Warren wrote this essay arguing that all abortions are moral do to a fetus not being a person. My assignment was to summarize her position, offer criticism, and then present my own opinion. I will readily admit that the presentation of my position is very bad and my conclusion is basically non-exist. I was really rushing to submit the paper on time.
In her essay On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion, Mary Anne Warren argues that absolutely no restrictions should be placed on a woman’s ability to receive an abortion. In other words, abortions are morally permissible regardless of the woman’s reasons, the status of the fetus, or any other factors. Warren reaches this conclusion through analyzing the relationship between biological species, the concept of personhood and moral communities.
Warren makes the claim that the word ‘human’ is used in with 2 different and distinct meanings in the abortion debate. The first is the genetic sense; a human is an entity that shares a genetic code with the species Homo sapiens. The second is moral sense; a human is “a full-fledged member of the moral community” (Warren, 11). This definition immediately brings up the question of what is a ‘moral community’. The Encyclopedia of Ethics says that this term refers to, “persons between whom there are reciprocal rights, obligations, and duties, or it can be used much more broadly to include whoever or whatever may be an object of moral concern.” In order to prevent confusion, for the remainder of this essay ‘human’ will refer to the first definition and ‘person’ will refer to the second.
A simple though experiment shows why ‘person’ and ‘human’ must be distinct terms. Picture an astronaut named Adam, who goes on a mission to a far away planet and discovers intelligent life. These lifeforms have highly advanced nervous systems and no distinctions between the cognition abilities of humans and these lifeforms can be found. The only significant way they differ from humans is that they do not share a genetic code. If only humans can be persons, then Adam could enslave these creatures for his personal profit, kill them as a food source, and forcible take any precious metals in their possession without preforming any immoral actions. As most people would hold that this conclusion must be wrong, the premise it is based on must be rejected.
Once these definitions have been established, Warren proceeded to list the properties she believes are “most central to the concept of personhood” (Warren, 12).
3. Self-motivated activity
4. Capacity to communicate on indefinitely many possible subjects
5. Presence of self-concepts and self-awareness
Although an entity need not have all of these properties in order to qualify as a person, every person will have two or more of them. It follows from this that an entity that possesses none of these properties must not be a person. Warren admits that fetuses have property 1, she asserts that they lack any other. Therefore, fetuses must not be persons. Non-person entities are outside the moral community and are non-factors when making decisions regarding morality. Now that it has been established that the interests of a fetus cannot be considered, there are no reasons why a woman should not be able to exercise her body rights and have an abortion.
Even though the distinction between ‘human’ and ‘person’ made by Warren is valid, her position on abortion does not follow from this. It is not the defining ‘human’ in purely biological terms that is objectionable. It is the 5 properties of persons and Warren’s understanding of moral communities that is inadequate.
The greatest objection to these properties is their vagueness. Warren herself admits this: “Admittedly, there are apt to be a great many problems involved in formulating precise definition of these criteria, let alone in developing universally valid behavioral criteria for deciding when they apply” (Warren 13). By remaining unclear Warren has created a barrier of ignorance to protect herself from criticism. How is one to show that fetuses possess self-awareness if they do not know what self-awareness actually is? It appears to me that a fetus who moves within the womb, where stimuli from the outside world is very limited, is acting by self-motivation. Warren must disagree since she never even addresses this concern. As it happens, Warren never offers a proof that fetuses lack any of these properties. She simply assumes so and continues with her argument.
Warren’s second mistake is in the idea that entities outside the moral community of persons have no moral status at all. In truth there are multiple moral communities that a single entity can belong to at once. For example, a single person can belong to a moral community that encompasses everyone in their town and a separate moral community that encompasses everyone in their family. Being outside the confines of one moral community does not exclude an entity from all moral considerations. Animal rights activists frequently claim that humanity is part of a moral community composed of persons and non-persons. Even if Warren was correct that a fetus is not a person, the fetus would still be within the boundaries of this other moral community. Just as we cannot harm animals without sufficient justification, neither can a woman have an abortion for trivial reasons.
A problem that Warren does not consider is that raised by the philosophy of personal identity. As Carsten Korfmacher describes in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, many philosophers, such as John Locke, hold that, “in order for a person X to survive a particular adventure, it is necessary and sufficient that there exists, at a time after the adventure, a person Y who psychologically evolved out of X” (Korfmacher). In other words, the experiences of one person at a particular moment in time effect the mental state of another person at a separate moment in time, then these two persons must in truth be one and the same. The study Long‐term flavor recognition in humans with prenatal garlic experience published in Developmental Psychobiology showed that fetuses of women who eat garlic during pregnancy develop into children that have a positive preference for garlic. This test was done on children ages 8 to 9 years old, yet the preference was still present. It follows from this that anyone who holds the Lockean view of personal identity must also hold that a fetus is the same person as the child it develops into. Just as a child has a right to life that cannot be trivially revoked, so too does a fetus. Therefore, a woman must provide a sufficiently strong reason for why she wants an abortion. Warren does not address any of these objections throughout her essay. For this reason, her claim must be rejected.