Abortion: What We Ought to Believe - An Ontological and Normative Analysis
Paez (Eze)
Source: PhD Thesis, Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, 2013
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Abstract

  1. In this dissertation it is asked whether we ought to conceive of abortion, morally speaking, as killing someone or, rather, as preventing someone from existing.
    1. First, some preliminary distinctions about values and practical reasons are drawn.
    2. Secondly, the merits of different arguments for the position that abortion is like killing someone are compared. It is then proposed that the best such argument must consider that the relevant reason-giving facts pertaining to the morality of killing are those about the value the victim’s life has for her and that diachronic identity is what matters in survival.
    3. Finally, a number of challenges to the ontological and normative assumptions of that argument are presented, it being ultimately found lacking.
  2. From the consideration of those objections it is concluded that abortion ought to be conceived, from the standpoint of practical reason, as deciding which of several possible beings shall become actual, and thus as a parcel of population ethics.

Author’s Preface1
  1. On the aim of this thesis.
    • According to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) report, almost forty-five million abortions were performed in 2008, the last year for which such data are available. Furthermore, the WHO estimates that each year there are an astonishingly eighty-five million unintended pregnancies. Thus, yearly over half of all unplanned pregnancies terminate by induced abortion. Because the quantity of abortions and of women who consider whether to have one is so high, it is worth asking what we ought to believe about what we have most reason to do when confronted with the decision whether to abort a foetus. The aim of this thesis is to search for an answer to this question.
    • This is not to be confused with the question of whether our social and political institutions ought to be designed so as to motivate women for or against abortion in certain circumstances. These are distinct questions. It is possible that, after reflection, we reach the conviction that in many occasions our institutions ought to motivate women to do what they have most reason to, be it killing the foetus or carrying the pregnancy to term. Yet it is also possible that we come to believe that most of the time we ought to let women choose free from any sort of institutionally provided positive or negative incentive. There are, of course, many other possible answers between these two. Also, one may argue for an alternative of the last sort in several different ways. Perhaps the truth is that, although it is good that each woman decides about her pregnancy as she has most reason to do, what is best in our actual circumstances is that most women choose freely. On the other hand, it might be that on the best conception of our political relation with our fellow citizens there are values, and the reasons with which they provide us, which ought not to inform institutional design. Maybe the facts about abortion give us reasons of this sort. In any case, an answer to this second, political question cannot be complete without an adequate answer to the first, non-political one. Even if it is believed that the political question is the one with ultimate importance, it must be conceded that the issue with which I shall deal possesses at least instrumental importance. This is one way how it is justified to treat it.
    • The facts about abortion which philosophers discuss are of two main types. Some are facts about the ontology of beings like us. In this respect, it is asked whether foetuses belong to the same kind as we do. Others are facts about value. Here it is asked whether the ontological question has any normative significance for – and, more generally, what sorts of considerations impinge upon – the morality of killing beings like us and beings like the foetus. I will not be defending a novel position in personal ontology. Nor will I introduce a new theory about the morality of killing. Whatever originality might be in this work, it must be found elsewhere. For what I purport to do is to take a broad outlook of the literature and to identify such consensus among the most plausible views as might give us confidence in a judgement about what to believe about abortion. On the assumption that fulfilling this purpose might contribute to the academic debate, this is another way how my treatment here of this topic is justified.
    • Allow me a brief terminological point before explaining the layout of the thesis. Laypersons, including philosophers, usually mean something different by ‘abortion’ than physicians do. In the medical literature it is a term of art referring to the expulsion of the foetus from the womb before viability, that is, before it can survive outside of the uterine environment. The term ‘abortion’ is employed irrespective of whether such expulsion is natural or induced. Moral philosophers, however, tend to use the term to designate the death of a foetus brought about by causing the aforesaid expulsion. Since it is its established usage in the literature, I will conform myself to it. In this way, whenever I say ‘abortion’ I shall mean ‘the death of the foetus caused by its being removed from the womb’. Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that some clarity of exposition will be gained if ‘abortion’ in this sense is distinguished from ‘foeticide’, by which I refer to the death of a foetus caused by any means whatsoever. From now on, ‘foeticide’ shall be my term of preference.
  2. On the strategy that shall be pursued to achieve that aim.
    • Some views, which I shall call contrary to foeticide, believe that this practice is a species of homicide, i.e., an instance of killing one of us. Nevertheless, I have come to believe that the most plausible views about foeticide are some of those which reject this claim. These views, which I shall call favourable to foeticide, conceive of it as rather more akin to choosing what possible beings shall become actual and thereby populate the world. My task is then, first, to show that these latter are indeed the most plausible views about foeticide. And, second, that this way of conceiving about foeticide really follows from the resemblances among them, in spite of their discrepancies.
    • Besides this PREFACE, the thesis consists of four chapters and two appendices. The chapters present the main argument for the conclusion, as well as the conclusion itself. The appendices discuss ancillary issues, such as the beginnings of human organisms (APPENDIX A) and the onset of foetal consciousness (APPENDIX B). The resolution of these questions is necessary in order to identify additional facts, both metaphysical and empirical, which condition the evolution of our reasons for and against foeticide throughout the pregnancy.
    • In CHAPTER I the better part of the conceptual framework which will be employed in subsequent sections is developed. There I distinguish, first, between two different conceptions, objective and subjective, of practical reasons. Later, I distinguish between, on the one hand, agent-neutral and agent-relative values (and the reasons they provide us with), and, on the other, personal and impersonal values. With these distinctions in our toolbox we shall be able to analyse the different views about foeticide discussed in other parts of the thesis.
    • In this respect, I start in CHAPTER II by identifying the various strengths and weaknesses of different views contrary to foeticide. At the end of the chapter I expect to have successfully argued that the best of these is the one implied by the Future-of-Value Account, as it is called in the literature.
    • This account is the object of sustained criticism from diverse fronts in CHAPTER III. There it will be observed how, even though standing on different, incompatible assumptions, the most plausible views against foeticide have much in common regarding how they conceive of the problem of foeticide.
    • Finally, in CHAPTER IV, a brief summary of the preceding chapters is provided. As a conclusion, it is remarked how what we ought to believe is that deciding whether or not to kill a foetus is rather like deciding which of several possible beings ought to become actual.


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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