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Many pro-choice advocates maintain that, though abortions should be permissible, they are regrettable nonetheless. For instance, Bill Clinton famously said that he wanted to keep abortions "safe, legal and rare." I don't understand this view. To my mind, whether abortion is immoral turns on the question of whether a fetus is a person with a right to life. But this seems a clear dichotomy--either fetuses have such a right, or they don't. If they do, then abortion is immoral. If they don't, then not only should abortion be permitted, but there is nothing objectionable about them at all. Indeed, it is every bit as innocuous as using condoms. Sometimes I think that what is happening is that people who advocate this position are still captive to some kind of residual pro-life sentiment. They believe that abortions should be permissible, but they can't shake the feeling that they are still, somehow, a bad thing. (And not just because of circumstantial considerations, such as that women who need abortions are...

Thanks to everyone for their contributions, and especially to Bette for reminding us of the importance of hearing women's voices on such topics. I'll add one more point, along the same lines. The questioner says that, if a fetus has a right to life, then abortion is immoral and should not be permitted; if not, then it isn't immoral and should. But surely this is wrong. I have a right to free speech, but it does not mean that I have the right to cry "Fire!" in a crowded theater. Other people have rights, too, and their rights can sometimes out-weigh mine. The same is true in the case of abortion. The mere fact that the fetus has a right to life is compatible with a pregnant woman's having other rights that might out-weigh the fetus's right to life in some cases. For example, the woman herself has a right to life, and I for one have a very hard time seeing why that right should not trump the fetus's similar right if the pregnancy is endangering the women's life. Similarly, a woman has a right not...

Many pro-life advocates maintain that certain attendant may make abortion a reasonable choice from the perspective of the pregnant woman. Such circumstances are not limited to life-and-death cases, or even concerns directly related to the health. For instance: if a pregnant teen claimed that she had to forego motherhood in order to attend college and go on to to achieve her life goals, many would think this understandable. Such justifications seem plausible to me. And yet it strikes me that we almost never find cases where a mother expresses serious regret at having had children. As far as I can tell, it's very rare for a mother to admit, "On balance, I wish that I had aborted my children." And this holds true almost no matter what the difficulties surrounding the mother's pregnancy may have been. Whether a child is born into poverty, or suffers a birth defect, or prevents the mother from pursuing a career, we hardly ever look back and say, "Yes, this one should have been aborted." That's not to say that...

I've heard this kind of reasoning before, and I think it's well worth thinking about. But I also think it is ultimately sophistical. (Something seems to have been mangled in the beginning of the question. The first sentence seems ungrammatical, and I would have thought the views expressed were more likely to be those of pro-choice folks rather than pro-life folks. But this doesn't really affect the issues raised.) Yes, once a child has been born, the life of that child has precisely the sort of value that any human life has, and any parent who raised such a child and refused to acknowledge the value of that child's life (I wish you'd never been born!) would be a monster. But suppose the mother has been raped by her priest and, for whatever reason, decides to have the child. That does not make the child's life any less valuable, and if the mother raises the child with love, I can only have the deepest respect for her. But should she then have no regret about the fact she was raped? Should she...

Even if we accept Judith Jarvis Thomson's distinction between "killing" and "letting die", how can abortion be anything but horrifically unethical? Suppose I have daughter that I reluctantly take care of. I would never kill her, but I miss the disposable income and free time I had before her. Then one day I find out my daughter has rare disease and needs me to donate my kidney (or if you prefer, needs me to be tied to the machine described in violinist thought experiment). "Now's my chance!" I think. "If refuse to let her use my body, I can 'let her die' rather than 'kill' her. With my only child dead, I'll be free to live like a bachelor again. No more t-ball games for me!" Even if you grant that I have the right to let my daughter die, it still sounds like a selfish thing to do. In fact it's monstrous thing to do. Just like we can defend Fred Phelps's right to free speech while condemning the way exercises it, we can defend a woman a woman's right to bodily autonomy while condemning the way she...

