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The Abortion Debate
Transcript of The Abortion Debate
The Big Issue
It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human person.
There is general agreement that
The question remains
A sperm or an ovum is not
a human person with human rights.
A new born baby is
a human person with human rights.
When does a developing human being become a human person with human rights?
Human Life, Human Person, Human Rights
According to modern biology
A sperm or an ovum may seem alive but lacking the ability to reproduce,
it is not alive.
A fertilized human egg is alive and it is human.
Modern biology defines life as possessing:
metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli,adaptation reproduction.
Modern Biology cannot answer:
Is the human embryo or fetus a human person with human rights
The Unique Relationship
Many ethicists have tried to find
an analogy to help understand the
relationship between a woman and the
unborn embryo or fetus within her.
However, this relationship is unique and
therefore all of the analogies fall short.
~ is not a part of the woman's body, though it is within her
~ it is a unity, identity whole, with its own developmental
~ it has a unique set of DNA
~ it is her own offspring, with a very close genetic
~ it is absolutely dependent upon her alone
~ it is not a parisite within the woman
~ it is alive and biologically
Types of Issues
The Moral Issues
The Legal Issues
A woman who is pregnant but is ambivalent
or does not want the pregnancy, must decide
if she will terminate the pregnancy by having
Society must decide whether it will allow women have abortions and
medical personnel perform abortions.
Medical personnel and institutions must decide if they will participate in providing abortions.
Society must decide how it will
regulate and monitor
the abortion industry.
Human Rights are grounded in the natural capacity to develop consciousness, reasoning, free choice, self-awareness, and communication.
1. Species exist along a spectrum of natural capacities. So there is still an arbitrary
line in deciding humans have rights and other species do not.
2. This would imply that anecephalic infants and those who are irreversibly comatose
have human rights.
3. Some argue that the fetus and the baby are not the same entity. But that a new
entity arises with these new capacities.
Objections to Natural Capacity View of Human Rights
Human Rights Grounded in Natural Capacity
Moral opposition to abortion is based on the following argument:
1. It is wrong to kill innocent human beings.
2. The embryo is an innocent human being.
3. Hence it is wrong to kill the embryo.
But 'human being' is used in different senses in (1) and (2).
In (1), 'human being' is used in a moral sense to mean a 'person', a 'full-fledged member of the moral community'.
In (2), 'human being' means 'biological human'.A Logical Fallacy
Mary Ann Warren
According to Warren, there is a cluster of properties that characterize persons:
1. consciousness and the capacity to feel pain
3. self-motivated activity
4. the capacity to communicate,
5. self-concepts and self-awareness, either individual or racial, or both.
A Flexible Definition of Person
Conciousness is an awareness of objects and events external and/or internal to the being.
Reasoning is the developed capacity to solve new and relatively complex problems.
Activity is self-motivated if it is relatively independent of either genetic or direct external control.
Communication by any 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.
A person does not have to have each of these.
If something has all five then it definitely is a person,
If it has none or perhaps only one then it is not a person.
The fetus has at most one, consciousness, and hence is not a person.
Warren takes the capacity to feel pain as the beginning of awareness or
A Logical Fallacy
Criticism of Warren's Argument
Neither of the following would meet Warren's criteria
Comatose Patient: have the developed capacity but not an immediate capacity for these activities.
New Born Infant: have the capacity to develop but not yet the developed capacity nor the immediate capacity for the activities.
Being human is related to:
consciousness, self-awareness, reasoning,
freedom to choose, ability to communicate.
Are human rights based upon:
The immediate capability of doing these.
The developed capability even when it is dormant.
The remote capacity to develop these capabilities later.
(Such as an adult who is awake and fully functional)
Human beings have the "self-directed genetic propensity" to develop these capacities. They may not have developed yet (fetus) or they have have been lost (comatose) but it is in their nature and is the basis of natural human rights.
Human development begins at conception. Therefore, from conception, human beings have the right to life.
Advantages of Natural Capacity Viewpoint
Human capacities exist along a continuum.
If human rights depend upon the development of these properties or characteristics, then:
1) At some arbitrary point of development, the rights must begin.
2) People near this point (toddlers) may have intermediate levels of rights.
2) People who are more rational, intelligent, etc., would have greater rights.
But if rights are grounded in the capacity to develop these characteristics, then there is no arbitrary beginning point or dgrees of human rights.
When you murder a person, you are not depriving them of their past experiences but of future experiences, activities, projects and enjoyments. It is the value of this future that you take away from the murder victim.
The fetus does not have the same range of past experiences as an adult but they have a full range of future experiences. Killing a fetus is wrong for the same reason that killing any person is wrong. It deprives them of the value of their own future.
Some abortions may be justified, for example in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. The this case the fetus and mother will die before the pregnancy comes to term, and therefore the fetus has no future. The abortion preserves the mother's future.
