Why I’m a Pro-Life Agnostic
(Substantively edited on 1/15/20 to improve clarity and readability and present a more comprehensive discussion of the issues)
Far too often, it is assumed that pro-choice individuals are all atheists and pro-life individuals are all religious. This is not the case. I would like to explain why I am both an agnostic and pro-life.
Before beginning, I would like to specifically thank Don Marquis, Landes Taylor, Rosalind Hursthouse, and David Hershenov for their works on this subject. They are largely to credit (or perhaps blame) for my shift from a pro-choice to pro-life position, and I have pulled significantly from them in this piece (I will quote them where they are more eloquent than I am, which is many places). I would also like to thank a number of my friends, both pro-choice and pro-life, for reading over this piece and contributing their input. This would be a much weaker and less comprehensive argument without them.
(Note: Almost any reference to “women” in this piece is referring to biological women, or humans who have wombs. No attempt to erase the existence of transgender individuals is being taken. If I forget to note this somewhere, it is simply a mental lapse on my part, not an attempt at trans erasure.)
(Note 2: Any usage of particular pronouns in examples and arguments should not be taken as reflective of my positions or of any kind of prejudice. I simply had to type something to make the example. Ultimately, whatever I chose would’ve angered one group or another so I just bit the bullet.)
Part 0: Laying Some Groundwork
The Genetic Fallacy
Believe it or not, this has nothing to do with biological genes or anything like that. The fallacy occurs when someone accepts or rejects a claim not on the strength of the evidence for or against it, but rather on the source of the evidence itself. Here, I would like to offer a somewhat modified version of this fallacy that I see as being relevant to this debate in particular:
Just because an idea comes from a particular source and is “supported” by particular evidence, does not mean it cannot also come from another source and be supported by other evidence.
This is relevant here because I will openly acknowledge that much of the pro-life camp is, to put it bluntly, misogynistic and “pro-birth.” The vast majority of American Republicans, who are the major party of pro-life belief, are largely pro-birth. If they were truly inspired by religious sentiment, they would acknowledge the myriad positive duties that should accompany an “ethos/spirit of life,” and yet they do not. But this piece isn’t meant to bash Republicans; rather, I am simply going to demonstrate that it is possible to hold a pro-life position without recourse to misogyny or religious beliefs, and I will argue that this secular pro-life position makes more sense and is more coherent than its pro-choice opponents.
I will begin by demonstrating the incoherence of a number of pro-choice positions and why I consider them to collapse under their own weight and not hold up to scrutiny. I will then attempt to develop the strongest pro-choice position possible and argue that it is still weaker than its pro-life counterpart. Throughout this process I will attempt to engage with every pro-choice position I have either previously held (I used to be heavily pro-choice) and/or have been introduced to at any point.
I will largely split up the pro-choice arguments into four major categories, with one special argument in its own category:
1. Autonomy Arguments
2. Utility Arguments
3. Fairness Arguments
The Unfairness by Nature Argument
4. Personhood Arguments
I will address each of these, ending with what I consider the strongest pro-choice argument and the strongest pro-life position in opposition to that argument.
Part 1: Autonomy Arguments
Easily the most popular pro-choice arguments presented today are those centered around autonomy. We see them everywhere, most notably in the “my body, my choice” slogans chanted by many on the pro-choice side. I’ve discussed this innately Liberal concept of autonomy repeatedly before and demonstrated its myriad failures (which, ultimately, lead to autonomy arguments being arguably the weakest of the classes of arguments we will investigate), but I will go over these failures again briefly and demonstrate why the are failures.
Choice is Not a Good in and of Itself
This is perhaps the most damning point against the entire class of autonomy arguments (and against all of autonomy-centric Liberalism). Just because a choice is made autonomously does not mean that the choice was a good one, and doesn’t necessarily mean that one should be allowed to make that choice. One could autonomously choose to kidnap and murder a child, but the argument that it was an autonomous choice will not keep him out of prison or absolve him of his deplorable crime. A choice can either be right or wrong; the mere fact that someone is autonomously making a choice about an action does not mean that the action they choose is now justified.
“My Body, My Choice” must therefore rely on a further normative argument that it should be “my choice” because it is a justified action. But we cannot have recourse to choice itself to prove that a choice is right or wrong. So this “argument” completely fails because it cannot even get started. Emotional potency aside, it is arguably the weakest argument in the pro-choice camp. And yet, it is arguably, unfortunately, the most popular.
Personal Conscience Arguments: “Don’t Believe in it, Don’t Have it!”
This appeal to personal consciences is another one that falls flat on its face before it can even get started. This kind of “follow your conscience” argument certainly applies when there are more than one justified decision, and especially when we oppose universalization of our choices (see Sartre’s argument against Kant’s universalizability in his essay Existentialism is a Humanism if you want to learn more about that). But we don’t say, “don’t believe in rape or murder, don’t do it!” is a valid justification of raping and murdering someone. Even though some people think raping and murdering someone else for fun is fine, that doesn’t invalidate the rule. “Follow your conscience” as a moral rule has limitations. We may all have different consciences but unless we fall into complete and utter subjectivism (in which case, murdering an “abortionist” for killing a fetus would be entirely justified), we must acknowledge some moral boundaries in the world. Hence, these “personal conscience” arguments fail. There are certain rules that apply to all of us, even if we personally disagree with them or dislike them. And violating our desires does not make the rule unjust, or murder would not apply to serial killers.
Arguments from Bodily Autonomy: “My Body, My Choice,” Castle Doctrine, etc.
Putting aside the autonomy-centric aspects of these arguments which fail on their own, we can attempt to determine if these arguments have other parts that can stand on their own as a valid pro-choice argument. If we extract autonomy from these arguments we are left with two potential paths forward:
- the claim that the fetus is part of the body and therefore can be dealt with like any other part of the body
- the claim that the fetus is not part of the body/is an “invader” (where something akin to castle doctrine comes into play) and can be dealt with as such
The Fetus is Part of the Body
The claim here, of course, is that if the fetus is literally part of the body, it cannot be killed. It isn’t its own distinct entity. It would be like saying killing another person and killing your finger were equivalent. Obviously you cannot “kill” your finger in the same manner that you can kill another person. So, the fetus cannot be “killed.”
First, this undermines multiple popular pro-choice arguments. Hershenov:
Some say, first, that abortion remedies a fetal violation of the mother’s bodily integrity. But if the fetus is a part of the mother, then it can’t violate her bodily integrity. Only something that isn’t a part of her body can violate her bodily integrity. Second, the fetus is sometimes called a trespasser. But one’s part can’t trespass upon oneself.
