Answering the Arguments for Abortion Rights
Part Four: When Does a Human Become a Person?
by Francis J. Beckwith
In this final installment of my series on the arguments for abortion rights, I
will continue where I left off in the previous article with a critique of some
"decisive moment theories." In addition, I will make some brief comments
about the "gradualist" thesis. I will conclude with responses to common
questions about the pro-life view that full humanness begins at conception.
DECISIVE MOMENT THEORIES (CONTINUED)
Beginning of Brain Development
Some bioethicists, such as Baruch Brody, believe that full humanness
begins when the brain starts functioning, which can first be detected by the
electroencephalogram (EEG) at about 40 to 43 days after conception.
(Although Brody has moral problems with abortion on demand prior to brain
functioning, this is not because he believes the unborn is fully human.)
Brody maintains that in order to decide when something is fully human, "we
must first see...what properties are such that their loss would mean the
going out of existence (the death) of a human being." He concludes that
since at brain death a human being goes out of existence (at least in this
mortal realm), the presence of a functioning human brain is the property
which makes one fully human. Hence, it would only follow that the start of
brain functioning is the beginning of full humanness.
The fundamental difficulty with this argument "is that brain death indicates
the end of human life as we know it, the dead brain having no capacity to
revive itself. But the developing embryo has the natural capacity to bring
on the functioning of the brain." That is to say, an entity's irreversible
absence of brain waves after the brain waves have come into existence
indicates that the entity no longer has the natural, inherent capacity to
function as a human being, since our current technology is incapable of
"reactivating" the brain. However, the unborn entity who has yet to reach
the stage in (his or) her development at which brain waves can be
detected, unlike the brain dead individual, possesses the inherent capacity
to have brain waves. She is like a patient with a temporarily flat EEG. "The
two stages of human life are, then, entirely different from the point of view
of brain functioning. The embryo contains the natural capacity to develop
all the human activities: perceiving, reasoning, willing and relating to
others. Death means the end of natural growth, the cessation of these
Brody responds to this criticism by presenting the following science-fiction
Imagine that medical technology has reached the stage at which,
when brain death occurs, the brain is removed, "liquified," and
"recast" into a new functioning brain. The new brain bears no relation
to the old one (it has none of its memory traces, and so on). If the
new brain were put into the old body, would the same human being
exist or a new human being who made use of the body of the old
one? I am inclined to suppose the latter. But consider the entity
whose brain has died. Is he not like the fetus? Both have the
potential for developing into an entity with a functioning brain (we
shall call this a weak potential) but we can conclude, it seems to me,
that an entity can go out of existence even if it retains a weak
potential for having a functioning brain, and that, analogously, the
fetus is not a human being just because it has this weak potential.
What is essential for being human is the possession of the potential
for human activities that comes with having the structures required
for a functioning brain. It is this potential that the fetus acquires at
(or perhaps slightly before) the time that its brain starts functioning,
and it is this potential that the newly conceived fetus does not
I do not believe that this response succeeds. First, unlike the potential of
the corpse's dead brain to be liquified and recast as a new brain, the
unborn's potency to develop is within itself (intrinsic). "As in the case of
other organisms," philosopher A. Chadwick Ray points out, the unborn's
development "admittedly requires nourishment from outside and an
appropriate environment (consider parasites), but still, the fetus has within
itself the power to appropriate nourishment and grow." On the other hand,
the potential of Brody's corpse is utterly extrinsic. That is, "it can be acted
upon from the outside and brought to life, but without immediate surgery
its life will not be restored, and it will simply rot."
Second, the unborn has "interests of itself, in a straightforward, non-projective way, that go beyond the interests of its component parts --
cells, tissues, etc.," just as I as a living organism have interests that go
beyond the interests of my component parts -- ears, nose, teeth, etc. On
the other hand, the corpse "has no interests beyond those of its parts. The
component cells may have an interest in continuing to live, but the corpse
itself has none." For example, "there would be no loss in the corpse's
organs, all being donated to different patients (imagine donating every
living cell if you prefer), whereas in a living fetus's being chopped up for
spare parts its own interests would be sacrificed."
