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If it is illegal for a rape victim to kill the rapist after the fact, then why should it be legal for the rape victim to kill a baby that is the product of the rape? It seems to me that abortion is "vigilante justice" in a sense. This is all assuming, of course, that the unborn child is considered a living, human being. If it isn't, then why is an unborn child not then considered "evidence" to be used by a third party? I do not think an unborn child should be considered anything in between a "living human" and an "object," but please take this distinction into consideration.

January 2, 2014

Response from Stephen Maitzen on January 2, 2014
There are relevant differences between the rapist and the fetus conceived as a result of rape. If, after the fact, the rapist no longer poses a threat to the rape victim, then the victim's killing the rapist would be revenge rather than self-defense, and we normally take very different moral attitudes toward those two types of action. By contrast, the fetus still constitutes at least a burden, and perhaps also a threat, to the rape victim, and importantly a burden or threat for which the rape victim is in no way responsible. I think it's this absence of responsibility in the case of rape that makes the most important difference. Even if we assume that the fetus conceived by rape has as much intrinsic moral status as a normal five-year-old child, that wouldn't make the rape victim responsible for the fetus in a way that obligates her to allow the use of her body for its survival. There are many five-year-old children in the world for whose survival you and I aren't obligated to make highly burdensome sacrifices.
Response from Allen Stairs on January 7, 2015
My co-panelist has drawn some genuine distinctions, but I'd expect many people to find his response unconvincing overall. One obvious reason: suppose I have a five-year-old child who poses a very substantial burden to me. Perhaps the child has a physical disability that makes extensive demands on my time and money. Most of us don't think this would provide even the slightest justification for killing the child. And unless I could be very sure that the child would be cared for, it doesn't even provide a justification for abandoning the child.

Now the analogy isn't perfect. After all, the rape victim is in no way responsible for the fetus. I may have chosen to become a parent; I may have accepted responsibility for the child. But even if we grant that those a re relevant differences, they don't seem to get us very far. Suppose the child wasn't mine but had been abandoned on my doorstep. It's hardly clear that this would make enough difference to justify killing the child or abandoning it once more.

It might be that with sufficiently subtle argument, we could wring out enough differences here to distinguish the cases. But that isn't my point. My point is that on the face of it, many people will find Stephen's reply unconvincing even if it can be defended at the end of the day. What interests me is what I'm guessing is the reason: if you reallu think of fetuses and five-year-olds as on par with one another, abortion is homicide. That said, I suspect very few people really think that a fetus and a five-year-old are moral equivalents. My guess is that this goes even for people who claim otherwise. For more on this point, see Peter Smith's excellent response to a question on abortion from 2011. You can read it HERE

From your last sentence, I take it that you at least think you think of a fetus and a five-year-old as being on the same moral level. I can't say for sure that you're wrong about your own views. (And yes: we can be wrong about what we really think. That's part of the point of the concept of self-deception.) But for anyone who doesn't see things that way, this will be a big part of the reason for the distinction: killing the rapist is murder; the victim is a person. Aborting a fetus isn't murder, because a fetus isn't a person.

It wouldn't follow from this that abortion is morally trivial. And it wouldn't follow that a fetus is nothing more than an object. But I'll confess that I find the view that a fetus is a full-fledged person all but incomprehensible. There are so many actual differences between fetuses and paradigm persons, not to mention so many differences (see Peter Smith's reply) in the ways we ordinarily think about fetuses and persons that I find the conceptual gap all but unbridgeable. Perhaps that puts me at the far end of the spectrum. But I don't think there's anything at all unusual in perceiving some significant gap here, even if one isn't prepared to admit it out loud. And if there is a gap, there's a big distinction between the two cases that potentially could do the work that I think Stephen's distinctions probably can't do.


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