But just because it undermines other arguments doesn’t mean it doesn’t hold up. And if it does hold up, those other arguments are irrelevant: this argument would be sufficient to justify the pro-choice position (and perhaps even a more “extreme” pro-choice position). But that isn’t the case either. Hershenov uses the example of conjoined twins to demonstrate this:
The truth is that it doesn’t matter whether the fetus is a part of the mother’s body. Consider conjoined twins who share parts that are essential to the life of each. Neither should be able to control those shared parts and take them with her upon surgical separation. So part-hood as such doesn’t matter morally, since there are limits to what you can do with your own body parts. What matters morally are other factors like the value of the conjoined twins and their capacity to be harmed and benefited.
His argument is fairly strong. In other words, even if we accept that the fetus is part of the parent’s body instead of its own entity, that doesn’t provide moral justification for abortion. There are limits to what we can do with our own bodies. The conjoined twins example is important because it points towards the last (and strongest) bastion for the pro-choice position: that the fetus is not actually a person, regardless of its biology. But if we assume the fetus is a person, even if it is a part of the parent’s body, it cannot be killed. Or, I should say, that if we don’t engage with the status of the personhood of the fetus, the argument that the fetus is part of the parent’s body is not sufficient to justify abortion.
The Fetus is an Outsider/Invader
Claiming that the fetus is an outsider, in and of itself, does not justify removing it. You can restate the pro-choice argument here as “there are external burdens being placed on me (with or without my consent) that I should not have to bear for some reason.” Of course, on the surface, this falls prey to the same counterpoints we made against the distribution-of-burdens and the demandingness arguments. Even if we remove consent from the discussion, it still does not stand on its own.
If we move to describing the fetus as an “invader” and attempt to invoke some kind of pseudo-castle doctrine in order to justify removing it, we would have to ask the initial question of “how did it get there?” which would largely limit this particular argument’s effectiveness to cases of abortion in the case of rape. Elective abortion would still not be supported, especially due to the previously discussed issues with using autonomy in both general Liberal theory and in the more specific case of abortion. Classifying the fetus as an “invader” therefore makes little sense outside of situations of rape, and would also imply the fetus is developed enough to have intent (which immediately undermines any and all personhood arguments) and assumes the fetus is malicious (which…yeah…I think that’s funny too).
One way to attempt to salvage this is to claim the fetus isn’t an “invader” but rather some kind of “parasite,” growing inside of you. Of course, once you move beyond the emotinal language, the “parasite” argument collapses to the same kind of demandingness argument that failed before. Especially once we note that the consent component of pro-choice arguments is toothless, this argument entirely fails as well.
The Final Salvage Attempt: “I have to do WHAT!?!?”
One of the most famous autonomy-based arguments for the pro-choice position is the argument in which you wake up, tied to a bunch of tubes, and are informed that you must be tied to these tubes to keep a famous musician alive for the next 9 months. If you detach these tubes, he will die. The intuition is clearly that this is ridiculous. You did not consent to this, and this is a ridiculously demanding situation.
Any further nuance to the argument aside (since it doesn’t add anything to the logical structure of it), the argument relies on two points:
- Lack of consent
- The demandingness of the situation
The issue, of course, is that even though this argument seems emotionally potent, it has fatal flaws. Beyond only being useful in cases where consent is missing (invalidating its defense of elective abortion), it does not overcome the issues we have demonstrated with consent being used as a moral justification. The mere lack of consent is not sufficient to invalidate a moral duty or rule. There must be something beyond the lack of consent. This argument attempts to bring in demandingness, but we will demonstrate in Part 3 why that fails, as, ironically, demandingness collapses to an autonomy-based argument as well.
Part 1 Recap
So, we have examined the most popular pro-choice arguments and arguably the most emotionally potent; unfortunately for the pro-choice camp, none of the variants of the autonomy arguments hold up to critique. But there are multiple other pro-choice arguments left that we have to engage with.
Part 2: Utility Arguments
Putting aside any issues we may have with utilitarian ethics, let’s assume utilitarianism is a valid guiding ethical principle, and that one is justified in applying it to abortion. Even if we take this to be true, there are serious issues we have to engage with.
Let us assume that the argument of “if pregnancy and child-rearing is so demanding that legal abortion would improve the total well-being of society, we should make it law” is true. Even so, we are faced with serious issues on how to measure this. Any kind of survey would be tainted with so many response biases that it would basically be completely unusable from the beginning. And it seems highly unlikely women are going to allow you to strap electrodes to their body during pregnancy and child-rearing to attempt to determine “objectively” how painful/burdensome these tasks are. Furthermore, there is an unclear link between this “objective” measure of pain and the subjective, qualitative experience of pain that an individual may go through. There is nothing logically incompatible with two people having the exact same nervous system signals but qualitatively experiencing differing levels and/or kinds of pain. Finally, there is the issue of trying to compare pain levels between individuals. If you and I both claim to be experiencing pain that is a 7 on a 1–10 scale with 10 being the most painful and 1 being the least painful, is it fair to say we are experiencing the same pain? Seems dubious to say that. Our scales may be different, etc. So, methodological problems make it extremely difficult to ever be able to determine whether or not the pro-choice argument we stated at the beginnning, “if pregnancy and child-rearing is so demanding that legal abortion would improve the total well-being of society, we should make it law,” is true or not. And considering the magnitude of this action (potentially ending another life), such methodological flaws would make this argument impossible to hold on to. And so it appears to fall flat on its face before it even gets out of the gate.
A Potential Way Out
Perhaps one way to escape issues with methodological consequences is to use something that is fairly objective: medical risk. It is fairly obvious pregnancies carry with them significantly elevated medical risks (I’m not posting a bunch of graphs in this already long essay, go look them up, or take my word for it). This seems to present an argument for pregnancy being a harm as compared to everyday life. Of course, such an argument would have broad implications on things like the criminal status of drugs and alcohol, but it does at least seem to provide some degree of resolve to methodological issues with utilitarianism.
A broader issue with this kind of argumentation is that, as with much utilitarian argumentation, it leads to consequences many would consider to be unsavory. Let us take the pro-choice utility argument and examine its logical structure:
A) “if pregnancy and child-rearing is so demanding that legal abortion would improve the total well-being of society, we should make it law”
Can be rewritten as:
(Assuming X is some thing and Y is the legal right to oppose that thing)
A*) “if X is so demanding that Y would improve the total well-being of society, we should make Y law”
If this logical structure is true, it would justify the killing of a lot of people in society to eliminate social burdens. Should we allow rich people to go into orphanages funded by the government and stab a bunch of children to death? Shall we allow some billionaire to go on a murder-spree in a publically funded hospital just because getting rid of these people would improve the total well-being of society? Or maybe we can let the army take potshots at homeless people for target practice. Cleaner streets, fewer mouths to feed, fewer poor people to consume public resources; the common good increases! Of course, these kinds of actions seem utterly deplorable and disgusting. Largely because they are. We recognize a kind of intrinsic right to being a person that cannot be overruled (at least in so extreme a case of being murdered) by the common good.
