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The Abortion Debate: My Personal Convictions

Sam Taylor

Posted on August 28, 2020 19:43

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In a previous TLT, I gave a brief, relatively unbiased overview of the nuanced debate surrounding abortion. But in this piece, I'll be a little more partisan, presenting my personal view on this complex subject.

Roughly half the abortion debate revolves around a single question: does the fetus have a right to life? If the answer is no, there must be some way to morally differentiate between fetuses and post-natal humans (unless one wants to argue that the latter don't have a right to life). Many hold that this differentiation can be found in the disparate cognizance of the unborn and their post-natal counterparts: because the fetus doesn't have substantial self-awareness, it doesn't have the same moral value, the same right to life, as more developed humans. 

But despite its popularity, this argument has a severe problem. Suppose Jena, a twenty-year-old woman, enters into a comatose state -- such that all her faculties of self-awareness, cognizance, and disposition cease to function (I recognize this isn't precisely what happens during a coma, but let's assume it is for the sake of thought-experiment). Now further suppose that, after about nine months, Jena will awake in full possession of these faculties. Does she have a right to life, even upon lacking higher-order awareness?

It seems obvious that she does -- indeed, it's unequivocal that killing someone in her situation would be immoral. But if a biological human who lacks self-awareness for nine months has a right to life, then fetuses do as well (unless another differentiating characteristic can be formulated). 

But the question of the prenatal right to life is only half the debate. Some have argued that abortion is permissible even if the fetus has a right to life; for, they contend, a mother's right to bodily autonomy overrides the value of preserving another's life. The rationale behind this view is (a) that it's immoral to force others to relinquish aspects of bodily autonomy (i.e., control over their body) to save the life of another and (b) that the criminality of abortion constitutes an infringement upon bodily autonomy.

The truth of (b) is largely uncontroversial -- bodily autonomy intuitively extends to those maternal functions which promote fetal development. However, the accuracy of (a) isn't so intuitive: whether one considers it a moral truth or falsehood seems to depend on personal conviction, as opposed to normative ethics.

But to give my personal conviction in candor: I currently believe the preservation of human life through the coerced, temporary relinquishment of bodily autonomy is justified, so long as that life doesn't perpetually lack consciousness. To me, the moral validity of this belief is apparent -- I don't think Jena should be killed, even if the furtherance of her life entailed the interim renunciation of another's bodily autonomy. 

Sam Taylor

Posted on August 28, 2020 19:43

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