Deprivation of a Valuable Future
Objection 1. Contraception deprives a sperm or ovum of a valuable future. So this
argument would imply that contraception is as wrong as murder, which
absurd. Therefore, the argument is fallacious.
Objections to Deprivation of Valuable Future Argument
Don Marquis argues:
Reply: The embryo and fetus are a distict entity which only comes into existence at
conception. Therefore, the ovum or sperm have no valuable future in
Objection 2. One's personal identity consists in an embodied mind or a brain which
has developed certain psychological capacities. Therefore, the embryo
or fetus which lacks a mind or psychological capacities, is not the same
entity which would later have the valuable future.
Reply: An entity is that which persists through stages of development. I am the same
person in the womb, as an infant, a toddler, a child, an adolescent, and as an
adult. I may have gained or lost particular abilities along the way, but I am
still the same person.
Objection 3. What makes murder wrong is depriving a person of a future in which they
have an interest. Since the fetus has no conscious interest in its future,
killing it is not wrong.
Reply: A person who is depressed and suicidal may not take an interest in their own
future but it is still wrong to kill them. Therefore, this view is mistaken.
Arguments About the Fetus' Right to Life
(Such as an adult who is asleep of in a temporary coma)
(Such as an embryo, fetus, or new born baby)
Argument About the Woman's Right to Control Her Own Body and Future
Imagine that after going to hear the Boston Symphony Orchestra in concert, you wake up in bed next to a famous violinist. He is unconscious with a fatal kidney ailment; and because only you happen to have the right blood type to help, the Society of Music Lovers has kidnapped you and plugged your circulatory system into his so that your kidneys can filter poisons from his blood as well as your own. If he is disconnected from you now, he will die; but in nine months he will recover and can be safely disconnected.
Judith Jarvis Thompson
Objection 1. In the analogy, the person has been kidnapped and hooked up
against their will. They have done nothing to bring this about.
This is most analogous to rape rather than the typical pregnancy.
In other words, being sexually active carries with it a
responsibility to any new life produced.
Reply. Having sex is not an invitation to become host to this new life. The
intent was not to have a baby. If contraception fails, the woman
should not be deprived of other options.
Objection 2. The unborn is her own offspring, not a stranger. People have a
special obligation to protect their own offspring.
Reply. If a woman does not feel a special bond to this life, she should not be
forced to carry it within her body. You cannot force someone to love.
Objection 3. Abortion directly causes the death of the unborn, whereas,
unplugging the violinist is not the direct cause of his death. The
intent is not to kill him but to free oneself from the kidnapping.
Reply. The same reasoning applies to abortion. You do not intend to kill, but
to free oneself from the burden of the pregnancy.
Objections to Thomson's Violinist Analogy
Violinist Thought Experiment
Thomson takes it that you may permissibly unplug yourself from the violinist even though this will kill him. The right to life does not entail the right to use another person's body, and so in disconnecting the violinist you do not violate his right to life but merely deprive him of something “the use of your body” to which he has no right. Similarly, even if the fetus has a right to life, it does not have a right to use the pregnant woman's body; and so aborting the fetus is permissible in at least some circumstances.
Are you morally obliged to remain connected to the violinist for nine months or can you disconnect yourself and walk away?
However, the woman's right to abortion does not include the right to directly insist upon the death of the child, should the fetus happen to be viable, that is, capable of surviving outside the womb.
Thomson argues that
1) restricting access to abortion constrains women’s liberty to control their own lives.
2) Liberty must not be constrained unless it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt that the action is wrong. The burden of proof lies with those who want to constrain a person’s liberty.
3) Although it is reasonable to consider a fetus to be a human person with human rights, it is equally reasonable to not to consider it to be a human person with human rights. Therefore, because the woman seeking an abortion is not being unreasonable in her view that the fetus is not a human person with human rights, no one is justified in constraining her from taking that action.
Judith Jarvis Thompson
Legal Contraint on Liberty
Burden of Proof on Those who Would Deprive other of Liberty
Essentially, Thomson objects to the argument that natural law prohibits abortion. The implication of that claim is that any reasonable person would see abortion as immoral. Thomson argues that both positions are equally reasonable and therefore in a pluralistic, democratic society, both must be accepted.
Objection: The burden of proof should be on those who want to take a potentially
human life rather than on those trying to protect life. It is not
reasonable to say that the offspring of a man and a woman is not a
Reply: The issue is not whether it is a human life but whether this human life has
human rights, that is whether it is a human person. We know the woman
has human rights. Whether the fetus does is disputable among
Objections to Thomson's Legal Contraint Argument
Argument About Legal Constraint and the Burden of Proof
Noonan begins by suggesting that anyone conceived by human parents ought to be considered a human being (person with human rights).
He considers a variety of other possible criteria for being human. He rejects each of these in turn.
