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Abortion under most circumstances is immoral.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 12/26/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 5 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,807 times Debate No: 28648
Debate Rounds (4)
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I wish to vote the resolution that abortion is immoral. A few terms:

Abortion -- the willful termination of a pregnancy, resulting in the death of the human embryo/fetus (so we will not be considering termination of pregnancy that does not result in the death of the embryo/fetus, such as induced delivery, or miscarriage, which is the non-willful termination of a pregnancy).

Immoral -- An act in which a moral person is not permitted to perform (I am not interested in debating whether or not morality is objective, so objective morality is assumed in this debate).

I say under most circumstances, because abortions to save the mother's life (such as in ectopic pregnancy) are not immoral. If two lives are threatened and only one can be saved, the doctor must do the greatest amount of good, which is saving the life that can be saved. I will be arguing that all other abortions are immoral.


I accept.

From the wording of your resolution, it seems if I can show that any instance of abortion where the mother's life is not threatened is not immoral, then the resolution is defeated.
Debate Round No. 1


I wish to thank Con for taking up this debate. Strictly speaking, under the wording of the resolution (that abortion in most cases is immoral), then if you were to prove that the "hard cases" of abortion were moral (e.g. rape, incest, etc.), then the resolution would not be defeated since these are rare and do not constitute "most abortions." However, as per my first around, I am arguing that all abortions, except to save the mother's life, are immoral so if you can show that any other reasons for abortion are moral, then the resolution would be defeated.

I will be defending the Substance View, as given by Francis Beckwith. [1]

1. The unborn entity, from fertilization [2], is a full-fledged member of the human community.
2. It is prima facie morally wrong to kill any member of that community.
3. Every successful abortion kills an unborn entity, a full-fledged member of the human community.
4. Therefore, every successful abortion is prima facie morally wrong. [3]

Premise 1

Embryologists, who are the experts in the field, consistently agree that life begins at fertilization. For example, from the most-used textbook on embryology, the authors note: "Although life is a continuous process, fertilization (which, incidentally, is not a 'moment') is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new genetically distinct human organism is formed when the chromosomes of the male and female pronuclei blend in the oocyte." [4]

Another embryologist has written the following: "Human development begins at fertilization, the process during which a male gamete or sperm unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell called a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual." [5]

On top of that, the more sophisticated pro-choice philosophers, like Judith Jarvis Thompson (who came up with the famous analogy of the violinist), and Peter Singer, accept the full humanity of the preborn. Peter Singer has noted, “It is possible to give ‘human being’ a precise meaning. We can use it as equivalent to ‘member of the species Homo Sapiens’. Whether a being is a member of a given species is something that can be determined scientifically, by an examination of the nature of the chromosomes in the cells of living organisms. In this sense there is no doubt that from the first moments of its existence an embryo conceived from human sperm and eggs is a human being.” [6]

Additionally, pro-choice philosopher David Boonin writes: "Perhaps the most straightforward relation between you and me on the one hand and every human fetus on the other is this: All are living members of the same species, homo sapiens. A human fetus after all is simply a human being at a very early stage in his or her development." [7]

It's simply common sense. We know the preborn are alive because they grow. Non-living and dead things don't grow. They also exhibit the other signs of life, such as metabolism and cell division. The preborn have human DNA, and they are the product of human parents. Creatures reproduce after their own kind; dogs have dogs, cats have cats, and humans have humans. At no point in human development is a member of humanity a "non-human."

This is also different from saying that a hair follicle has human DNA, so it is wrong to pluck them out. Zygotes/embryos/fetuses are unique individual humans, developing from within, made up of all the individual parts. A hair follicle must stay plugged in to the parent organism to function. However, the parent organism can still function even if he/she loses parts of their body. The zygote/embryo/fetus is a full human organism made up of individual parts of which it develops from within, not constructed like a car.

The pro-life position is that life begins at fertilization, which is supported by science. The pro-choice position places "human life" at certain arbitrary points which change from human to human. The pro-life position is the only consistent one.

Premise 2

When I say the preborn are innocent human beings, I am not talking "spiritually" innocent, but physically innocent. They have committed no crime, and certainly not anything worthy of being killed for it. The only thing they have done is exist, and in the vast majority of cases it was through a consensual action of two people. If two people engage in a consensual act that results in the creation of a new, needy human life, they bear a responsibility to care for that life.

I say that it is prima facie morally wrong to kill an unborn member of humanity because not all killing is wrong. The Substance View entails that we are the same substance that was in our mother's womb. You didn't come from an embryo, you once were an embryo. As such, if you are the same substance outside the womb as you were inside the womb, then if a morally justifiable reason is needed to kill you now, a morally justifiable reason was needed to kill you inside the womb. There is simply no difference between a human in utero and a human post utero that would justify killing one for any reason but not the other.


