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An Argument For and Against Abortion

1350 words

Abortion is a touchy subject for many people. There are many different arguments for and against abortion, including, but not limited to, the woman’s right to do what she wants with her body on the pro-abortion side, to the right of a fetus to live a good life if there is little chance of the fetus developing a serious disease. In this article, I will provide two arguments: one for and one against abortion. The abortion debate is an ethical, not scientific, one, and so, we must use argumentation to see the best way to move forward in this debate.

An argument for abortion

Michael Tooley, in his paper Abortion and Infanticide, provides an argument not only for the abortion of fetuses, but the killing of infants and animals since they cannot conceive of continuing their selves. He argues that an organism only has a right o life of they can conceive of that right to life. His conclusion is that it should be morally permissible to end a baby’s life shortly after birth since it cannot conceive of wanting to live. The conclusion of the argument also includes—quite controversially, in fact—young infants and (nonhuman) animals. Ben Saunders articulates Tooley’s argument in Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy (2011: 284-286):

P1. If A has a morally serious right to X, then A must be able to want X.

P2. If A is able to want X, then A must be able to conceive if X.

C1. If A has a morally serious right to X, then A must be able to conceive of X (hypothetical syllogism, P1, P2).

P3. Fetuses, young infants, and animals cannot conceive of their continuing as subjects of mental states.

C2. Fetuses, young infants, and animals cannot want their continuance as subjects of mental states (modus tollens, P2, P3).

C3. Fetuses, young infants, and animals do not have morally serious rights to continue as subjects of mental states (modus tollens, P1, C2).

P4. If something does not have a morally serious right to life, then it is not morally wrong to kill it painlessly.

C4. It is not wrong to kill fetuses, young infants, or animals painlessly (modus ponens, C3, P4).

Of course, most people would seriously disagree with C4, since a babe’s life is one of the most precious things in the world— the protection of said babes is how we continue our species. However, the argument is deductively valid, and so one must show which premise is wrong and why. This argument—along with the one that will be presented below against abortion (of healthy fetuses)—is very strong. Thus, if a woman so pleases (along with her autonomy), she can choose to abort her fetus since it is not wrong to kill a fetus painlessly. (I am not aware if fetuses can feel pain or not, however. If they can, then the conclusion of this argument does not hold.)

Tooley’s argument regarding the killing of infants is similar to an argument made by Gibiulini and Minerva (2013) who argue that since fetuses and newborns don’t have the same moral status as actual persons, fetuses and infants can eventually become persons, and since adoption is not always in the best interests 9f people, then “‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled” (Giubilini and Minerva, 2013).

An argument against abortion

One strong argument against abortion exists: Marquis’ (1989) argument in his paper Why Abortion Is Immoral. Women may want an abortion for many reasons: such as not wanting to carry a babe to term, to finding out that the babe has a serious genetic disorder. Though, what matters to this argument is not the latter, but the former: the mother wanting an abortion of a healthy fetus. Marquis’ argument is simple: killing is wrong; killing is wrong since killing ends one’s life, and ending one’s life means they won’t experience anything anymore, they won’t be happy anymore, they won’t be able to accomplish things, and this is one of the greatest losses that can be suffered; abortions of a healthy fetus cause the loss of experiences, activities, and enjoyment to the fetus; thus, the abortion of a healthy fetus is not only ethically wrong, but seriously wrong. Marquis’ (1989) argument is put succinctly by Leslie Burkholder in the book Just the Arguments: 100 of the Most Important Arguments in Western Philosophy (2011: 282-283):

P1. Killing this particular adult human being or child would be seriously wrong.

P2. What makes it so wrong is that it causes the loss of this individual’s future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments, and this loss is one of the greatest losses that can be suffered.

C1. Killing this adult human being or child would be seriously wrong, and what makes it so wrong is that it causes the loss of this individual’s future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments, and this loss is one of the greatest losses that can be suffered (conjunction, P1, P2).

P3. If killing this particular adult human being or child would be seriously wrong and what makes it so wrong is that it causes the loss of all this individual’s experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments, and this loss is one of the greatest losses that can be suffered, then anything that causes to any individual the loss of all future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments is seriously wrong.

C2. Anything that causes to any individual the loss of all future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments is seriously wrong (modus ponens, C1, P3).

P4. All aborting of any healthy fetus would cause the loss to that individual of all its future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments.

C3. If A causes to individual F the loss of all future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments, then A is seriously wrong (particular instantiation, C2).

C4. If A is an abortion of healthy fetus F, then A causes to individual F the loss of all future experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments (particular instantiation, P4).

C5. If A is an abortion of a healthy fetus F, then A is seriously wrong (hypothetical syllogism, C3, C4).

C6. All aborting of any healthy fetus is seriously wrong (universal generalization, C5).

In this case, the argument is about abortion in regard to healthy fetuses. This argument, like the one for abortion, is also deductively valid. (Arguments for and against the abortion of unhealthy fetuses will be covered in the future.) Thus, if a fetus is healthy then it should not be aborted since doing so would cause the individual to lose their future experiences, enjoyments, activities, and projects. Thus, the abortion of a healthy fetus is seriously and morally wrong. This argument clearly establishes the fetuses’ right to life if it is healthy.

Conclusion

Both of these arguments for and against abortion are strong; on the “for” side, we have the apparent facts that fetuses, infants, and (nonhuman) animals cannot want their continuance of their mental states since they cannot conceive of their continuance and want of mental states, so if they cannot want their continuance of their mental states they do not have a morally serious right to life and it is, therefore, morally right to kill them painlessly. On the “against” side, we have the facts that aborting healthy fetuses will cause the loss of all future experiences, enjoyments, activities, and projects, and so, the abortion of these healthy fetuses is both seriously and morally wrong.

I will cover these types of arguments—and more—in the future. However, if one is against genetic modification, embryo selection, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) and ‘eugenics’, then one must, logically, be against the abortion of healthy fetuses as well. These two arguments, of course, have implications for any looming eugenic policies as well, which I will cover in the future.

(I, personally, lean toward the “against” side in this debate; though, of course, the argument presented in this article on the “for” side is strong as well.)

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