In summary, "the growth of the fetus is in its own interest and is the
realization of its intrinsic potential, in which realization its identity is
preserved." However, "the implanting of a new brain into a brainless corpse
would constitute the genesis of a new organism with its own new telos and
interests where there were none." Therefore, since the prebrain-functioning unborn entity has a natural inherent capacity for brain
functioning while the corpse does not, they do not have the same kind of
weak potential that Brody claims they have.
As I noted in Part Three, viability is the time at which the unborn human
can live outside her mother's womb. Some have argued that prior to this
time, since the unborn cannot survive independent of her mother, she is
not a completely independent human life and hence not fully human.
Bioethicist Andrew Varga points out a number of problems with the viability
criterion. First, "how does viability transform the nature of the fetus so
that the non-human being then turns into a human being?" That is to say,
viability is a measure of the sophistication of our neonatal life-support
systems. Humanity remains the same, but viability changes. Viability
measures medical technology, not one's humanity.
Second, "is viability not just an extrinsic criterion imposed upon the fetus
by some members of society who simply declare that the fetus will be
accepted at that moment as a human being?" In other words, the
viability criterion seems to be arbitrary and not applicable to the question
of whether the unborn is fully human, since it relates more to the location
and dependency of the unborn than to any essential change in her state of
being. This criterion only tells us when certain members of our society want
to accept the humanity of the unborn.
And third, "the time of viability cannot be determined precisely, and this
fact would create great practical problems for those who hold this
opinion." For example, in 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized
abortion, viability was at about twenty-four weeks. But now babies have
survived 20 weeks after conception. This, of course, puts the pro-abortionist in a morally difficult situation. For some health care facilities
are killing viable babies by abortion in one room while in another room
heroically trying to save premature infants (preemies). It seems only
logical that if the 21-week-old preemie is fully human, then so is the 28-week-old unborn who can be legally killed by abortion. This is why
philosopher Jane English, who is a moderate on the abortion issue (i.e., her
position does not fit well into either the pro-life or pro-choice camp,
although she seems closer to the latter), has asserted that "the similarity
of a fetus to a baby is very significant. A fetus one week before birth is so
much like a newborn baby in our psychological space that we cannot allow
any cavalier treatment of the former while expecting full sympathy and
nurturative support for the latter...An early horror story from New York
about nursers who were expected to alternate between caring for six-month
premature infants and disposing of viable 24-week aborted fetuses is just
that -- a horror story." English writes that "these beings are so much alike
that no one can be asked to draw a distinction and treat them so
Many who defend the viability criterion argue in a circle. Take, for example,
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun's use of it in his dissenting opinion
in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989):
The viability line reflects the biological facts and truths of fetal
development; it marks the threshold moment prior to which a fetus
cannot survive separate from the woman and cannot reasonably and
objectively be regarded as a subject of rights or interests distinct
from, or paramount to, those of the pregnant woman. At the same
time, the viability standard takes account of the undeniable fact that
as the fetus evolves into its postnatal form, and as it loses its
dependence on the uterine environment, the State's interest in the
fetus' potential human life, and in fostering a regard for human life in
general, becomes compelling.
Blackmun first tells us that viability is the time at which the state has
interest in protecting potential human life because the fetus has no
interests or rights prior to being able to survive outside the womb. But
then we are told that viability is the best criterion because it "takes
account of the undeniable fact that as the fetus evolves...and loses its
dependence on the uterine environment, the State's interest in the fetus'
potential human life... becomes compelling." In other words, Blackmun is
claiming that the state only has an interest in protecting fetal life when
that life can live outside the womb. But why is this correct? Because, we
are told, prior to being able to live outside the womb the fetus has no
interests or rights. But this is clearly circular reasoning, for Blackmun is
assuming (that the fetus has no interests or rights prior to viability) what
he is trying to prove (that the fetus has no interests or rights prior to
viability). This argument is no more compelling than the one given by the
political science professor who argues that democracy is the best form of
government because the best form of government is one run by the people
(which, of course, is democracy). Such arguments are circular because they
provide no independent reasons for their conclusions.
