Answering a More Sophisticated Defense of Abortion – Part 13
Aug 05, 2008 / By: Jeffrey Jones
Category: Abortion Arguments
I’ve finally gotten to my last post on David Boonin’s book, ADefense of Abortion. In the book’s finalchapter, he responds to arguments that criticize abortion from a “non-rights”standpoint. Most abortion arguments deal with whether or not the fetus has aright to life, when the fetus acquires a right to life, and whether or not thefetus’s right to life includes a right to use another’s body. Some abortionarguments, however, are not related to “rights.” Thus, to be thorough, Booninresponds to the claims that (1) abortion violates the principle “do unto othersas you’d have them do unto you,” (2) abortion on demand fosters a “culture ofdeath,” (3) legalized abortion is actually contrary to the ideals of feminism,and (4) since we cannot be certain about the moral status of a fetus, we shoulderr on the side of caution, by disallowing abortion. Boonin’s basic response tothese is they cannot be successful without also appealing to the rights of thefetus. But at any rate, since these arguments are not ultimately decisive formost people, I will wrap things up with some comments on the book as a whole…
I originally read this book motivated by my belief that itis good thing to interact with those of differing viewpoints. And to that Istill hold. I really do believe that if we are going to make any moral claim(e.g., “abortion is morallywrong”) then we should have sound reasons for it. And furthermore, we shouldsubject our claims, and our reasons for those claims, to criticism andscrutiny. One really good way to do this is to interact with someone (by way ofa book or a conversation) who holds to a completely different point of view. Bydoing so we can see the weaknesses of our own views, improve our arguments,better understand our ourselves and our opponents, etc.
That said, I am glad I read this book. Boonin is certainlyan intelligent person, adept in philosophical ethics (or ethical philosophy?),with a great knack for exposing weaknesses in argumentation. For instance, Ithink Boonin has shown that we pro-lifers need to do a better job of explainingwhy invoking the biological category “human being” should make a moraldifference. Simply stating that a fertilized egg is a genetically distincthuman being does not convince everyone that abortion is wrong. We often justassume that since we can scientifically prove the humanness of a fertilized eggwe have won the debate. We really do need to do a better job of arguing from“the biological category of human” to “the impermissibility of abortion,”explaining how we get from one to the other. Against Boonin however, since hewas mainly concerned with showing flaws in pro-life arguments, he neverbothered to discuss the fact that abortion violently disrupts a natural and biological process, namely the disruption of the womb’s function to preserve andnurture life. Could this have some negative ramifications worth discussing?Also, since Boonin was mainly concerned to argue about whether or not the fetushas “rights,” he spent very little time speaking about the responsibilities (if any) humans have toward fellow humans (includingthe unborn). When he does talk about human responsibilities toward fellowhumans, he basically affirms that we ought not have to inconvenience ourselvestoo much for the well being of others. If every person took this stance, Iwonder what our world would be like.
So, can I recommend Boonin’s book? Francis Beckwith, anotable abortion opponent who has written several books defending life, saidthis: “Although I am an abortion opponent, and thus I come to much differentconclusions than does Professor Boonin, I found myself admiring his careful andrigorous method and his philosophical creativity, and learning much in theprocess.” (Go here for his entire critique: http://homepage.mac.com/francis.beckwith/Boonin.pdf).Boonin’s book is the most sophisticated and thorough defense of abortion that Iknow of. At very least, his bookwill challenge you to think more critically and force you to re-examine why youthink they way you do about abortion. But even if there is little to learn fromhim, we at very least need to be prepared to answer him, while treating him withthe same respect that we want for the unborn. This series of posts has been anattempt to do that...