Furthermore, when we engage with the “demandingness” point here, if we are taking a utilitarian at their word, we are referring to some kind of harm. As demonstrated before, “harm” is extremely difficult to pin down in any meaningful manner, and definitions of harm in line with both the thought of popular Liberal philosophers (like J.S. Mill) as well as our moral intuitions, may actually end up undermining support for abortion as opposed to defending it. It is here, of course, that we return to issues with utilitarian methodology that cannot be salvaged with measuring medical risks during pregnancy.
Salvage Attempt #1: Awareness of Future Prospects
There is the argument, sometimes associated with anti-natalist circles, that a fetus cannot possible have much utilitarian consequence because, unlike a person who has been born, it has no awareness of its future prospects. Therefore, whereas murdering someone who has been born has a major negative utilitarian consequence, murdering a fetus does not.
This is, of course, quite the odd argumentation. First of all, it seems to accept the utilitarian consequences we acknowledged in the previous section, which I would consider to already be damning for the argument.
And second of all, it would allow for murder in some very odd, but still plausible, scenarios. Young children have little conception of death (usually), but it would be odd for someone to murder a child and then defend himself in court by going “Your Honor, the kid had no awareness of the consequence of death so this wasn’t really that bad of a murder.” Furthermore, as Hershenov puts it, it is possible to imagine that a college kid could be murdered in her sleep while being put under anasthesia. It’s an odd case we don’t usually consider, but it is a possible one. Would this be considered not a murder? It seems deeply counterintuitive.
Furthermore, awareness problems are rife in utilitarianism and this doesn’t seem to resolve them (on the contrary, it seems to embrace them). Let us assume that there is a couple in a long term relationship. The man in the relationship determines that he can cheat on his girlfriend and she would never find out so long as he didn’t tell her. If this is the case, him cheating on his girlfriend might lead to an improvement of the total well-being of society. She is unaware of his infidelity meaning she has the same level of happiness as if he didn’t cheat, and he gains greater pleasure from his own infidelity. The utilitarian calculus is predicated on the woman being unaware of her boyfriend’s infidelity. These kinds of issues are serious problems with utilitarianism. But this is still a superfluous counterpoint to this argument. It fails on its own grounds when it comes to its acceptance of utilitarian consequences as well as its justification of odd, albeit possible, cases of murder.
Salvage Attempt #2 The “Botched Back-Alley Abortion”/Reduction of Harm
The second salvage attempt, and the more emotionally potent one, is the argument that legal abortion would reduce the harm to women and therefore would improve the total wellbeing of society. The argument goes that women would still attempt to acquire abortions, and without legal means, they would go to more and more dangerous means to do so. In fact, as many pro-choice proponents argue, women frequently died in these back-alley abortions. If we truly cared about women, the pro-choice proponent goes, we would allow for safe, legal (and maybe rare) abortion.
But this argument does not hold up upon further investigation. First, we would have to demonstrate that these back-alley abortions do indeed improve the total wellbeing of society if we are taking the pure utilitarian perspective (which implies accepting the utilitarian consequences, which seem to kill this argument immediately). Even if we simply take a harm-reduction perspective, we have to face other disturbing implications. Should we make certain crimes legal simply because committing the crime is dangerous to the criminal and it is plausible that the criminal (and maybe everyone) would be safer if the act was legal instead of a crime? Second, as we have demonstrated before, the question of harm is indeed a tricky one, and makes this argument entirely untenable on harm-reduction grounds.
Part 2 Recap
So, we have examined both autonomy arguments and utility arguments and found both lacking. The pro-choice proponent cannot use these arguments to present a strong case for their position; however, as noted before, it would be dishonest and foolhardy to claim these are the only arguments that pro-choice individuals have at their disposal. Next, we will examine arguably the two strongest pro-choice arguments (fairness and personhood arguments).
Part 3: Fairness Arguments
Some of the moral intuitions we have with regards to abortion have to do with fairness. It seems to us, at face value, that biological women (regardless of gender) take on the entire (or close to the entire) burden of pregnancy and that this is obviously unfair. If this is the case, it seems to make abortion a method to level the playing field. This obviously tails into autonomy (“I deserve the ability to make the choice whether or not to take on this burden”), but I would argue that the arguments that pro-choice individuals develop from this prima facie unfairness are distinct from most autonomy-based argument. So, I will address those here.
The Equal Right to Break the Law
This is the first argument Hershenov examines in his piece, “Ten (Bad, But Popular) Arguments for Abortion.” To put it simply, it seems deeply unfair that, if abortion were to be illegal, a rich woman could more easily get an illegal abortion and get away with it than a poor woman could. While certainly true, this argument would similarly challenge our entire legal system. With almost all criminal acts, it is easier to get away with them when you are rich, well-connected, etc. I fail to imagine a single law that is not more easily violated by some than others. Whether that means getting away with the act or simply hiring the best lawyer around to keep you out of jail if you are caught, there is no equal right to break the law in our current justice system (or any imaginable justice system that could be implemented in our world). Obviously it is easier for a rich white man to get away with murder than it for a poor white man. But does this mean we should simply make murder legal? Seems fairly obvious we should not. This argument fails under its own weight.
“Men Can’t Become Pregnant/Should Have No Say”
Certainly this argument again seems, on its face, to hold merit. Why should men be able to make any law about a woman’s body when they themselves cannot get pregnant? While this seems to hold merit on the surface, it has far too many issues to hold up on its own. Ignoring the fact that Roe v Wade was decided by nine men (and would have to be overturned and re-decided if this argument is legitimate) and ignoring the large population (both numbers- and percentage-wise) of pro-life women, the argument has a fatal flaw: can, or should, we really limit decisions about laws to the people who are “most closely affected” by the laws? Ignoring the fact that everything affects everyone else and that trying to develop coherent boundaries of who is affected is extremely difficult (and, to this point, unsuccessful), this seems to be an untenable position. As Hershenov puts it:
If debate about a policy can only be pursued by those harmed by the policy, then budding eco-feminists don’t get to speak out about the evils of meat-eating — unless they fear becoming a meal of our factory-farming patriarchy. Further, sterile and postmenopausal women, such as Cecile Richards, Gloria Steinem, and Hillary Clinton, who are, like me, unable to become pregnant, will also have to take their seats on the sidelines. True, earlier in their lives abortion policy might have affected them — but the same is true of every man who is alive today only because his parents did not abort him.
