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

No abortion outside of extenuating circumstances should be permitted

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/23/2015 Category: Society
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,489 times Debate No: 76829
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (32)
Votes (2)




Myself and Envisage have agreed to have this debate on whether or not abortion should be permitted.

First, let me clarify the resolution:

Abortion: The deliberate termination of a human foetus

Extenuating circumstances: Pregnancies that are life-threatening to the mother

Permitted: Allowed to take place by the governing body of the society in which the person resides. In cases of abortion, this will be the government.


- No over-reliance on semantic arguments
- No sociological kritiks (e.g advocacy of the abolition of government)
- No new arguments in round 4, only rebuttals


R1: Acceptance
R2: Constructive case, no rebuttals yet
R3: Rebuttals
R4: Final rebuttals and closing statements


If Envisage disputes any of the above terms of this debate, I invite him to voice his concerns in the comments section.


I thank Philocat for accepting my challenge to this topic. *Cracks neck*

This will be fun!

Debate Round No. 1


What is Government? - The ethical foundation for what is and isn't permitted.

Goverment is defined as 'the group of people with the authority to govern a country or state; a particular ministry in office.' (1)

It goes without saying that the government's purpose is to create a stable society - otherwise it has no substantial role. Therefore, we are justified in saying that the government ought to create a stable society [a]. It can only do this by instigating laws.

What phiosophical basis is behind these laws? Considering that the government ought to create a stable society, it follows that the principles that are most conducive to a stable society are the principles upon which the government ought to create its laws.

I propose that laws based upon the principle of utility are the most conducive to a stable society. This is because utility is essential to all human existence and living, and hence it is the most prudent principle upon which to make laws. [b]

To clarify what this principle is:

'the principle of utility is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action whatsoever according to the tendency it appears to have to augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is in question: or, what is the same thing in other words to promote or to oppose that happiness. I say of every action whatsoever, and therefore not only of every action of a private individual, but of every measure of government.' (2)

In other words, when the government makes laws, it ought to maximise the happiness and minimise the unhappiness of all beings that are affected by the law. If a law both increases happiness and increases unhappiness for different people, the net-happiness should be calculated to ascertain whether the law ought to be introduced.

Therefore, I can conclude that the principle of utility is the philosophical basis for what the government should or should not permit.


Consider the following law:

'Abortion is not permitted (apart from extenuating circumstances)'.

I argue that this law ought to be enforced by the government because its existence promotes a greater net-happiness for the parties involved than what would otherwise be promoted if this law did not exist.

The implications of this law are as follows:

The law exists: Hundreds of (illegal) abortions take place
The law does not exist: Millions of (legal) abortions take place

Therefore, more abortions will take place if it is permitted by the government.

So now let's do a utilitarian calculation.

With the average abortion scenario, the following happiness/unhappiness is generated:

1. The foetus loses ~80 years of happiness [c]
2. The mother loses ~9 months of happiness [d]
3. Society is negligibly impacted. The average abortion does not impact society, as the average child-born does not impact society in a significant manner.

From this analysis, we can see that the net-happiness is +~79 years worth of happiness if abortion does not occur, whereas it is -~79 years worth of happiness if it does.

It is clear that, on balance, abortion should not be permitted because permitting it would cause a net-decrease in happiness.


P1: The government ought to promote a stable society.
P2: Laws based upon the principle of utility are most conducive to a stable society.
C1: The government ought to base laws upon the principle of utility
P3: The banning of abortion would be cause more happiness to the parties involved than the permitting of it.
C: The government ought to not permit abortion.

Hence I affirm the resolution


[a] This does not commit the is/ought problem because the purpose of something contains what that something ought to do. For example, a clock's purpose is to tell the time; therefore a clock ought to tell the time. If one does not understand what a clock ought to do then they do not really know what a clock really is. If X's purpose is to do Y, then X ought to do Y.

[b] Every justification for human actions eventually rest upon the maximising of happiness and the minimising of unhappiness, and as the government is a group of people it can only really justify its actions by appealing to the maximisation of happiness as well. To deny this is to deny a fundamental part of human nature. Furthermore, society will be most stable if the laws are based upon the same foundation as people's personal morality (which is based upon the principle of utility)- since there would be less dissension.

[c] The average lifespan for a child born in the UK is 81 years (4). If it is aborted, it will lose all the happiness contained within those 81 years. Note that this rests upon the fair assumption that life generally contains more happiness than unhappiness, as otherwise we would have no reason to not all commit suicide right now. Even if one envisions an unhappy future, that future is still valuable insofar as it has the potential to contain happiness.

[d] This is an overestimation, since it assumes that an expectant mother does not experience any happiness during pregnancy (which is evidently false). Moreover, it assumes that having an abortion would make the mother happier than if she did not have it. This may be the case, but not necessarily so.


(1) Google: 'Define government'
(2) Mill, John-Stuart, 'On Liberty'
(3) Bentham, Jeremy, 'An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation'


I thank Pro for his opening arguments.

