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Abortion is morally wrong

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/4/2015 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 570 times Debate No: 78380
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (4)
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Abortion - the deliberate termination of a human pregnancy

It is my position that an unborn child is a human being, and therefore, by virtue of his/her common humanity, has the inalienable right to life. Furthermore, there is nothing fundamentally different about an unborn child (in any stage of its development) that would be considered 'sufficient conditions' for stripping that right to life away. Therefore, abortion is the deliberate killing of a human being and is just as morally impermissible as taking the life of any other human being.


I just logged on and realised I had 3 minutes left. I will therefore outline my case quickly, and proceed to extend on my case in the next round. May I remind PRO that no new arguments should be brought up in the final round.

My case consists of three aspects: that the fetus in question is not a human being, that the baby is inherently part of the mother's body, and that, presuming that both do not stand, there are exceptional cases in which abortion is morally permissible.

I would also like to point out that PRO has not taken the liberty to define what a 'human' is, and simply states that "it is his position" that an unbord child is a human being. I shall therefore define 'human' as any creature that has the capacity to live and survive outside of the womb. Sources will come later.

Thank you and I await PRO's response
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you for your initial outline. Before I do anything, I want to clearly define human, as I find your definition to be far from sufficient. If we define human as "any creature that has the capacity to live and survive outside of the womb", then surely this includes a whole host of creatures which are obviously not human. This definition doesn't specify what type of womb, nor any conditions for the creatures that are distinct to humans. Surely, even a pig, or a cow, or an insect meets this definition. Therefore, the definition I will be using will be a standard biological definition of human. I choose this definition because it seems to me that whether a fetus is human or not is a scientific question. Being as human itself is technically a looser term for the scientific name Homo Sapien, the following definition is the one I'll use.

Human - A bipedal primate belonging to the genus Homo, especially Homo Sapien (1)
Murder - The unjustified killing of one human being by another
Unborn - The stages of mammalian life from conception until the moment prior to birth (in the context of this debate I will be referring to the unborn of human mothers)
Life - According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, life is, “a material complex or individual characterized by the capacity to perform certain functional activities, including metabolism, growth, reproduction, and some form of responsiveness and adaptation.”

In this first round, my intention is to present my main argument in detail. If room remains, I will also begin addressing your case.

Main Argument

My main argument can be easily summarized into an easy syllogism with two premises and a conclusion. It is as follows:

P1: A human being has the right to live, in virtue of his/her common humanity. It is wrong to murder a human being.
P2: From the moment of conception, the unborn are human beings.
C: The unborn have the right to live in virtue of their common humanity. It is wrong to murder the unborn.

P1: A human being has the right to live/It is wrong to murder a human being

I will not spend very much time on this first premise, because I am going to assume you will not be contesting this one. What I will say is that murder, as defined, is the unjustified killing of another human being. This implies that there are in fact cases where the killing of a human being could be morally permissible. I think such cases exist, and some examples include self-defense and possibly during war. In the context of abortion, I think there also are exceptions that follow the same principles. For example, the abortion of an unborn child that will kill the mother, is self defense and I find perfectly justified. In other words, any exception to "abortion is morally wrong" will, and should, follow the very same principles for the exceptions for killing any human being after birth.

P2: From the moment of conception, the unborn are human beings.

Now, I was very surprised to see in your original outline that you will be defending the position that the fetus or unborn is not human. I am surprised because this goes completely against the mainstream view in science. In fact, there is very little contention in embryology as to whether a zygote/embryo/fetus is human. Its a scientific question, and its been answered. Dr. Robert George, author of the book Embryo, states that:

“...In human reproduction, when sperm joins ovum, these two individual cells cease to be, and their union generates a new and distinct organism. This organism is a whole, though in the beginning developmentally immature, member of the human species. Readers need not take our word for this: They can consult any of the standard human-embryology texts, such as Moore and Persaud’s The Developing Human, Larsen’s Human Embryology, Carlson’s Human Embryology & Developmental Biology, and O’Rahilly and Mueller’s Human Embryology & Teratology.”

