The Invalid “Viability” Argument for Abortion

Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher) summarizes Elizabeth Harman’s argument for abortion:

1) “Among early fetuses there are two very different kinds of beings . . . .”

2) One kind of early fetus has “moral status.”

3) The other kind of early fetus does not have “moral status.”

4) The fetuses possessing moral status have it in virtue of their futures, in virtue of the fact that they are the beginning stages of future persons.

5) The fetuses lacking moral status lack it in virtue of their not having futures, in virtue of their not being the beginning stages of future persons.

Therefore

6) If a fetus is prevented from having a future, either by miscarriage or abortion, then the fetus does not have moral status at the time of its miscarriage or abortion. “That’s something that doesn’t have a future as a person and it doesn’t have moral status.” (From 5)

7) If a fetus lacks moral status, then aborting it is not morally impermissible.

Therefore

8) ” . . . there is nothing morally bad about early abortion.”

Vallicella then refutes the argument:

She is maintaining in effect that the moral status of a biological individual depends on how long it lasts. So the early fetus that developed into Elizabeth Harman has moral status at every time in its development, while an aborted early fetus has moral status at no time in its development.

This issues in the absurd consequence that one can morally justify an abortion just by having one. For if you kill your fetus (or have your fetus killed), then you guarantee that it has no future. If it has no future, then it has no moral status. And if it has no moral status, then killing it is not morally impermissible, and is therefore morally justified.

In sum, and with all due Maverickian pithiness: Moral status cannot be contingent upon longevity.

Harman’s argument is essentially the “viability” argument, which I have summarized and refuted several times. This is from “Crimes Against Humanity“:

The argument that a fetus is “inviable” — and therefore somehow undeserving of life — until it reaches a certain stage of development is a circular argument designed to favor abortion. A fetus (except in the case of a natural miscarriage) is viable from the moment of conception until birth as long as it is not aborted. It is abortion that makes a fetus inviable. Abortion therefore cannot be excused on the basis of presumed inviability.

(Read the whole thing.)

Fleshing it out:

There is an argument that a fetus should not be aborted (executed) after it becomes viable and therefore capable of surviving outside the womb and attaining “full personhood”.

This implies that it is wrong to prevent a fetus from attaining “full personhood” if it is capable of doing so.

All fetuses are potentially viable, though some fetuses may expire by miscarriage (or death in the womb).

Except in those unpredictable and unusual cases, abortion prevents a fetus from attaining viability.

Executing a fetus before it attains viability therefore presumably prevents it from attaining viability and (probably) “full personhood”.

It is therefore wrong to execute a fetus before it attains viability.

It seems that Vallicella and I see it the same way.

After demolishing Harman’s argument, Vallicella asks this (his boldface): “Is it ever morally right and reasonable to question or impugn motives or character in a debate?” Having refuted Harman’s argument on its own merits (or lack thereof) Vallicella answers his question with a “yes”, and continues:

I have a theory about what really drives the innumerable bad pro-abortion/pro-choice arguments abroad in this decadent culture, but I leave that theory for later. Here I pose the bolded question quite generally and apart from the abortion question.

I have a theory, too, which you will find in “Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm” and “Leftism“. It boils down the this: a need for control (authoritarianism), born of neuroticism and (sometimes) psychopathy.

In this case (as in many) the need for control exhibits itself as an urge to overturn civilizing social norms. (It’s the adolescent rebellion syndrome writ large.) The targeted norms vary with time, which is why the left’s agenda is malleable and guided by elite opinion. And leftists obtain a degree of relief from their neuroticism by attaching themselves to the ideology and “belonging” to the “cause” that is represented in the agenda du jour.

Thus leftism is an attachment to a superficial ideology that can be expressed in slogans (e.g., reproductive rights, equality), not a set of deep principles (e.g., socially evolved and tested norms guide behavior in constructive directions). The “viability” argument is circular because it stands (and falls) on neurotic feelings instead of deep principles.


Other related posts:
I’ve Changed My Mind
It Can Happen Here: Eugenics, Abortion, Euthanasia, and Mental Screening
PETA, NARAL, and Roe v. Wade
The Left, Abortion, and Adolescence
Abortion and the Slippery Slope
More on Abortion and Crime
The Cynics Debate While Babies Die
Privacy, Autonomy, and Responsibility
An Argument Against Abortion
A “Person” or a “Life”?
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Abortion Rights and Gun Rights