This kind of argument would furthermore seem to invalidate the emotional and physical buy-in, or skin in the game, that both parties have in this situation. Now, a particular argument, the demandingness argument, acknowledges this “buy-in” and attempts to argue for a pro-choice position even in the face of it. It is a far stronger pro-choice argument than this one and therefore will be addressed in more depth later on, as we attempt to steelman (opposite of strawman…yeah it’s a dumb word) the pro-choice position. But this argument also falls flat.
The Unfairness by Nature Argument
The Unfairness by Nature argument is the strongest fairness-based argument, at least until we add the demandingness clause to it. In effect, this argument claims that because biological women have to do more than biological men (or simply the other, non-pregnant spouse) in both the pregnancy and the raising of the child, they should not be forced into such a role. As Hershenov states:
Men are free from the physical burdens and dangers of pregnancy, not to mention the threats to employment, education, and social standing posed by unwanted pregnancy and childrearing. Since only women can become pregnant, they suffer inequalities on account of biology. If women cannot avoid by choice a pregnancy that men avoid by nature, then they are permanently relegated to second-class citizenship.
Effectively, biological women must be given the choice to be pregnant or reject the pregnancy to avoid being second-class citizens.
It is important to understand the Unfairness by Nature argument works whether or not the fetus is considered to be a person (or, at least, to have the moral weight of a person). Arguably the most attractive feature of this argument is that it would still hold up even if we take the pro-life position that personhood begins at conception. Certainly one could argue the fetus isn’t a person, but that would largely make this argument superfluous, and I will address personhood arguments in more depth later on.
We can examine the logical structure of this argument as follows:
1. In order for two groups of people to be considered equal, they must both be subject to the same kind of natural constraints and opportunities.
2. Only biological women can get pregnant.
C: For biological women to be equal to biological men, women must be able to remove the burden of pregnancy at will.
This logical structure as I have formulated also presents solid defenses against a number of typical pro-life responses.
1. The argument appeals to our moral intuition with proposition 1 and utilizes a clear scientific fact with proposition 2.
2. The pro-life individual cannot question if the pro-choice individual justifies infanticide, since childrearing duties are largely socially enforced. So, infanticide is off the table.
“BUT WAIT,” the pro-life person responds, “only women can nurse their children. Is this not a natural burden? Would that not justify infanticide?”
The Demandingness Clause
Embedded in our questions of unequal burdens and of potential harm to the body embedded within things like castle doctrine and “bodily rights” (which will be examined in more depth in the autonomy section) is a set of claims about the magnitude of the impact of pregnancy and childrearing. We can take the previous argument about unequal distributions of burdens and reframe it as:
“How much are we obligated to put at risk, physically, emotionally, and materially, to preserve another dependent life?”
Even if we reject utilitarianism, it is reasonable to state that the medical risks associated with pregnancy are significantly greater than the medical risks associated with childrearing. A pro-life individual may whine about drawing an “arbitrary” line with regards to medical risk, but let us ignore such a response and assume that the line is justified. By introducing this demandingness clause, we appear to have justified abortion while avoiding justifying infanticide or filicide (the killing of one’s children at any age).
We now have a new logical structure:
1*: In order for two groups of people to be considered equal, they must both be subject to the same kind of sufficiently demanding natural constraints and opportunities
2: Only biological women can get pregnant.
C: For biological women to be equal to biological men, women must be able to remove the burden of pregnancy at will
On the surface, this argument seems relatively bulletproof; however, there is a fatal flaw lying hidden in 1*, which I will refer to as the “equality clause.” This clause appeals to our moral intuition and even seems to be, at first glance, a very reasonable definition of equality. But there is a linguistic issue that, unfortunately for the pro-choice individual, brings the argument down upon itself.
The problem comes with how we define “natural” in the axiom. Let’s assume I decide to do something wildly stupid and risky, and I end up losing one of my legs. I was fully conscious and knew the risks of what I was doing but did it anyways. I now have to deal with a constraint in my life, but that doesn’t seem to be what this argument is getting at. Instead, we are left with two ways to attempt to define/understand “natural”
1. “Born with”
“Natural” = “Born With”
This is one of those definitions that makes sense initially, and then you think about it for 30 seconds and it stops making sense. In the most faithful interpretation, this would mean women who were born infertile but were somehow treated to regain fertility (perhaps with no health consequences with a future treatment) would lack this justification to have an abortion while women who were born fertile who have this justification. Which seems to undermine the very spirit of the equality axiom. These women didn’t choose to be born infertile…
“Natural” = “Nonconsensual”
And we have reached the true meaning of “natural” in this argument. By “natural” we mean “nonconsensual” as in “I didn’t choose to take on this burden, it was simply hoisted upon my shoulders and I have had to bear it. Other people do not have to bear this burden/are not presented with the necessity of the choice. This makes me a second class citizen.”
This second component of the argument is important. It doesn’t matter that they have a potential choice to get out of the situation; men do not have to deal with the choice at all. There is no stress involved, etc. There is a clear inequality.
However, we have demonstrated that nonconsensual burdens are not inherently wrong. So in its current state, this argument appears to all onto its face. The question of course becomes: can we argue that a burden in and of itself isn’t about choice but rather about harm and harm prevention? And can we then argue that minimizing harm is how we maintain equality? This seems like a dubious linguistic move, but in order to demonstrate if it works, let’s break out the logical structure of such an argument in as fine a detail as possible:
1. Our intuitive definition of “harm” includes “risky” behavior
2. Pregnancy/childbearing carries with it a seriously elevated set of medical risks compared to typical, non-pregnant, everyday life AND compared to childrearing
C1: Pregnancy can be classified as a harm
3. We shall define “nonconsensual” as including “being forced into a situation that others are not, even if one is presented with choices to remove oneself from the situation”
4. Certain people are born women.
5. You do not get to decide what biological sex you are born as
C2: Pregnancy can be classified as a nonconsensual harm
6. Only biological women can get pregnant.
7. In order for two groups of people to be considered equal, they should both be subject to the same kinds and magnitude of nonconsensual harm
C3: For biowomen and biomen to be considered equal, biowomen must be given the right to end a pregnancy at will
One initial point of critique that I can see being made is against Proposition 2 in which someone might argue that with modern advances, pregnancy/childbearing is no longer sufficiently risky. Or they may argue that it seems arbitrary to draw a line where childbearing is sufficiently risky but other activities are not, etc. I will put both of these aside because they can be dealt with fairly simply.
Proposition 1 seems fairly uncontroversial. Propositions 4, 5, and 6 seems widely uncontroversial.