Now, I will lay out in more detail the main reasons this is in fact the mainstream view:

i. Its Alive
After conception, human embryos exhibit all of the features listed in our definition of life. A fertilized embryo already carries out the process of metabolism. It grows and develops from within. It responds to stimuli and mantains homeostasis. Lastly, it contains the genetic potential for reproduction. You may argue that reproductive potential isn't enough, but surely genetic potential is sufficient, for even a four year old boy/girl cannot yet reproduce, but is without a doubt alive.
ii. Its a Unique (Separate from the mother) Organism
One might be able to argue that a fetus or embryo is dependent upon the mother, but one cannot possibly hold water with the claim that the fetus is part of the mother. Science helps us make that distinction quite clearly. A fertilized human embryo has its own unique genetic human signature that is different than that of either of its parents. Furthermore, this genetic code is literally directing the self-development of the unborn. An embyo, therefore, is already a separate and unique human being with its own unique genetic code directing its growth and development. One might say "but its dependent on the mother", but to be dependent upon your environment (in this case the mother) is not something unique to a fetus. We too, need a particular environment to continue living. But like our environment, the mother is not actively assembling the new organism within her, rather the organism is assembling itself from within while only giving/taking resources and waste to and from the mother. From a genetic and biological standpoint, the fetus is completely unique from the mother, and completely human.
iii. A Philosophical Argument
Philosophically, we have more good reasons to think that the unborn are human. There is nothing about the unborn that is sufficiently different to strip them of their humanity. Things like size, level of development, environment (location), degree of dependency, or anything else, are not essential features of what it means to be a human being. It is my contention that if any of those types of features are used as a basis to consider a fetus not human, the same argument could be used for humans after birth. One example would be the development of sentience. If exhibiting sentience is the qualification for being human, then one must consider a temporarily (and reversibly) comatose person who may not be able to experience pain or anything of the sort. Arguing that this person has 'lost their humanity' would be absurd. The point is, any feature such as this that you choose ends up being arbitrary and non-essential to what it means to be human, and therefore ends up arguing for too much. Going down that route ends up with you ruling out people we know to be human beings - absurd conclusions. There is nothing sufficiently different about the unborn that would strip it of its humanity.

C: The unborn have the right to live in virtue of their common humanity. It is wrong to murder the unborn.

I've shown that the fetus/embyo is in fact a human being both scientifically and philosophically, contrary to your contention that the "fetus is not a human being". I've shown that scientifically, the fetus/embryo is a genetically and biologically unique organism that is growing and self-developing from within. Furthermore, I've given good arguments to show that being dependent upon the mother is not the same as being part of the mother. This is all contrary to your contention that "the mother is...part of the mother's body". And lastly, I've stated that their are exceptional circumstances which is perfectly compatible with my position.

I look forward for your response.


5. The Ethics of Abortion: Women's Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice by Christopher Kaczor


Thank you to PRO for your arguments. I decline PRO's amendment of the definition of 'human', as that should have been done so in the first round. It is clear that PRO was fully aware of the term 'human' as he/she attempts to make a clarification on said term in the first round, but never officially defined it like he/she did with the term of 'abortion'. To waive your right to define a term means you hand this privilege over to CON, and for him/her to change the definition at this stage of the debate means is unfair on me as I have joined this debate under false pretences. Please do not take this personally, it is not my intention to come off as hostile.

I will now clarify on what I meant by "surviving outside the womb".

Human: When a fetus is capable of surviving outside of the mother's womb, typically around 20 to 28 weeks after gestation [1]

The reason for such a definition is that this is the most common criterion that laws concerning abortion abide by. At this stage, the baby will have developed all organs necessary and matured all organ systems necessary to survive outside of the womb. This is also the period of time where the baby starts to acquire the capacity to feel pain [2]. If we correlate this with the definition of 'life' and draw a parallel with other aspects of the human body, we start to see why this is a relevant definition for this motion.

Criterion 1: Survival outside the womb

Without the capability to survive outside the womb, the baby can only be characterised as another organ within the mother's body that just so happens to have a separate set of DNA from the rest. Separate DNA alone, as PRO tries to argue, is not enough to justify a human life. Practices such as kissing or sharing a drink with someone else would result in us ingesting substances containing foreign DNA, and organ transplant patients have entire organs with foreign DNA within them, but we never hear stories of people claiming to be pregnant from those practices.

