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Introduction to Ethics Lecture 17 Warren on Abortion

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1 Introduction to Ethics Lecture 17 Warren on Abortion
By David Kelsey

2 Warren’s strategy Mary Anne Warren, in ‘On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion’, takes 2 steps in making her argument. 1) she argues that if we grant that the fetus is a person abortion is impermissible in all but a few cases. 2) she argues that a fetus is not a person so abortion is permissible.

3 The basic anti-abortion argument
1-A fetus is a person 2-Every person has a right to life 3-A fetus has a right to life (from 1 & 2) 4-A woman has a right to decide what happens in and to her body 5-The fetus’ right to life trumps the mother’s right to decide what happens in and to her body. 6-Abortion is impermissible. Warren’s strategy: 1) Defend premise 5. 2) Show that premise 1 is false.

4 Warren on Thomson Warren on Thomson: What Warren accepts:
Warren accepts Thomson’s analogy for cases in which the mother has no responsibility for the fetus, abortion is permissible. Warren also seems to say that abortion is permissible when the life of the mother is at stake.

5 What Warren rejects in Thomson’s argument
Warren rejects Thomson’s argument for the following cases: Pregnancy when no contraception is used, when contraception has failed or when a woman becomes pregnant intentionally but changes her mind. Warren suggests that when the mother is responsible for the fetus that she has an obligation to bring the fetus to term. “If a person behaves in a way which she could have avoided, and which she knows might bring into existence a human being who will depend upon her for survival, then it is not entirely clear that if and when that happens she may rightly refuse to do what she must in order to keep that human being alive.” Warren doesn’t want to say that abortion is always impermissible when the mother is morally responsible for the fetus. Instead we must “look carefully at the particular circumstances…”

6 Warren on Responsibility
Questions: When is the mother morally responsible for the fetus? What about when the condom broke? What about when the pill failed? So what kind of obligation is entailed by partial responsibility? Examples: you forgot one day to take the birth control pill Causing a fatal car accident Does responsibility entail an obligation to bring the fetus to term? How much responsibility is necessary? What is the extent of the obligation?

7 Denying the fetus is a person
Warren denies the fetus is a person. So abortion is permissible in most cases. Warren first looks at how we must define the concept of a person. “How are we to define the moral community, the set of beings with full and equal moral rights? What sort of entity has the inalienable moral rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Warren’s strategy: A fetus doesn’t belong to the moral community. Thus, a fetus doesn’t have a full fledged right to life. Thus, abortion is permissible.

8 Warren on a form of the anti-abortion argument
Warren considers the following argument: 1) It is wrong to kill innocent human beings. 2) Fetuses are innocent human beings. Thus, 3) It is wrong to kill fetuses. Slide of meaning: Warren charges that the above argument uses 2 senses of human being here and so is invalid. Premise 1 assumes the moral sense of human being. The moral sense: a full-fledged member of the moral community, who is also a member of the human species. Premise 2 assumes the genetic sense of human being. The genetic sense: a member of the human species.

9 Defining the moral sense of human being
Warren gives us an approximate list of the most basic criteria of personhood: 1. Sentience: the capacity to have conscious experiences… 2. Emotionality: the capacity to feel happy, sad, angry, loving, etc. 3. Reason: the capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems 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 possible topics 5. Self-awareness: having a concept of oneself… 6. Moral agency: the capacity to regulate one’s own actions through moral principles...

10 Warren’s list Warren’s 6 criteria of personhood:
Each criteria is really very rough. None of the 6 has a very precise definition. An entity mustn’t satisfy all 6 to be considered a person. Consider Mr. Spock or Data from Star Trek. No criteria in particular is individually necessary. Although she thinks sentience is the best candidate The more criteria an entity satisfies the more confident we can be that it is a person. The fewer criteria satisfied the less confident we can be that it is a person. If an entity satisfies none of the 6 criteria it isn’t a person. And lastly, Warren claims that at least early on in the pregnancy, a fetus satisfies none of the 6 criteria of personhood and thus isn’t a person.

11 Why moral agents have moral rights?
We might ask this: even if a fetus isn’t a moral agent might it not have moral rights still? So Warren argues that only moral agents have moral rights. This is because: Only moral agents invent moral rights Only moral agents can be obliged to respect moral rights Only moral agents can ascribe rights to other entities Only moral agents can participate directly in the shaping and enforcement of moral rights. Moral agents justly resent being treated as anything less than having full fledged moral rights.

12 Ascribing moral rights to the fetus
Moral agents can ascribe moral rights to entities that aren’t moral agents. “…we have self-interested as well as altruistic reasons for extending basic moral rights to infants and other sentient human beings who have already been born, but who currently lack some of these other mental capacities.” But in ascribing rights to entities that aren’t members of the moral community we must be careful not to unduly infringe upon the rights of any member of the moral community. Thus, abortion is permissible when bringing the fetus to term is an unacceptably great cost to the well-being of the mother or to those she cares about. We can’t ask a woman to complete an unwanted pregnancy at the risk of intolerable mental, physical and economic cost to the mother and her family.

13 Warren’s conclusion Fetuses aren’t persons:
“If fetuses were persons, then they would have rights that must be respected, even at great social or personal cost.” So fetuses lack full fledged moral rights “But given that early fetuses, at least, are unlike persons in the morally relevant respects, it is unreasonable to insist that they be accorded exactly the same moral and legal status.” Thus abortion is permissible. “Because women are persons, and fetuses are not, women’s rights to life, liberty, and physical integrity morally override whatever right to life it may be appropriate to ascribe to a fetus.” “Consequently, laws that deny women the right to obtain abortions, or that make safe early abortions difficult or impossible for some women to obtain, are unjustified violations of basic moral and constitutional rights.”

14 Further considerations
Warren now considers a potential objection: If fetuses aren’t persons, might they not have strong rights based upon the degree to which they resemble persons? The more like a person something is, the stronger the case for according it a right to life. A 7 month fetus: Can feel pain and can respond to stimuli-the fetus has sentience... Can it feel emotion? Can it reason? Can it communicate? Is it self aware? But aren’t some animals more like a person than a fetus? But we can’t reason with animals and nor so with fetuses. And this is what makes their rights weaker than persons.

15 Potential persons Another objection Warren considers:
If nurtured and allowed to develop, a fetus may eventually become a person? Thus, doesn’t a fetus have a right to life Warren’s response: The fact that something is a potential person may be a reason for not destroying it but this doesn’t entail that potential people have a strong right to life. Thus, even if a potential person does have some right to life, that right could not outweigh the right of a woman to obtain an abortion… “A woman’s rights to liberty and the control of her own body outweigh whatever right to life a fetus may have merely by virtue of its potential personhood.”

16 Infanticide Objection: Doesn’t Warren’s argument justify not only abortion but infanticide also? Since late term fetuses aren’t persons and so late term abortions are sometimes justified. And since a newborn infant isn’t much more person-like than a late term fetus. Doesn’t it follow that infanticide is permissible in some cases Warren’s response: there are many reasons why infanticide is more difficult to justify than abortion. Consider adoption. Even if a child is un-adoptable infanticide isn’t permisslbe because there are still other means of taking care of it. For example, state institutions. But then why don’t these same considerations show abortion impermissible: The fetus still poses a threat to the life and health of the mother but the infant doesn’t…

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