Which leaves us with propositions 3 and 7 as being problematic. This argument has been presented in order to resolve issues with proposition 7 in the first place. Proposition 3 was the response to those issues. So, it seems reasonable to begin by examining proposition 3 and determining if it both
A: holds (aka is logically coherent)
B: does not lead to any situations in which our typical moral intuition tells us something is wrong (aka sufficiently combats any possible reductio ad absurdum)
The issue remains with the fact that Proposition 3, being our definition of “nonconsensual” relies on a further axiom of autonomy. It relies on us being forced into a situation aka being placed into a situation *without our consent*. As we have repeatedly demonstrated, this argument fails because the lack of consent within a situation is insufficient to generate any serious justification.
With the equality clause collapsing to an autonomy axiom, the argument fails, since autonomy axioms cannot justify anything. “Harm”, “harm prevention”, etc all collapse to mere choice, aka autonomy. The Unfairness by Nature argument is ultimately an autonomy argument. And autonomy arguments fail. (For an investigation into similar forms of these kinds of fairness arguments, with regards to both abortion and other issues, I recommed John Safranek’s The Myth of Liberalism)
A Caveat on Demandingness
Embedded in our questions of unequal burdens and of potential harm to the body embedded within things like castle doctrine and “bodily rights” (which will be examined in more depth in the autonomy section) is a set of claims about the magnitude of the impact of pregnancy and childrearing. We can take the previous argument about unequal distributions of burdens and reframe it as:
“How much are we obligated to put at risk, physically, emotionally, and materially, to preserve another dependent life?”
Even if we assume the fetus is a person (or, at least, has the moral weight of a person), the pro-choice position attempts to salvage the argument based on the mere inequality of burdens to an argument based on the magnitude of those unequal burdens. Pregnancy and child-rearing are massively taxing endeavors, and we may not be obligated to take them on, just as we are not obligated to volunteer 24/7 or donate our entire income to charity, even if we acknowledge those acts as being good ones.
While the argument does not sufficiently defend the pro-choice position, I would argue the demandingness argument presents an extremely solid case against the pro-birth, American Republican version of the anti-abortion position. The demandingness argument seems to demonstrate a clear duty, perhaps not assignable to any one person but to which everyone is expected to contribute, to assist those around us who are burdened by their nature, whether that be by pregnancy, old age, disability, etc. I would argue that we have a far more serious and in-depth duty to assist pregnant women and parents with young children than we currently acknowledge (including much greater maternity and paternity leave and assistance for families with young children), but there simply isnt a reason why this justifies murder (because again, this argument assumes the fetus is a person or pseudo-person) to eliminate the burden wholesale, as it collapses to an autonomy axiom.
Part 3+Demandingness Recap
Ultimately, no form of the fairness arguments or the Unfairness by Nature Argument present strong cases for the pro-choice position. We have demonstrated that fairness arguments either are self-refuting or collapse into autonomy arguments, which have already been demonstrated to be insufficient to justify anything morally. At this point, none of the classes of argument used by the pro-choice individual have worked; however, there remains one final class of argument: personhood arguments. And we must engage with personhood arguments in depth, because this is where the biggest philosophical debate regarding abortion comes from, and where the strongest pro-choice arguments lie.
Part 4: Personhood Arguments
Personhood arguments represent the strongest versions of the pro-choice position, as they get to the crux of the abortion debate. The pro-choice personhood arguments can be split into two main categories:
- Arguments from Viability
- Arguments from Consciousness
Ultimately, the arguments from consciousness remain the most compelling, but we shall engage with both of these categories.
Arguments from Viability
The basic structure of the argument from viability is as follows: “Because a fetus is not able to survive on its own and is utterly dependent on the childbearing parent to keep it alive, it cannot be considered an independent living entity. So, terminating its life (if it even has one) is neither murder, nor an act equivalent to murder.”
The argument has many serious pitfalls. If we are allowed to end the life of anyone who lacks the capability to live on their own, then we can are allowed to kill anyone who is dependent on others. I could go on a killing spree in an ICU and I would not have committed murder or anything like it. You could start murdering three year olds and there’s no reason (if this argument is to hold up) why you could be morally sanctioned. This is the ultimate logical conclusion of arguments from viability. So, we can shelve this claim for now and address the true fortress of pro-choice proponents: consciousness.
Arguments from Consciousness
Perhaps the most nuanced and complex arguments put forth by both pro-choice and pro-life proponents come from a set of arguments about personhood and its relationship to consciousness. The general pro-choice position is put forth as something akin to “The fetus is not a person until it acquires consciousness, only after which point can it be considered a person with all the moral weight that entails.” The pro-life position, in opposition, generally argues either
- (typically from a religious perspective) “Life/Spirit/The Soul begins from conception and therefore the fetus can never be considered a ‘mere clump of cells’ but rather is a person with all the moral weight that entails from the moment of conception”
- (the most famous secular pro-life argument is from Don Marquis) “Fetuses at any point in conception possess the potentiality for meaningful future experiences (in Marquis’s words, ‘futures like ours’) and that potentiality makes them persons or pseudo-persons with all the moral weight that entails from the moment of conception”
I will not be arguing from a religious perspective for many reasons, primarily because I don’t believe in it, so I will be focusing on an argument from potentiality and how it differs from a pro-choice argument from consciousness.
One way to understand the distinction between these positions is to bring up a typical pro-life complaint against the pro-choice position: what about someone who is momentarily unconscious? Is someone in a coma for a temporary period of time not a person? If someone gets knocked unconscious can they be killed without moral sanction? Of course, the pro-choice proponent will retort that these are vulgar misinterpretations of their position. Instead, both the pro-life and pro-choice proponents must distinguish between different states.
- Typical Conscious Person: Person is conscious at time T. They were conscious at time T-1. They will be conscious at time T+1.
- Fetus: Fetus is conscious at time T* (if we assume T* = the time when consciousness arises, so somewhere around 20–24 weeks). It was not conscious at time T-1. It will be conscious at time T+1.
- Coma: Patient is not conscious at time T. They were conscious at time T-1. They will be conscious at time T+1.
- Brain-dead: Patient was conscious at time T-1. Patient is not conscious at time T. They will not be conscious at time T+1.
The main distinction between the pro-life and pro-choice positions seems to be that the pro-choice position argues for a categorical distinction between entities that have acquired consciousness and entities that have not yet done so. Potentiality matters within the category of those that have already acquired consciousness (hence why we don’t treat temporarily comatose patients the same as permanently brain-dead patients) but potentiality is irrelevant for an entity that has not yet acquired consciousness.
In order to explain my own opposition to the pro-choice interpretation of consciousness, I will examine a myriad set of pro-choice responses to the question of “Why does consciousness matter.” I will attempt to find and defend the strongest pro-choice response to this answer, but I will then demonstrate why I still find this response lacking and why the pro-life argument from potentiality is more compelling.
