The Instigator
Pro (for)
8 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
0 Points

Abortion is Morally Permissible/Ethical

Do you like this debate?NoYes+2
Add this debate to Google Add this debate to Delicious Add this debate to FaceBook Add this debate to Digg  
Post Voting Period
The voting period for this debate has ended.
after 2 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/24/2010 Category: Politics
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,344 times Debate No: 12129
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (2)
Votes (2)




This debate will consist of 3 debating rounds. The first round will be used for my opponent to indicate that he/she has accepted the debate.

I have no particular preference for format but I will be leading off and I hope my opponent will response in a format that is easy to follow and refer back to.

If my opponent has any questions concerning what is meant by the resolution or a preferred interpretation, he/she can address this in the first round.


I accept Grapes challenge, and take the "Con" side, or the side arguing that Abortion is morally wrong and unethical. You mentioned earlier Grape that any questions could be posed during this first round. I therefore submit the following questions for clarification.

Is there a specific time that the abortion takes place? (i.e. Late Term Abortion) Or we speaking of abortion generally?

Is there a base line for morals and or ethics? Do we define them by societal norms and opinions, religions, or specific cultural feelings? Or are definitions of "moral" and "ethical" open to debate?
Debate Round No. 1


Resolved: Abortion should be legal.

Introduction: I am going to clear up a few details immediately. One argument that has been used against abortion to the point of becoming ubiquitous in such debates is that there is little significant difference between the mental or physiological status of a fetus days prior to birth and an infant days after birth. This is used against the traditional liberal argument that the significant moral break in the development of the fetus occurs with its biological separation with the mother. For the most part I do not accept the liberal argument, but that in and of itself does not help to refute the resolution that abortion should be legal. If it is ethical to abort a pregnancy after a certain point in development, then it was still at some point ethical to abort . To make an analogy, the fact that it is illegal to drive while intoxicated does not support the resolution that driving is illegal. All actions can be can be subject to circumstance. To address my opponent's question more straightforwardly, I am talking about any form of abortion, not just late term abortion.

Moving on to the definition of ethics: I do not believe ethics are subject to popular opinion or cultural standards. These metrics have never been particularly accurate in proving anything. My preferred method of determine ethics is that ethical actions promote certain priorities which I deemed favorable. I consider it favorable to increase the pleasure and freedom of people. Something which advances this cause will be considered ethical unless my opponent can provide alternate priorities and demonstrate that they are more important.

Argument 1: A Fetus Is Not A Person

I will first thank Freeman for using this source in this debate as I find it to be extremely useful. Mary Anne Warren defines a person as having five principle characteristics: consciousness, rationality, self-motivation, the capacity to communicate, and self-concepts. It is commonly accepted in the study of bioethics that these traits or more important thank simply the status of being human. An undefined and ill understood genetic code is an invalid criteria for determining moral status. The mental characteristics cited by Warren are far more important.

Now,it is clear that a human fetus does not possess these characteristics. Therefore it is not a person and killing it would not violate the ethical priority of increasing the pleasure and freedom of people. In much the same way, it is ethical to kill animals under certain conditions. A human fetus is morally much like an animal in that though it is living it lacks key mental traits that would elevate it to the status of a person. In much the same way, rocks do not have rights because they also lack these traits.

I am not arguing for the wanton killing of fetuses any more than I would argue for the wanton killing of animals. However, animals generally are killed whenever it is favorable or convenient to do so. I cannot see why an unthinking, unfeeling developing fetus would be treated any differently simply due to it's genetic status of being human. I think this suffices to demonstrate that the actual killing of a fetus is not wrong. Therefore, as long as someone had a reason to do so it would be an ethical action.

I may bring in addition arguments later in the debate but I believe this alone, if defended sufficiently, is enough to demonstrate that abortion is ethical.


Introduction: Thank to Grape for continuing the debate and posting his arguments. I accept his clarification of the Resolution, and accept his explanation of ethics and morals as one side of a multifaceted concept. In Grape's introduction he mentions the legality of abortion numerous times. As this is not mentioned in the Resolution, I will assume that these statements are just part of Grapes standered opening comments. If infact Grape intended to discuss the legality of abortion, then I concede that abortion should be legal.

Arguement 1:
"One argument that has been used against abortion to the point of becoming ubiquitous in such debates is that there is little significant difference between the mental or physiological status of a fetus days prior to birth and an infant days after birth."

While this arguement may be common, I attribute it's populairty to it's convincing arguement. While Grape takes the iniative to refute this point, I find his rational a bit lacking. For example, Grape proposes this analogy:

"...the fact that it is illegal to drive while intoxicated does not support the resolution that driving is illegal. All actions can be can be subject to circumstance."