Organs cannot function outside of the human body, in much the same way as how fetuses are unable to continue developing when deprived of the hospitality of their mother's womb. Organs are biologically attached within the human body like fetuses, and organs are self-contained like fetuses. To argue that the termination of pregnancy is a murder is to argue that, a) organ failure is a suicidal act, and b) all organs are individual lives in and of themselves. I invite PRO to do so.

Criterion 2: Ability to feel pain

The ability to feel pain is an important marker. An entity that is treated or handled with respect to its capacity to feel pain is an indicator that said entity is perceived to be esteemed and humanised. One very clear example of such is that vegetarianism is fueled by the notion that animals face a gruesome and painful death when they are slaughtered for their meat, and that vegetarians will only eat meat under the condition that the animals are slaughtered humanely and that they die a peaceful and painless death. Other examples include the advocacy for painless methods of execution to be used for those on death row, and policies enforcing the use of painless methods in animal testing.

With 'pain' confirmed as a yardstick for something that is deserving of humane treatment, whether it be a person or animal, it is only morally consistent with the status quo that one would consider 'pain' to be a valid criterion for what it means to be a human. A fetus that can feel pain should have that capacity accounted for, while a fetus that cannot sense pain is not a 'human' or, for that matter, a 'living creature', and subsequently not eligible for the humane treatment that it would otherwise be entitled to.

On PRO's case

PRO argues that "from the moment of conception, the unborn are human beings". That is far from the truth. Zygotes are identical, by nature, to any other cell in the body, in terms of their cell structure and functionings, and in terms of the fact that they're dependent on the greater human body to survive. Both zygotes and other cells fulfill the specifications of life as defined by PRO (metabolism, growth, reproduction, responsiveness/adaptation). In that case, I could be committing massacres simply by scratching my arm or pulling out a hair or two as I have effectively terminated the 'lives' of millions of skin and hair cells. Thus, we can disprove the argument that personhood should be defined by life or the status of being alive, and that personhood is not granted from the moment of conception.

PRO also tries to refute my definition of 'human' by pointing out that humans are dependent on their surroundings just as how fetuses rely on the womb to survive. I am in no way against this, but I would like to shed light on the fact that no one disputes one's status of being human when one is in a different country or out in space. Thus, this point bears no relevance.

Leaving the definition behind

EVEN IF we disregard all of the above and grant PRO his/her belated definition, we still see that there are cases of abortion which can be labelled as morally permissible. This is actually conceded by PRO him/herself when he/she says "This implies that there are in fact cases where the killing of a human being could be morally permissible".

Despite PRO's concession, I will proceed to justify one abortion case which is morally justified: when the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. This is a case where, from a utilitarian perspective, it is perfectly justified to terminate the pregnancy and kill the baby in an effort to save the life of the mother. The philosophical dilemma one faces when encountering a life-threatening pregnancy is as follows:

1. No course of action is taken, the mother dies, and along with her, the fetus dies, or;
2. The pregnancy is terminated, the fetus will die, but the mother will live.

In both instances, the child has been fated by the pregnancy to die, but the mother has the option to live. It is then, pragmatically speaking, logical to opt for the second option in an attempt to save the mother's life, on the premise that it is better to save one life than to lose two. This is in no way a manifestation of valuing the mother's life over the fetus' (both under the assumption that the fetus is a human and not), nor is it, in any way, unfairly delegating the fault of such a lethal adversity on the fetus. It is simply acknowledgement that it is ethical to save the mother when there is no way to save the fetus.

Thank you PRO for a wonderful debate thus far and I await your response.


Debate Round No. 2


CON, I am sorry about the misunderstanding with concerning definitions, this is my first debate on here so I am not yet familiar with how these go. I don't consider you to be hostile, however I do find it rather convenient the definition provided essentially defines human as essentially the age by which the fetus acquires the capacity to feel pain, and you do this prior to actually making your argument as to why the ability to feel pain should be our yardstick for what it means to be human. Nonetheless, it was my mistake, I'll address your arguments in order.

