Abortion Rights And Wrongs

A Network of Issues

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There are many philosophical issues connected with abortion, all of which form a conceptual network with logical links. Because of the logical links, the positions we take on one set of issues have implications for the positions we take on others.

  • One set of issues concerns the concept of a person. (What is a person? Must a person be a human being? Is an embryo a person? An infant? When does a person begin to exist? Can we know?)
  • Another set concerns the concept of a right. (What sorts of beings can have rights? Only persons? Can a fetus have rights? A severely retarded child? A whale? An intelligent being from Mars? Which of these can have a right to life? What would such a right include?)
  • Another set concerns our right to control our bodies. How extensive a right does a woman (or a man) have to control her body and her capacity to reproduce? If an unborn child/fetus has rights, how do they connect with those of its mother?
  • Another set of issues concerns obligations. How do we acquire obligations to anyone? How does a parent acquire obligations to an infant? Can a mother acquire obligations to an embryo or a fetus? Can it acquire obligations to her?
  • Still another set concerns our government. Should it remain neutral in moral disputes? Should it support the mother's freedom if experts disagree about the moral status of the fetus? Do laws against abortion violate the ban on establishing a religion? Is there a constitutional right of privacy? If so, does it include the right to abort a pregnancy?

How do we approach and answer questions like these? Are there rational methods or simply brute assertions? What should we do if we cannot find a method or an answer? The thread starts with questions about persons.

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