Conscious Awareness of Pain
One typical, albeit weak, response to the pro-life counterpoint is that one has to be conscious in order to feel pain and that it is the awareness of pain that makes killing so wrong. Of course, this leads to a variety of seriously problematic implications. Is it fine to kill someone so long as they feel no pain from it? This ties back into our earlier discussion on the failed utility arguments from the pro-choice proponent, but goes deeper. Is it pain that makes killing wrong? Is it the ability to feel pain that makes someone a fully moral person? It seems far too specific. Pain may be a component of consciousness but it doesn’t present a strong argument to be the defining factor of consciousness.
Psychological Continuity/Relationship to our Future(s)
A pair of criticisms of Marquis’s “Futures Like Ours” account of potentiality come from Peter McInerney and Robert Lovering. As Taylor summarizes,
Peter McInerney contends that due to an adult’s sentience he has a stronger relation to his future than a fetus has, so a fetus cannot truly possess a future like ours. Similarly, Robert Lovering argues that futures are valuable only insofar as psychologically continuous persons experience them. Because early fetuses are not psychologically continuous, their futures are not valuable.
We see a variety of similar arguments coming from a continuity of personal identity/time, etc., all of which rely on the pre-existence of consciousness. Without consciousness, one cannot hope to acheive the conditions for personhood. In order to better discuss the issues with these critiques, we must first delve deeper into Marquis’s Futures Like Ours account of potentiality as personhood, as these critiques are directly aimed at said account.
Marquis and his Detractors
He suggests that killing a person is wrong not primarily because of its effects on the killer or on the friends and family of the killed but rather because of its effects on the victim. Killing deprives the victim of more than any other crime does, because it deprives him of all his future possible experiences (Marquis 189). This loss of future possibilities is so great that inflicting it is almost always a prima facie wrong.
Marquis goes on to defend his particular potentiality argument as being preferable to the biological humanity and sentience arguments, claiming aliens with valuable futures should also be considered persons and sentience/rationality arguments would justify infanticide and some degree of eugenics/murdering of disabled individuals. He also demonstrates that his argument allows for certain cases of euthanasia. An initial critique of Marquis account if that his argument would also allow for the murder of mentally disabled individuals; I will address this particularly damning critique of Marquis’s argument shortly.
Marquis defends against other criticisms in his initial paper as well. (All quotes from Taylor’s paper):
.1. On the fetus not being able to value its own future:
First, one might argue that a fetus cannot value its own future, so its future’s value is dubious. This argument assumes that value is subjective. Marquis replies that although many do not value their own lives, such as people who are suicidal, their lives clearly have unrecognized value. This shows that the value of a life and its future possibilities does not depend solely on the person’s recognizing it. Thus, a fetus does not need to recognize the value of its future for that future to have value.
2. On the fetus not being able to care about its own future:
Second, if a person cannot care about something, then he has no right to that thing. This argument concludes that because a fetus cannot care about its own life, it has no right to live. Marquis offers the counterexample of a patient who has the right to have his insurance company pay for a medical procedure despite his incapability of understanding it. Similarly, a fetus’s inability to care about its life does not negate its right to life.
3. On the fetus not being able to be a victim because it lacks sentience/consciousness
The final argument is that a fetus cannot be a victim because a fetus lacks sentience. This argument fails because the future-like-ours theory bases the wrongness of killing on the privation of a future, not on a victim’s sentience. Although the fetus lacks sentience, its future possibilities include a fully rational and thoughtful existence. Such a future is clearly valuable, so the fetus should not be killed. Against all of these arguments, the futurelike-ours account still explains the impermissibility of abortion.
But these are, of course, not the only counterpoints to Marquis’ account. So, let us return to the two main versions of the relationship to our future counter to his argument. First, we will engage with McInerney. McInerney argues that Marquis is oversimplyifying our relationship to our futures. Marquis’s argument relies on the implicit claim that we already “possess” our futures in some meaningful way, which McInerney argues is impossible for the fetus because the fetus lacks psychological continuity. McInerney demonstrates that the fetus would have to already possess its future for it to suffer a real loss from losing its future, and since the fetus lacks continuity, it does not truly possess its future, and therefore it cannot be argued that abortion is immoral on Marquis’s account.
The question of personal identity is one that has been debated by philosophers for millennia. There are a multitude of answers to the question of identity, driven by different intuitions and axiomatic beliefs. The psychological continuity/continuity of character account is certainly a major strain of thought, and McInerney adopts that as the underlying beliefs about personal identity informing his defense of abortion’s morality. Taylor describes his argument in this manner:
The relation between any person and her past and future stages is a difficult subject for philosophical investigation. McInerney addresses three common explanations of the continuity of personal identity and argues that these explanations entail that a fetus’s relation to its future differs from an adult’s. First, continuity of personal identity is based on memory. A person that remembers her past actions is a “later stage” of the same person that performed those actions. Similarly, the future person stage that will remember what the person is currently doing is “her future” (McInerney 265). This continuity of memory establishes continuity of identity. Early fetuses do not have developed memories of past experiences, so they do not have continuity of identity. Second, a continuity of character establishes continuity of identity. McInerney explains, “Continuity of character is that in which later person stages either have a character similar to the earlier person stages or are different in ways that are explicable by the operation of normal causes” (McInerney 266). A fetus does not have a character or personality in the normal sense. A fetus does not have integrity, fortitude, virtue, courage, or any other such character traits. This lack of character traits precludes a continuity of personal identity. Third, McInerney explains continuity of identity by the relation of intention to action. An earlier person stage intends an action that the later person stage performs. A fetus does not deliberate or act intentionally, so it cannot have that relation to its future person stage. Thus, McInerney argues that although adults have meaningful relations to their futures, fetuses do not. Consequently, abortion is not immoral because the fetus cannot be deprived of a future that it does not already have.
As you can see, McInerney relies on a set of conditions (memory, continuity of character, and intentional action taking place through time) in order to distinguish between a fetus and an adult human, and argue an adult human is a person while a fetus is not. His argument can be summed up as:
Continuity of Memory + Continuity of Character + Inention to Act => Continuity of Identity
In other words, for my identity to remain consistent, my memory and character traits must remain consistent and there must be a clear temporal link between my intentions at an earlier time and my actions at a later time.
Each of these points present issues, but before we discuss them, we should also discuss the similar criticisms of Marquis put forth by Lovering. Lovering argues that Marquis’s usage of the word “have” in his “to have a future” claim is ambiguous, and that proper examination of the term leads one to realize that to “have” a future is to have a certain kind of relation to it, which he identifies as a continuity of identity determined by a continuity of consciousness.
