Is Abortion Immoral?

This post is a reflection upon the essays highlighted in my last post (Gender Neutrality), “Why Abortion is Immoral” by Don Marquis and “Abortion and the Concept of a Person” by Jane English. Marquis, obviously, is against abortion, and English is somewhat for it.

Marquis’ position can be paraphrased as such:

  • A fetus is the sort of being whose life it is wrong to end
  • Killing anyone is wrong because it deprives them of a future
  • The value of the future is what makes killing wrong (hence why killing children and infants is considered particularly evil)

He goes to great length at the beginning of his essay to outline the painstaking “personhood” debate that usually encompasses the abortion debate – people for abortion tend to claim that a fetus is less than a person and people against it tend to claim that a fetus is a person, more or less. According to Marquis, it is easy to fall into a sort of trap, where you advocate killing a fetus on the basis that it is less than a person, but you become hard pressed to explain why you should also not kill children, infants, babies, or the severely retarded. Those that attempt to extend the definition of person or human-being to children, infants, babies and the severely retarded but NOT to fetuses seems to be arbitrary – Marquis points out that there are no hard and fast criteria that compose a person, and questions, furthermore, “why pyschological characteristics should make a moral difference” (his emphasis).

In order to sidestep the quagmire that is the personhood debate, Marquis instead presents a more general theory of why killing is wrong, period. “…This suggests that a necessary condition of resolving the abortion controversy is a more theoretical account of the wrongness of killing.” To him, the loss of one’s life is the ultimate loss: “The loss of one’s life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future. Therefore, killing someone is wrong, primarily because the killing inflicts (one of) the greatest possible losses on the victim…what makes killing wrong is the loss of the victim’s future.” He goes on to say that “the claim that the loss of one’s future is the wrong-making feature of one’s being killed does not entail…that active euthanasia is wrong. Persons who are severely and incurably ill, who face a future of pain and despair, and who wish to die will not have suffered a loss if they are killed. It is, strictly speaking, the value of a human’s future which makes killing wrong.”

Ultimately, Marquis concludes: “Since a fetus possesses a property [a valuable future], the possession of which in adult human beings is sufficient to make killing an adult human being wrong, abortion is wrong.”

To rightly accept his conclusion (abortion is wrong), you would also have to accept these propisitions:

  • (1) Killing a human being is wrong because it deprives them of a future
  • (2) The value of one’s future is what makes killing wrong
  • (3) A fetus is a thing which has a future valuable enough to render killing it wrong
  • Therefore, abortion (the killing of a fetus) is wrong

Marquis’ position is, in my estimation, unsound on several fronts. His first proposition is easily refuted. There are several instances where it can be shown that killing is generally considered to be moral – for example, in the line of duty (police officer, CIA, FBI, as a military service member, and so on) or, as Jane English points out in her own essay, in self-defense. In all of these instances, one person (the killer) is depriving another person of their future, yet most ethical and moral theorists would agree that such killing is ethical/moral. These counterexamples seriously undermine the effectiveness of Marquis’ first propisition, and thus all inferences that rely upon it.

Furthermore, the propisition that what makes killing wrong is the deprivation of the victim’s future has hidden assumptions – as Marquis later admits in what I have labeled as his second proposition, it is the value of the future that matters in this theorm. It could be argued that Marquis assumes the reader to understand that killing an innocent victim is wrong (in order to remedy his disconnect with the self-defense and in the line of duty examples), and assumes that the reader understands the fetus to be an innocent victim. However, that’s two more propositions he hasn’t stated and that might not necessarily be true – for example, there are times where even killing innocents is thought to be moral (if, in self-defense, you felt your life threatened at the time, or in the line of duty under similar circumstances). There are also arguments that suggest that the fetus should not necessarily be assumed to be entirely innocent, either (as in “not causing physical or moral injury; harmless”) which will be outlined later. So, here too, the second propisition (and related hidden assumptions) don’t seem to hold up well to scrutiny.

The third propisition also has compelling counterexamples. The author endorses euthanasia in cases where the person faces a future “of pain and despair.” There are several medical conditions that a fetus could be diagnosed with that could lead to such a life – ancephalic fetuses are just one such example. Additionally, Marquis fails to examine the significance of a child raised in a home where it was not wanted – or the impact of a child being given up for adoption instead of abortion. According to research I did for my class, adults who grew up as children in orphanages or as adopted children have much higher rates of both suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts – when they became old enough to make the choice for themselves, they tried to end their own lives. They decided that life had not been and would continue to be not worth living, so why should we force life in scenarios where the potential child will grow up unwanted? One might argue that “everyone deserves a chance to live,” and while this sounds nice and makes everyone feel good, the person arguing this point doesn’t have to grow up with all of the proposed disadvantages (not being wanted, having serious medical conditions that would reduce quality of life, and so on).

