Philosophy and the Morality of Abortion

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Many arguments in the abortion debate assume that the morality of abortion depends upon the moral status of the foetus. While I regard the moral status of the foetus as important, it is not the central issue that determines the moral justifiability of abortion. The foetus may be awarded a level of moral status, nevertheless, such status does not result in the prescription of a set moral judgement. As with many morally significant issues, there are competing interests and a variety of possible outcomes that need to be considered when making a moral judgement on abortion. While we need to determine the moral status of the foetus in order to establish the type of entity we are dealing with, it does not, however, exist in a moral vacuum. There are other key issues requiring attention, such as the moral status and interests of the pregnant woman who may desire an abortion, and importantly, the likely consequences of aborting or not aborting a particular foetus. Furthermore, I assert that moral status should be awarded as a matter of degree, based upon the capacities of sentience and self-consciousness an entity possesses. In a bid to reach a coherent conclusion on the issue, the moral status of both foetus and woman, along with the likely results of aborting a particular foetus, must be considered together. Given the multiple facets requiring consideration, I assert that utilitarianism (Mill 1863) offers a coherent framework for weighing and comparing the inputs across a variety of situations, which can determine whether it is ever morally justifiable to have an abortion.

To ascribe an entity with moral status ― whether an adult human, infant, foetus, or non-human animal ― is to declare that its treatment by other moral agents is mo...

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