1. In the following conservative and liberal arguments, identify and explain how logical fallacies are used to make seemingly solid arguments. Pay special attention to begging the question and equivocation. State one other argument that could be added to each of these arguments to strengthen their cases.
a. A common conservative argument against abortion states: It is wrong to kill innocent human beings; fetuses are innocent human beings; therefore, it is wrong to kill fetuses.
b. A common liberal argument for abortion states: Murder is the unjust killing of innocent persons; persons have clearly identifiable characteristics that are not shared by fetuses; therefore, fetuses are not persons and aborting them is not murder.
2. Present two (2) definitions of “person,” one from the viewpoint of ensoulment and a second from the viewpoint of personhood being the result of a relationship with the moral community. Explain the cultural backgrounds and the reasoning behind each definition.
The abortion controversy exists in a largely unacknowledged evolutionary and historical
context. The particular arguments in this controversy focus on questions such as:
1. When does the fetus get its soul?
2. What is a person?
3. What is human life?
4. When is it legitimate to kill innocent life?
5. What are the demands of nurturance on a pregnant mother?
In our evolutionary past, giving birth was usually an event of unalloyed joy. Because
babies ensured that the tribe would survive, people felt great love for them. This powerful love
for babies has served the human race well. It has implanted in us a deep conviction that babies
are a moral good.
This deeply committed love was not, however, universal because “infanticide was
common in all well-studied ancient cultures, including those of ancient Greece, Rome, India,
China, and Japan. The end of infanticide in the ancient world coincided with the rise of
Christianity. The practice was never completely eliminated and continues today in areas of
extremely high poverty and overpopulation. Female infants, then and now, are particularly
vulnerable. One frequent method of infanticide in antiquity was simply to abandon the infant,
leaving it to death by exposure.” This reality is expressed in a letter from a Roman to his wife in
1 B.C.: “‘If you are delivered (before I come home), if it is a boy keep it; if a girl, discard it’”
(Brainy Encyclopedia, 2004).
Western moral thinking and the march of civilization have increased our respect for life.
As a result, we have gradually limited revenge to legitimate authorities; replaced slavery with
wage labor; guaranteed civil rights to minorities, women, and children; and limited capital
punishment. At the same time, we still condone killing in self-defense, warfare, and collateral
damage. Just as our views on these issues have changed, so have our views on abortion.
According to J. Lewis (2004), “In the United States, abortion laws began to appear in the 1820s
forbidding abortion after the fourth month of pregnancy… Most abortions in the US had been
outlawed by 1900… Some early feminists…wrote against abortion…[because it] was an unsafe
procedure for women… and they believed men drove women to abortions.”
The women’s liberation drive to legalize abortion in the 1960s followed the drive to
legalize contraception in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. It arose at the height of the civil rights, anti-war,
and hippie movements. The raging disrespect for white male authority of the times ignited a
cultural war between liberals and conservatives. The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade
in 1973 was the last straw for conservatives, who felt that this decision sanctioned rampant
The stage was set for the abortion wars. On the one side were liberals, who identified
with the personal turmoil women felt over the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy and
who were aware of the degradation of back-alley abortions. Feminists saw Roe v. Wade as a
major step in the moral liberation of women from centuries of male-prescribed behavior. They
stoutly defended a woman’s right to decide whether to commit twenty years of her life to serving
a child, and they trusted the woman and her doctor to make this decision conscientiously. On the
other side, conservatives were determined to turn back the wild individuality and immorality of
the 1960s. For them, Roe v. Wade was an abomination that legalized murder of the unborn and
further encouraged young people to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage. Repeal of
that decision became a major plank in their platform to re-establish respect for traditional values.
The two sides of the abortion wars have conflicting “common sense” opinions about the
morality of self-determination and abortion; the liberal side values individual autonomy, seeing it
as a counterbalance to the rights of the fetus. The conservative side sees abortion as murder,
While evolution and history have endowed us with an overwhelming interest in
childbirth, they have also endowed us with a mounting interest in our personal freedom. The
point at which individuals began to consider personal freedom a right is difficult to pinpoint, but
certainly the Enlightenment and the American Revolution were seminal events in this change in
how the individual saw himself in relationship to society. The fact that the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution of the United States are two of the most important documents
declaring individual rights explain why most Americans refuse to take either extreme in the
abortion wars. Because America was founded by religious people and because most Americans
still profess a belief in God, they are reluctant to sanction a woman’s right to kill a fetus at any
stage. At the same time, their belief in the rights of individuals makes most Americans equally
reluctant to tell a woman that she cannot do what she wants, including having an abortion.
Therefore, many Americans feel that abortion should be legal at least in some circumstances.
One of the primary issues in deciding whether abortion should be legal is the question of
when the soul enters the body. Different cultures at different times have had different views on
1. For Thomas Aquinas, Catholic theologian of the 13th century, following Aristotle,
human life started 40 days after conception.
