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Related Topics
Arguments about AbortionReview - Arguments about Abortion
Personhood, Morality, and Law
by Kate Greasley
Oxford University Press, 2017
Review by Bob Lane
Apr 3rd 2018 (Volume 22, Issue 14)

Abortion. In philosophy it raises many questions around several important issues including: When does life begin? What is a person? Is there a significant difference between biology and morality? How can thought experiments help us sort out these problems, or in what ways are innocent violin players and fetuses the same? How useful are thought experiments? Can we learn anything useful through them or are they just weird? Is abortion killing? Is all killing wrong? What do we learn about abortion from Judith Jarvis Thomson and her famous thought experiment? ["You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, 'Look, we're sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you—we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it's only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.' Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. 'Tough luck. I agree. but now you've got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person's right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.' I imagine you would regard this as outrageous." (Thomson, fourth paragraph)]

Abortion. In law it raises many questions including:  What is a person? Can we reasonably establish a point in gestation before which abortion is legal? What about SSA (sex selection abortion)? Or, FAA (fetal abnormality abortion)? What does the law have to do with abortion? What should the law have to do with abortion? Is abortion murder?

There is no doubt that abortion is a controversial contemporary issue in Great Britain and the USA and in other countries around the world. In May 2014, Gallup reported that 46% of Americans consider themselves pro-life and 47% say they are pro-choice. [79] Gallup also found that more Americans think abortion should be "legal under any circumstances" (28%) than those who want abortion to be "illegal in all circumstances" (21%). 50% of Americans say abortion should be "legal only under certain circumstances."

In a Gallup poll taken in Jan. 2015, 34% of Americans said they were satisfied with current US abortion policies, which is the lowest level of satisfaction in 15 years of polling. Most dissatisfaction was voiced by Republicans, and twice as many people were dissatisfied because abortion laws are too loose (24%) than the number of people dissatisfied because abortion laws were too strict (12%).

In Jan. 2013, Pew Research found that most Americans (63%) "say they would not like to see the court completely overturn the Roe v. Wade decision." 29% would like Roe v. Wade to be overturned. [94] A 2013 Pew Research survey found that 70% of people who attend religious services at least once a week say abortion is morally wrong, compared with just 32% of people who rarely or never attend services. [Source]

The debate over whether or not abortion should be a legal option continues to divide Americans long after the US Supreme Court's 7-2 decision on Roe v. Wade declared the procedure a "fundamental right" on Jan. 22, 1973.

Proponents, identifying themselves as pro-choice, contend that choosing abortion is a right that should not be limited by governmental or religious authority, and which outweighs any right claimed for an embryo or fetus. They say that pregnant women will resort to unsafe illegal abortions if there is no legal option.

Opponents, identifying themselves as pro-life, contend that individual human life begins at fertilization, and therefore abortion is the immoral killing of an innocent human being. They say abortion inflicts suffering on the unborn child, and that it is unfair to allow abortion when couples who cannot biologically conceive are waiting to adopt.

Kate Greasley has written a lively and lucid book which considers all the pertinent questions anent the abortion debate, perhaps the most emotionally charged debate in history. She considers arguments for and against, counter examples and their use in argument, thought experiments, common sense, principles, definitions, punctualist and gradualist theories, range properties, abortion procedures, and personhood. "Structured in three parts, the book considers the relevance of prenatal personhood for the moral and legal evaluation of abortion; traces the key features of the ethical debate about when personhood begins, and exams the problem in abortion law and regulation, including the issue of selective abortion."

Greasley also presents and compares the British and USA contexts, regulations, and practices: she writes (page 207) "Contrasting the British and US contexts clearly demonstrates that the availability of abortion in a jurisdiction depends on far more than the basic structure of abortion regulation. Despite the default criminalization of abortion in Britain, convictions for abortions performed are almost no-existent, and abortion is easily available . . . In the United States, by contrast, abortion access continues to be patchy, and practically non-existent in some states despite the constitutionalization of abortion rights."

The book is divided into three parts:

Part I Ordering the Argument

1 What Should Abortion Argument Be About?

2 Gestation as Good Samaritanism

3 Abortion as Justified Homicide

4 Analogical Arguments and Sex Equality

Part II The Threshold of Personhood

5 Personhood Thresholds, Arbitrariness, and 'Punctualism'

6 Dualism, Substantial Identity, and the Precautionary Principle

7 Gradualism and Human Embodiment

8 Human Equality and the Significance of Birth

Part III Principle and Pragmatism

9 Regulating Abortion

10 Selective Abortion

11 Matters of Conscience

 

The introduction begins with a brief discussion about why abortion is such a divisive issue. It then describes the scope of the present volume as well as the main terminologies used. Next, it sets out the book's focus, namely the argumentative sustainability of broad propositions about the nature of abortion, about morally and legally permissible conduct, and the logical consistency of certain sets of claims. The book addresses questions such as: Does the morality of abortion depend on the moral status of the human fetus? Must the law of abortion presume an answer to the question of when personhood begins? Can a law which permits late abortion but not infanticide be morally justified?

Above all the book is engaging, thoughtful and thought provoking, readable, comprehensive and a must read for anyone considering the abortion debate.

 

© 2018 Bob  Lane

 

 

Bob Lane is a Philosophy Professor Emeritus, Vancouver Island University

 

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