Viability: Can viability be the divide between human and not human. Noonan argues that dependence does not end with viability. We might add that one’s humanity is not lost as one becomes dependent again at other points in life. One issue Noonan does not consider is the unique relationship of dependence upon a single individual.
Experience: Some say that because the fetus does not have experience and memory, it is not human. Noonan points out that the fetus begins having experiences within the womb. Also, adults can lose their memory without ceasing to be human.
Feelings of Adults: Some argue that people do not grieve over the loss of a fetus the way they grieve over the loss of a child. Therefore, it is claimed, they do not consider the fetus to be human. Noonan responds that people’s feelings are a poor judge of the status of another. We might add that the emotional reaction to the loss of a fetus varies from person to person and depends greatly on their view on when it becomes human.
Not seen or felt: Some argue that because it is not seen or touched by others, the fetus is not perceived as human. Noonan argues that the history of racism shows how wrong this type of judgment can be.
John T. Noonan
Anyone Concieved by Human Parents Ought to be Considered a Human Being (Human Person with Human Rights)
Objection: Noonan's list of criteria is inadequate for determining whether a fetus is a
human person with human rights. Mary Ann Warren gives a more
adequate set of criteria for this complicated problem. It is not sufficient to
demonstrate that the unborn is human. The question is whether it is a
person with rights.
Reply: Noonan wrote prior to the introduction of the distinction between a human being
and a human person. Never the less, his argument holds that drawing a line
anywhere else is arbitrary because of the incremental nature of development.
He also argues that when talking about taking a human life, the burden of proof
must be on those who would kill, not on those protecting human life. This seems
the most reasonable position. It is easy to become confused when arguements
are abstract and to forget what we are actually talking about.
Objections to Noonan's Argument
Social Visibility: Some argue that fetus’s are not part of society and are not perceived by society as human. Again, Noonan sees in history amble evidence that society ought not be allowed to decide that whole classes of individuals are not human. “Humanity does not depend upon social recognition by others.”
Having rejected each of these, Noonan asserts again that anyone conceived by humans is human.
Supportive Arguments: Conception is not an Arbitrary Point to Draw the Line
Leap in probabilities: The chance of an ovum or sperm becoming a human prior to conception is near zero. At the moment of conception, that chance leaps to 75 - 80%. This is the moment of the biggest change. After this development is incremental. This is the reasonable place to draw a line morally.
DNA: At the moment of conception, a new entity comes into being with its own complete and unique set of DNA. A developmental process begins which will continue throughout life.
If you are shooting in the woods and there seems very little chance of hitting a person but you do, it will be counted as an accident. If there is a fair chance of hitting a person and you do, you will be held morally responsible. You should have refrained from shooting. The burden of proof lies with those wielding lethal force.
The Fetus is not yet fully human but it has a value greater than zero.
He offers as an alternative a moderate position: “The fetus does not have a full right to life, but as a potential person it has some rights, and abortion may be justified only in the earliest stages of pregnancy, or when the fetus [is] seriously defective, or when the pregnancy constitutes a danger to the mother’s health or life.”
Objection: The right to life does not come in degrees. If something lacks the right to life,
there is no moral problem with killing it. If it has that right, you cannot
morally kill it. His position could deprive new born babies of the full right to
Reply: It make no sense to pretend as if the fetus is fully human. Because we are
necessarily weighing the rights of the woman against the rights of the unborn,
it is necessary to determine how much weight to give each of the rights.
Objections to Pojman's Argument
Pojman criticizes both the pro-choice and the pro-life positions. He considers the pro-life position one-dimensional, seeing only the abstract right of the fetus. He insists that the mother’s psychological condition and quality of life of the fetus must be considered. In response to the pro-choice position, he objects that fetuses are potential persons, not mere collections of cells (and one might add, not a part of the woman’s body). Fetuses are in the process of becoming beings with the capacity for rational self-consciousness. The closer they are to birth, the stronger the presumption in their favor should be. This rules out abortion on demand.
Pojman uses Noonan’s argument about a leap in probabilities (from 1/200,000,000 to 4/5) that this being will develop into a person. In his view, this argument from probabilities establishes a presumption against aborting. (Note: this is a bit different from Noonan’s use to show that his choice of conception is not a purely arbitrary one.)
Stages of Fetal
• Conception (fertilization)
• Blastocyst / Pre-embryo (days 5-13)
~ Twinning and Chimera possible
• Implantation (day 9 or 10)
•Embryo (starting at 14 days)
~ Primitive Streak, Neural Tube
~ Twinning & Chimera not possible
•Fetus (starting at 10 weeks)
•Second Trimester (13 weeks, 3 months)
~ bones begin to form
~ 22 weeks earliest viability
•Third Trimester (26 weeks, 6 mo)
~ senses are functional
~ Good viability
Cell Differentiation (5)
Feeding the Growing Fetus (7)
•Gestational age (14 days prior to
conception, or 1st day of LMP)
7 days after conception
3 weeks gestation
10 days after conception
3.5 weeks gestation
21 days after conception
5 weeks gestation
4 weeks after conception
6 weeks gestation
5 weeks after conception
7 weeks gestation
6 weeks after conception
8 weeks gestation
7 weeks after conception
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41 weeks gestation
29 weeks after conception
31 weeks gestation
30 weeks after conception
32 weeks gestation
Twinning and Chimera are no longer possible.