The Attainment of Sentience
Some ethicists argue that the unborn becomes fully human sometime after
brain development has begun, when it becomes sentient: capable of
experiencing sensations such as pain. The reason for choosing sentience as
the criterion is that a being that cannot experience anything (i.e., a
presentient unborn entity) cannot be harmed. Of course, if this position is
correct, then the unborn becomes fully human probably during the second
trimester and at least by the third trimester. Therefore, one does not
violate anyone's rights when one aborts a nonsentient unborn entity.
There are several problems with this argument. First, it confuses harm with
hurt and the experience of harm with the reality of harm. One can be
harmed without experiencing the hurt that sometimes follows from that
harm, and which we often mistake for the harm itself. For example, a
temporarily comatose person who is suffocated to death "experiences no
harm," but he is nevertheless harmed. Hence, one does not have to
experience harm, which is sometimes manifested in hurt, in order to be
Second, if sentience is the criterion of full humanness, then the reversibly
comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping would all have to
be declared nonpersons. Like the presentient unborn, these individuals are
all at the moment nonsentient though they have the natural inherent
capacity to be sentient. Yet to countenance their executions would be
morally reprehensible. Therefore, one cannot countenance the execution of
some unborn entities simply because they are not currently sentient.
Someone may reply that while these objections make important points,
there is a problem of false analogy in the second objection: the reversibly
comatose, the momentarily unconscious, and the sleeping once functioned
as sentient beings, though they are now in a temporary state of
nonsentience. The presentient unborn, on the other hand, were never
sentient. Hence, one is fully human if one was sentient "in the past" and
will probably become sentient again in the future, but this cannot be said
of the presentient unborn.
There are at least three problems with this response. First, to claim that a
person can be sentient, become nonsentient, and then return to sentience
is to assume there is some underlying personal unity to this individual that
enables us to say that the person who has returned to sentience is the
same person who was sentient prior to becoming nonsentient. But this
would mean that sentience is not a necessary condition for personhood.
(Neither is it a sufficient condition, for that matter, since nonhuman
animals are sentient.) Consequently, it does not make sense to say that a
person comes into existence when sentience arises, but it does make
sense to say that a fully human entity is a person who has the natural
inherent capacity to give rise to sentience. A presentient unborn human
entity does have this capacity. Therefore, an ordinary unborn human entity
is a person, and hence, fully human.
Second, Ray points out that this attempt to exclude many of the unborn
from the class of the fully human is "ad hoc and counterintuitive." He asks
us to "consider the treatment of comatose patients. We would not
discriminate against one merely for rarely or never having been sentient in
the past while another otherwise comparable patient had been
sentient....In such cases, potential counts for everything."
Third, why should sentience "in the past" be the decisive factor in deciding
whether an entity is fully human when the presentient human being "is one
with a natural, inherent capacity for performing personal acts?" Since
we have already seen that one does not have to experience harm in order
to be harmed, it seems more consistent with our moral sensibilities to
assert that what makes it wrong to kill the reversibly comatose, the
sleeping, the momentarily unconscious, and the presentient unborn is that
they all possess the natural inherent capacity to perform personal acts. And
what makes it morally right to kill plants and to pull the plug on the
respirator-dependent brain dead, who were sentient "in the past," is that
their deaths cannot deprive them of their natural inherent capacity to
function as persons, since they do not possess such a capacity.
Criteria of Personhood
Several ethicists, such as Michael Tooley, Mary Anne Warren,
James Rachels, and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, have put forth
criteria that a being must fulfill in order to be considered fully human. For
some these criteria apply to any entity, whether before or after birth. In
fact, according to Tooley, birth has no bearing on the moral status of the
Those who defend criteria for full humanness make a distinction between
"being a human" and "being a person." They argue that although the
unborn are part of the species homo sapiens, and in that sense are
human, they are not truly persons since they fail to fulfill a particular set of
personhood criteria. Although the defenders of personhood criteria do not
agree on everything, their underlying philosophical assumptions are similar
enough that it is safe to say that if I can show that these assumptions are
significantly flawed then no personhood criteria theory can succeed in
supporting the abortion-rights position. Since Mollenkott's view is the most
clear and succinct example, I will use her article as my point of departure
to critique the personhood criteria position. Although much of my critique of
this view can be found in my criticisms of the other decisive moment and
gradualist theories, its underlying philosophical assumptions, which are
oftentimes not addressed by the proponents of this view, are deserving of
a separate critique.
