According to Don Marquis, the majority of abortions are seriously immoral and should fall under the same moral category as killing innocent human adults. His central argument revolves around the idea that it is prima facie wrong to kill adult humans because doing so results in the victim’s loss of the value of its future. He concludes that it is therefore prima facie wrong to kill fetuses because it also results in a loss of a valuable “future life like ours.” However, Judith Thompson and Margaret Little are able to provide more reasonable arguments for what should be considered the most important factor in deciding how to deal with abortion. They may be more open-minded to abortion but do not feel as though abortion should always be permissible. After considering each argument, I have found that a woman’s right to have an abortion is determined by each situation and is simply a choice-which should not be taken lightly-that should be made solely by a pregnant woman. Marquis simply fails to recognize that a woman has rights that can make abortion morally permissible upon declining to continue the extremely intimate period of gestation. Unlike Marquis, I believe abortion is not impermissible yet not always permissible either.
Upon thorough inspection, I have found some flaws in Marquis’ argument. Marquis tries to argue that “personhood” is not the moral category in question with regards to the moral permissibility of abortion. But he claims that someone (the fetus) has a future like ours and therefore should not be deprived of such future. If personhood is irrelevant, then it is unclear that there actually is someone (a person) who can be deprived of such things. At one point Marquis even says that morally permissible abortions would be rare under his argument-unless they occurred early enough in pregnancy when a fetus is not yet a definite “individual.” So, is personhood important to him or not? What does he mean by “individual”?
Further complications ensue from his argument. In addition to assuming that a fetus is not a person yet still has a right to life because with their death comes a deprivation of a future like ours, people who use Marquis’ argument could then argue that it is wrong to “kill” fertilized, but not yet implanted, eggs. Is it then wrong to use contraceptives because possible egg and sperm pairs (zygotes) are prevented from having a future like ours? Marquis says that the immorality of contraception cannot be argued for with his “future-like-ours” analysis because there is no identifiable subject that can suffer this loss. However, neither the potential person (fetus with a future-like-ours) or the possible person (zygote prevented by contraception) actually exist. Because of this, it becomes difficult to understand how a potential person can be a subject of harm anymore than a possible person can. Therefore, the question of existence is being asked here because it seems as if potential persons (and their futures alike) are only possible things, not actual existing things. If this is so, then is there really a subject of harm?
The abortion debate continues and it seems as if we must first determine if, and when, a fetus can be granted the status of a human being (or person). But do we actually need to? Thomson and Little use the concept of personhood in their arguments to show that even if the fetus is a person from the moment of conception, there are still morally permissible abortions. Their arguments show that there are more important decisions to be made than that of granting personhood to a fetus. Writings on abortion tend to answer how the third party may act in response to a woman asking for an abortion. These members of the third party are no different than bystanders; they cannot intervene for it is not their right to choose who can live in this situation. We must evaluate the woman’s right to life and any obligations she may have to the fetus-person or not-and continue from there.
Thomson argues that there are limitations on our obligation to help other people in need. Let us look an example provided by Thomson and imagine that you were kidnapped and a famous violinist was then hooked up to your circulatory system. Doctors are sorry that this has happened, but tell you that he will die if they unplug him. Your kidneys are to be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as yours. But, you are ensured that in nine months, he will be healthy and ready to be unplugged from you. Are you morally obligated to help him? All people have a right to life, including this violinist, but you also have a right to decide what happens in or to your body. Having the right to life does not imply that one also has the right to get all assistance needed to keep living. Therefore, forcing you to be used as life support would be outrageous and wrong-you must be allowed a choice. It is nice to help others in need but you do not have to agree to something so extreme. From this analysis, we can conclude that a woman is not morally obligated to grant a fetus the right to use her body in order to continue its life. She must agree to this of her own free will.
Some may look at Thomson’s argument and notice that this was a kidnapping, therefore no consent was given. Because of this, her argument is only strong enough to support that pregnancies resulting from rape may be permissibly aborted. However, as mentioned before, she explains that a right to life does not always entail that one must be given the bare minimum of what is needed for life to continue. Suppose the bare minimum of what is needed for a person’s continued life happens to be something that the person does not have a right to be given. The violinist has no right to use your kidneys, or anyone else’s, unless he is granted that right by you. A person’s body is their own, and it is up to each person to decide what is to be done with it. And from this, I gather that a pregnant woman has the right to choose to abort because it is her body that would be used to supply the bare minimum needed for the fetus’s life.
