Explaining the Psychological Appeal of Viability as a Cutoff Point
Hershenov (David)
Source: National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly. 6:4, Winter 2006, 681-686
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. My aim is to explain, or perhaps it is better to say “explain away” the appeal of the principle of viability that plays such a prominent role in the Roe v. Wade decision and the ensuing debate.
  2. My contention is that many defenders of the principle are not actually deeply committed to it. I am not implying that they are in bad faith, knowingly defending a principle that they do not believe in because they want abortion1 to be legal, just that they are not fully aware of what is really making the principle of viability appealing to them. My suspicion is that it is the timing at which the fetus2 currently becomes viable and not the actual philosophical merits of the viability principle that makes it so attractive.
  3. The basis for my claim is that certain thought experiments3 - in particular, two that change the timing of the onset of viability – regularly elicit from abortion4 proponents the admission that the viability principle is without much philosophical merit. Since the earlier adherence to viability was not grounded in any moral principles that pro-choicers feel strongly about, this suggests that other factors were motivating its initial (and superficial) appeal.
  4. So after familiarizing readers with the thought experiments5, I will offer some brief psychological speculations about why the current timing of the onset of viability makes the principle of viability seem to so many people to be an attractive cutoff point for distinguishing morally justified from unjustified abortions6.


For the full text, see Hershenov - Explaining the Psychological Appeal of Viability as a Cutoff Point.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2019
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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