In order to fully grasp Mollenkott's position, let me quote her at length:
Kay Coles James of the National Right to Life Committee claimed
that fetal personhood is a biological fact rather than a theological
perception. But in all truthfulness, the most that biology can claim is
that the fetus is genetically human.... The issue of personhood is
one that must be addressed through religious reasoning. Hence, the
Lutheran Church in America makes "a qualitative distinction" between
the claims of the fetus and "the rights of a responsible person made
in God's image who is in living relationships with God and other
human beings." Except in the most materialistic of philosophies,
human personhood has a great deal to do with feelings, awareness,
and interactive experience.
Mollenkott's argument can be put in the following argument-outline:
(Premise 1) A person can be defined as a living being with feelings,
awareness, and interactive experience. (I assume she means some
sort of consciousness.)
(Premise 2) An unborn entity does not possess the characteristics of
a person as defined in Premise 1.
(Intermediate Conclusion) Therefore, an unborn entity does not
(Final Conclusion) Therefore, killing an unborn entity is not seriously
Others, such as Tooley and Warren, give more elaborate criteria of human
personhood. For instance, Tooley claims that a being "cannot have a right
to continued existence unless he possesses the concept of a subject of
experiences, the concept of a temporal order, and the concept of identity of
things over time." And since "the concept of a right is such that an
individual cannot have a right that p be the case unless the individual is
capable of desiring that p be the case," it follows that a nonself-conscious
being with no desire for its own continued existence has no right to
life. Hence, the unborn do not have a right to life. In any event, the
philosophical assumption behind both Mollenkott's and Tooley's arguments,
as well as the arguments of others such as Warren and Rachels, is that
only an entity that functions in a certain way (e.g., in the case of Tooley,
"is capable of desiring that p be the case") is a person with a full right to
life (i.e., fully human). I maintain that this position has several flaws.
First, it does not seem to follow from the intermediate conclusion (that an
unborn human is not a person) that abortion is always morally justified.
Jane English has pointed out that "non-persons do get some consideration
in our moral code, though of course they do not have the same rights as
persons have (and in general they do not have moral responsibilities), and
though their interests may be overridden by the interests of persons. Still,
we cannot just treat them in any way at all."
English goes on to write that we consider it morally wrong to torture beings
that are nonpersons, such as dogs or birds, although we do not say these
beings have the same rights as persons. And though she considers it
problematic as to how we are to decide what one may or may not do to
nonpersons, she nevertheless draws the conclusion that "if our moral rules
allowed people to treat some person-like non-persons in ways we do not
want people to be treated, this would undermine the system of sympathies
and attitudes that makes the ethical system work."
Second, one can question why one must accept a functional definition of
personhood to exclude the unborn. It is not obvious that functional
definitions always succeed. For example, when the Boston Celtics' Larry
Bird is kissing his wife, does he cease to be a basketball player because he
is not functioning as one? Of course not. He does not become a basketball
player when he functions as a basketball player, but rather, he functions as
a basketball player because he is a basketball player. Similarly, when a
person is asleep, unconscious, or temporarily comatose, or a newborn, he
(or she) is not functioning as a person as defined in premise 2.
Nevertheless, no reasonable person would say that this individual is not a
person while in this state. Therefore, since a person functions as a
person because he is a person and is not a person because he functions as
a person, defining personhood strictly in terms of function is inadequate.
Of course, the abortion-rights advocate may want to argue, as was argued
in the case of the sentience criterion, that the analogy between
sleeping/unconscious/comatose persons and the unborn breaks down
because the former at one time in their existence functioned as persons
while the latter, the unborn, did not. Although this point is worth noting,
the abortion-rights advocate fails to grasp the significant flaw in defining
personhood strictly in terms of function.
