all, then, abortion is permissible whenever it is in the interests of the pregnant woman or her family. The reasons would only need to outweigh the pain and inconvenience of the abortion itself. In the middle months, when the fetus comes to resemble a person, abortion would be justifiable only when the continuation of the pregnancy or the birth of the child would cause harms- physical, psychological, economic or social- to the woman. In the late months of pregnancy, even on our current assumption that a fetus is not a person, abortion seems to be wrong except to save a woman from significant injury or death."4 Proving that the concept of personhood is not enough to settle the abortion issues and feels that abortion is morally accepted in the early stages of pregnancy but not in the later stages. I feel English contradicted herself when she feels the status of the fetus as a person is not essential to the abortion debate, but yet she goes into great detail about what makes up a person, just like Warren exhibited in her five criteria of personhood. I felt she could have proved this theory in a different way without having to resort to describing the many 4. English, Jane. "Abortion and the Concept of a Person." Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 233-243, 1975.

qualities and character traits of a person. In addition, I disagree with Marquis and English for not considering the importance of the status of the fetus as a person or not because that is the defining point where the abortion controversy is so clear. If you can prove that a fetus is not a person, abortion is justified, simple as that. According to the University of California Davis, philosophy department notes, one argues how effective English's attacker of the knife example confirms her self defense premise. Thus, stating, "One weakness with the “attackers only come out at night” analogy is that avoiding pregnancy does not necessarily involve great inconvenience, whereas never going out at night does.  In addition to contraception (which, if used properly, is much more effective than mace is against attackers), there are forms of “safe sex” which do not risk pregnancy.  A better analogy might be this: The innocent, hypnotized attackers reside in a certain neighborhood.  In this neighborhood, there is a shop with some very desirable foods that cannot be purchased elsewhere."5 5. Gaskill, Dan. "Is Abortion Morally Permissible?" University of California Davis Philosophy Department. 6 September 2005. <>

To better understand the morality of abortion as a whole and the strengths and weakness of each thinker, I will explain the key moral philosophical theories of utilitarianism and kantianism. Lets first start with kantianism which was founded by Immanuel Kant who takes on a non consequentialist approach, but a deontological one in which duties and obligations posses moral worth. Acts in and of themselves are valuable because you are morally accountable for the acts not the results. We are to perform duty ethics in which the moral reason is we ought to perform certain acts because we are bounded by duty obligations. Kant would say that abortion is immoral because it is wrong and that murder under any circumstances is wrong. He feels that a fetus has a soul, and therefore is a person. Kant employed categorical imperatives that would help us figure out our moral duties, and distinguish from right and wrong. The first categorical imperative is: act as if you are legislating for everyone. Thus, any moral rule needs to logically make sense. When you impose a moral rule on everyone else it must be universally acceptable without logical contradiction. Thus, Kant would say that since abortion is murder, should everyone ought to commit murder, of course no one would, that would not make sense, and proves that  abortion is immoral. The second categorical imperative is: act as if your are treating others as ends. This is an important moral notion as mankind, we must recognize and respect people as rational agents. We must in fact consider their own interests, pursuits, and goals. For example, Kant believes slavery is immoral because one person owns another, and we are treating them as a property or object and denying them personhood.  When a woman obtains an abortion, she is treating the fetus as an object and not a person, she is essentially treating it as a means, and that is morally wrong. The last imperative states act as if you are a member of a kingdom of ends, that you must always remember you are part of a moral community. Moral or rational agents can think of right and wrong and this invokes feelings of dignity, autonomy, fraternity, equality, fairness, and impartiality. Having autonomy is thinking on your own and being independent. Thus, a woman is acting autonomous and accepts her own freedom to decide what she is to do with her body, and that she must carry out the pregnancy until birth because she must realize what is better for the overall community at large. In the end, Don Marquis is a kantian since he feels abortions are morally unjustified. Although he does not agree that a fetus is a person as Kant does, he feels that they have a valuable future and should not be treated as means.6 6. Utilitarianism and Kantianism  theories based on notes taken in class on July 14 and 19, 2010.

