The controversy over abortion reached fever pitch on May 2, 2022, when a leaked draft of a US Supreme Court majority opinion was published by Politico. If the draft’s key points are reflected in the final decision, it would nullify Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision that established the right to choose abortion nearly 50 years ago.
Current constitutional law gives the right to an abortion as long as the fetus is no longer viable – in other words, unless there is a reasonable possibility it can survive with care outside the womb. Today, it usually occurs between the 22nd and 24th week of pregnancy.
Wade was based on the idea that the US Constitution protects privacy stemming from the 14th Amendment. However, the draft majority opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito argues that Roe v. Wade should be overturned because the Constitution makes no mention of abortion.
While a final decision is not expected before June 2022, the decision will not quell the controversy over abortion. Why nearly half a century after Roe v. Wade, why continues to vigorously oppose the legalization of abortion? This question is of great interest to me as a philosopher and bioethicist, as I study the philosophical problems that lie just below the surface of contemporary controversies such as abortion.
There is an underlying moral concern, “What is a person?” How people answer this question dictates how they think about a developing human being. When philosophers talk about “personality”, they are referring to something or someone with an exceptionally high moral status, often described as having a right to life, an inherent dignity, or something that matters to someone. is done. Non-individuals may have fewer rights or values, but they lack the full moral value attached to individuals.
Being a person means making strong moral claims against others. For example, individuals claim that they can be treated fairly and claim that it should not be interfered with. A healthy adult human being is often considered the most obvious example of a person. Nevertheless, most philosophers distinguish a person from being human, pointing out that while no one disputes the species of the embryo, many disagree about the personality of the fetus.
In current law, fetal viability is often used to mark the beginning of personality. However, feasibility varies depending on people’s access to intensive medical care. It also changes as medicine and technology advance.
Some state laws prohibiting abortion consider the presence of a “fetal beat” as morally important and use it as a basis for individuality. However, many living things have beating hearts, and not all of them are considered individuals. And as physicians point out, although they may use the term “fetal beat” in conversations with patients, the fetus does not yet have a functioning heart that produces sound during early development.
The extent of personality is particularly difficult to define because of its far-reaching consequences. Personality has implications for how we treat animals, ecosystems, and encephalic infants, who are born with their cerebral cortex and large parts of their skull missing. It also shapes the rights of people born in the future, people with disabilities and those who are in continuous vegetative state. The debate over personality has recently extended to robots.
Personality is also important for issues at the end of life, such as the controversy over how death is defined. Physicians have disagreed with families about whether to declare a patient dead or continue to offer medical intervention. Philosophers have debated whether a person dies at the end of “higher” brain activity—the consciousness and cognition associated with the activity—or only after all brain activity has ceased.
when personality begins
In short, there are many reasons to find out what personality needs are. Doing so calls for wrestling with at least three common opposing views.
The first holds that fetuses qualify as individuals from the moment of conception. Proponents say that by conception, the developing fetus has a “future like ours,” and abortion takes away that future. A variation on this theme is that at conception, an embryo has the complete genetic code and therefore the potential to become an individual, and this ability qualifies the fetus as an individual.
A second approach considers personality as arising at some point after conception and before birth. Some argue that the moral status of man is all or nothing, but a matter of degree, like human development. Others say that what matters is consciousness and other cognitive abilities, which develop late in the second trimester.
Finally, a third view holds that personality begins at birth or shortly thereafter, as this is when an infant first acquires a sense of self and interest in one’s own continued existence. Another source of support for the third view is the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant’s claim that what makes humans morally special is their rationality and ability to be autonomous.
conflict between individuals
Which view of personality is correct? If a society cannot agree about personality, another strategy would be to imagine that one’s adversary’s point of view is correct, and consider its implications.
Let’s say, for example, that fetuses are individuals. Since there are pregnant people too, how should conflicts between them be resolved? Suppose the life of a pregnant person is in danger: who has the right to life? Some believe that under these conditions, abortion by appealing to self-defense is justified, but others maintain that killing in self-defense is not justified if the threat is “innocent”, without intent to cause harm.
Even when a pregnant person’s life is not in danger, some philosophers argue that a fetus’s right to life will not automatically terminate a pregnant person’s right to live as they wish. In a famous article, Puritan Judith Jarvis Thomson used the fictional example of a terminally ill person who could only be saved by actor Henry Fonda touching his forehead. Should Fonda listen to him? He argued that no: the right to life is not generally understood as the claim that one needs to survive. Rather, it does not require that one’s life should end unjustly.
When weighing the rights, it is important to consider the toll when people wishing to terminate a pregnancy are prevented from doing so. A decade-long study showed that people with this condition had adverse health effects; were less likely to have money for basic living expenses such as food, housing and transportation; And they were more likely to be with violent partners. Since the risk of dying from childbirth far exceeds the risk of dying from legal abortion, banning abortion is projected to increase maternal mortality.
The constitutional right to abortion will soon be settled. Wade, it would raise even more ethical questions – about fairness, for example, given that people living in poverty and members of minority groups would be most affected, and that That the majority of Americans support abortion rights.
It is only by shifting the conversation from politics and law to ethics that Americans will begin to consider what really matters in the abortion debate.