Lastly, such thinking tends to elevate the perceived interests of the fetus (as no one can yet communicate directly with a fetus and ask it if it wants to live, or to be adopted, and so on) above the combined interests of the parents and even the family. If the parents have legitimate reasons to not want a child – for example, being unable to provide sufficient resources for the child, or in the case of children born with certain medical conditions or “diasabilities,” being unwilling or unable to provide for the child’s special needs (which can irrevocably and drastically alter the course of the parents’ lives) – why are we forcing them to bring these children to terms? Examined from another angle – if contraceptives are considered okay (meaning, it is okay to determine when and how you want to have a child through the use of contraceptives) why then is it wrong to determine when and how you want to have a child through the use of an abortion? Contraceptives are not 100% effective and accidents can happen – additionally, not everyone has the same level of education and so not everyone has an equal understanding of the importance of contraceptives. Hence, pregnancies will “slip through the cracks,” so to speak. Does it really make sense to condemn a teenage mother, for instance, who decides it would be more responsible to get an abortion rather than to try and raise a child on a meager income and potentially with no outside support (a father, and/or a strong extended family)? One might argue that the mother could put the child up for adoption, but again, that seems to condem the child to a worse fate than the ideal of being wanted and loved by its own biological parents. I suppose I have a hidden value here, in that I believe every human has the right to have parents that want and love them – irregardless, even, of the parents’ financial situation. If, however, a parent’s/family’s financial situation causes them to no longer want a child, why are we forcing children into a world where they will be unwanted?

Perhaps the assertion that every human has a right to be born to loving parents that want them is one you, the reader, would disagree with.
Jane English emphasizes the importance of a gradient scale of personhood – essentially, you cannot say that a fetus is or is not a person, but you can say that a fetus is less of a person than a baby is, and a baby is less of a person than a child is, who is less of a person than an adult is and so on. This is the reasoning that the Supreme Court used when they divided up the stages of a fetus’s development into trimesters, and essentially said it was more permissible to abort a fetus in an earlier trimester, as it was less of a person at this point.
English also emphasizes that just because fetuses have less moral consideration than adults, that doesn’t permit us to treat them any which way we please. We can’t, for instance, wantonly kill animals. There is still a baseline for ethical treatment, even of nonhumans. As fetuses become more development, English argues they deserve more and more moral concern; it becomes less justifiable and the needs must be greater to abort a fetus the longer into the pregnancy the woman is. English emphasizes the potential harm the fetus can cause the woman, including financial and emotional harms.
For the most part, I find English’s position to be fairly reasonable. I would stress the importance of the male consideration of the problem (doesn’t the other parent deserve to have some say in the process?), and also emphasize the importance of autonomy and complexity. It may be possible that a certain important complication happens only late in pregnancy, or detection for a complication happens late in the pregnancy. Maybe the woman is unaware of her pregnancy until much later on. In these cases, after the first detection of a potential problem (that could create significant financial strain and so on), the family deserves some time to think about the decision and make one – whether to abort the child or not, regardless of the stage of the pregnancy. Forcing someone to take responsibility for something they do not want is a surefire recipe for disaster, so why would we want to force the responsibility of someone’s life onto parents that don’t want that responsibility? It’s unfair to the parents and unfair to the potential life.
Some of what I have said is vague and perhaps needs more precise defining – but this is a rough argument meant to cause the reader to think about abortion from a different context. “Significant financial strain” isn’t the thrust of the argument – forced life is. If it is wrong to force death on someone, why is it right to force life on them? We can all sit back in the comfort of our own homes and feel better for protecting the “sanctity of life,” but that’s because we aren’t dealing with the extremely reduced quality of life. If we were truly sympathetic, we would allow the people immediately impacted by the decision make the decision for themselves, and not force their hands – one way or the other. Merely giving people the choice is not condemning every fetus to death – and, in fact, abortion rates have been on the decline over the last two decades. Making abortion legal hasn’t increased the rate of abortion at all, so it doesn’t make sense to argue that extending the right to choose abortion in more situations will increase the rate of abortion (or any other slippery slope fallacy that might follow).

Gender Neutrality

For those not in the know (probably most of my nonexistent readership, as I haven’t yet mentioned it on this blog), I am currently enrolled in two classes on morality this semester (under the same instructor, Dr. Melley). One is an introductory course – Contemporary Moral Issues – and the other an advanced course – Moral Problems in Medicine. Being that they are both courses in morality under the same instructor, there is some overlap (some of the external readings are the same, some of the issues are the same) but overall I’m enjoying it.