Primitive heart beat.
Twinning and Chimera are possible.
Arm and Leg buds.
Two chamber heart.
Beginning of all organs present.
Light sensitivity, hiccups.
Webbed hands & feet.
Four Chamber heart.
Arm bend at elbows.
Swallowing and kicking.
Fully formed. Bones beginning to harden
Unique finger prints.
Hair growth. Can grasp, squint, frown, grimace and suck thumb
Significant bone development.
Can feel and hear.
Specialization of sensory areas of brain.
Can hear people speaking, singing, or reading.
Respond to light and touch.
Regular sleeping and waking pattern.
Lungs fully developed.
0 1 2 3 4 5
No Religion 4.02
25% Survival Rate if Born Now.
90% Survival Rate if Born Now.
50% Survival Rate if Born Now.
Near 100% Survival Rate if Born Now.
Other Religions 0.78
Women with no religious affiliation are 4 times as like to have an abortion as the average American worman.
See videos below on fetal development.
Nova: Life's Greatest Miracle
Messages in the Genes (6)
Brain Development & Birth (8)
Abortion in the U.S.
Connecticut passed first State law restricting abortion.
By 1900 all States had laws restricting abortion.
1973 Roe v Wade
: Supreme Court decision prohibiting States from
restricting physicians from performing abortions. The decision was based upon
a right to privacy. During the first trimester, when abortion is safer than childbirth,
the decision must be left to the mother and her physician. During the second trimester,
the State could regulate abortion in order to protect the woman from harm.
Only during the third trimester could abortion be prohibited. The State has two
compelling interest, protecting the life of the mother and protecting
“the potential of human life” of the fetus.
The decision rejected the idea of the fetus having a right to life.
Overturning Roe v Wade would not make abortion illegal
but would allow each state to pass laws restricting abortion procedures.
1992 Planned Parenthood v Casey
: Struck down some provisions of a Pennsylvania Law but
upheld others. Reaffirmed the woman’s right to have an abortion up to viability.
(Discarding the trimester formula or Roe v Wade.) After this the State may prohibit
abortions because its interest in the life of the fetus outweighs the woman’s right.
No mention is made of the right to privacy. Spousal notification was struck down as
an undue burden. A twenty four hour waiting period, informed consent provision,
and parental notification provision were upheld.
Partial Birth Abortion Ban
: This law was passed in 1995 and 1997 but
was vetoed both times by Bill Clinton. It was passed again in 2003
and signed by George W. Bush. It was challenged in the Supreme Court
but was upheld by that court in 2007. This bans a procedure which was
generally used during the second trimester but could also
be used during the third trimester.
When does a developing human being become a human person with human rights?
The Right to Life is a Natural Right
Objection: How can a blastocyst have human rights when it could
become twins or could combine with another blastocyst
to become a chimera?
Reply: The right to life is grounded in human nature. The blastocyst
is human regardless of what its future holds. It may not
survive, it may develop into a single human individual, or
twins, or a chimera. But in any case it is human and if it
survives, what develops from it will be human.
Objections to Dr. DiPietro's Argument
A natural right is based upon human nature.
Human nature is what is constant from one stage of development to another. It does not change as a being develops.
The right to life is based upon human nature and therefore applies at every stage of development.
Human development begins at conception and continues throughout ones life. The right to life ought to be acknowledged and protected at every stage of development.
During pregnancy, the rights of the woman and the unborn must be taken into consideration. There may be circumstances in which abortion can be justified but it must not be because we deny the humanity of the unborn.
The right to life will out weigh nearly any other right.
Objection: There are no natural rights. Rights only exist because
society has granted them. Therefore, society can decide
whether or not to grant rights to the unborn fetus.
Reply: It is wrong to intentionally kill an innocent human being who
poses no threat to you. This does not depend upon whether
society deems it wrong to kill or not. Otherwise, the Nazi's
were justified in killing those whose rights they denied.
Highest Rate of Abortions: 7-8 Weeks Gestation
87 % of Abortions Prior to 13 Weeks
91 % of Abortions in 1st Trimester
9 % of Abortions in 2nd Trimester
1 % of Abortions After 20 Weeks
Intermittent EEG (20 weeks gestation)
Sustained EEG (22 weeks gestation)
Bilaterally Synchronous EEG (26-27 weeks gestation)