For many people, the crucial issue in the abortion debate is
whether the embryo or fetus or unborn child is a person. If it
is, they conclude that abortion is (or is usually) on a par with murder.
If not, they conclude that it is a far less serious matter, perhaps
only a matter of prudence.
This approach focuses on the nature and moral status of the embryo
or fetus. It is not the only approach to the problems of abortion.
Some writers focus on the rights and welfare of women. Others
focus on world population problems or the problem of poverty.
Still others focus on constitutional issues. All of these approaches
Eventually, however, most philosophical discussion arrives at
questions about personhood. We will begin with those questions, bearing in
mind that there are other questions to consider.
To follow the thread, you must consider whether the embryo or
the fetus is a person and why being a person is so important morally.
One approach is to think about what it is that makes anything
a person and what it is about persons that gives them great value
and/or rights of some kind.
What it is that makes you and I persons? We need an answer if we are to avoid the brute assertion that the embryo or fetus does or does not qualify. The case of the embryo/fetus is disputed and we need more general notions to guide us when deciding it.
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