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I have been conflicted over abortion for a long time, and I've reached a sort of stable state in which I accept that especially in early pregnancy a fetus does not have the same rights that an infant does outside of the womb, but later in pregnancy it does. For instance, it seems clear to me that a fetus the day before birth should have equal rights to an infant born the day after, since as has been noted that difference in residency does not seem particularly significant to moral standing. And, of course, the problem with that gradualist view - the inability to assign a time in which such full rights are obtained - continues to trouble me. But, another issue that concerns me is how practices like sex-selective abortion inform the debate. If a women really has the right to choose who or what may reside within her body, and has the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term, shouldn't it be immaterial to a third party on what basis she makes those decisions? In this case, sex-selective...

You have clearly done a good deal of thoughtful and critical thinking about abortion, and I suggest that you take a look at some of the philosophical literature, starting with Judith Thomson's essay "A Defense of Abortion" (widely reprinted in philosophy anthologies.) She questions some seemingly obvious premises--like your assumption that a fetus the day before birth has the same rights as a newborn--by arguing that what is at stake is not only the personhood of the fetus but also the fact that the fetus is dependent on another human being. She uses creative thought experiments to explore whether dependent beings have the right to continued dependence on this human being, especially when the dependence came about without consent (e.g. if a woman became pregnant as a result of rape). She also makes a distinction between what is clearly wrong and what is selfish/uncaring. Even if you continue to think that sex selective abortion is discriminatory and wrong, you need not conclude that a woman has no...

While I don't have a firm opinion on the issue, I never understand many pro-life positions that state they are against abortion except in the case of rape or incest. Life is life. These babies are as innocent as others. The situation in which they were conceived should have no bearing on whether they should be allowed to be aborted. It is illogical.

If the moral objection to abortion is that it kills innocent persons, then you are right, the circumstances of conception should be irrelevant. An important philosophical article by Judith Jarvis Thomson, "A Defense of Abortion" (originally published in Philosophy and Public Affairs in 1971 and widely reprinted) argues that in some circumstances, killing innocent persons is permissible. Those special circumstances are when the life of another is dependent on some huge personal sacrifice of an individual who did not voluntarily take on that responsibility. Thomson argues that when pregnancy occurs against the will of the pregnant woman (rape is clearly an instance of this, and Thomson argues that contraceptive failure is also an instance) it is morally permissible to abort (although it would be morally admirable to go through with the pregnancy).

I've noticed that most comments on abortion ignore the question of foetal conciousness and the stage at which the foetus becomes sensitive to pain, and is susceptible to suffering in the course of the abortion procedure. The gradualist approach (the foetus has few rights in early pregnancy but more rights at later stages) is attractive but suffers from the drawback that it does not provide a definite point in gestation at which personhood can be considered to start. Would it be reasonable to think of the onset of foetal consciousness as providing such a starting point? (I know there are immense practical difficulties in identifying the onset of consciousness but I am looking at this question as a matter of principle.)

The idea of giving rights to fetuses as soon as they are capable of consciousness is, I think, discussed in the literature. Fetuses have a functioning central nervous system very early in pregnancy (typically before pregnancy is detected) and possibly consciousness of some sort starts at this point. Probably you should also be willing to extend your ideas about the importance of consciousness to human rights later in life (e.g. to comatose patients). Some writers on abortion argue that fetuses have rights to life before the onset of consciousness, and perhaps you might be interested at looking at these e.g. Don Marquis.