PHIL 202 Abortion

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I. The issue: our original premise

 A. personhood (define), killing the innocent

 B. status and interests of the woman?

 C. philosophical debate will prove very different from public debate

 D. terminology: conservative v. liberal

II. Fetal Development:

zygote--full genetic code
2 months-- "complete", EEG, sentient?
3 months  -- chance of miscarriage drops radically
4 months -- quickening
5 -- viability (1999)
6 -- viability (1973)
7 -- 9 bigger, stronger, more mature ...BIRTH!

III. Roe v. Wade 1973 (How does the Supreme Court work?)

 A. The issue: Texas law says abortion is illegal except to save the life of the mother.

  1. The right to privacy

  2. The personhood of the fetus

 B. The court does not rule on the personhood of the fetus (p.132)

 C. The decision (p. 134)

  1. First trimester: state may not legislate

  2. Second trimester: state may legislate in ways related to maternal health

  3. Third trimester: state may prohibit abortion except where it is necessary to   preserve the life or health of the mother.

  4. "Health" defined very broadly in Doe v. Bolton

---late term abortions?  (statistics?)
---Partial birth abortion

IV. Conservatives unhappy with abortion almost on demand, and liberals unhappy with abortion as a "medical" decision.

THE CLASSIC CONSERVATIVE ARGUMENT: The fetus is a person and thus it is only legitimate to kill it in the presumably rare cases in which killing any other innocent person is considered justifiable.

I. Why is the personhood question important? If the fetus is a person (or even may be a person; law of the hunter) a lot of the standard liberal arguments just do not connect with the  conservative position.  If the fetus has the same moral status as eg. a three year old, then the only arguments that will justify abortion must be arguments that could justify killing a three year old.

 A. Hardship to the mother, to the child, or to society

 B. Women will have abortions anyway, so we need to keep them safe and legal

II. The issue: Is there any difference between the fetus and things we know to be persons significant enough to bear the moral weight of allowing us to say that the fetus is not a  person?  Is there something which allows us to draw that line? No.  Given that you and I and the newborn are persons in the moral sense, there is no point between conception and infancy at which the fetus suddenly gains something crucial that it lacked before.  Since the living organism that becomes us begins at conception, better draw the line there.

III. Birth?  (The Supreme Court treated it as a very significant point.  Can it be the decisive factor in personhood?)

 A. "Just part of the mother"

 B. "Just a clump of cells"

 C. premature newborn less developed mentally and physically than full-term fetus

 D. Experience? (Especially memory to make you the unique individual that you are.)

  1. Fetus has experiences
  2. Amnesia?

 E. Personhood depends upon social visibility
  1. The fetus is "socially visible"
  2. Person in reversible coma is not socially visible
  2. (More important) If society gives you moral status, society can take it away.

IV. Viability?

 A. depends on technology at a particular time and place

 B. dependence is not ended at viability. The infant, the small child, the sick person who   requires care are all dependent.

 C. (Roe v. Wade) difference in potential?  Almost no difference after first trimester.

V. Quickening? (In the past reasonable to consider it relevant, but not now.)

VI. Sentience? To be a member of our moral community you have to be the kind of thing we can help or harm.

 A. We can harm you even if you can't feel it, as evidenced by...

 B. Person in a reversible coma

VII. Conception: Why draw the line here?

 A. Full genetic code

 B. self - evolving organism

Thomson: Abortion is acceptable in most cases, even if the fetus has a right to life, because it nonetheless has no right to use the woman's body.

I. Let's allow that the fetus is a person from conception.  (Her real view is that it is not one from conception but probably becomes one well before birth.)

II. The violinist example

 A. Could you unplug yourself to save your life?  Sure.  Abortion to save the mother's life  is accepted by almost everybody including the Texas law that led to Roe v. Wade.

 B. What if after nine months you and the violinist would both go home fine?  Still seems  okay to unplug yourself.  Though the violinist has a right to life, he does not have a right  to use your body.

III. Her analysis of rights

 A.. She is not making a utilitarian case that when hardship to one person outweighs benefit  to another you don't have to help.  Not that suffering of mother/plugee outweighs value of  life of fetus /violinist.

 B.   No one has a right to the use of your body unless you have given them such a right.   (Lifeguard example)
IV.  Consequences for Abortion

 A. Abortion is permissible in most cases.  Exceptions might be when you deliberately set  out to get pregnant or were grossly negligent when it came to precautions.

 B. What if you could disconnect yourself from the fetus without killing it?  (Partial birth  abortion.  The law requiring caesarians rather than abortions when fetus is viable.)

V. Problems

 A. Is her view of rights correct?  Is it the whole story about morality?

  1. The kid in the pond.

  a.  She does have a method of dealing with this problem.  There are other moral   categories in addition to rights.  There are things you ought to do for people even   if they don't exactly have a right to have them done.  If something is a great   benefit for someone and wouldn't be that hard for you, then it would be indecent   not to do it, and you ought to.

  b. But notice, now we are involved in doing the utilitarian calculus.  Surely saving   somebody's life is such an enormous benefit that we ought to be willing to make   some sacrifices in order to save a life, if we're the only one that can do it.  How   much sacrifice? (p.150) With most pregnancies just being pregnant is not that big a   deal.  As a frequently pregnant person I fear I take this rather personally... "She   won't be able to finish school..."   It's hard to argue that pregnancy is such a   hardship that it could justify taking someone's life.