Every abortion takes the life of a new, unique, living member of humanity, which has an intrinsic value just based on being human. Abortions take the life of an innocent, unique human being and is therefore immoral.

My contention is that because the preborn are biological members of humanity, and killing an innocent member of humanity is prima facie wrong, then killing them through the act of abortion is immoral. If Con is to win this debate, he must show why the preborn are not members of humanity. For if they are not human, then no justification for abortion is necessary. But if they are human, then no justification for abortion is sufficient.

Thank you for reading and I look forward to Con's response.

[1] Francis J. Beckwith, Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, New York, 2007), p. xii.
[2] Beckwith argues from the "moment of conception." I have changed this to fertilization. Conception is not actually a "moment," and the process of bringing a human into existence occurs sometime during the fertilization process, even though the exact point has not yet been agreed upon (Beckwith also mentions this later in his book). So I have substituted fertilization because I feel it's slightly more accurate.
[3] It should be noted that if the Substance View succeeds, then even unsuccessful abortions are immoral since it is wrong to even attempt to take someone's life, even if the actual outcome was less than was intended (or if no harm actually arose).
[4] Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001. p. 8.
[5] Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. p. 16.

[6] Peter Singer,Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 85-86.
[7] David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003) 20.


My opponent concedes that all I have to do is show that there are cases of abortion, other than where the mother's life is threatened, which are not immoral.

Contrary to my opponent's assertion, I do not have to show that a fetus is not human. It is human because it is produced by a human. There is nothing special about this sort of humanness. It is simply a statement of the species that the organism belongs to. My opponent is trying to promote an emotional equivocation on the word "human" simply denoting a biological classification, and "humanity" in the sense of qualities or characteristics which we value. The crucial moral factor in considering abortion is not that the fetus happens to be human in the trivial sense shared by "human hair" or "human DNA". What is important is whether the fetus has rights superceding those of the woman.

Life doesn't begin at conception. Sperm and egg cells are alive. Being alive doesn't mean much. Bacteria are alive and we don't talk of giving them rights. Being alive is not a crucial factor in determining if something is a member of the human community. More importantly, being alive doesn't grant rights, nor does it guarantee that any rights should supercede those of the woman carrying the fetus.

The fact that the organism is genetically distinct is not a crucial factor in determining if something is a member of the human community either. If it were, then identical twins would not be members of the human community. More importantly, being genetically distinct doesn't grant rights, nor does it guarantee that any rights should supercede those of the woman carrying the fetus.

A fetus is not a member of the human community. It is irrevocably isolated from the community. Its existence is parasitic. More importantly... well, you know the rest now.

I have thus shown that my opponent's first premise is false. A fetus is NOT a member of the human community.

Anyhow, to avoid equivocation, I will say that a fetus, at least up until the third trimester, is not a fully fledged person. Personhood depends on more than being human and being in a community. A person has a capacity for complex thought, and autonomy.

The zygote is a mere ball of cells which has no human features. It is in essence no different to a collection of skin cells or a tumour. Obviously this is not a person in any meaningful sense, and to force a woman to commit to
surrendering her independence to this ball of cells would be absurd. There is nothing special about genetic distinctness, which is all that separates it from a sperm or egg cell, or any other human cell or group of cells.

Potential cannot be the factor which determines the rights of a zygote or fetus. For every egg cell has the potential to be impregnated and develop into a person, yet it is not a moral horror that egg cells are aborted monthly.

Let us imagine a wizard curses you by implanting within you an acorn. This acorn will magically develop into a child (which in many cases will be delivered by caesarian). Plainly it is not immoral to surgically remove the acorn. There should be no difference in the case of a woman who is raped. A zygote is no more a child than an acorn.

In the case of rape, it would be inhumane to force a woman to undergo forty weeks of pregnancy, childbirth, and then possibly childcare of the child of her rapist (which would most likely be a source of trauma for her) or giving up her baby for adoption (which may well be just as traumatic) for the sake of a ball of cells. There is nothing magic about a sperm cell entering an egg cell which should commit a woman to having to carry it to term. It makes no sense to make a raped woman commit to giving up her independent life unwillingly for a zygote. Why should her body be used against her will to carry a ball of cells? Plainly a zygote, sans consciousness or ability to feel pain, is not a person, and should not be afforded rights superceding those of the woman.

I don't think the case changes if the sexual act is not forced. There is still no reason why the acorn or zygote should have rights superceding those of the woman.

