Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

The Fetus's Mother

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

The Fetus's Mother

Article excerpt

A logically necessary condition for being a mother is having a child. If a woman does not have or has never had a child, then she cannot be a mother. This is not to make any presuppositions about what constitutes being a child; if "mother" is to be correctly used to describe a woman, then one must be prepared to designate something as the child.

It is surprising, therefore, to find so many discussions of abortion talking about "the mother" and "the fetus." To call the woman a mother because she is pregnant (assuming, of course, that she has neither given birth nor adopted) presupposes that the fetus is a child. And whether or not this is the case is frequently at issue in discussions of abortion.

Some instructive examples of this confusion are displayed in joel Feinberg's valuable anthology The Problem of Abortion (2nd edition, 1984). Feinberg himself observes in his introduction that philosophical discussions of abortion require "a degree of clarity about basic concepts that is seldom achieved in legislative debates and letters to newspapers," but almost immediately following comments "The former questions can be divided into two groups: those concerned with problems about the moral status of the unborn and those concerned with the resolution of conflicting claims-in particular, the claims of the mother and those of the fetus." But, if the pregnant woman is a mother, then the fetus is a child. Without an argument, "mother" is a question-begging description.

A survey of the now classic discussions of abortion reprinted in the anthology reveals that most fail to distinguish between pregnant woman" and "mother." Thus, one author writes: "According to the liberal, the fetus should be disposable upon the mother's request until it is viable..." (Roger Wertheimer, "Understanding the Abortion Argument," 43) Others similarly conflate pregnant woman and mother: "whereas an almost full term fetus would have considerably more of a right, but still less than its mother" (Norman Gillespie, "Abortion and Human Rights," 96); "the common presumption that the problem of abortion must be argued in terms of the conflict of right between the living mother and the unborn fetus, may be a mistake" (S. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.