Utilitarianism founded by the great philosopher Jeremy Bentham, was later adapted by John Stuart  Mill, who's theory we follow today in modern philosophy. Utilitarianism is a consequentialist or teleological approach in which one focuses on the end result or goals to figure out what is morally right or wrong. Acts, in and of themselves lack moral worth. It is the consequences which they create that is key. Since it is goal orientated, the goal in a moral sense is to maximize utility, which is the overall  well being for the largest amount of people. For utilitarian's pain and suffering is bad. Their goal is to minimize pain and suffering and maximize utility. The entire moral communities utility is counted equally. There are two types of utility, which are known as act and rule utilitarianism. Act states that we ought to consider the consequences of each act separately. Each individual action is to be evaluated in terms of utility and consider only the consequences if we act in certain ways. Therefore in terms of the abortion issue, if the consequences of a person obtaining an abortion are better than keeping  the fetus then that is what she ought to do. Health issues, financial pressures, other family members' needs, education and/or work sometimes can be the factor for having an abortion. We must consider that abortion is morally right if an individual will live a happier and fulfilling life. However, rule utilitarianism states that we ought to consider the consequences of the act performed as a general practice, and that which promote the flourishing of the moral community. Behavior is evaluated by rules that if universally followed would lead to the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If an expecting mother felt that her life and/or her family's life would be improved if the baby was aborted, then she is obligated to abort the baby. This view focuses not on the abortion itself, and whether the action itself is right or wrong, but rather, it focuses on the possible benefits of the abortion. The utilitarian does not look at the fetus (as a whole or individual) as the party in which happiness is to be gained or lost, but rather the society as a whole. In the end, Mary Anne Warren would be a utilitarian since she feels that abortion is justified and that a fetus is not a person, and in the act of abortion it would not experience any pain and suffering. The consequences of the abortion would allow the woman to feel happier with herself and within the moral community. Also, Jane English is in between utilitarianism and kantianism, in that she feels that abortion is morally right early on in the pregnancy, but not in the later stages. Therefore, she is for the greater happiness of the woman to have an abortion, but feels that abortion in the later months is morally wrong since according to Kant a fetus is a person and therefore you are killing a person.6

To conclude, after further analyzing the arguments on the abortion debate brought forth by Mary Anne Warren, Don Marquis, and Jane English I have come to support Mary Anne Warren's beliefs and strongly feel that abortion is morally justifiable. I first admire her dissection of the word human, in which she divides it into two parts: a genetic sense and a moral sense. In addition, she is at the forefront of the abortion controversy, with her five criteria of personhood argument which is very powerful and many times the first thinker that comes to mind when discussing the issue of what it is to be a person. I agree that a fetus is not a person in which it has no moral rights, but why is it justifiable to kill a fetus but not a human that is irretrievably comatose or one that is severely mentally disabled. Both are humans, but are no longer a person because they have indeed disconnected themselves from their self conscious desires, interests, and memories of what they were before. Therefore, I feel that Warren must be clear in stating the difference in the moral right of killing a fetus, and the moral wrong of killing a comatose or severally mentally disable human. To help settle some of these questions on personhood, I recommend you read the articles, "Introducing Persons" by Peter Carruthers, "Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person" by Harry Frankfurt and "A Defense of Abortion" by Judith Thomson. These writings will give you some additional insight into the debate of whether abortion is morally right or wrong.

1. Warren, M. A.. "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion." Monist, Vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 43-61, 1973. 2. Marquis, Don. "Why Abortion is Immoral." The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 86, no. 4, pp. 183-202, 1989. 3. Card, Robert. "Two Puzzle for Marquis's Conservative View on Abortion." Bioethics, Vol. 20, no. 5, pp. 264-277, 2006. 4. English, Jane. "Abortion and the Concept of a Person," Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 5, no. 2, pp. 233-243, 1975. 5. Gaskill, Dan. "Is Abortion Morally Permissible?" University of California Davis Philosophy Department. 6 September 2005. <> 6. Utilitarianism and Kantianism  theories based on notes taken in class on July 14 and 19, 2010.

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