3 Some Background What is an abortion? Why might someone seek an abortion? What ethical positions might one take on abortion?
4 Warren’s Project Thesis: It is never immoral to secure an abortion. Warren’s argument responds to views that the fetus, as a human, has the same right to life as other humans. Warren’s central argument depends on what we mean by something’s being a moral human being (i.e. a “person”): Mary Anne Warren: “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” (P1)All and only persons have full moral rights (including the right to life). (P2)A fetus is not a person. (C1)Therefore, a fetus does not have full moral rights. (C2)Therefore, it is not wrong to abort a fetus.
5 John T. Noonan’s “Genetic Code” Argument And so: (Warren does not exactly match Noonan’s argument, but it’s certainly Noonan-ish.) (P1)It is wrong to kill innocent human beings. (P2)Fetuses are innocent human beings. (C)Therefore, it is wrong to kill fetuses. Noonan argues: At conception, the new being receives its genetic code from its human parents. It is this genetic information which determines its characteristics, and which is the biological carrier of the possibility of human wisdom. With no such genetic code, one cannot be human; with the genetic code, one is.
6 The term “human beings” in the argument refers either to genetically human beings or to humans in the moral sense: Warren’s Challenge to Noonan’s Argument If the term’s meaning changes in the course of the argument, then Noonan is committing equivocation. If “human beings” refers to genetically human beings, then Noonan has not established P1 (that it is wrong to kill human beings). If “human beings” refers to persons (humans in the moral sense), then Noonan has not established P2 (that fetuses are innocent human beings).
7 Central Traits of Personhood: Persons vs. Non-Persons i.Consciousness ii.Reasoning Ability iii.Self-Motivating Activity iv.Capacity to Communicate v.Presence of Self-Concepts & Self-Awareness Sufficient, but not necessary: An entity need not fulfill all of these criteria to be a person, nor is it the case that any of them (with the possible exception of (i) and (ii)) are necessary for an entity to be a person. If a being fulfills none of (i)-(v), then the being is not a person. Being genetically human seems neither necessary nor sufficient to being a person.
8 Persons vs. Non-Persons (cont’d) All and only persons have full moral rights (including the right to life). A fetus is not a person. Therefore, a fetus does not have full moral rights. (Therefore, it is not wrong to abort a fetus.) Warren’s personhood argument: Warren admits a fetus might have some rights (maybe some right to life, at some point in fetal development): “…a woman’s right to protect her health, happiness, freedom, and even her life, by terminating an unwanted pregnancy, will always override whatever right to life it may be appropriate to ascribe to a fetus, even a fully developed one.” But if a fetus has a right to life it is a rather weak right to life, and will always be trumped by the mother’s rights.
9 Fetal Development and the Right to Life How far along in development does a fetus have to be before it acquires some right to life (something person-like)? The average fish or mammal is as ‘person-like’ at birth as any newborn baby. It may, to some degree, acquire a right to life, but it’s a weak right to life compared with the right of the mother carrying it. What is meant by a woman’s “freedom”? It’s not immoral for a woman to terminate a pregnancy in the 7th month if the woman doesn’t want to postpone a trip to Europe. Weak right to life: it would be wrong to kill a fetus gratuitously.
10 Potential Personhood and the Right to Life Does potential personhood give a fetus some of the same rights as personhood? Space Explorer Thought Experiment Warren: The potential person doesn’t have a right to life. It’s morally permissible to prevent oneself from being broken up into 100,000 pieces to create 100,000 persons. In the same way: It’s morally permissible to say it’s not worth dying to bring about a potential child into actuality. It’s morally permissible to prevent oneself from having to give up one year (or even one day) of one’s life so that 100,000 persons can be created. It’s morally permissible to simply prevent oneself from being replicated (analogous to elective abortion).
11 Infanticide Objection A newborn infant isn’t significantly more personlike than a fetus, simply for having been born. So: It follows that infanticide isn’t murder. But it does not follow that infanticide is permissible for the following reasons: i.There are people who would want the baby to live – if not its parents, then someone else. A great deal of pleasure may be prevented by destroying the child. (So killing a child is like destroying a work of art.) ii.Most people value infants and would prefer they be preserved, and as long as this is the case, it is wrong ceteris paribus, to destroy it.
12 Infanticide Objection (cont’d) Why is an infant, in this case, different from a newborn? -So long as the fetus remains unborn, its preservation, contrary to the wishes of her mother, violates the mother’s rights to freedom, etc. “…while the moment of birth does not mark any sharp discontinuity in the degree to which an infant possesses the right to life, it does mark the end of its mother’s right to determine its fate.”
13 Discussion Warren doesn’t present any argument for her traits of personhood. Do they seem reasonable? What do you make of Warren’s claim that it is not wrong for a woman in her 7th month of pregnancy to have an abortion so she can go on vacation? Is Warren’s claim about why it is wrong to commit infanticide convincing?