I believe that for Grape to make the arguement that abortion is morally permisible because fetuses are not people defined by the criteria propsed by Mary Anne Warren. Thus a human must have "consciousness, rationality, self-motivation, the capacity to communicate, and self-concepts." However as previously stated by Grape, it is the Cons position that the concious and meaningful difference between a fetus and a very young infant are negligable. Therefore by saying that abortion is morally permissable, so is infanticide. And while Grape proposes this analogy to refute that connection, it is the Con's position that this analogy is lacking. The major point made by Grape is that there is a clear and distinct difference between fetuses and humans. His analogy by contrast makes no differentiation between the two events. As I have understood his analogy, (And I may have interpreted incorrectly.) he is saying that while killing a baby might be illegal, circumstances (Such as the object being murdered is a fetus as opposed to a devolped human) make certain actions legal. But since both fetuses and young infants fall into the same group as defined by Grape's terms, killing either a fetus or young infant should not be treated differently legally or morally. To apply mathmatical logic, Grape's position is that it is ethical to abort a fetus. Since very young infants also fail to meet Grape's proposed burden for defining sentient humans, they are equivelent to fetuses and animals. Since it's morally acceptable to abort a fetus, and young infants are equivelent to fetuses, the logical interpretation of Grape's position is that he/she supports the abortion of both fetuses and very young infants. While this may the logical conclusion to Grape's position, I would guess (Correct me if I'm mistaken Grape) that Grape does not condone the killing of infants. Infanticide, regardless of motivation, is seen as morally reprehensible by society. Under Grape's criteria however fetuses and young infants both fail to meet the proposed burden and therefore fall into the same group as animals.

Arguement 2:

Grape's proposed burden for the definition of a sentient being is very good, and I accept it as the criteria to be used throuhout the debate. Under those criteria, fetuses do not count as human beings and therefore are not eligible to be taken into account in his/her definition of ethics. Society however routinely treats these non sentient beings as potential for human life. In fact, much of our political policy is dedicated to preserving the happiness and freedom of these future generations. Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum argue that the National Debt should be reduced so it's not passed onto future generations. Much of our enviormental policy is shaped by the beilef that we must preserve the earth for future children. Grape's proposed ethics then suggest that current humans, to be as ethical as possible, should increase the happiness of only living sentient adults. Thus to increase social mobility and economic freedom, we should overfish fisheries to lower seafood prices, stop pursuing alternative energies and only focus on keeping gas prices low, overfarm land to end world hunger. Obviouslly these actions are morally ireprhensible, but Grape has proposed that future generations, as they are unborn and non-sentient are not deserving of considertion in our ethics. Thus I propose the follwoing question: If the unborn and non-sentient beings are not deserving of our ethical considerations, then why not attempt to make ever sentient devolped adult in the world as happy and free as possible? By Grape's definition of ethics, this exploitation of our resources with no consideration of futer generations, is the most ethical thing we can do.
Debate Round No. 2


Introduction: I apologize for my use of the word legal. I previously had a debate over the legality of abortion (not the ethics) and got into the habit of using the word. It was my intent to say ethical instead. Moving on...

Argument 1:

Let me clarify what I meant by this explanation: I do not necessarily believe that abortion must be ethical up until the moment of birth in order to be ethical at all or that the separation of the mother from the child is the significant turning point in the development of the child. I am willing to accept that abortion my be unethical after a certain point prior to birth as the fetus becomes increasing indistinguishable from an infant. However, this would not change the fact that abortion is at some point ethical after fertilization.

My intent in using the driving analogy was thus: driving may be unethical under certain circumstances (the driver is intoxicated and poses a risk to others) but this does not make the overall act of driving unethical. Abortion may be illegal under certain circumstances (the fetus's mind has developed sufficiently to qualify it as a person) but that does not mean abortion under any circumstances is unethical. In other words, I am willing to grant that abortion may be unethical under certain conditions, but the act itself can be considered ethical. How late or if at all abortion must be considered unethical depending on the stage of the pregnancy is a subject for another debate; here we are only discussing if it is ethical at all.

Now, when I say that the cognitive difference between a late fetus and a very young infant is significant, that should be taken to mean that it may not be ethical to abort a very late fetus. This does not, however, make all abortions unethical. I'm not going to go through my opponent's paragraph and refute each misunderstanding on a point by point basis as they all return to the fact that this initial analogy may not have been entirely clear. However, there are some points that are worth addressing:

"Since very young infants also fail to meet Grape's proposed burden for defining sentient humans, they are [sic] equivelent to fetuses and animals."