As I pointed out in my criticism of the sentience criterion, to claim that a
person can be functional, become nonfunctional, and then return to a state
of function is to assume that there is some underlying personal unity to
this individual that allows us to say that the person who has returned to
functional capacity is the same person who was functional prior to being in
a nonfunctional state. But this would mean that human function is a
sufficient but not a necessary condition for personhood. Consequently, it
does not make sense to say that a person comes into existence when
human function arises. Rather, it does make sense to say that a fully
human entity is a person who has the natural inherent capacity to give rise
to human functions. And since an unborn entity typically has this natural
inherent capacity, (he or) she is a person.
As John Jefferson Davis writes, "Our ability to have conscious experiences
and recollections arises out of our personhood; the basic metaphysical
reality of personhood precedes the unfolding of the conscious abilities
inherent in it." Therefore, an ordinary unborn human entity is a person,
and hence, fully human. In other words, because the unborn human is a
person with a certain natural inherent capacity (i.e., her essence), she will
function as a person in the near future, just as the reversibly comatose
and the temporarily unconscious will likewise do because of their natural
inherent capacity. The unborn are not potential persons but persons with
Along the same lines, Ray has made the observation that the view of
human person as a natural "kind" which provides a ground for certain
functions, rather than as an emergence of certain functions, is more
consistent with our general moral intuitions. For "the recognition of the
rights of the young is less dependent on their actual, current capacities
than on their species and potential [i.e., their natural inherent capacity]."
For example, no one doubts that day-old human children have fewer actual
capacities than day-old calves. Human infants, in terms of environmental
awareness, mobility, etc., are rather unimpressive in comparison to the
calves, especially if one calculates their ages from conception. But this
comparison does not persuade us to believe that the calves have greater
intrinsic worth and an inherent right to life. For if human infants were sold
to butchers (let us suppose for the high market value of their body parts) in
the same way that farmers sell calves to humane butchers, we would find
such a practice deeply disturbing. Yet if intrinsic worth is really contingent
upon current capacities rather than natural inherent capacity, we should
have no problem with the selling of human infants to butchers. But Ray
points out why we do find such a practice morally repugnant: "The
wrongness would consist not merely in ignoring the interest that society
might have in the children, but in violating the children's own rights. Yet if
those rights are grounded in current capacities alone, the calves should
enjoy at least the same moral status as the children, and probably higher
status." What follows is that "the difference in status is plausibly
explained... only with reference to the children's humanity, their natural
THE GRADUALIST THESIS
Those who defend the gradualist thesis, such as Daniel Callahan and
Robert Wennberg, argue that the unborn entity increases in value as it
develops physically. Unlike the theories critiqued above, in this view there
is no one decisive moment at which the unborn entity moves from
nonperson to person. For example, the one-celled zygote has less value
than the three-month fetus while the three-month fetus has a lesser right-to-life than the eight-month fetus.
There have been a number of critiques of this position which space does
not permit me to articulate here. However, our critique of the major
decisive-moment theories in Parts Three and Four of this series is sufficient
to refute gradualism. That is to say, since none of the decisive moments
we have already gone over can be shown to eradicate the full humanness
of the unborn entity at any stage of her development, it follows that there
are no philosophical, scientific, or moral grounds by which to say that the
unborn gradually becomes fully human. For she would still need to achieve
full humanness at some decisive moment. That is, someone who is fully
human cannot gradually become more fully human. Certainly it is true that
the unborn human physically develops gradually, as is true of humans at
later stages (e.g., infancy, childhood, adolescence). But it does not follow
from this fact that the unborn human is any less human than the infant,
the child, or the adolescent. They are nonetheless fully human although
they are gradually developing.
In my critique of the decisive moment theories, I dealt with a number of
objections to the pro-life position. However, there are other common
objections which should be answered. In this final section, I will briefly
respond to five common questions asked about the pro-life position.
1. Why don't sperm and ova have a right to life since they are also
genetically human? Sperm and ova do not have a right to life because
they are not individual genetic human beings, but are merely parts of
individual genetic human beings. They are only genetically human insofar
as they share the genetic codes of their owners, but this is also true of
their owners' other parts (e.g., hands, feet, kidneys, etc.). Sperm and ova
cease to exist at conception when the zygote, an individual genetic human
being, comes into existence.
