“Why Abortion Is Immoral”
The Future Like Ours (FLO) Argument:
Marquis argues that abortion—except in cases of rape, during the first fourteen days of pregnancy, when carrying the fetus to term will endanger the mother’s life, or when the fetus is anencephalic—is wrong. Indeed, he suggests that killing a fetus is wrong for the same reason that killing an adult is wrong.
Marquis suggests that the parties to the abortion debate find themselves at a stand-off or stalemate. One issue that he believes cannot be resolved—indeed, it may explain why the debate is stalemated in the first place—is the issue concerning whether fetuses have a right to life. Pro-lifers want to focus on the fact that fetuses are human beings (at least potentially) whereas pro-choicers want to focus on the fact that fetuses are not persons (even though they may be so potentially).
Marquis suggests that to make progress in the abortion debate, what we need is a new argumentative strategy. His preferred strategy is an argument he calls the “future life ours” account of the wrongness of killing (FLO).
Is killing a fetus just like killing an adult? Even so, why is this wrong? Marquis suggests that in order to make progress in the abortion debate we need to do two things: First, we need to figure out why killing innocent adults is wrong (i.e., what property adults have that renders their being killed wrong). Second, we need to figure out whether killing fetuses involves the same morally problematic features of killing adults.
“The wrongness of killing us is understood in terms of what killing does to us. Killing us imposes on us the misfortune of premature death. That misfortune underlies the wrongness.”
“My death deprives me of my future, if the life that I would have lived if I had lived out a natural life span.”
“The misfortune of premature death consists of the loss to us of the future goods of consciousness…the goods of life are whatever we get out of life. The goods of life are those items towards which we take a ‘pro attitude’. They are completed projects of which we are proud, the pursuit of our goals, aesthetic enjoyments, friendships, intellectual pursuits, and physical pleasures of various sorts.”
Marquis claims that “premature death is a misfortune…because it deprives an individual of a future of value…what makes killing wrong, in general, is that it deprives us of a future of value. Thus, killing someone is wrong, in general, when it deprives her of a future like ours.”
The Argument against Animal Cruelty and the FLO: Both arguments have a similar structure. Start with a non-objectionable claim about what it’s morally unacceptable to do to me. Then, try to show that the reasons offered for why something can’t be done to me apply to some other individual/group.
Three Arguments in Favor of FLO:
- The considered judgment argument: Marquis claims that FLO settles with our considered judgments concerning why death is sometimes a misfortune and sometimes not. Example: terminal illnesses.
- The worst of crimes argument: Marquis also claims that FLO helps explain why murder is viewed as the worst criminal offense. It also purportedly explains why we allow exceptions to the general prohibition on killing for self-defense and war.
- The appeal to cases arguments: Marquis claims that FLO is correct because “it yields the correct answers in many life-and-death cases that arise in medicine. Example: euthanasia (OK) and suicide (not OK). Marquis claims that, “if the FLO account is the correct theory of the wrongness of killing, then because abortion involves killing fetuses and fetuses have FLO’s for exactly the same reasons that infants have FLO’s, abortion is presumably seriously immoral.”
Marquis claims that the FLO account explains why it was just as wrong to kill you while you were a fetus or an infant as would be to kill you now? Do you agree with this claim?
“Of course, this value of a FLO argument, if sound, shows only that abortion is prima facie wrong, not that it is wrong in any and all circumstances. Since the loss of the future to a standard fetus, if killed, is, however, at least as great a loss as the loss of the future of a standard adult human being who is killed, abortion, like ordinary killing, could be justified only by the most compelling reasons.”
Responses to FLO:
Objection 1: Fetuses lack a property that is essential for the value-of-a-future argument—e.g., the capacity to value the future.
Reply: ‘Let us assume that something cannot be of value unless it is valued by someone. This does not entail that my life is of no value unless it is valued by me.” Consider, for instance, the case of people who are depressed or suicidal.
Objection 2: An entity cannot posses the right to life unless it has the capacity to desire its continued existence. Since fetuses lack the capacity to desire their continued existence, fetuses don’t have a right to life.
Reply: This objection falls prey to counter-examples—e.g., people who have indoctrinated, or drugged, or rendered temporarily unconscious.
Abortion, Killing, and Contraception:
“In this essay, it has been argued that the correct ethic of the wrongness of killing can be extended to fetal life and used to show that there is a strong presumption that any abortion is morally impermissible. If the ethics of killing adopted here entails, however, that contraception is also seriously immoral, then there would appear to be a difficulty with the analysis of the essay.”
Reply: “The ethics of killing in this essay would entail that contraception is wrong only if something were denied a human future of value by contraception. Nothing at all is denied such a future by contraception, however.”
“The purpose of this essay has been set out an argument for the serious presumptive wrongness of abortion subject to the assumption that the moral impermissibility of abortion stands or falls on the moral status of the fetus. Since a fetus possesses a property, the possession of which in adult human beings is sufficient to make killing an adult wrong, abortion is wrong.”