Even if we accept Judith Jarvis Thomson's distinction between "killing" and "letting die", how can abortion be anything but horrifically unethical? Suppose I have daughter that I reluctantly take care of. I would never kill her, but I miss the disposable income and free time I had before her. Then one day I find out my daughter has rare disease and needs me to donate my kidney (or if you prefer, needs me to be tied to the machine described in violinist thought experiment). "Now's my chance!" I think. "If refuse to let her use my body, I can 'let her die' rather than 'kill' her. With my only child dead, I'll be free to live like a bachelor again. No more t-ball games for me!" Even if you grant that I have the right to let my daughter die, it still sounds like a selfish thing to do. In fact it's monstrous thing to do. Just like we can defend Fred Phelps's right to free speech while condemning the way exercises it, we can defend a woman a woman's right to bodily autonomy while condemning the way she exercises it. Yet pro-choice people are much less eager to condemn women who have abortions than they Fred Phelps. Why should a woman who has an abortion get more respect than Fred Phelps?

First of all, as you say, it seems pretty clear that you would have no moral obligation to allow your daughter to have one of your kidneys. To a significant extent, that is all most "pro-choice" arguments seek to establish. Indeed, Thomson discusses this very point in "A Defense of Abortion".

That said, I would agree with you that it would be awful of you not to provide your daughter with a kidney, assuming that it otherwise wasn't going to affect you terribly badly. But the case seems significantly different from a first trimester abortion. And I think that is so even if, like Thomson, we allow (at least for the sake of argument) that the developing fetus is a person: an "unborn child".

You do not say what age your daughter is, and that may matter a bit to our intuitions about the case. But what matters more, it seems to me, is the character of the relationship you have with her. What's so disturbing about the choice you imagine making is what it says about that relationship. Obviously, my refusal to provide your daughter with a kidney would be an entirely different matter, and it would be so even if I were her biological father. (Imagine that she is adopted.) So it's the nature of your relationship to your daughter, the fact that you are her parent, not biologically speaking but sociologically speaking, that is responsible for our intuitions about this case. Or so it seems to me. We think that a parent ought to be willing to make this kind of sacrifice for his or her child. That s'he ought to care about h'er child's future in ways that you are imagining not caring.

In the case of a first trimester abortion, however, it is not at all clear to me that there is any parental relationship in place between a woman and her unborn child, other than the biological one. (It might be worth thinking here about women who allow their newborns to be adopted. Were they ever "parents", in the sociological sense?) If that is right, then we do not have the same kind of reason to think the woman "owes something" to her unborn child in the way that you certainly do "owe something" to your daughter.

None of that is to say, by the way, that there may not be good reasons that a particular woman, in particular circumstances, ought not to have an abortion, all things considered, nor even that one ought not to have quite good reasons to have one. One can defend the legality and moral permissibility of abortion without thinking that the act of aborting a fetus is morally neutral (i.e., without thinking it's like having your appendix out.) Suppose a woman and her partner have been trying to get pregnant and then do, but she suddenly decides it's inconvenient to be pregnant right then (perhaps she has an opportunity to go on a cruise) and so decides to have an abortion. This case seems to me similar in some ways to the one you describe. And one might find such an act morally objectionable without thinking, quite generally, that (early) abortion is morally objectionable.

I agree with everything Richard Heck says, but let me add more, recycling points I've made before in responding to other questions about abortion.

Consider the following "gradualist" view: As the humanzygote/embryo/foetus slowly develops, its death slowly becomes a more serious matter.At the very beginning, its death is of little consequence; as time goeson, its death is a matter it becomes appropriate to be gradually more concernedabout.

Now, note that this view seems to be the one that most of us in fact do take about the naturaldeath of human zygotes/embryos/foetuses. After all, very few of us areworried by the fact that a very high proportion of conceptions quite spontaneouslyabort: we don't campaign for medical research to reduce that rate (and opponents of abortion don't campaign for all women to take drugs to suppress natural early abortion). Compare: we do think it is a matter for moral concern that there arehigh levels of infant mortality in some countries, and campaign and give money to help reduce that rate. Again, very few of us are scandalized if a woman who finds she is pregnantby mistake in a test one week after conception is then pleased when shediscovers that the pregnancy has naturally terminated a few days later (and even has a drink with a girl friend to celebrate her escape). Compare: we would find it morally very inappropriate, in almost all circumstances, for a woman in comfortable circumstances to celebrate the death of an unwanted young baby.

Similarly for accidental death. Suppose a woman finds she is a weekpregnant, goes horse riding, falls badly at a jump, andas a result spontaneously aborts. That might be regrettable, but we wouldn't thinkshe'd done something terrible by going riding and running the risk. Compare: we would be morally disapproving of someone badly risking the life of new born by carrying it while going in for some potentially very dangerous activity.)

So: our very widely shared attitudes to the natural or accidentaldeath of the products of conception do suggest that we do in fact regard themas of relatively lowly moral status at the beginning of their lives,and of greater moral standing as time passes. We are gradualists in these cases. It would be quite consistentwith such a view to take a similar line about unnaturaldeaths. For example, it would be consistent to think thatusing the morning-after pill is of no moral significance, whilebringing about the death of an eight month foetus is getting on for asserious as killing a neonate, with a gradual increase in theseriousness of the killing in between.

Some, at any rate, of those of us who are pro (early) choice are moved by this sort of gradualist view. The line of thought in sum is: the killing of an early foetus has a moral weight commensurate with the moral significance of the natural or accidental death of an early foetus. And on a very widely shared view, that's not very much significance. From this point of view, early abortion is of not very much significance either. And abortion gradually gets a more significant matter as time goes on.

You might disagree. But then it seems that you either need to depart from a widely shared view about the moral significance of the natural or accidental miscarriage of the early products of conception. Or you need to have an argument for the view that while the natural death of a zygote a few days old is of little significance, the unnatural death is of major significance. Neither line is easy to argue. So it certainly isn't obvious that early abortion is "horrifically unethical".

We can agree though that killing a neonate is, in general, a very bad thing. So the remaining question is how to scale the cases in between. That's something that serious and thoughtful people can disagree about to some extent. Though note it is a disagreement about matters of degree.

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