Philosophical Aspects of The Abortion Debate - Overview

Overview

The central arguments in the abortion debate are deontological or rights-based. The view that all or almost all abortion should be illegal generally rests on the claims: (1) that the existence and moral right to life of human beings (human organisms) begins at or near conception-fertilization; (2) that induced abortion is the deliberate and unjust killing of the embryo in violation of its right to life; and (3) that the law should prohibit unjust violations of the right to life. The view that abortion should in most or all circumstances be legal generally rests on the claims: (1) that women have a right to control what happens in and to their own bodies; (2) that abortion is a just exercise of this right; and (3) that the law should not criminalize just exercises of the right to control one’s own body.

Although both sides are likely to see the rights-based considerations as paramount, some popular arguments appeal to consequentialist or utilitarian considerations. For example, pro-life advocacy groups (see the list below) sometimes point to post-abortion syndrome and the abortion – breast cancer hypothesis, alleged medical and psychological risks of abortion. On the other side, pro-choice groups (see the list below) draw attention to the fact that criminalizing abortion will lead to the deaths of many women through ‘back-alley abortions’; that unwanted children have a negative social impact (or conversely that abortion lowers the crime rate); and that reproductive rights are necessary to achieve the full and equal participation of women in society and the workforce. Consequentialist arguments on both sides tend to be vigorously disputed, though are not widely discussed in the philosophical literature.

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