Personhood should not be granted before the third trimester, when the fetus at last has the capacity for consciousness, can feel pain, and has some degree of autonomy (so it can survive outside the woman). Now, even when we grant the fetus at some stage the status of personhood, it does not mean that the fetus' rights automatically supercede those of the woman. JJ Thomson presents the violinist argument:

"You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist's circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. [If he is unplugged from you now, he will die; but] in nine months he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you."[1]

With this analogy, Thomson shows that personhood (and the rights that entail) does not grant the right to use the body of another. By unplugging the violinist you do not violate his right to life, you merely deprive him of the use of your body, something to which he has no innate right. For the same reason, carrying a child is a kindness not an obligation. The fetus does not have an innate right to use the woman's body, and a woman is entitled to deprive a fetus of that use.

If you accept either the violinist argument or my argument that personhood is not realised at conception, then the resolution is defeated.

I will end with more cases where abortion is definitely preferable:

In the case that a preteen child has been raped by her father. It would be monstrous to expect her to endure such a pregnancy and deliver the child. We should be seeking foremost to minimize her trauma in that situation.

During a famine. The child would almost certainly die unpleasantly of starvation. If there were a chance for abortion, it would save the needless suffering of a sentient child.

In overpopulated countries, to very poor families. There is a moral duty to keep the population down, plus we would wish to avoid the misery of the extra pressure of another child on an extremely poor family.

In the case that an embryo has been identified with the genetic disorder Epidermolysis Bullosa, a condition where the sufferer's skin blisters at any touch. This is an incredibly miserable, painful disease that could be avoided by abortion. There are other genetic disorders you might be able to think of, where abortion would be preferable to a traumatic life.

The case where the fetus is terribly deformed to the point that life would be brutish and perhaps short for the child.

None of these are cases where the mother's life is threatened. If you agree that abortion is not immoral in at least these cases then you should consider the resolution defeated and vote Con.


Debate Round No. 2


Con has conceded that the unborn is a human being biologically, which is all my argument needs to succeed. There is no equivocation in my argument, since in all cases of the term “human community” I mean in a biological sense. It can also be shown that they are full-fledged members of the “human community” in a philosophical sense, which I will show below.

Human life begins at fertilization. This is scientific fact, in which I supported in my opening argument. I also showed, in my opening argument, why the unborn entity is different from a mere skin cell or sperm cell. I would urge Con to re-read my opening argument. I will not waste space arguing for it again.

The pro-life view does not entail that the fetus’ rights supercede the woman’s rights, but there is a hierarchy of rights. For example, the right to life is the most fundamental of all basic human rights. Without it you can’t enjoy any other rights. It makes no sense to speak of a right to free speech if you are not alive to enjoy that right. The right to life supercedes the right to bodily autonomy. Your right to bodily autonomy does not entail the right to kill me without strong moral justification.

Identical twins are certainly members of the human community. They are separate organisms in their own right. Even though they share DNA, their DNA expresses itself differently (for example, there have been cases in which one twin is right-handed and the other left-handed -- one might develop an interest in music and the other in math).

A fetus is definitely a member of the human community. One thing that Con and I can both agree on is that it is wrong to kill an adult human unjustly. The one thing we all have in common is our common human nature, that is, our intrinsic value as rational, moral agents. We all differ in hair color, eye color, height, weight, nationality, etc. It’s our common human nature that makes it as wrong to kill me as it is to kill any other human being, and that’s a nature that the unborn, from fertilization, share.

The relationship between mother and child is not a parasitic one. In fact, it is symbiotic. Research has indicated that during pregnancy, the mother and child exchange cells in a process called microchimerism. This has several possible benefits to the mother, including tissue repair and even helping to prevent cancer. [1]

Con has not disproven my first premise. It continues to stand soundly.

Con asserts, without evidence, that the qualifications for personhood are a capacity for complex thought and autonomy. But the unborn do have these capacities -- they just have not actualized them yet. As per their human nature, they are the kind of entities that will develop the presently exercisable capacity to fulfill these functions. They have the inherent capacity to fulfill these functions, which is all that is necessary. If the presently-exercisable capacity to fulfill them were required, then you would lose personhood whenever you stopped exhibiting these functions (e.g. whenever you fall asleep, enter a reversible coma, or go under general anesthesia before surgery).

Con also mentions that the zygote (the early human embryo) does not exhibit human features. However, he neglects to consider that this is exactly how a human should look at this stage in her development. Additionally, human features are not a necessary condition for personhood. Otherwise Joseph Merrick (more commonly known as the Elephant Man) would not have been a person, and it would have been moral to kill him without just cause.