First of all, as you say, it seems pretty clear that you would have no moral obligation to allow your daughter to have one of your kidneys. To a significant extent, that is all most "pro-choice" arguments seek to establish. Indeed, Thomson discusses this very point in "A Defense of Abortion". That said, I would agree with you that it would be awful of you not to provide your daughter with a kidney, assuming that it otherwise wasn't going to affect you terribly badly. But the case seems significantly different from a first trimester abortion. And I think that is so even if, like Thomson, we allow (at least for the sake of argument) that the developing fetus is a person: an "unborn child". You do not say what age your daughter is, and that may matter a bit to our intuitions about the case. But what matters more, it seems to me, is the character of the relationship you have with her. What's so disturbing about the choice you imagine making is what it says about that relationship. Obviously, my...

Do Catholic hospitals have a right not to perform abortions?

Just a brief comment, which is that, even if one always does have a moral right not to do things one regards as morally objectionable, it does not follow that one has a legal or political right to do so, i.e., that one cannot legitimately face legal consequences for not doing so. It is fairly easy to come up with counter-examples by thinking of people whose moral views are themselves pretty objectionable. I don't know which issue the questioner probably had in mind, but both seem worth considering. For what it is worth, I think similar such examples make Aquinas's view very doubtful. If one thinks a thing is morally abhorrent, say, when it is, in fact, morally obligatory, then it is not at all clear that one has a moral right not to do the thing. Indeed, it seems almost contradictory to say one does: One has a moral right not to do something that is morally obligatory? Presumably, the resolution of this "paradox" lies in distinguishing subjective from objective elements of this, as is now...

Suppose a woman hates to fold laundry and is some sort of embryological neuroscientist. The woman conceives a child and takes a potion she has developed at an early stage before the embryo is conscious and when abortion is currently permissible such that when the child is born, the child has no desires other to fold laundry and put it away. The child is a sort of willing laundry slave. Let us suppose that the child is incapable of having any other desires than to do laundry and is incapable of being happy doing anything else. In fact, the child is completely happy in this state of laundry slavery. I have the intuition that the embryo is harmed at the moment the potion is taken even though the child who is born is incapable of objecting. If it is morally wrong to deny the embryo of its future freedom at the point when the potion is taken, why is it okay to deny the embryo of its future life at that same point through an abortion? The existence of future person who is harmed doesn't seem to matter in...

Different people will have different views about this, but I think the obvious thing to say is this. Taking the potion you described harms a person who will one day exist. Having an abortion does not harm a person who will one day exist. So that is the difference: In the one case, a person is harmed, but not in the other. That person does not exist at the time the harm is done, but I think you are correct that the person does not need to exist at that time to be harmed. To see the importance of this, note that a similar case can be described even if the woman takes the potion before any child is conceived. In that case, no independent life exists at all, and yet it seems as if taking the potion is morally objectionable, for much the same reason. There are complications here, surrounding the idea that the woman's behavior is wrong even if no child is ever conceived, on the ground that she risked harming someone. But I'll leave it to you, and others, to work this out. One important point is...

Is it rational to both maintain that abortion is entirely morally permissible (on the grounds that a fetus is not a person, let's say) and to regret having had one?

And for yet another persepctive on this, it seems as if it is morally permissible not always to be a "good samaritan". But of course one might reasonably regret not having been a "good samaritan" on some particular occasion, i.e., regret not having gone out of one's way---beyond the call of moral duty---to do something for someone. It therefore seems perfectly reasonable, in general, to regret things one had, and knows one had, every moral permission to do. A cognate point is made explicitly in Judith Jarvis Thomson's classic paper, "A Defense of Abortion". To say that something is morally permissible is simply to say that it isn't morally prohibited: It's a fairly weak claim in some ways. In particular, it doesn't at all follow that the thing in question is, all things considered, the best thing to do, nor even that it is, all things considered, a particularly nice thing to do. So, if I remember correctly, Thomson says she is quite willing to concede, so far as her argument is concerned, that it...