Taylor presents a serious of counterexamples against Lovering and McInerney demonstrating the value and importance of possible futures on their own, effectively neutering those criticisms. I will demonstrate Taylor’s argument and then present two new sets of criticisms of Marquis account, one not-so-damning, the other fairly problematic for him. I will then attempt to salvage Marquis’ account through an examination of other moral intuitions and cases.
First Taylor notes that we consider many actions to be wrong simply due to the possibilities (especially risks) they entail, not simply due to the actual consequences.
The harm that may result from an action sufficiently establishes its immorality. Let us consider two scenarios: (1) I go to dinner at my professor’s house, play with matches carelessly, and burn down his house, or (2) I go to dinner at my professor’s house, play with matches carelessly, and do not damage his property. In both cases, my carelessness shows disregard for the safety and security of my professor’s family and property. This is immoral regardless of the result, simply because of the possibilities of harm which I introduce…
In our current legal system, the increased probability of negative effects sufficiently justifies an action’s illegality. If abortion at least increases the probability of negatively affecting the fetus’s future possibilities, its illegality can be justified.
Taylor then moves into two new examples demonstrating the value of just possibilities, even when they are unrealized.
First, his hermit example:
Now let us consider a hermit living autonomously on a farm in a remote wilderness. He grows his own food and makes his own clothes. He has no contact with the outside world and has sworn that he will never again leave his farm for any reason. Let us assume that his true future is that he never leaves his farm until his death; that is what he actually does regardless of external influences. I decide to construct a 40-foot-tall concrete wall around the perimeter of his farm, thereby preventing his possible escape. This seems intuitively unkind and immoral, although I only deprive him of his unrealized possibilities. I only prevent him from doing what he would not do. Remember, in this case his real future does not involve his escape. Nonetheless, his leaving the farm would always be possible were it not for my building the wall. My depriving him of his possibilities is immoral, even if he would never realize those possibilities.
Second, his paraplegic example:
Further, let us consider the case of a paraplegic with virtually no chance of recovering use of his lower half. I break into his house one night, find a hacksaw in his garage, and chop off both of his legs. It may be that medical breakthroughs in his lifetime would have enabled the paraplegic to walk again had I not amputated his legs. Even if such medical breakthroughs do not occur in his lifetime, my actions are clearly immoral. At least in part, the immorality of amputating his legs is due to the remote possibility of his walking again. In all of these examples, depriving another person of valuable possibilities is immoral (and justifiably illegal), even if those possibilities would not have otherwise been realized.
These examples alone demonstrate the importance of possible futures, even ones we never wanted or even thought about.
Other typical counterexamples to arguments like McInerney’s and Lovering’s will invoke amnesiacs and/or insane individuals to demonstrate that a lack of continuity of memory and personality are not sufficient to remove a human’s status as a person. Continuity of consciousness also introduces potential issues that the pro-choice camp usually attempts to avoid with regards to the moral permissibility of harming comatose patients. Furthermore, none of these arguments from McInerney and Lovering (amongst others) truly answer the question of why the continuity of consciousness is a good thing. They attempt to argue that a fetus lacks this continuity and therefore Marquis argument fails, which is a dubious claim in and of itself, but even if Marquis argument fails, they have not presented much of a positive claim for the pro-choice camp. In order to demonstrate what a positive claim for the pro-choice camp might look like, we can look at another critique of Marquis from Sinnott-Armstrong.
Sinnott-Armstrong takes a different approach: he redefines loss and then demonstrates that a fetus, even if it is a person, may not have the right to use the parent’s body.
He defines a loss as a case in which “(i) the agent does the act, (ii) the loser does not gain or keep the valuable thing, (iii) the loser would gain or keep the valuable thing if the agent did not do the act” (Sinnott-Armstrong 62). This clearly includes the loss of a valuable future caused by murder, assuming that the person would not otherwise have died at that moment. Sinnott-Armstrong makes a further distinction between “moral losses” and “neutral losses.” With a moral loss, the loser has a moral right to the means of obtaining what he lost, while the agent does not. With a neutral loss, the loser has no moral right to the means of obtaining what he lost (62). To illustrate the distinction, Sinnott-Armstrong considers a race between Kristin and Lee. Kristin wins the race and thus causes Lee the loss of a valuable trophy. But this loss is neutral rather than moral because Lee has no moral right to the means of obtaining the trophy. He has no more of a moral right to win the race than Kristin does. Although Kristin causes Lee a loss, we don’t feel that she does anything wrong by winning the race. This example shows that it is not wrong to inflict a neutral loss on someone. Unless someone has a moral right to the means of obtaining what he loses, it may be permissible to deprive him of it. “To cause a moral loss is to violate the loser’s moral right when the agent has no moral right to do so” (63). This compels us to decide if a fetus has a moral right to the means of sustaining its life. A fetus needs to reside in a womb to live, but does it have a moral right to use the pregnant woman’s body?
This important point implies that the fetus does not have a right to use the biological woman’s body. The issue, of course, is that at no point have the pro-choice camp presented a serious argument demonstrating the fetus has no right to the woman’s body, especially not in the case of elective abortion (as we have demonstrated throughout this piece). The final bastion of defense for the pro-life proponent was personhood.
But now we have seen that pain, memory, personality, etc are not sufficient to defend the pro-choice position on abortion. However, it is also reasonable to say that Marquis’ account has serious issues.
First, the rights that seem to be implied by his futures like ours account edge dangerously close to the same kinds of errors underlying the entire Liberal understanding of “rights” as well as many of the errors underlying libertarianism.
Second, he doesn’t ever fully defend against the claims presented against him by McInerney and Lovering. While their accounts have problems on their own, a brute argument from “consciousness is good in and of itself,” cannot be defended against by Marquis.
Overall, Marquis’s argument from potentiality is a solid starting point for a stronger pro-life argument from potentiality. But, we need to actually find and defend that stronger argument from potentiality. To do so, I will address the final defense of the pro-choice argument and why I find it unsatisfactory. Then, I will explain my own position and why I feel it is the strongest argument I have found.
Consciousness as Brute Fact
The final argument from consciousness can best be described as an argument of consciousness. We demonstrated that second-order features of consciousness (pain, memory, personality, identity, etc) were neither necessary nor sufficient to establish personhood and that identifying personhood with any of them (or all of them) led to seriously negative implications. But there is nothing stopping a pro-choice proponent from arguing “There is something valuable in consciousness in and of itself, so valuable that there is a clear distinction between entities with it and entities without out, which grants greater moral standing to those entities with it.”
There is very little way for us to knockdown this argument on its face, but I also don’t think its a particularly strong argument. There are many categorical distinctions in the real world that we don’t consider to have serious moral weight. We do not grant blondes and brunettes differing moral statuses, and we all hopefully agree that we should not treat men and women, or people of different races, differently for performing the same action. These are physical categorical distinctions that we have agreed hold no moral weight on the individual as a moral actor.
