Friday, July 22, 2016

Abortion and Self-Defense

From guest blogger, Tim.

We discussed in class the argument from Thomson regarding abortion in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. The “expanding baby” case is supposed to show us that it is morally permissible to kill innocent persons in self-defense. I agree with this general principle, but I believe we face complications in applying it to abortion. Recall that Thomson grants the assumption that fetuses are persons just like infants, children, and adults are. Given this assumption, it appears that the fetus would have the same rights as any other person, including the right to self-defense. Self-defense can be “outsourced” – if your life is endanger, someone else can protect it for you (such as a police officer or another citizen).

Let’s apply this to an abortion case where the mother’s life is endangered. If the mother has the abortion, she will survive, but the baby will not. If she does not have the abortion, the baby will survive, but she will not. One person will die. Both the mother and the baby are innocent persons. If the mother has the right to kill the innocent baby, then it appears the baby should have the same right as well (even though the baby cannot act on it).

To me, it doesn’t seem like there is one definitive answer here. If a physician gives a woman an abortion, he saves the woman but kills the baby. If he denies an abortion (and the woman doesn’t get one elsewhere), he saves the baby but not the mother. Either way, an innocent life is saved. While I don’t think that an abortion is morally wrong in self-defense (someone is going to die either way), it also seems then that refusing to provide abortions would be morally permissible because it would also be saving a life.

I can’t think of a great principle with which we can determine which innocent life is “best” to save. Do we save the fetus who theoretically has a “better future”, or do we save the mother? I don’t think there is a morally correct answer here. Consequently, those who want to argue that this situation is not ambiguous – the abortion is always the moral decision, and a physician refusing to provide the abortion would be doing something wrong – appear that they have to abandon the premise that a fetus is an equal person. It might still be a person, but if it is an equal person, it is not clear why the mother should be prioritized over the fetus.

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