Philosophy 355 Contemporary Moral Problems Darwall Winte r 1996 4/1 ABORTION III I. Last week the Congress passed the so-called "partial birth" abortion bill, and it is now on President Clinton's desk. I have added two links to the course web page that deal with this bill. One is sponsored by opponents; one by proponents. II. Recap: A. Moral status of the fetus B. What does the right to life involve? [Some people have asked, Why worry about this if I don't think the fetus is a person? Well, I might be wrong about that. Or, even if the fetus isn't a person, it may nonetheless be a morally significant being, and even if it doesn't make the same claim on us as a full-fledged person, it can be useful to ask what we should do if it were a full- fledged person. Finally, thinking what would follow on an assumption such as this (i.e., hypothetically, is crucial to being able to think from another person's perspective. This is an utterly crucial skill for us to develop if we are to think and talk about ethical subjects reasonably). We have no other way to proceed than by following out the logical consequences of each other's views and trying to see where they lead--i.e., thinking from within each other's points of view.] III. Thomson's distinction: A. The right not to be killed unjustly vs. B. The right to conditions necessary to support life. C. Even if the fetus is a person, it may not be able to claim the right in B against the woman in whose body it is growing, since the B right is not one a person holds against all individuals. If there is such a right it is held only against all organized as a collectivity, or against particular individuals who: 1. could provide the requisite life support below a threshold of "reasonable burden" (i.e., a burden it is reasonable to expect individuals to have to bear--as in the Minnesota case that held that individual householders can be required to provide anyone who requests it a haven from life-threatening weather). 2. bear some special responsibility (e.g., by assuming responsibility in intentionally bringing the fetus into existence, or, perhaps, by acquiring the responsibility unintentionally, e.g., through negligence). IV. Thomson's analysis suggests that the following might a useful matrix to think about some aspects of the morality of abortion. Since moderate views of the moral status of the fetus hold it not to be a person but, nonetheless, as it develops to be an increasingly morally significant being, we can include this is as a third dimension. Fetus's Moral Status Very little Very great Responsibility Very little Very great Hardship Very little Very great Roughly: The moral case against abortion increases as the fetus's moral status and the woman's responsibility increase and as the hardship she would bear decreases. The moral case in favor of abortion's moral permissibility increases as the fetus's moral status and the woman's responsibity decrease and as the hardship she would bear increases. V. Catharine MacKinnon argues that we cannot assess the responsibilty of women without a gender analysis of sexuality and birth control. Women who take birth control precautions risk giving the message of sexual availability, a "bad girl," and to be treated as such by men. In a world with these gender expectations, women cannot be held to have acquired responsibility to care for the fetus just by virtue of failing to have taken adequate precautions. At the very least, this complicates the responsibility issue. VI. As MacKinnon reminds us, Roe v. Wade held that the basis for a woman's right not to have the state interfere in her (and her doctor's) decision with respect to abortion was a right to privacy. This treats the right to abortion as entirely a private matter. An alternative view, which would also be pro-choice, would base the right to choose (and a similarly perspective on the morality of abortion) on public considerations of equality and fairness. (As an aside, some legal scholars hold that the proper constitutional basis for the right to choose is not the right to privacy but the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.) VII. Recall the thought (in IIIB, above) that if there is a right to life support, this will frequently not be a right held against individuals but against all as a collective, organized whole. The idea would be that we each have the right to everyone (ourselves included) cooperating with others on fair terms to provide everyone with the conditions necessary to sustain life (insofar as this is possible). This is a notion we encountered in John Rawls's justice as fairness--each has a right to others doing their fair share and a duty to do his fair share himself. Transpose this general idea now to the case of abortion. Suppose we were to hold abortion generally morally wrong, except in cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother's life, and so on, on the grounds that pregnant women should be held morally responsible for bringing fetuses to term and giving birth. Wouldn't this amount to the claim that a system in which this was thought to be morally required (although not necessarily legally required) would be a fair system of cooperation? Plainly, however, such a scheme would require significant hardships of women that it would not require of men. Would this be fair? Suppose it would not. If it would not, then the fetus would have no right to be provided with what is necessary for continued life (and hence not to be aborted), since there would be no fair scheme of cooperation that involved women being expected to bring them to term. On these grounds, it might be argued, abortion is frequently not morally wrong. Would it follow from this that it is never morally wrong? Not necessarily--think about why. VIII. But maybe this is the wrong way to think about it. If Noonan is right, the issue is not one of rights and justice, but of whether to exclude or include the fetus from the "family of man." Maybe, as he says, we cannot decide this issue independently of an honest, emotionally open encounter with the fetus. And maybe this would show us that aborting it would be wrong.