So, why is consciousness so important? What gives it that moral weight? The only way out is to simply claim that consciousness is valuable in and of itself. The awareness of pain, continuity of memory, personality, and identity, and the ability to act intentionally all appear to be lacking as answers for why consciousness matters. And even Marquis’s flawed account from potentiality appears stronger than any of those claims. In fact, to hold the belief that the coma patient must be treated differently from the braindead patient, the pro-choice proponent must believe in potentiality in some form. Hell, any attempt to defend euthanasia must take potentiality as being valuable, even when one does not currently possess the ability to think rationally or possess the continuity of identity we see in most adult humans. One effectively must defend consciousness (and maybe, depending on how nuanced your account is, some form of rationality) as a brute good in and of itself. This not only leads to serious issues like Marquis sometimes must deal with (for example, if we build a machine that grants consciousness to anything that walks through it, and a cow is on a path to walk through it, can we stop it? Marquis’s account and this account would argue no, since consciousness is a good in and of itself, so an increase in that good is, by definition, good. But this goes against our own intuitions). Instead, I will advocate for a new definition of potentiality determined from a new set of axioms and intuitions.
My Pro-Life Argument from Potentiality
Throughout this piece we have demonstrated that the only way we can coherently hold a pro-choice position without justifying the murder of certain living humans we intuitively consider it to be wrong to murder is to argue the fetus is not a person. The issue with these definitions of personhood is that they must resolve two conditions:
- The fetus is not a person because X determines personhood and a fetus lacks X
- X is broad enough that all living humans (excluding fetuses) are considered persons
From here, I combine this with one of my fundamental axioms, informed largely by the lessons of the 20th century:
A: Dehumanization, the process of considering those who are biologically human to be less than persons, should be avoided at all costs. It is an extremely slippery slope that leads to catastrophe.
The first issue I see is that other than a mere defense of brute consciousness, I do not see any argument X that fulfills both of the above conditions without appealling to some kind of soul magic. The fetus either magically becomes a person at some point in the pregnancy without any kind of scientific explanation. Maybe the fetus magically gains a soul when it exits the vagina, perhaps the vagina has magical properties…or something.
But overall these arguments seem uncompelling. And I will explain why in two stages.
First, I will argue that any individual’s subjective interpretation of another individual’s personhood is irrelevant to the other individual’s actual, objective personhood. Simply because the Nazis considered the Jews less than human did not make the Jews actually less than human. They were simply insane and utterly immoral. Even if every single person on the planet and throughout history and the foreseeable future consider the Jews to be less than human, it still would not make them actually less than human. They are full persons with all of the moral weight that entails, Nazis be damned.
With regards to abortion, this is important because it demonstrates that regardless of how any individual (or all individuals) feel about the status of personhood for a fetus, their feelings do not have any bearing on the objective measure of the fetus’s personhood. There is a condition capable of distinguishing whether or not a biological human is a person and we can objectively determine whether or not the fetus meets that condition. This is important to remember for the future.
Second, I will argue that even if we take consciousness to be important in and of itself, the pro-choice position still has a problem from potentiality which is that actions taken prior to the fetus acquiring consciousness will affect the fetus after it has acquired consciousness. For example, if I get pregnant and proceed to drink heavily during the first 12 weeks of my pregnancy, it is significantly likely that my child will develop some form of fetal alcohol syndrome/spectrum disorder. My actions that affect the fetus prior to it acquiring consciousness (and, by the pro-choice account, personhood) affect it after it acquires consciousness. Somehow this seems intuitively wrong. Why should I have the right to affect this biological human’s future, without its own consent? And we can’t simply say “you don’t have to have the child” because, as we just noted, just because you may not consider a biologically human entity to be a person doesn’t mean that human isn’t an actual person.
From here, I believe I can make a significantly more powerful pro-life argument from potentiality that holds even if we take the pro-choice position of consciousness as being the determinant of personhood:
A1: Any biological entity that will, in the normal course of its development, develop consciousness has a valuable potential future in which it is conscious
A2: We consider the nonconsensual harm of other conscious entities to be wrong, especially when it is significant.
A3: Certain actions performed prior to the biological markers for consciousness typically appearing in fetuses, will affect the fetus (and subsequent live human baby and then adult) after it acquires consciousness
C1: Certain actions performed on the fetus prior to the biological markers for consciousness appearing in a fetus have the same (or sufficiently similar) moral status to those actions being performed on a fully conscious human adult
A4: There are actions that non-consensually harm someone physically in a significant manner which count as actions that are wrong when performed on a fully conscious human adult
C2: There are actions that non-consensually harm someone physically in a significant manner which count as actions that are wrong when performed on a fetus
A5: Abortion and sufficient alcoholism increasing the risk of FASD count as non-consensually harming a fetus in a significant manner
C3: Abortion and sufficient alcoholism increasing the risk of FASD are immoral and also sufficiently risky as to be considered grounds for illegality, according to Taylor’s account of the philosophy of law.
Part 5: Exceptions and Conclusion
Ultimately, this presents (in my opinion) a damning case against elective abortion, at the very least. I do believe it is entirely reasonable to argue that the typical exceptions we see regarding abortion are all reasonable:
Abortion in the case of the child-bearing parent’s life being at risk due to physical and/or psychological issues: Justified morally. Here we see a clear dilemma between which person has the greater right to life and I think it is absolutely the child-bearing parent
Abortion in the case of serious birth defects: Justified morally. Can be considered something akin to a mercy killing. While this presents a possible slippery slope, I do believe that a clear line can be drawn without resort to utilitarianism, but I lack the scientific knowledge to know how and where this should be drawn.
Abortion in the case of rape: Justified prudentially (aka, legally justified). As noted before, morality in these non-consensual situations is much more difficult than our typical Liberal impulses would inform us they are. But I think it is reasonable to at least make it legal to have an abortion in the case of rape, even if it is not moral. Marital rape and rape occurring within relationships would both also count as prudential reasons to justify an abortion.
Abortion in the case of incest: Justified prudentially. Incest is another case in which morality gets very grey, and where we must be willing to fight off our typical disgust sensititivity in order to determine the objective morality of a situation. But I think it is reasonable to make this legal, due to the inherent risk of birth defects as well as the typical extremely lopsided power dynamics involved.
And there is my position. A secular, agnostic pro-life argument from beginning to end. I understand that you may not agree with me and you may consider my points to be unfair representations of certain arguments (even though I genuinely did my best to avoid that) or you disagree with my axioms, but I hope that you will at least understand where I am coming from and why I believe what I do.