My Response to: Criterion 1: Survival outside the womb:

You claim that because the baby cannot survive outside of the womb, it therefore is no different than any other organ within the mother's body. However, as I stated in in my opening arguments, an unborn baby is a completely unique and distinct, self-developing organism. It is not merely a part of the mother's body. You say that DNA alone is not enough to justify a human life, however, I clearly argued that it is not DNA alone, but a unique genetic code combined with the fact that the organism is unique, distinct, and self-developing from within. The example given by CON concering kissing and swapping DNA, nor the organ example, meet those combined qualities.

So is it viability that makes the unborn baby human? But I ask CON, how could it? How is it that the protection of the womb and the nourishment of the umbilical cord are morally significant? As I also mentioned in my opening arguments, things like shelter, nutrients, and oxygen are environmental needs that are no different than those needed by a fully matured human being. The only difference is the method by which these things are delivered. CON, when addressing PRO's case, tries to declare this point moot because "no one disputes one's status of being human when one is in a different country...". This however, completely misses my point, which was to say that no matter what location a human is, like the fetus, they too are not 'viable' without some sort of external aid from our environment. We too, like a fetus, are not able to live on only from within ourselves, and therefore would render us not viable, so again, CON is arguing for too much here.

So, if my arguments succeed in showing that the fetus is not merely a part of the mother, but in fact a distinct, living, growing organism, then both (a) and (b) stating rather ridiculous conclusions, simply would not follow. If CON still does not concede that the fetus is not a part of the mother, I'd point out an odd predicament that CON's view will inevitably lead to. As Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft points out, “if the fetus is a part of the mother, then the parts of the fetus must be parts of the mother. But in that case, every pregnant woman has four eyes and four feet, and half of all pregnant women have penises!” [1] I eagerly invite CON to try to uphold this view.

My Resonse to: Criterion 2: Ability to feel pain

I do not disagree with CON's underlying assumption that causing pain should be avoided when it comes to sentient beings. Causing less pain when possible, in the case of those on death row, is also usually considered morally better than causing more pain. However, where CON fails is in equating the ability to feel said pain to one's humanity. Pointing out that we humanize animals presumably because they feel pain actually works against CON's own argument in that animals also have the ability to feel pain, yet are obviously not human. Therefore it seems intuitively obvious that it is not the ability to feel pain that makes one human.

Furthermore, in my opening I made an argument as to why the ability to feel pain, or sentience, is not a sufficient condition to strip a fetus, or anything else for that matter, of its humanity. I offered an example describing a temporarily (and reversibly) comatose person who may not be able to experience pain or anything of the sort, yet killing this person would be morally wrong. One could suffocate this person to death, and they would not feel any pain or experience the event. But does this make it right?

It is here in which I think it is appropriate to inform CON of the difference between hurting and harming. You can harm someone/something without hurting it. So even if you aren't causing physical pain to an unborn child when it is aborted, I would strongly argue you are harming it. And like I said, an embryo's immaturity (in that its yet to be completely sentient) is not a sufficient reason to strip it of its human right to life.

So it seems to me that CON has to answer why the ability to feel pain is a necessary condition to be considered human when human beings after birth can and in many cases have been in situations where they cannot feel pain. CON also then has to answer why harming someone, in the case of a comatose patient for example, is not morally wrong unless they feel the pain.

My Response to: On PRO's case

CON tries to point out that my claim that the unborn are human from conception is "far from the truth" because zygotes are identical to any other cell in the body. CON however failed to address the fact that I stated in my opening arguments that from conception, the zygote has its own genetic code which has already begun directing its growth from within. Cells, in of themselves, do not exhibit this unique behavior. The question I would want to put forward to PRO is, if the zygote is not human, then what is it? Genetically, it has its own unique human DNA which drives its growth and development from conception. These words - zygote, embryo, fetus are really only words to describe the stage of developent of a human being. To claim that a human zygote is not human is like saying a human teenager is not human - its just a teenager. Its simply fallacious.