One of the most common justifications I hear for abortion is "a woman should have control over her body." If humans reproduced oviparously, would that change the debate? Let's say a woman conceives a child, and then immediately lays an egg. The egg would still need incubation and maintenance, though this could be performed by any party, not just the mother. After nine months of development, the egg would hatch into a baby human. Would a woman be justified in crushing this egg? This mimics the abortion debate, except that in this case the fetus cannot be addressed as part of the woman's body. Would that invalidate any abortion arguments?

There are several different questions here. The first is whether, in the circumstances imagined, one would have a right to kill the developing ovum, or whatever. The second is whether a negative answer to this question would invalidate arguments in favor of the the permissibility of abortion. Let me answer the second question first. I think the answer here is "No": At least, I don't see that there are any very plausible arguments it would undermine. If you consider, for example, the central argument of Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous paper "A Defense of Abortion", it depends crucially upon the fact that the developing fetus is dependent upon the woman's body and that the woman's body is affected by the presence of the fetus. Thomson then argues, largely by analogy, that a woman is not morally obligated to carry a fetus under those circumstances. It's this kind of argument that I take to be summed up by "a woman should have control over what happens in and to her body". Thomson actually does...

Suppose that a fetus is at a stage when it is considered permissible to be aborted. Suppose that the woman bearing the fetus decides, for some reason, that she would prefer that the child be born with no arms. To that end, she takes some kind of potion, and the child is later born with no arms. I think that most people would feel that the woman's action was wrong because it was wrong to deprive the child that was born of his or her arms and their use. But if that's true, why is it permissible to deprive the child that would have been born of his or her body and its use?

I'm not sure there's much of a puzzle here. If the woman takes the potion you describe, then at some future point there will be a child who has no arms, and that future child, one could easily argue, will then have a claim against its mother's earlier behavior. If the woman has an abortion, on the other hand, then at no future point will there be a child who has no body and, on that ground, has a complaint against its mother's earlier behavior. The point here is that the wrongness of the behavior, in the former case, can be traced to the fact that there will, at some point, be a person whose rights have been violated, even though that person was not a person at the time the rights were violated. There will be no such person in the latter case, unless of course you assume that the fetus in question is already, in the relevant sense, a person. But then that's an old argument.

Suppose a woman decided, for whatever reason, to put a pregnancy 'on hold' indefinitely, even for the rest of her life, while the fetus was at a stage of development in which it is currently permissible to abort it. That is, the woman takes a potion and stays pregnant, but the fetus remains insider her and dependent on her, and it never develops any further than it already has. I think many people would find this morally problematic in ways in which they don't find abortion problematic. But where is the moral difference?

For what it's worth, I find it obscure why someone would wish to pursue this course of action, but I don't find it obviously to be morally objectionable in any way I don't find abortion morally objectionable. Suppose the woman instead removed the fetus without its being killed, and put it in some kind of suspended animation. Perhaps she thinks, "Well, maybe later I'll be ready for a child, and then I'll continue the pregnancy." It's not obvious why this would be any more objectionable than abortion, and I certainly don't see a difference between this case and the one in the question. Indeed, one might wonder whether, at certain very early stages of pregnancy, there is very much of a difference between this and what routinely happens in fertility labs.

As regards the point at which we should accord rights to that which would eventually be a child (an embryo, a fetus, etc.), does someone who argues that a given stage is not sufficiently mature have also to answer the question of which WOULD be the critical stage? Or is it enough to say, "Well, I don't know when this thing becomes a person, but it's not a person at day 1."

It's perhaps worth adding that a child has a lot of different rights, and these to different degrees, and there's no particular reason to suppose that these have to come all at once. As a blastocyst becomes an embryo becomes a fetus becomes a child, it would seem that it might acquire these rights, to varying degrees, as it develops.

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