Philosophy 224
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Philosophy 224. Moral Persons: Warren on Persons and Abortion. Reading Quiz. In a short paragraph, answer the basic moral question of abortion supplying reasons supporting your answer: “Is abortion ever morally permissible?”. Fetal Development.

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Philosophy 224

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Philosophy 224

Philosophy 224

Moral Persons: Warren on Persons and Abortion

Reading quiz

Reading Quiz

  • In a short paragraph, answer the basic moral question of abortion supplying reasons supporting your answer:

    “Is abortion ever morally permissible?”

Fetal development

Fetal Development

  • Abortion is an issue for which it is important to develop a shared vocabulary.

  • One important factual element of the discussion is the biology of fetal development.

  • Fertilization—zygote; implantation—morula, Weeks 2-4—embryo, Weeks 8-Birth—fetus.

  • Obviously, a key stage is that of viability (~Week 21).

Defining abortion

Defining Abortion

  • The most important term to define is “abortion.”

  • A first definition is: “the termination of a pregnancy before viability” (Timmons, Disputed Moral Issues, 269).

  • A key to any acceptable definition is that it distinguishes between spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) and induced ones.

    • ~40% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

  • What this definition doesn’t capture is the category of spontaneous or induced termination after viability.

Another definition

Another Definition

  • Spontaneous abortions after viability are called premature births. On occasion, such births will be induced to protect the life of the mother or fetus.

  • A more morally problematic class are those abortions after viability which encompass the death of the fetus.

  • Abortion (in its morally contentious form) “refers to all cases in which a pregnancy is intentionally interrupted and involves (as part of the process or aim of interruption) the intentional killing of the fetus” (Timmons, p. 270).

Why is it morally contentious

Why is it Morally Contentious?

  • Disagreements over the moral status of abortion are typically grounded in disagreement about the moral standing of the fetus.

    • Moral Standing: a measure of something’s moral worth, of how it should count in our moral evaluation.

      • Direct Moral Standing: possession of properties in virtue of which it counts morally.

      • Indirect Moral Standing: counts morally only relative to something with DMS.

Does a fetus have moral standing

Does a Fetus Have Moral Standing?

  • It is relatively uncontentious to argue that a fetus can have IMS. What about DMS?

  • Depends on what properties it is thought DMS depends and when the fetus achieves them.

    • Candidates include: immortal soul, human genetic code, personhood, sentience, brain activity, being a potential person, having a future like that of an adult human being, viability, birth.

Reasons for having abortions

Reasons for Having Abortions

  • Another important consideration in evaluating the morality of abortion is the reason(s) which a person might have for seeking one.

  • Common reasons include:

    • Therapeutic: health of pregnant woman;

    • Eugenic: related to fetal abnormality;

    • Humanitarian: in cases of incest or rape;

    • Socioeconomic: related to family size, poverty, stigma;

    • Personal: related to preferences, plans, etc.

Where do you stand

Where do you stand?

  • With all of this terminology in place, we can refine the basic moral question concerning abortion to:

    “At what stage of fetal development (if any) and for what reasons (if any) is abortion ever morally permissible?”

  • We have tended to divide the field of evaluation up very simply into pro-life and pro-choice camps, but that grossly oversimplifies the complicated range of opinions that exist.

  • A better distinction is between Liberal, Moderate and Conservative views.

Liberal moderate or conservative

Liberal, Moderate or Conservative?

  • The Liberal view is that abortions are always morally permissible at any stage of fetal development, for any reasons.

  • The Conservative view is that abortions are never morally permissible at any stage of fetal development, and there are never any mitigating reasons.

  • The Moderate view is that some abortions are wrong and some are morally permissible depending on the stage and reasons.

  • It is important to acknowledge that for each of these views, a range of alternatives is possible.

Abortion as a legal matter

Abortion as a Legal Matter

  • Since 1973, due to Roe v. Wade, many abortions have been legal in the U. S.. The decision was a balance between the acknowledged right to privacy that a woman is presumed to have and the interests of the state in promoting and protecting human life.

  • In 1992, in the case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the SCOTUS, upheld the basic principle of Roe, but changed the terms, making viability the stage at which state interests can overwhelm the privacy rights of the pregnant woman.

Warren on abortion

Warren on Abortion

  • Warren begins by granting to the opponents of abortion rights something which they take to be definitive: the fetus is a human being.

  • What she goes on to argue is that the biological identity of the fetus is not what’s relevant when we are trying to determine its moral status.

  • The question she thinks is relevant is, “Is the fetus a person?”

The moral community

The Moral Community

  • For Warren, the question of personhood is crucial because she assumes that membership in the moral community comes with personhood.

  • Only when we have determined if a fetus is a member of the moral community does it become possible to talk about rights (moral or legal) that the fetus may have (220c2).

Genetic vs moral humanity

Genetic vs. Moral Humanity

  • A common line of anti-abortion argument assumes a blurring of the distinction that Warren is insisting upon.

  • If it is wrong to kill innocent human beings, and if fetuses are innocent human beings, then abortion is wrong.

  • The question which is begged here is whether or not “human beings” is used in the same way in both of the first two statements.

  • If we assume that genetic humanity determines personhood then the answer is “Yes,” but should we make that assumption?

Moral humanity

Moral Humanity

  • Warren is clear about where she stands on this question, “the moral community consists of all and only people, rather than all or only human beings” (221c1).

  • She thinks that this position is self-evident, at least when we consider what makes something a person.

  • Warren does not claim that these characteristics are exhaustive or even necessary, but she insists that something which meets none of these criteria cannot be considered a person in the moral sense.

It s the trait s that make a person

It’s the Trait(s) that Make a Person

  • Consciousness and the capacity to feel pain;

  • Reasoning (as a developed capacity);

  • Self-motivated activity;

  • Capacity to Communicate;

  • Self-awareness (222c1).

What s it all mean

What’s it all Mean?

  • One obvious and important implication of Warren’s account of personhood is that some human beings are not people and some people are not human beings.

  • A fetus clearly is not a person, it is not a member of the moral community and thus lacks direct moral standing. Therefore, abortion is not (absent other morally relevant concerns) immoral.

  • A thought experiment: try to ascribe moral predicates to an entity that lacks the traits of personhood.

Two other questions

Two Other Questions

  • At what level of fetal development should a fetus be considered a person? Warren insists that we should not let superficial similarities to confuse the issue (223c2).

  • What about the potential of the fetus to be a person? Though Warren does not deny the significance of this potential, she does insist that the rights of potential persons in no way outweigh rights of an actual person (225).

Postscript on infanticide

Postscript on Infanticide

  • To the objection that the personhood criteria enumerated in the article would seem to lead to the conclusion that there is nothing morally wrong with infanticide, Warren points to the value that children have to other people (indirect moral standing).

  • To the counter claim that these sort of concerns also suggest that abortion is wrong, Warren notes that there is a difference. In the case of infants, the mother’s rights to self-determination are not impacted (the child is independent). But forcing a woman to carry a baby does impact her rights.

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