Although I showed why cells are not the same as a zygote, CON tries to show that I will make the ridiculous conclusion that scratching my arm would then be considered genocide. But again, it seems abundantly obvious in this case that a cell is in fact merely a part of a human being. While it may contain the genetic code of the human being, it is not in the process of growing and maturing into a fully functioning human being. Furthermore, as Diane Irving point out, "[the] zygote is characteristic of the last phase of fertilization and is identified by the first cleavage spindle. It is a unicellular embryo and is a highly specialized cell." [2] So its simply not true that it is identical to any other cell.

Lastly, CON points out that I concede to there being 'justified' abortions in cases where the pregnancy threatens the mother's life. I have, in fact conceded this, but I do want to stress that these exceptions in which I concede to are exceptions that follow the very same principles which allow for exceptions for killing a fully matured human being - in the case mentioned by CON, the principle of self defense. However, even though there are these exceptions, it can still be said that murdering a human being is morally wrong because if the killing of another human being is justified, then by definition, it is not murder. I can therefore hold this position while still holding the position that murdering an unborn child is morally wrong as well. I suppose if I made one mistake in my original contention is was that I should have qualified it by saying "Abortion is morally wrong in most cases".

Thank you CON very much for a very stimulating debate and I hope my first stab at debating in this style hasn't been too difficult to work with. I greatly appreciate your participation and your ability to both properly engage with my arguments (rather than dodge them) as well as your professionalism. I hope to debate you again in other topics.




Thank you, PRO, for such a fruitful debate. I will be defending your advances in their respective order.

Defense for Criterion 1: Survival outside the womb

PRO talks of how a fetus is 'unique, distinct, and self-developing', but does not continue to describe how that is the case. I could just as easily say that the liver is unique and distinct from other organs, and self-developing at the same time as it, like a fetus, grows with time and nourishment. Therefore, I fail to see how PRO's criterion of DNA combined with 'unique, distinct, and self-developing' holds up.

Allow me to rephrase the importance of viability as a threshold between murder and not murder. One of the main incentives behind abiding by the law is the mutual, sort of quid pro quo social contract of behavioural equilibrium. This is what gives weight to the consequences of not abiding by said laws and regulations. To translate that into the context of this debate, people do not kill or inflict suffering on others is because for fear that they may get a taste of their own medicine by the people they are targeting. Similarly, a baby that is capable of surviving outside of the womb, and, by that stage, able to be aware of its surroundings, is eligible for this social contract as he/she hypothetically has the ability to emulate the act of killing a human being. Therefore, it is only coherent to argue that viability is the criterion to define the personhood of a fetus.

I have never denied, in accordance to my line of logic, that pregnant women have four eyes, four feet, and for some, penises. In fact, I thank PRO for this insightful remark and welcome this new perspective on the body parts of pregnant women. This is in no way a refutation of my case.

Defense for Criterion 2: Ability to feel pain

When I say that animals receive humane treatment due to their ability to feel pain, I am not making specific reference to the fact that animals are animals and not humans, but rather, alluding to the respect that they are treated with and perceived as when in the hands of humans. I argue that this humane treatment can be contrasted with the inhumane treatment of killing a fetus, which, in many respects (viability, consciousness, responsiveness), is identical to that of an animal. Therefore, I extend by saying that if a fetus can be paralleled to an animal in terms of the characteristics that give it its personhood, then that gives all the more reason for it to be considered a human based off of the criterion of 'pain'.

I acknowledge that sentience is an insufficient criterion for humanity, but it must be pointed out that there is a fine line between 'pain' and 'sentience'. Sentience is subjective, and pain, while ostensibly subjective, is actually objective and quantifiable. Sentience is the ability to feel and perceive, but even these two terms are ambiguous, and even if we came to an agreement on what an individual needs to be able to feel and perceive in order to be sentient, it is still a daunting challenge to try and exactly lay down the boundaries for when an individual is truly feeling or perceiving something and when they are not. Pain, on the other hand, can be objectively measured with neurological signatures [1], and for the same reason, there is no dispute as to what qualifies as 'pain' and what does not. Thus, the sentient argument cannot be used in the context of my criterion.

