In this paper I plan on discussing the topic of whether abortion is always immoral. I will be looking at two essays writing by philosophers that are on different extremes of the topic. In the first essay, John T. Noonan, believes that abortion is always immoral, and he uses a statistical approach and uses three distinctions; viability, experience, and appeal. In the second essay, Jane English, believes that abortion is not always immoral. English bases her arguments on many more distinctions, as well as a self-defense argument. I believe that abortion is not always immoral, and will use English’s arguments to support my claims.
John T. Noonan begins his arguments, as does Jane English, by trying to determine what is a human. He uses three criteria to determine what a human is. He then uses statistical arguments to back up his points that it would only be justified to accept that it is always immoral to have an abortion.
The first criteria for what classifies a human that Noonan uses is the fact of if the fetus is viable. Noonan states, the fetus is not viable, that is, it cannot be removed from the mother’s womb and live apart from her. He then goes to reject this claim that viability is a usable measure because as he says, there is considerable elasticity to the idea of viability. He goes on to reject this claim because if viability were the standard way to measure the humanness of a living being, then the standard would vary from race and individual circumstances. Noonan’s last argument to this claim that viability is a standard measure is that the fetus is still absolutely dependent on someone’s care in order to continue existence. As an example he uses a three year old and a five year old, both are still dependent for continued existence, if left uncared for, they would surely die, just as the early fetus would if detached from the mother.
Noonan’s second claim which he will go on to reject is the distinction of experience. That is, a being who has had experience, has lived and suffered, who possesses memories, is more human then one who has not. Noonan rejects this claim by saying that the embryo is responsive after at least 8 weeks, and the zygote is changing and responding to it’s environment inside the mother. He also points out that in the cases of aphasia, where adult memory has been lost, Noonan asks the question; has it erased humanity? Clearly the answer here is No. Thus, the claim that experience is a criteria for humanity is null. Noonan also asks us what about people who have failed to love or to learn, if experience is to be considered a criteria for humanity then these people would be excluded as loving and learning are a central experience.
A third distinction which Noonan points out is that of appeal to the sentiments of adults. Noonan says that humans tend to morn the loss of a ten-year old then we would his one-year old bother, or his 90 year old grandmother. He claims that this is because of the potentialities extinguished, or the experience wiped out.
Noonan’s fourth criteria is that of social visibility, meaning that since the fetus cannot communicate with humanity it is not a member of society. However, Noonan rejects this claim because in Communist China landlords have been classified as enemies of the people and thus treated as non-humans. Noonan states that any attempt to limit humanity to exclude some group runs the risk of furnishing authority and precedent for excluding other groups in the name of consciousness of perception of the controlling group in society. Meaning that any attempt to exclude the fetus from society to make abortion moral, will thus exclude some other group from humanity, making the killing of that group moral as well.
Noonan’s main argument for his idea that abortion is always immoral is based on a statistical basis. He states that once the spermatozoon and ovum meet there is a 4 out of 5 will come to term, and thus become human. He uses the argument that if the chance that 200,000,000 to 1 that the movement in the buses into which you shoot is a man’s, I doubt that if many persons would hold you careless in shooting; but if the chances are 4 out of 5 that the movement is a human beings’, few would acquit you of blame. Here he’s saying that, if you were to shoot into a bush in which the chances are 4 out of 5 that it’s a human movement, you would be held accountable for the death of that person, thus you should be held accountable for the death of a fetus which had a 4 out of 5 chance of growing and developing into that human.
One argument against this is that there are 200,000,000 spermatozoon and 100,000 to 1,000,000 oocytes in a female, of which no more then 390 are going to be ovulated. So thus, every time you waste a spermatozoon of oocytes you are therefore performing an abortion and killing a human. Noonan’s argument against this is the fact that there is a small statistical chance of any of those spermatozoon or oocytes becoming a zygote and that once they do actually become zygotes there is a sharp shift in probabilities, an immense jump in potentialities. He uses the shooting into a bush argument here to counter these claims. If you were to shoot into a bush in which there was a 200,000,000 to 1 chance of the movement being a humans then you wouldn’t be held accountable if it was that minority chance. Noonan concludes Do not injure your fellow man without reason. In these terms, once the humanity of the fetus is perceived, abortion is never right except in self-defense. When life must be taken to save life, reason alone cannot say that a mother must prefer a child’s life to her own. With this exception, now of great rarity, abortion violated the rational humanist tenet of equality of human lives. Thus he is saying that with the one rare exception of when a mothers life is in danger, abortion is always immoral because you are taking a life without reason.
Jane English takes on the same type of arguments, that there are criteria for determining if a fetus is a person, she also stats that some abortions are permissible in self-defense. English states that there are many criteria which can be used to determine if a person is a person or not. She lists, many which include: biological features, psychological factors, rationality factors, social factors, legal factors and many more. She goes on to say that even though these are used to determine the humanity of a person, they are not strict and rigid guidelines. She uses the example that if someone were irrational, and rationality were one of the strict guidelines then that person would fail to qualify as a person. She also states that on the other hand, something could exhibit a majority of these of these features and still fail to be a person, as as advanced robot might. English rejects that the criteria for determining a human because they are only features that are more or less typical and not required and that a conclusive answer to the question whether a fetus is a person is unattainable. English goes on to state that the debate as to what is human and what is not human does not assist us in the determination as to whether abortion is right or wrong.
Englishes main claims is that of self-defense, and that abortion is right in terms of self-defense. She argues that not only physical self-defense if alright, but that innocent threats to the mother’s well-being, life prospects, or mental health would justify an abortion. English uses the example of a doctor and mad scientist, in which the doctor is forced to forget all his knowledge of doctoring, therefore destroying his career. In this situation English says this it is morally permissible to use force and even death to get out of this conflict so that you can continue with your life prospects. She uses this example to justify the abortion from a woman who, where having the child would ruin the womans life prospects. She gives the explicit example of a teenage pregnancy. English concludes that abortion is justifiable early in pregnancy to avoid modest harms and seldom justifiable late in pregnancy except to avoid significant injury or death.
I believe that Jane English is more correct on this issue on whether abortion is immoral. I feel that with her arguments on if the fetus will eventually come to harm the woman either physically, mentally, or by harming her well-being are all acceptable reasons to have an abortion. John Noonan’s statistical view of the world is not one that will convince many people as to the rightness or wrongness of abortion. At least both these authors conclude that a strict definition of when a person becomes a being with moral rights.
In conclusion the two arguments that you have just seen are on extreme ends of the views. John T. Noonan states that abortion is always immoral and Jane English states that abortion is moral as long as it in what she calls Self-defense.