Permitting Abortion and Prohibiting Prenatal Harm

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There is a basic contradiction involved in permitting abortion while at the same time prohibiting prenatal harm. (1) This contradiction can be stated in personhood terms and in terms of the woman's rights. I'd like to elucidate that contradiction and examine three solutions which rise out of current literature; I'd like then to propose a somewhat new, fourth solution.

The Contradiction

Stated in terms of personhood, the contradiction is this: abortion is permitted or condoned because the fetus (2) is not a person, but prenatal harm is prohibited or condemned because the fetus is a person. (3) Obviously one can't have it both ways — either the fetus is or is not a person.

Stated in terms of the woman's rights, the contradiction is this: abortion is permitted or condoned because the woman has the right to control her own body, (4) but prenatal harm is prohibited or condemned because the woman doesn't have the right to control her own body. Again, one can't have it both ways — either the woman does or does not have the right to control her own body.

1. The 'Other Grounds' Solution

One solution to the personhood version of the contradiction is to argue for the permissibility of abortion on grounds other than personhood. Arguments to personhood are usually a subset of arguments to rights: one argues for personhood in order to argue for the right to life. Eliminating this intermediary step and focusing directly on rights — and then not necessarily only on the right to life — provides such other grounds. When rights conflict, it is sometimes permissible to kill persons, most notably in cases of self-defence. Thus, granting personhood to the fetus need not preclude permitting abortion. (Alternatively, not granting personhoo...

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...healthy newborn, and giving up alcohol is 'worth' a newborn free of mental retardation. But staying in bed for nine months may be too much to ask just to ensure the birth is not a week premature, and giving up life-saving treatment may not be worth the possible life of even a healthy preborn.

(25) However, in this case, whether the agent is the woman or some third party seems to matter: when the death of the preborn is caused by the woman rather than by a third party, what it really amounts to is a change in intent, not a violation or deprivation of intent.

(26) More specifically, the expression of intent can be discrete. Examining whether or not said expression is sincere and voluntary is, admittedly, difficult, but that is beyond the scope of this paper. For this paper, I've assumed that it is (and that coerced expressions of intent not be considered valid).

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