In response to your comatose patient contention, I would like to highlight the fact that some comatose patients do in fact feel pain [2]. There is no dispute as to their viability. Thus, this leads us to the conclusion that some comatose patients can be, relative to my two criterion, classified as human. PRO's contention is that ALL comatose patients do not feel pain hence ALL patients do not qualify as humans under my criteria, thus I have rebutted this point.

Defense for On Pro's Case

PRO tries to differentiate a zygote from any other cell because it has the potential to develop into a full-fledged human being. Once again, I do not contend this. For one, a unique genetic code alone (seeing that PRO here has not mentioned anything about 'self-development and 'uniqueness'), as I have said in the previous round, is not enough to warrant a human life. Moreover, we can only judge something and classify something based on their current status, our scope cannot be stretched to accommodate for what these things could potentially be. To put this in perspective, one would not argue that two cows were different in the sense that they are cows just because Cow A is going to be turned into steak and Cow B is not. It does not matter if a zygote is a specialised or developmental cell, it is a cell at the end of the day. Thus, my correlation between killing a zygote and scratching one's harm or pulling out one's hair still stands.

Onto the issue of exceptional cases of abortion where abortion is justified. With reference to the motion, PRO has to prove that ALL cases of abortion, regardless of the moral implications, regardless of the circumstances, and regardless of the status of the fetus, is morally wrong. The burden of proof of my side of the house is to bring up and uphold the moral permissibility of at least one case where abortion is justified, which I have done so and is a burden that is not challenged by PRO. Strictly speaking, even if I am not granted a win in terms of my criterion for personhood, I have successfully negated the motion. For PRO to win on the basis of the content he/she has provided, the motion would have to be worded something along the lines of: "In some cases, abortion can be ruled as a justifiable murder", as PRO recognises him/herself.

PRO argues that the motion should still stand based off of the fact that the killing of the fetus in the exceptional case of a life-threatening pregnancy should not be classified as 'murder' for the reason that it is a justified killing. I beg to differ for three reasons. Firstly, PRO has never explicitly stated that his yardstick for 'morally wrong' is whether the act of abortion is a murder or not. If he/she wishes to use that as a yardstick, then PRO should have defined the phrase 'morally wrong' in the first round as such. Secondly, no major dictionary source defines murder to be an act of unjustified killing. An overwhelming number of dictionaries, contrarily, define the term to be the unlawful killing of a human being (, Oxford, Cambridge, Merriam-Webster). PRO needs to tell us, a) why unlawful is equivalent to unjustified, or b) why his definition overrides that of those in dictionary in terms of credibility and legitimacy, seeing that PRO has cited sources for just about every term he/she has defined with the exception of 'murder'. Thirdly, PRO has yet to demonstrate why the exceptional case of killing of the fetus in the instance of a life-threatening pregnancy is or should not be considered abortion. Seeing that PRO has not done so, it can only be said, in the simplest of ways, that because said exceptional case is a form of abortion, and that because both sides of the house evidently agree that it is morally justified, that there cases of morally permissible abortions do exist. In other words, the motion stands and stands on the agreement of both sides.

Once again, big thanks to PRO for the most thought-provoking debate I've had in a while, and to those who vote on this debate.


Debate Round No. 3
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by cathaystewie 1 year ago
Most debates concerning abortion are centered around exceptional cases like life-threatening pregnancies and PTSD incidents and the ethical principles like whether the mother's needs should be prioritised over that of the baby's life and whether the mother has the right to abort. In this debate however we argued on relevant and sufficient criterion for personhood, which would then go on to determining the morality of abortion based on whether we are terminating the life of a person or merely that of a foetus. So I do believe that this was a rather uncommon but eye-opening debate, for the both of us at least.
Posted by UNOWN301 1 year ago

Really? I thought we hit on some pretty interesting and in-depth stuff that most debates never get into. What do you think @cathaystewie?
Posted by Greg4586 1 year ago
These debates are practically the same exact thing every damn time.
Posted by UNOWN301 1 year ago
Well its unfortunate to see no one is voting on this debate. I'm still fairly new to the site, but after taking look around I feel like we have offered one of the higher quality conversations on here. Either way, the debate was definitely worth having.
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