This is an interesting contention. A very young infant possesses self motivation (though not goal-driven behavior) and it possesses self concepts (that is, it is aware of its own existence), and is conscious. It certainly does not possess the ability to communicate or to reason. At around the age of one month the ability to reason (understanding of cause and effect) and communicate (forming the mouth into word-shapes) is typically present. These traits may be displayed earlier or later. I would say that it is very difficult to say whether a newborn could be considered a person, but by a few weeks after birth it likely will be. In the interest of ambiguity it would not be safe to say that an infant more than a few days out can be killed ethically without further understanding of infant cognition. However, the subject of infanticide is for another debate. Rest assured any infant not considered a person under my definition would be very, very young. As stated above, I would be willing to consider even very late fetuses people simply due to the ambiguity of exactly what can be considered communication and rationality. However, immature fetuses do not even come close to meeting any of these standards and within the first two trimesters there is absolutely no ambiguity surrounding this issue.

I will also note that certain animals may be on the border of being considered people due to the slightly ambiguous nature of what is meant by rationality, communication, and self-concepts. It may have been a mistake to lump all non-human animals in this group, but once again that is the subject for another debate. I would like to stress that I do not mean for the status of "personhood" to be terribly exclusive, it needs not be because immature fetuses do not come close to meeting any of the standards.

Argument 2:

There is a relevant distinction between protecting the individual rights of an already existing fetus and planning ahead for the abstraction that is the future. This argument seems to arise from a very common misunderstanding of the difference between reasoning based on potentiality (which often leads to logical mistakes) and simply planning ahead.

Planning ahead means that we take actions based on what we expect the future to be or take actions to alter the future that extend beyond our immediate and direct understanding of cause and effect. I don't think many people will contest that this is a logical mode of reasoning, much less my opponent who has provided many great (but irrelevant) examples of how we should plan ahead.

Planning ahead with regards to a pregnancy would be buying infant-care products in anticipation of the birth of the child (or not buying them in anticipation of an abortion as the case may be). However, potentiality is quite different. Potentiality (as it applies to abortion) means granting the fetus the rights it will have as a child. However, treating the infant like a child (as it may be in the future) in any other regard would seem hopelessly insane. You would not try to but diapers on a fetus or feed it. This may seem like an insane analogy, but the use of potentiality as an argument in this way is truly that illogical.

For the point of whether or not planning ahead ethical (that is, contributes to the freedom and pleasure of existing persons) will argue that the point of it is not to benefit future generations. We only perceive this to be the point. It is ethically because people derive satisfaction from knowing that they have provided for well-being of future generations, which may be considered important for other reasons. The actual helping of future generations is indeed ethically irrelevant. If no one wanted to plan for the future than I would argue it would not be unethical to wantonly disregard the consequences of our actions (however I would disagree with this course of action or other reasons that are not strictly moral).


Much of my opponents arguments did not really apply due to some misunderstandings, but I feel I have adequately addressed those that did. Regardless of any ambiguities regarding late fetuses or very young infants, an immature fetus is clearly not a person. How to handle the ambiguities is the subject of another debate, but for the purpose of this debate I will argue that we can safely assume late fetuses and young infants are people, just to be on the safe side. This will not change the fact that many fetuses are not people and do not have the rights thereof. The fact that they may one day become people is not strictly relevant: they are not presently people. The argument of potentiality is a logical fallacy that was disproven nearly undisputedly almost 30 years ago by Joel Feinberg in his famous article "Potentiality, Development, and Rights." There is a significant difference between arguing via potentiality and simply planning for the future. In light of all of this, the resolution has been successfully defended.


I had frequent use of the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, as well as's article on infant cognitive development.


IKeneally forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


My opponent has forfeited this round. That is unfortunate as this debate was going fairly well. All of my arguments from the previous round are extended into this round. The resolution is still successfully defended.


IKeneally forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by Ore_Ele 6 years ago
given that "morals" and "ethics" are variable from person to person, one only has to define their own morals and ethics to allow abortion. Heck there are people that believe that racism and sexism is perfectly ethical.
Posted by LLAMA 6 years ago
A fetus is not a person. If anyone believes that, then maybe we'd feel a little less "ethical" when putting criminals to death because, you know, they were of course once a fetus too and you wouldn't want to harm that poor innocent little vulnerable fetus.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Awed 6 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Agreed with after the debate:--Vote Checkmark0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:40 
Vote Placed by Grape 6 years ago
Agreed with before the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Agreed with after the debate:Vote Checkmark--0 points
Who had better conduct:Vote Checkmark--1 point
Had better spelling and grammar:--Vote Checkmark1 point
Made more convincing arguments:Vote Checkmark--3 points
Used the most reliable sources:--Vote Checkmark2 points
Total points awarded:40