  2.  Is it true that we don't have legal obligations to make huge sacrifices for the   benefit of others?... the draft, taxes (?)

 B. Are you really not responsible?

  1. rape

  2. you used contraception

 C. There is a difference between failing to help and actively killing.  (Unplugging yourself  from the violinist is rather different from slitting his throat.)  The woman has a right to  decide what happens to her body, but the fetus does too.

Warren: Abortion is acceptable because fetus is not a person

I. Problem with Thomson: Except in the case of rape, the woman is responsible. (Society of Music Lovers Lottery.)

II. Moral vs. genetic humanity...not the same

A. Something morally human (i.e. a person) but not genetically human...E.T.

B. Something genetically human, but not morally human...brain dead body.

III. What is a person: You're on a distant planet and run into the aliens....what would you look for?

A. Five criteria (p.182)

B. All 5 not necessary.

1. #1 alone won't do the job.

2. #'s 1 and 2 might, 1-3 would certainly do it.

IV. Fetus?  Obviously not a person. Therefore abortion on demand acceptable at any time.

V. What of the argument that the fetus, late in pregnancy, is like a person?

a. Things which are person-like have some right to life... BUT, fetus is really no more like a person than is a fish.  It's much less like a person than, e.g. a mature dog. It has the right to life of lets say a newborn guppy.

b. Harming person-like things may lead us to being more willing to harm genuine persons...BUT this consequence won't result so long as we educate people to the fact that even late fetuses are really not like persons.

VI. Potential personhood.  Doesn't the fact that the fetus will turn into one of us (if we don't kill it) mean it's got some right to life.

A. No.  Whatever rights potential people may be said to have are invariably outweighed by the rights of actual people.  Captured spaceman.

B. Question: Aren't the rights of present people constantly being limited in the interests of "future generations?"

VII. The Big Problem: Infanticide (Later postscript, not in your text.)

A. Don't kill infants for the sake of those who want them, prospective parents or society as a whole.  Like a beautiful painting.

B. Wouldn't this show that abortion is wrong, too?  No.  While the fetus is "inside" the rights of the woman to her body will outweigh the rights of other interested parties.

C. (Rogers) This doesn't do the job.

1. Infant in society which doesn't want it.

2. Temporarily comatose patient who isn't wanted.

3. Solution: Take insight about personhood into do need to have the person-making qualities like consciousness and rationality...but deny that you have to have them right now.  Adopt "Actual-or-potential-possession-criterion": You are a person with full moral status right now if you have or will have the relevant characteristics.

4. Warren won't go for it because it would bring the fetus into the fold along with the temporarily comatose patient and the infant.

Conclusions on personhood: Two most principled arguments both entail problems.  Conservative...person from conception, Warren...not a person until well after birth.

Sherwin: Abortion is a matter for the individual woman to decide.

I. Some standard feminist points which seem to underlie Sherwin's argument (the Iceberg problem)

A. ("A" if not "the") Fundamential reality of human condition is struggle between oppressor and oppressed.  Need to view human institutions, laws, traditions, through the lens of this struggle.

B. Epistemology: We each view the world from our own perspective.  Impossible to arrive at some sort of objective Truth (at least about values...some feminists go farther.)  "Truth" is relative to a community.  Oppressors will claim to see some Truth which is really just a tool to retain the status quo. Need to read between the lines of the supposed argument to see what the real motive is.

II. Critique of non-feminist analyses which focus on the moral status of the fetus.

A. Traditional approach, both conservative and liberal, is to assume that Personhood (what it takes to have full moral status) is objective. [I.e. To be a person is to be certain kind of thing, and one has personhood or fails to have it, whatever those around you think.  It is a fact that we discover, we don't invent it.]  Classic conservative argument and Warren both make this assumption.  So the crucial issue is to decide whether or not the fetus "has what it takes."

B. But this is false.  "Personhood is a social category." (p.198) It is the community that "shapes and values" persons. [N.b. She's not saying that the ability to interact constitutes the objective criteria that make you a person.  Then she'd just be back with a Warren-type argument. Child on a desert island would just not be a person.] Come to be a person through interactions and relationships with others.

III. Feminist view of fetus: The one with whom the fetus interacts and has a relationship is its mother, therefore, "Because of this inexorable biological reality, the responsibility and privilege of determining a fetus's specific social status and value must rest with the woman carrying it." (199)

IV. The politics of abortion

A. People who oppose abortion hold other nasty views aimed at maintaining the status quo: the oppression of women, racism, defending privileged class. (Probably false, e.g. Catholic Church...big on social justice, Black Churches often pro-life...but be that as it may...)

B. Traditional philosophy: This point would simply be a logical fallacy, ad hominem.  Trying to discredit an argument by showing that there's something wrong with the person making it. (Animal rights: "Who's the most famous vegetarian of the 20th century?")

C. (Some) Feminist philosophy: Reason and argument don't lead to objective truth.  They're a way for the oppressor to maintain the status the motive of the one making the argument really is the whole issue.

D. Adoption not abortion?

1. Not always possible

2. Psychologically harder on woman than abortion because of bond that develops.

V. Expanding the agenda

1. Make it available to everybody.  In U.S. public money can't be used for abortions. (Why?)

2. Providers must be supportive

3. Anti-abortion protesters not just expressing a different point of view.  They must be seen as engaging in morally wrong behavior.

4. Better care of valued fetuses.

VI. The Big Problem: Basic premise that Personhood is a social category.
Infant?  Aged?  Anybody?