A Defense of Abortion

A Defense of Abortion

A Defense of Abortion

A Defense of Abortion

Synopsis

The central thesis of philosopher David Boonin is that the moral case against abortion can be shown to be unsuccessful on terms that critics of abortion can and do accept. Critically examining a wide array of arguments that have attempted to establish that every human fetus has a right to life, Boonin posits that all of these arguments fail on their own terms. He then argues that even if the fetus does have a right to life, abortion can still be shown to be morally permissible on the critic of abortion's own terms. Finally, Boonin considers a number of arguments against abortion that do not depend on the claim that the fetus has a right to life, including those based on the golden rule, considerations of uncertainty and a commitment to certain feminist principles, and asserts that these positions, too, are ultimately unsuccessful. The result is the most thorough and detailed case for the moral permissibility of abortion that has yet been written. David Boonin is professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado. He is the author of Thomas Hobbes and the Science of Moral Virtue (Cambridge, 1994).

Excerpt

This was a difficult book to write for two reasons. One is that the subject with which it is concerned raises a number of philosophical questions that have no simple answers. In this sense, writing the book was intellectually difficult. It is, of course, a commonplace to observe that the moral problem of abortion is a difficult one. But it is a platitude that nonetheless merits repeating: Even though people say it all the time, relatively few people seem actually to believe it. Opponents of abortion typically seem to believe that the matter is fairly clear-cut: The fetus is a human being, killing human beings is morally wrong, abortion causes the death of the fetus, therefore abortion is morally wrong. And supporters of abortion often seem to treat the matter as equally simple: It's the woman's body, so it's her choice. This book grew out of a course on the ethics of abortion that I first offered at Tulane University in the fall of 1995, and if there is one thing that I learned from teaching that course, it is that the moral problem of abortion is every bit as complicated as the platitude would suggest.

The other reason that this book was difficult to write is more personal. On the desk in my office where most of this book was written and revised, there are several pictures of my son, Eli. In one, he is gleefully dancing on the sand along the Gulf of Mexico, the cool ocean breeze wreaking havoc with his wispy hair. In a second, he is tentatively seated in the grass in his grandparents' backyard, still working to master the feat of sitting up on his own. In a third, he is only a few weeks old, clinging firmly to the arms that are holding him and still wearing the tiny hat for preserving body heat that he wore home from the hospital. Through all of the remarkable changes that these pictures preserve, he remains unmistakably the same little boy.

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