Lee & George: The Wrong of Abortion (in Taking Sides text) 

From the moment of fertilization, a human embryo is a complete human being: "a whole living member of the species homo sapiens."

There are limited cases (e.g., removal of a cancerous uterus, or mother's life in danger from a ruptured uterine tube during ectopic pregnancy). The death of the fetus is a non-intended "side effect" of something that is morally permissible.

Thesis: An intended death of a fetus is a morally impermissible killing.

Principle: Parents have moral duties to sacrifice for their biological children, and this duty "precedes our consent" (it is not contingent on the consent of the parents). This duty derives "largely" from our duty to contribute to the good of the larger community.

The resulting responsibilities require significant sacrifices.

Unless the pregnant woman's death is likely, the harm done by aborting a fetus is greater than any harms avoided by doing so.

Little The Morality of Abortion (in Taking Sides text) 

Question: can a duty of general beneficence require this much sacrifice?

Lee & George are correct to see that the issue is one of the special relationship of parent & child. GENERAL beneficence does not settle anything here.

BIOLOGY does not settle things: if being a biological parent automatically creates al the obligations of parenting, then sperm donors have all the responsibilities "of a social father." (In other words, one sperm donor might be the biological father of a hundred children, so if being a biological parent automatically creates al the obligations of parenting, then the donor would have to pay to raise all of them!)

The greater problem is that MOTHERHOOD generates conflicting duties, and these are deeply PERSONAL & INTIMATE.

The decision to abort is most often a rejection of the RELATIONSHIP of motherhood & the reshaping of life that it entails. It involves a rejection of the special relationship that a child entails. This relationship should not be obligatory. Prior to the emergence of PERSONHOOD (not defined in this essay), the woman should be allowed to reject "the identity of motherhood." The harm that an additional child will do to the existing family relationship should be taken seriously.

In other words, biological motherhood DOES impose a radical change in a woman's "practical identity," and this should not be imposed against the woman's wishes. A woman might END a pregnancy because she recognizes the "weighty responsibility involved in creating human life." In many situations, it is wrong to create a child and thus create these responsibilities.

Conclusion: Personal integrity can recommend an abortion for the very same reasons that it can condemn one. The woman's refusal to create a relationship might be based on reasons that outweigh her duty not to destroy.

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Last updated July 24, 2007