Little goes even further than Thomson to say that when regarding abortion, the question that is really being asked to address is about the ethics of gestation. Even if a woman seemingly deploys an offensive or trivial reason for aborting a fetus, she is not necessarily obliged to continue the pregnancy. The sharing of a mother’s body and her transition into motherhood alone provide reasons to honorably decline. These are similar to the reasons people deploy as a basis to honorably decline when one does not want to have sex or enter a marriage. Under her argument, it is permissible to receive an abortion because of the issues that the personal nature of gestation can create.
During the gestation period, a mother provides her fetus with the necessary aid for its continued life. She not only provides her body as a home for the fetus, but also donates nourishment, blood, oxygen, and hormonal triggers for its development. This intimate relationship is unlike any other because another potential person is living in and using one’s body for survival over the course of nine months. The mother’s entire physical system changes to fit the needs of that fetus during pregnancy, but after a child is born, the woman has entered motherhood and must restructure her identity. Motherhood changes one’s primary commitments in life and the terms that are used to determine if one’s life is a success or a failure. Therefore, the intimacy of pregnancy (in regards to the body, like sex) and the intimacy of motherhood (relational, like marriage) are deserving of respect when assessing the moral obligations of the mother to the fetus.
In a sense, gestation belongs to a woman because the essential resources needed for the process are hers. Because of this, Marquis’s concept of a potential person (with a future-like-ours) becomes deceptive. His argument encourages us to think of a fetus’s development as though what is needed other than time is intrinsically there-independently of the woman. However, the future of that potential person is dependent on another person’s (agent’s) actions and resources, not the habitat alone. Ending gestation takes away something the fetus would not have had without the mother’s aid to begin with.
Many women decide to abort because they do not think bringing a child into the world is the right thing to do-as opposed to just not wanting the child. Some feel that you cannot abort out of concern or respect for the child’s future unless its life were going to be worse than not living at all. Those who abort for this reason actually do it because of the worry that bringing about a life would violate their ideals of creation and parenthood and not because they feel the child would have a life not worth living. No one wants to bring a person into existence that they cannot take care of and show love for-or mark them with the burden of rejection or disrespect that can come out of giving a child up for adoption. Here we can look at Marquis’s concept of a “future-like-ours.” How can he assume that the child’s future will be a great one? What if a mother lives in a third world country where violence is a normal occurrence? What if bringing a life into this world goes against the norms of respect a woman has for creation? We must show respect for the possibility that a child may not have a bright future ahead of them.
Lastly, it should be noted that anti-abortionists wrongfully use the words “killing” and “murder” when describing the act of abortion. Thomson believes that if a mother will die as a result of seeing her pregnancy through, then aborting should not be viewed as murder. She has the right to defend her life-both she and the fetus are innocent and no one is at fault in this situation. She reveals in the end of her analysis that she was merely pretending throughout that a fetus is a person from conception on. According to her, early abortion does not deal with a person, therefore no killing is involved and abortions are permissible during this part of pregnancy. Little goes even further to say that even those who are responsible for procreating would not be committing murder when getting an abortion. The woman is responsible for introducing a life and with a life comes a set of vulnerabilities and needs. But she is not responsible for the person being needy because she did not cause the fetus to be more vulnerable than it would have been if she did not procreate-for if she had not, the fetus would not exist at all. Therefore in ending the assistance to a fetus, a woman is not leaving it worse off than before they had encountered and would not be “killing” but rather “letting die.” Of course, as Little also states in her argument, I believe that if one could end the assistance to the fetus without having a death result, then one should. I also fail to see a reason why abortion is considered an act of murder rather than an act that unfortunately leads to the death of the fetus.
In conclusion, a pro-choice position on abortion rights does not entail that abortion is necessarily a right or morally neutral act. Abortion results in a loss that can provoke feelings of regret or grief. But sometimes the necessary actions that could help these cells develop into a person would significantly affect (in a negative manner) the life of someone who is already living and are therefore permissibly declined. The action of aborting is not necessarily indecent though-it can be said that decent actions can result in a loss. Marquis claimed that for the same reason it is wrong to kill an adult human (their loss of a valuable future), it is also wrong to kill a fetus (with a valuable “future-like-ours”). But if we cannot see abortion as an act of killing, then how can Marquis’ argument hold? The least he could do is alter it by also stating that it is prima facie wrong to force a woman to provide a fetus-gestation-unit if she is not willing to do so. Thomson would be satisfied by this resolution. Many may think Little is too lenient on her restrictions to permissible abortions. However, I feel as though she provided a strong argument for her view that regards abortion as the ending of gestational assistance but still regards burgeoning human life as one that should be respected. However, this respect-worthy status does not give the fetus a substantial moral status. There are of course cases where it is wrong to abort, but wanting to end gestation for reasons based on the intimacies of it can make abortion a permissible act. Overall, I feel there should be as much respect for a woman’s right to decline the intimacies of gestation as there is respect for burgeoning human life.