2. Doesn't this view "absolutize" biological human life? Not at all.
Although the pro-life advocate believes that biological human life is
important, he or she certainly does not believe that it is absolute. For
biological human life without the natural inherent capacity to function as a
person is probably not fully human. And it is questionable whether the
taking of such a life or the permitting of such a life to die can be classified
as homicide. For example, I do not think it is homicide to pull the plug on a
respirator that is biologically sustaining a brain-dead patient. Such a
patient's natural capacity for personal acts is simply not present. Of course,
other questions surrounding the problem of the withdrawal of certain forms
of health care are much more complex and fall outside the scope of this
series. In any event, the pro-life advocate does not absolutize
biological human life and is willing to apply his principles critically and to
think reflectively in morally challenging situations.
3. Aren't you absolutizing the unborn's right to life? No, for there could
be times at which abortion is justified. The pro-lifer is fully cognizant of
the fact that we live in a world in which moral conflicts can occur. Take, for
example, the case in which it is highly likely that a woman's pregnancy will
result in her death, as with a tubal pregnancy. Because it is a greater good
that one human should live rather than two die, the pro-lifer believes that
in this case abortion is justified, since otherwise both unborn and mother
would die. However, as I argued elsewhere in this series, abortion is not
justified by appeals to reasons such as financial burden or the child's
potential handicap, because if the unborn entity is fully human, one must
respect her life as one respects the lives of those who are already born.
4. Wouldn't your position mean that some forms of artificial birth
control result in homicide? Yes. For example, forms of birth control that
result in the death of the conceptus, such as the IUD and the "morning-after" pill (RU-486), would logically entail homicide if the pro-life position
is correct. However, not every form of birth control results in the death of
the conceptus. For example, the condom, diaphragm, some forms of the
Pill, spermicides, and sterilization would not logically entail homicide if the
pro-life position is correct, for they merely prevent conception.
This is why the pro-life advocate makes a distinction between
contraception and birth control. Contraception literally means "to prevent
conception." Therefore, all contraception is a form of birth control, since it
prevents birth. But not all forms of birth control are contraceptive, since
some forms -- such as the ones cited above -- prevent birth by killing the
conceptus after conception. Hence, the pro-life advocate as such finds no
problem with contraception as a form of family planning.
5. Isn't it true that some zygotes do not have forty-six chromosomes?
Yes. Although the normal number of chromosomes is 46, some people are
born with less (e.g., people with Turner's syndrome have 45) and some
people are born with more (e.g., people with Down's syndrome have 47).
But don't forget that my case for the unborn's humanness does not rest
necessarily on the number of chromosomes an individual may have, but on
the fact that the entity in question has a human genetic structure.
Consequently, a human genetic structure can still subsist in an abnormal
number of chromosomes (genes are contained in the chromosomes within
the nuclei of a person's cells). That is to say, the Down's or Turner's
syndrome child with human genes and an abnormal number of
chromosomes is no more nonhuman than a child with an abnormal number
of more obvious parts. For example, a person born with six fingers is
human, as is a person born with one arm or one leg.
SUMMING IT UP
In this four-part series I critiqued four basic types of arguments that have
been put forth in defense of both liberal and moderate positions on
abortion rights: (1) arguments from pity (Parts One and Two); (2)
arguments from tolerance (Part Two); (3) ad hominem arguments (Part
Two); and (4) arguments from decisive moments (Parts Three and Four). In
the process of critiquing these arguments I gave a defense of the pro-life
position that full humanness begins at conception (Parts Three and Four),
which included a detailed presentation of fetal development (Part Three).
Despite the number of arguments covered in this series, some readers will
be disappointed that I did not deal with some theological arguments or
lesser known philosophical arguments. But since even a four-part series
has its limitations and since Justice Harry Blackmun (who wrote the
majority decision in Roe v. Wade ) has argued that the morality of
abortion is completely contingent on the full humanness of the unborn,
what has been covered in this series is more than sufficient. For this series
has clearly established the following conclusions: (1) the popular
arguments for abortion rights either beg the question as to the full
humanness of the unborn or ignore the question altogether; and (2) both
sound philosophical and scientific reasoning clearly establish the full
humanness of the unborn from the moment of conception.
