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Ethical Issues

Francis Beckwith on Pro-Abortion Arguments


In a four part series, Francis Beckwith addresses the primary arguments offered on behalf of legal abortion: “The pro-life position is subject to somewhat varying formulations. The most widely accepted and representative of these can be defined in the following way: The unborn entity is fully human from the moment of conception. Abortion (narrowly defined) results in the intentional death of the unborn entity. Therefore, abortion entails the intentional killing of a human being. This killing is in most cases unjustified, since the unborn human being has a full right to life. If, however, there is a high probability that a woman’s pregnancy will result in her death (as in the case of a tubal pregnancy, for example), then abortion is justified. For it is a greater good that one human should live (the mother) rather than two die (the mother and her child). Or, to put it another way, in such cases the intent is not to kill the unborn (though that is an unfortunate effect) but to save the life of the mother. With the exception of such cases, abortion is an act in which an innocent human being is intentionally killed; therefore, abortion should be made illegal, as are all other such acts of killing. This is the pro-life position I will be defending in this series.” Parts: “The Appeal to Pity“, “Arguments from Pity, Tolerance, and Ad Hominem“, “Is The Unborn Human Less Than Human?“, and “When Does a Human Become a Person?“.

The Abortion Controversy


The Abortion Controversy (second edition) is a superb anthology in which all the major viewpoints on abortion are well represented. Highlights include Michael Tooley’s latest formulation of his argument against foetal personhood, Judith Jarvis Thomson’s classic “A Defense of Abortion”, David Boonin-Vail’s brilliant 1997 defense of what he calls the “Responsibility Objection” to Thomson’s argument, and Keith Pavlischek’s interesting 1998 critique of Thomson and Boonin-Vail. Pavlischek essentially admits that Boonin-Vail’s arguments succeed, but points out (correctly, I think) that those arguments entail that if a woman becomes pregnant to a man who wishes to play no part in the child’s life, then that man, the father, is not morally obliged to pay child-support to the mother. Pavlischek thinks that many pro-choicers would find this implication unacceptable. I would add that on the other hand, many pro-choicers would regard this implication as perfectly just, so that Boonin-Vail’s defense of Thomson is (for them at least) ultima facie sound. These are just some of the interesting issues covered in the book; there are many more. Since no other anthology is as wide-ranging, up-to-date and authoritative as this one, “The Abortion Controversy” is essential reading for anyone who is interested in the philosophical debate over abortion. ~ Dean Stretton at