Abortion has been one of the topics of hot debate for the last three decades in our nation. Since the Roe v/s Wade decision in 1973, some Americans feel the need to ponder whether aborting fetuses is a moral action. On the one hand, some people feel that abortion should be legal because a woman has a right to choose whether she wants to continue a pregnancy or not. It’s her body. On the other hand, some feel that fetuses have no advocates and deserve a right to live, so it is immoral to abandon their rights and kill them. This issue is not only at the center of political debate, but philosophical debate as well. In this paper, I will examine and critique Mary Anne Warren’s On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion, where she examines the moral humanity of the fetus and its right to life.
Mary Anne Warren describes how abortion should be kept legal without any restrictions on it. She states that the pro-abortion argument should center around the moral status of the baby, not simply on the rights of the mother. Yet, she does criticize those who defend abortion as the right to control one’s body, “
it would be very odd to describe, say, breaking a leg, as damaging one’s property, and much more appropriate to describe it as injuring oneself” (Warren, 314). She uses this analogy to show the inappropriateness of a woman’s body being her property.
She continues her work by using Judith Thomson’s paper, A Defense of Abortion as a tool to navigate her idea that abortion is morally permissible, even if a fetus has moral rights. Judith Thomson, according to Warren, says, “
a woman is under no moral obligation to complete an unwanted pregnancy” (Warren, 315). Warren uses one of Thomson’s analogies to help state further rationalize her hypothesis. The analogy is this: What if you found yourself in bed next to a famous violinist with your kidneys hooked up to his body. He will remain unconscious while he shares your kidneys for nine months. No one else can save him because you have the same blood type. If you don’t continue this act of sharing for a period of nine months, he will die. If you do continue the procedure willingly, he will live. The question becomes, if you are an anti-abortionist will you stay consistent and feel obligated to save his life? Warren says that it is absurd to feel as though it would be murder if one declined to share their body (Warren, 316). She concludes her use of this analogy by agreeing with Thomson: even though a fetus is a human, a woman still has a right to obtain an abortion (Warren, 317). Even though Warren agrees with Thomson on some levels, she does mention one problem with this. A fetus comes into existence as a result of the woman’s actions; the violinist does not. This is when she breaks off from Thomson and forms her own opinion: the need for the realization that a fetus is not a person (distinguishing between “human” and “person”) and does not have a right to life.
Section II of Warren’s article attempts to define what a “person” is, to follow through with her claim that a fetus may be a human, but is not a person, so therefore has no moral humanity. According to Warren, to be human deals with genetic humanity, the personhood deals with moral humanity (Warren, 319). She claims that if you are a person you have moral status and your rights should be respected, if you are not a person none of that applies to you. So all she has to do is prove that a fetus is not a person, and that will prove that abortion is moral.
She gives five different characteristics that classify what a person is: (1) consciousness and the ability to feel pain, (2) reasoning and solving problems, (3) self-motivated activity, (4) communication with numerous possible content, (5) self-concept of individuality or racial ethnicity (Warren, 320).
If one refers to the five standards of being a person, a fetus could not be a person, so abortion is therefore moral, according to Warren’s hypothesis. She admits that a person need not have all of the traits, but should exhibit a few. However, she does not state which traits are crucial for the reward of personhood (Warren, 320).
This reasoning opens up a window of opportunity for critics to say that she is moralizing infanticide, because an infant is no more of a person than a fetus is according to her five standards. Her response to this is that killing infants would deprive other people of happiness, because they might want to raise the child themselves, which is why people put tax dollars into orphanages. This argument is very insufficient. People see murdering innocent children as inherently wrong and evil. We refuse to kill them not because it may ruin the happiness of the potential parents, but in regards to the welfare of the child itself.
Other questions can arrive out of this argument as well, such as: What about people that are in a constant vegetative state? Do they not have personhood? Do we have the right to kill them? What about animals? Can we torture and kill them anytime we want after taking them into our homes? I don’t know of many people that would agree, including Warren herself.
Although there are a few holes in her overall justification of “personhood”, there is one assertion that she concludes with that is more powerful than anything else in her article. It is when she challenges all people that feel she is being immoral, to step up to plate and be willing to provide care for unwanted infants and to confront a society that is not willing to afford the care for these young ones. I myself have made this claim too often when I hear of pro-lifers that are pro-welfare reform or who are against giving money or simply helping organizations that help to insure the stable well-being of an unwanted infant. I don’t recall hypocritical advocacy being on the list of a fetus’ hierarchy of needs.
In the beginning of her article she says:
we cannot hope to convince those who consider abortion a form of
murder, of the existence of such a right unless we are able to produce a
clear and convincing refutation of the traditional antiabortion argument,
and this has not, to my knowledge, been done” (Warren, 314)..
Well, to my knowledge she herself has not done this. Mary Anne Warren has written a very detailed and understandable article, however, her claims are not consistent or convincing and may seem a bit heartless, but nonetheless she presents them concisely with charisma, keeping the reader on a philosophical seesaw, anxiously agreeing and disagreeing throughout her piece.
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