I just got finished catching up with some of the reading I’d missed (while being on the rifle range) for my Contemporary Moral Issues class. Abortion was the subject for one of the periods I’d missed. While doing the reading, something grated over and over again in my mind, harkening back to over three years ago when I first protested this nonsense – the non-neutral “gender neutrality” of the decidedly academic articles I was reading. In case you’re not familiar with my brand of sarcasm, go ahead and spice up the word “academic” in the previous sentence with a little hostility – hell, throw a dash of acidity. (The reason for this vehemence is simple: in school I was taught that it was acceptable to use the feminine pronoun as a form of ‘gender neutrality,’ and the idea seems to have taken off at the academy. To reasoning thinkers, it should be obvious why this is not neutral.)

Gender neutrality is a great idea, in theory and in practice. I can see now why women were (rightly) pissed off that everything used to be written in the masculine tone – now, as a man, I am very pissed off to find things constantly written in the feminine tone. There’s absolutely no need for it! In an essay from Don Marquis (included in my text but apparently originally published as “Why Abortion is Immoral” from The Journal of Philosophy in 1989), he unnecessarily starts using female pronouns halfway through. Where before, he referred to anti-abortionists and pro-choicers simply by those titles and nothing else, suddenly he interjects pronouns (bolded by me for emphasis):

“The pro-choicer fares no better. She may attempt to find reasons why killing…is wrong which are independent of her major principle that is supposed to explain the wrongness of taking human life….”

And again, later:

“[T]he pro-choicer cannot any more escape her problem by making person a purely moral category…”

It is interesting to note that the author never uses the feminine pronouns to describe anti-abortionists, and avoids masculine pronouns throughout. One then has to wonder – is this intentional? Is the author trying to make a statement about how women tend more towards being pro-choice (which I think is unfounded and stereotypical, and ironic considering he was probably using the feminine pronouns to avoid slighting women’s views), or implying that their opinion is more weighty in the arena of abortion debate? In either case, his careless use of the feminine pronouns distracted and irritated me, but we’ll get to his poor arguments about abortion later (perhaps in another post).

The second author, Jane English (a woman, I presume) makes the same mistakes, except much more often and much more offensively. These statements come from an essay titled “Abortion and the Concept of a Person,” originally published in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy in October 1975. (It struck me that these two articles are somewhat older – however, the book I’m reading them from is copyrighted 2010 and obviously published recently [no exact date given in the book], which makes these errors more inexcusable – there’s been literally decades to edit them!) I can forgive Don Marquis his errors as they were probably unintentional and largely harmless (I also quoted all of them, I believe), but Jane English takes a much more liberal approach to non-neutral gender neutrality that has much larger implications (leaving me much more frustrated and upset). It is relevant to note also that her article deals very much with what defines a person, in general, and during these segments, she is perfectly gender neutral – which only makes later (seemingly) careless statements all the more perplexing:

“Though the fetus is itself innocent, it may pose a threat to the pregnant woman’s well-being, life prospects or health, mental or physical. If the pregnancy presents a slight threat to her interests, it seems self-defense cannot justify abortion. But if the threat is on par with a serious beating…she may kill the fetus that poses such a threat…. It is unfortunate that the only way to free the woman from the pregnancy entails the death of the fetus…. Thus a self-defense model supports Thomson’s view that the woman has a right only to be freed from the fetus, not a right to demand its death.”

This sentence comes after an extended metaphor that equates the fetus to an innocent pawn under someone else’s malicious control, who it is okay to kill in self-defense as there are no other options. Where I take umbrage is the fact that Jane English completely ignores the male perspective on abortion, asserting (either accidentally or intentionally) that only a woman can be harmed by the birth of a child. While men can’t be harmed physically by pregnancy, fathers certainly face threats to their well-being, particularly mental and financial (which can create more mental problems and even physical ones too). No, a father cannot die due to complications arising from pregnancy, but a father also has absolutely no choice when it comes to whether or not a child is born – it is ultimately up to the woman, and if she makes a choice he doesn’t want, he must still buck up and take responsibility (either by becoming an active father, which constitutes its own sacrifices, or by making child support payments). Furthermore, the author’s choice of pronoun raises another interesting and tangential question – if women have the right to be freed from the burden of a fetus (but not a right to demand its death), why can’t men have the same right (especially when arguing from a framework that men and women are equal)? Men, again, can be victimized by unwanted pregnancies in many of the same ways that a woman can – so where’s the equality of analysis?

Another example:

“What if, after birth, the presence of an infant or the need to support it posed a grave threat to the woman’s sanity or life prospects?”