2. After years of argument, Pope Pius IX in 1869 declared ex cathedra that the soul
entered the body at conception.
3. For Anglicans, the soul enters the body at nidation, when the fertilized egg becomes
implanted in the lining of the uterus.
4. In Judaism, the soul is implanted in boys after 40 days and in girls after 80 days.
5. In Islam, it is implanted after 120 days.
6. In the Greek Orthodox Church, it is implanted 21 days after birth. (Jansen)
In secular Western thinking, the question of ensoulment is replaced with questions about
human life and personhood. Conservatives argue that human life begins at conception and that
abortion is, therefore, murder. Some of them back up this view by arguing that abortion is evil
“because it deprives an individual of a future of value” (Marquis as cited in Card, 2004, p. 68).
In other words, aborted individuals are denied the right to grow up, fall madly in love, get
married, have children, and make the thousands of choices that give meaning to most people’s
Liberal thinkers fasten on the notion of “person.” They argue that persons have certain
qualities like consciousness, reasoning, and self-awareness. Fetuses lack these qualities.
Therefore, they are not persons, and they do not have the rights of persons. Fetuses may be
potential persons; still, their putative rights “could not possibly outweigh the right of a woman to
obtain an abortion, since the rights of any actual person invariably outweigh those of any
potential person” (Warren as cited in Card, 2004, p. 152). (One question those who are against
abortion ask is, What about people whose retardation is so severe that they also lack the ability to
reason and who also seem to be unaware? May we also terminate their lives?)
Other ethicists try to establish a moderate view. Jane English argues that “not all killings
of humans are murders. Most notably, self defense may justify even the killing of an innocent
person” (as cited in Card, 2004, p. 176). Judith Thomson likens the case of a pregnant victim of
rape to being strapped back to back with an unconscious violinist who will die if tubes to his
kidneys are removed. In either case, one could legitimately abort or remove the tubes. Backed
by this reasoning, Thomson believes that abortion is morally wrong in most, but not all, cases.
The exceptions, for her, are cases of rape and contraceptive failure.
L. W. Sumner urges the presence of sentience, the capacity for enjoyment and suffering,
that occurs sometime during the second trimester, as the criterion for deciding when the fetus
should be accorded the rights of a person. Others hold that the criterion should be the
quickening, when the fetus is felt moving in the womb. Still others would urge the criterion of
viability, when the fetus can exist outside the womb. New imaging technology will certainly
have a profound impact on the abortion debate as parents are allowed to see images of the fetus
as early as six weeks. Thus far, many Americans have taken a middle ground on this issue, but
as we have seen, public views on abortion change over time.
Shannon Jordan argues that the issue is one of community, urging us to “invert the order
of reasoning to first determine the meaning of moral community, for then we will already
understand who is a person” (Bouchier-Hayes, 2004). The lived reality of our human moral
community requires prescribed patterns of belief, behavior, and relationships so that we can
achieve individual and species survival. In particular, it requires us to nurture our young. We
have a duty to take care of our offspring until they become self-sufficient. It is in these
relationships that we confer personhood on each other.
Marjorie Reiley Maguire and Susan Sherwin build on the idea that community confers
personhood on its members in examining the relationships of a fetus to that community. The
fetus has direct relationships to the moral community only through the mother. In the words of
Maguire, “The fetus cannot become related to the human social community except through the
mediation of the mother. It is the mother who makes the fetus a social being by accepting its
relatedness to her. Thus, it is the mother who makes the fetus a person” (as cited in Bouchier-
Hayes, 2004). In the words of Sherwin (as cited in Card, 2004), “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” (pp. 161-162).
In the context of our responsibility to nurture our young, Paul Gomberg (as cited in
Bouchier-Hayes, 2004) frames the abortion question in familiar conservative v. liberal terms. If
we accept that a woman’s chief role is to bear and nurture children, then the woman is morally
required to accept her pregnancy from the moment of conception. (Or, if we believe that the
fetus has personhood at conception, then no one, not even the mother, has the right to kill that
fetus.) If, however, we accept that a woman’s chief role is not to bear and nurture children, then
the woman can choose either to accept or reject her pregnancy. Yet, while most of us believe
that early abortions appear to be in line with the morality of nurturance, most of us “believe that
later abortions are morally and emotionally more problematic… It is clear that the morality of
nurturance must apply to the fetus, [and] it is clear that the longer we wait to abort, the more like
a baby is the thing we destroy” (Bouchier-Hayes, 2004).
The question remains: When do a woman’s duties to her offspring take hold? According
to Gomberg, Maguire, Sherwin, and Bouchier-Hayes, the morality of nurturance takes over when
a woman accepts her pregnancy. This maternal acceptance can occur earlier in a pregnancy, but
it can be assumed as the fetus approaches viability. And what if a woman never accepts her
pregnancy? At what point, if any, do the rights of the fetus take precedence over the rights of the
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