The Argument of Abortion – Philosophy Essay
In On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion, Mary Anne Warren discusses a few arguments against abortion, namely bringing into play whether the fetus is actually a person, or “not a member of the moral community”. She
defends that abortion is a morally sound action. Don Marquis, in his essay An Argument that Abortion is Wrong, takes the opposite stance. He claims “that abortion, except perhaps in rare instances, is seriously wrong”.
The first thing we read in Warren’s article is the thought experiment first conceived by Judith Thomson. It’s an analogy that uses a normal person, male or female, and a famous violinist. Let’s say the Society of Music Lovers kidnaps you, and hooks you up to this dying violinist. If you choose to unhook yourself, the violinist will die, but if you let him stay hooked up to you to use your kidneys (for a period of nine months), then he will be cured and both of you will be free. Thomson asks what a person’s obligations in this situation are, and, to be consistent with Warren’s argument, she says it would be ridiculous to be stay in bed with the violinist, and thus you are able to leave at any time. You shouldn’t feel responsible for the death of the violinist.
But Marquis, in his essay, points out that, while good for dealing with abortions due to rape, the analogy doesn’t hold up. Thomson draws to our attention that in pregnancy a fetus uses the woman’s body for life-support, but the woman doesn’t use a fetus’s body for life support. Thus, in an abortion the life that is lost is the fetus’s, not the woman’s. This leaves us with a standoff. I think this overall analogy is not significantly helpful for either side of the argument.
Warren then discusses whether or not abortion is actually the killing of a “person”, calling into question when a fetus matures to the point of personhood. She defines the moral community as having some (the more the better) of these six characteristics: sentience (capacity to have conscious experiences), emotionality (capacity to feel sad, angry, happy, etc.), reason (capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems), capacity to communicate (by any means), self-awareness (concept of oneself), and finally moral agency (capacity to regulate one’s own actions). This is clearly very sketchy, because infants and mentally or physically challenged people are still referred to and thought of as “people”, or “members of the moral community”, despite a lack of many of these traits.
Both articles address this idea of personhood, but neither one really wins. The good thing with defining personhood biologically—saying it’s a person at conception—quantifies it…it gives a definitive time, not some subjective date when certain sentient or reasoning qualities are met, and this lessens the confusion. But I still agree somewhat with the view held by Warren that fetuses can’t reason or fend for themselves nor (until cerebral development) do really anything other than exist. So again, I don’t think either side has a stronger case, because both Warren and Marquis have points that basically offset one another.
An interesting thing that Marquis then does is go on to talk about FLO, or “future like ours”. He claims that killing deprives a person of a future that is like ours, and says that abortion is killing a fetus that will have a future like ours. Taking someone’s entire future away from them is the worst of crimes, and he argues that abortion is this kind of deprivation of future. Killing an adult is an awful thing to do because it takes away that adult’s future, a future that is of great value. The same goes for aborted fetuses—they had a future that would be valued but it was taken away from them.
Warren also argues that a woman has a right to life, so she can make a decision that she sees fit, since her body belongs to her and only her. In response to this, Marquis says that, except during rape (when he believes it is permissible), a fetus has just as much of a right to life as the woman, and therefore an abortion is wrong.
Marquis concludes that abortion is seriously wrong, except in unusual cases (rape, incest, and possible death of the mother). Depriving an FLO shows how wrong killing an adult is, and since fetuses have an FLO, killing them is just as bad. Warren concludes that fetuses are neither persons nor members of the moral community. She does not think that the fetus’s resemblance to a person nor the potential for becoming a person is a good enough claim to say it has an equal right to life.
Marquis agrees with Warren inasmuch as the pregnancy is due to rape or other unusual condition, so there is no argument there. The argument over personhood is a much better one, and I think that both sides have a very strong position and arguments. On one side there is the lack of human traits to make a fetus a person, and on the other there is a biological definition of life which occurs at conception. It is nearly impossible to determine who’s argument is stronger, because I can see how both sides can work. As for the woman’s rights, I think again it is two-sided. Neither side really comes away with a clear-cut victory. Warren argues that a woman can do whatever she wants with her body because it is her body but Marquis suggests that that cannot include killing a fetus (with an FLO). Overall I believe that Warren has stronger arguments, although I don’t necessarily agree with them. I think it is morally correct to carry the baby for nine months and then give it up for adoption or something like that, but that is such an unbelievably huge burden to put on someone, so I can understand where an abortion might need to take place. So, I feel that Mary Anne Warren gives stronger arguments only because she explains them in much more detail, allowing the reader to at least understand where she is coming from, whereas Don Marquis just tells us what his views are with little information to back them up. Abortion is a very difficult topic to discuss or write upon, and, even though I disagree with her, I think Warren did a better job to explain what her views on abortion were and where they came from.