By using the word woman’s instead of something more neutral, like say, parents’, the author again seems to imply (whether intentionally or not) that fathers face no threat to their sanity or life prospects in the case of “the presence of an infant or the need to support it.” There is no need to single women out as the only caregivers, and the article isn’t even about women – it’s about whether or not abortion is morally justifiable, period! Considering it isn’t focused on women and is trying to make universal moral claims about the nature of abortion, a more universal perspective (that encompasses both parents and all parties affected by the infant and by abortion) would be advisable. Distastefully, the author’s conclusion is riddled with non-neutral gender neutrality:

“In the middle months…abortion would be justifiable only when the continuation of the pregnancy or the birth of the child would cause harms – physical, psychological, economic or social – to the woman. In the late months of pregnancy…abortion seems to be wrong except to save a woman from significant injury or death.”

Such a narrow (only looking at one gender) analysis weakens the overall essay’s applicability to all abortions, and further, its claims to be a more universal defense for abortion. Again, does the author mean to insinuate that men cannot face physical, psychological, economic or social harm due to his wife’s pregnancy or the birth of his child? Does the author mean to insinuate that the man’s opinion and welfare are completely irrelevant to the moral consideration of abortion? Under a higher sense of morality – say, a utilitarianist approach (doing the most good to the most amount of people) – a reasoned thinker would balk at that notion.

The frustrating thing is that the author actually does argue from a neutral perspective that includes men at several points. This lends credence to the notion that the slip ups were unintentional and probably happened as a result of “gender neutrality” trends in the academy, rather than actual beliefs or assertions about men and women. Take these statements as examples:

“I think it is no exaggeration to claim that unwanted pregnancies (most obviously among teenagers) often have…adverse life-long consequences….”


“…Abortion is permissible whenever it is in the interests of the pregnant woman or her family.”

The point is that gender neutrality is supposed to avoid alienating your audience due to the exclusion of perspectives, but it has gone so far off the deep end of making up for female exclusion that it has gone all the way to the opposite extreme – excluding males! This is especially disturbing since the main culprit seems to be the academy, which is where one expects a higher degree of thoughtfulness.

A Terrible Poem

I wrote a terrible poem the other day
Inane ramblings from an untrained hand
I was hoping to have you show me the way
Insane desperation fueling a flawed plan
My poem lacked structure and direction
I just didn’t care enough, to do it right
My life lacks love and affection
I just can’t figure it out, try as I might
All I know of poetry is the rhyme
I never understood anything more
All I’ve done in life is waste time
I never really escaped being poor
I’ve tried to express myself in other forms
Prose and metaphor and rant, too
I’ve never liked bending to established norms
That’s what all the plebians do
And here I am, using the most basic rules
Clueless when it comes to good technique
And here I am, looking like one of the fools
Clueless and without a paddle, up the creek
I’ll tell it to you, short and sweet
My heart aches and my body is sore
I’ll tell it to you, I’m pretty beat
I don’t know if I can take much more
These words aren’t worth much at all
Every last one said or written before
These words carry a lot of gall
I don’t know what else to say anymore

Restitution and Memoria

Twenty one years, living to die
Plenty of pain, no reason why
So many days, erasing the past
Then you wonder, will this last
Who are you, and why are you here
You’ve forgotten all that you’ve held dear
Who were you, and where were you going
Now you reap the seeds you’ve been sowing
I am him and he is you
We’ve always known this was true
I will lead and he will follow
Slaking your thirst for pain in one big swallow
He and I disguise you, we are your mask
We left you with one simple task
He and I protect you, we are your shield
We left you with the memory sealed
I am Restitution, the price you must pay
He is Memoria, he can show you the way
Unlock the secret when all else fails
Remember, dead men tell no tales
I will push you and I will stretch you
I will toss you to the wild and have wolves fetch you
I will hurt you and I will break you
I will grind you to the bone and unmake you
I will crush you and I will hate you
I will beat you to the pulp and sate you
He can show you the way, bring you to the truth
Creeping through your memories like a sleuth
He can lead you to it, take you all the way there
Deep, deep inside the subconscious, where
He runs on pain and feeds on agony
This is why you must come back to me
Here it comes, the big surprise
Buried between the truth and the lies
Was it worth your time, to play my game
In the end, everything will be the same
You’re a fool, you’re a fake
This happiness won’t take
You’re the reason, you’re the crime
This is how you will serve your time
You’re the hatred, you’re the pain
This is a private shame
The memories you need, the truth you now know
You will forget, and we will make you go
Through an endless cycle of torture and mystery
While you try to understand your forgotten history
Ending again as we began
Twenty one years for this man
Dead inside, struggling to try
Remembering only how to cry