I'm in the midst of grading papers and final exams. A number of essays I've read over the last few days have had to do with abortion. A surprising number of my students advanced something like the following argument:
(1) A fetus is a living thing.
(2) It is wrong to kill a living thing.
(3) If one has an abortion, then one has killed a living thing.
(4) Therefore, it's wrong to have an abortion.
In class, we discussed a number of reasons for thinking that this kind of argument is unsound. I thought we had reached a consensus that this challenge to abortion is unsound. Alas...
I think (2) is obviously false Bacteria, mice, oregano, and the fungus that causes athlete's foot are all alive, but it's easy to come up with reasons why it can be moral to kill such things. Further, there are some cases of killing human beings that are deemed morally permissible (e.g., in self-defense). My point is that one cannot simply rely on the premise that a thing is alive to conclude that it's wrong to kill it. We do not afford all living things a right to life. But if this is such an obvious flaw in the argument, why is it that so many people put it forward as if it's a stellar piece of reasoning? Why do fairly smart people advance it? Why do some of my students rely on it in their exams/papers even after we've discussed various objections to it? I'm befuddled.
I think that there are some fascinating arguments against abortion and I admire some of the philosophers that have spent countless hours developing them. It's a shame that the above kind of argument passes as powerful/convincing in many circles.