I agree with Con that potential can’t be the fact that determines rights. But my case is not dependent on potential. My case is that the unborn are actual humans, and actual persons, and therefore deserving of the same moral respect as you and me.

Con tries to rely on a ridiculous analogy of an acorn being implanted into a woman that would somehow magically transform into a human at some point. However, this analogy is too different from pregnancy to be useful in determining our intuitions. Zygotes are not acorns, they are humans at a very early stage in her development (just as an acorn may not be an adult oak tree, they are still an “oak,” as a zygote is still a human (though not being an adult)).

Rape is definitely a traumatic event, and I don’t wish to belittle it. I feel that rapists are not punished severely enough for their crimes, and they’re certainly not punished frequently enough. But why should the child pay for her life for the crimes of her father? In reality, it may not be inhumane at all to prevent a woman who conceived a child in rape from aborting. As abortionist Dr. Warren Hern has written,

“Victims of sexual abuse and rape deserve special care. However, the abortion counselor should recognize that the emotional trauma experienced by the rape or incest victim cannot be treated adequately, if at all, in the abortion clinic setting. All rape and incest victims, as well as victims of physical abuse, should be referred for appropriate psychological counseling and support.” [2]

According to Feminists for Life’s president Serrin Foster, some women have even indicated that the abortion was worse than the rape, and that a woman she spoke to who ended up gifting the child out for adoption, her child was the only good thing to come out of the rape. [3]

Even aside from this, it would be morally wrong for a woman to have an abortion (as lousy as the situation is). To borrow an example from pro-life philosopher Tony George, suppose you’re out at sea on your boat for a few days. A day into your journey you discover a stowaway. You would not be morally justified in casting that person off your boat into the water to drown or be devoured by sharks, even though that person will be consuming your resources. You must wait until you get back to land to cast him off, and possibly call the authorities.

Con now asserts more qualifications for personhood (it seems he doesn’t even have a good idea of what a “person” should be defined as): The capacity for consciousness, the ability to feel pain, and some degree of autonomy (so it can survive outside the woman -- essentially, viability). Again, he doesn’t argue for why these qualifications are necessary, he just asserts them without evidence. They fall prey to the same problems I mentioned earlier -- if the presently-exercisable capacity were necessary, then you would lose your personhood whenever you lost these functions (such as when you fall asleep, etc.). The capacity to feel pain? That would mean we could kill other human beings for any reason we want, as long as we did it painlessly (or when they were asleep and wouldn’t feel it). Personhood criteria based on function simply doesn’t work.

I’m running short on space, but I’ll mention that Con has presented a dilemma for himself. He has spent the first half of his argument arguing that the unborn are not “persons,” and now he argues from bodily rights via Thomson’s bodily rights argument. However, if you argue from bodily rights, the unborn’s personhood is presupposed. So Con must either reject his earlier argument and concede the unborn are full persons from fertilization, or drop the bodily rights argument he is making from Thomson’s violinist scenario. I will wait until his next argument to see which path he will follow.

So I will briefly address Con’s various scenarios.

I have already addressed the case of rape (which includes a case against incest).

Would Con approve of killing a two-year-old child who is destined to live a life of starvation? Why can we justify abortion in this situation but not infanticide or killing a toddler?

I am out of space. I am not dropping the remaining scenarios, I will address them in my next argument. I look forward to our next round.

[2] Dr. Warren Hern, Abortion Practice, p. 84


iamnotwhoiam forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3


Well, Con has forfeited. So I extend all of my arguments into the next round.


iamnotwhoiam forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by Oxymoron 5 years ago
It's interesting to read these abortion debates and notice that the Pro-Abortioners use poverty as a justification for killing someone.

As if poverty is an absolute state. As if poverty were an inescapable tar pit -- that you may never break free and rise above. Seeing that it is used constantly, I want to call it the Pro-Abortion Caste Argument: "You're poor, we assume you'll never reach wealth; therefore, we have a right to kill you in the womb. Why in the womb, you might ask? Because geography matters."

I love it when they use extreme examples, like rape, to justify abortion.

First off, It is interesting to note that only 1% of women say their primary reason for abortion is rape -- the other 99% is socio-economic.

Secondly, Even if the women is raped, this still doesn't justify killing another human being. Not just the baby, this applies even to the rapist. The woman, even though she was physically and mentally traumatized by the rapist, cannot just go and shoot the guy. The law still applies, and the rapist has a right to due process. Let's turn back to the unborn child created in the event of a rape. The child is helpless, innocent, and pure. Why the hell should we muder it? Heck, we can't do that to the actual criminal.

Life > Damn near everything.
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