1 Baruch Brody, Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life: A Philosophical
View (Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1975).
2 Ibid., 102.
3 Andrew Varga, The Main Issues in Bioethics, 2d ed. (New York: Paulist
Press, 1984), 61-62.
4 Ibid., 62.
5 Brody, 113-14.
6 A. Chadwick Ray, "Humanity, Personhood, and Abortion," International
Philosophical Quarterly 25 (1985):238.
9 Varga, 62-63.
10 Ibid., 63.
11 Jane English, "Abortion and the Concept of a Person," in Biomedical
Ethics, ed. Thomas A. Mappes and Jane S. Zembatty (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981), 430.
12 Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989) in United States
Law Week 57 (July 1989):5040.
13 For a defense of this view, see Richard Werner, "Abortion: The Practice
14 See Joel Feinberg, "Grounds For Coercion," in Ethical Theory and Social
Issues, ed. David Theo Goldberg (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston,
15 Ray, 240.
16 Peter Kreeft, "Human Personhood Begins at Conception," in Journal of
Biblical Ethics in Medicine 4 (Winter 1990):11.
17 Michael Tooley, Abortion and Infanticide (Oxford: Clarendon Press,
1983). in Biomedical Ethics, 417-23.
19 James Rachels, The End of Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986).
For a critical analysis of this book, see J. P. Moreland's review in The
Thomist 53 (Oct. 1989):714-22.
20 Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, "Reproducive Choice: Basic to Justice for
Women," Christian Scholar's Review 17 (March 1988):286-93.
21 See Tooley.
22 Mollenkott, 291.
23 Tooley, 167. In rebuttal, see David Clark, "An Evaluation of the Quality
of Life Argument for Infanticide," Simon Greenleaf Law Review 5 (1985-86):104-8; and Richard A. McCormick, S.J., How Brave a New World?
Dilemmas in Bioethics (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press,
24 English, 429.
25 Ibid., 430.
26 Some philosophers, such as Tooley (Abortion & Infanticide), "bite the
bullet" and say that infanticide is not a form of murder since the newborn is
not a person.
27 John Jefferson Davis, Abortion and the Christian (Phillipsburg, NJ:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1984), 57.
28 Ray, 240-41.
29 Daniel Callahan, Abortion: Law, Choice, and Morality (New York:
Macmillan, 1970); and Robert Wennberg, Life in the Balance: Exploring
the Abortion Controversy (Grand Rapids, MI: Williams B. Eerdmans
Publishing Co., 1985).
30 Philip Devine, The Ethics of Homicide (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University
Press, 1979); Robert E. Joyce, "Personhood and the Conception Event," The
New Scholasticism 52 (Winter 1978):104-9; J. P. Moreland and Norman L.
Geisler, The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Time
(Westport, CT: Praeger Books, 1990), 31-34.
31 See Moreland and Geisler, The Life and Death Debate; and Francis J.
Beckwith and Norman L. Geisler, Matters of Life and Death: Calm
Answers to Tough Questions about Abortion and Euthanasia (Grand
Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991), part 2.
32 See my "A Critical Appraisal of the Theological Arguments for Abortion
Rights," Bibliotheca Sacra (July/September 1991).
33 Judith Jarvis Thomson, for example, argues that abortion is morally
justified even if the unborn are fully human. I critique this argument in
"Personal Bodily Rights, Abortion, and Unplugging the Violinist: A Critical
Analysis," International Philosophical Quarterly (March 1992)
34 Justice Harry Blackmun, in "The 1973 Supreme Court Decisions on State
Abortion Laws: Excerpts from Opinion in Roe v. Wade," in The Problem of
Abortion, 2d ed., ed. Joel Feinberg (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1984), 195.
Note from Faith & Reason Forum: Frank Beckwith is a visiting professor at
Princeton. In 2004 he will be at Baylor University as Associate Professor of
Church-State Studies, and Associate Director of the J.M. Dawson Institute for
Taken from the Christian Research Journal, Summer 1991, page 28, Copyright © 1994 by the
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