I will be broadly affirming the value of liberty within this debate, which is defined as the state of being free in society from oppressive restrictions on thought, action and values. It is no coincidence that the countries with highest human development index are those which generally value human autonomy and freedom of speech over autocracy.[1] I can accept Pro’s general axiom, that a government must enable a stable society in order to exist – thus if a government is to exist then it must provide this society in one manner or another – and human liberty is demonstrably an excellent manner of accomplishing such.

Unfortunately however, we cannot allow infinite liberty for all people, and a limited government, which rules when one’s liberty impinges on another. In order to protect the liberty for all, then restrictions need exist – however with my arguments I will affirm that these impingements do not apply to all human pregnancy cases.[2]

Human Rights

When dealing with human rights, there are two ways to go about it:

1. Start with no rights and have them granted from ground-up
2. Start with all rights and have them limited from top-down

The first option here is patently absurd, since it would require legislating and permitting each and every action that one could ever conceivably take, and yes that includes actions we have yet to think about. It would also entail a totalitarian autocratic style of government, with freedoms ultimately limited by what the government deems fit to permit. The latter is the only sensible option when dealing with human (and non-human) rights, and thus very good reasons are required for restricting a person’s rights.[3]

C1. Women’s Bodily Rights
Bodily & functional autonomy is one of the most fundamental and basic of human rights, bodily autonomy holds regardless of circumstances in society, one cannot be forced to donate blood, a kidney or provide medical support for any specific person, even if the condition is life-threatening. Furthermore, one cannot be forced to pay for the medical care of another. While it may be considered immoral to withhold such donations or treatments, this is the price we pay to have adequate liberty for a functional and stable society.[4]

With regards to a foetus, a woman similarly ought not to be required to provide the use of her body for the survival, and development of a foetus, nor her financial input, nor provision of a share of her nutrients and other biological inputs. Foetus’ are unquestionable parasitic of the mother and entail a whole host of negative health effects on the mother including: induced nausea; soreness; fatigue; nutrient deprivation (e.g. calcium absorption from mother’s skeleton). Furthermore, pregnancy increases the risk for a whole host of issues, including back injury; hormone imbalances; physical impediment (which causes women to be unable to work); and hormonal/emotional imbalanced.[5]

Furthermore, birthing a child mandates the mother to financially and physically commit to raising the child, which is a long-term drain and impingement on her liberty. Health risks even in modern days are severe, with an increased risk of death from health complications with an estimated incidence of 8.8 deaths per 100,000 – which compared with 0.6 deaths per 100,000 for an abortion, this disparity is much more prominent in less well-off countries. Given these negative effects on autonomy, health and health risks, it follows that it cannot be expected of a mother to carry a child to term against her own will. We do not expect this of any other area in life, including when other living, breathing, humans are involved – thus we cannot expect it of a foetus even if we considered it as valuable and as human as an adult [6]

C2. Foetus’ lack identity
Clearly we do not generally approve of taking way the life of fellow adult humans, and doing so is concoctive to a destabilised society. However there are a plethora of reasons why this is the case:

I. Identity
A person has a sense of identity, or “being me”, and while it is also most likely true for other beings for which it is deemed acceptable such as livestock, this is a necessary qualifier for having freedom and liberty. One cannot have liberty of thought without the ability to think, one cannot have liberty of speech if one is unable to communicate, and one cannot have liberty for action if one is yet to be born. Note that this resolution encompasses any and all abortions, including extremely early stage abortions.[6]

For example, a foetus’s cell types is virtually undifferentiated until the forth week, where the first cells begin to form what is necessary for the brain, with the last component – the corpus callosum not emerging until the ~ 87th day. However, such a brain has still not yet developed the networks required for consciousness, awareness, sensory input, etc. Moreover, humans do not surpass even chimpanzees in intelligence and rationality until past the toddler stage – well beyond the age of pregnancy. Rationality is required to have liberty of thought and speech.[8]

Thus, under no circumstances does a human foetus qualify as a being to which we need to consider the liberty of – thus a minimal government lacks sufficient reason for prohibiting abortion for these reasons. Even if one does not buy my premise that virtually all foetuses are not considerable in this judgement, my argument that at the very least early stage foetuses in principle impossible to have these liberties is sufficient to weigh this debate.

II. Memory & Values
Childhood amnesia is well-established in the literature, and it is well known that children do not retain knowledge or memories before ~2 years of age (well after the age at which abortion is possible), this ties in with my identity argument in that the only thing which allows one to identify as themselves is their memory of their previous state. A person who has no memory whatsoever of their “past self” is essentially a different person to them, that “past self” is dead, for all intents and purposes. If you imagine that your memories are going to stop recording this Saturday, and that there will be no record accessable to you of those recordings of your past self – this “barrier” is in fact inconceivable – as it is death.[7]

This is important, since it is our identity that we value, and thus even if one rejects my liberty value, we have important reason to see why there would be a lack of values pertaining to a foetus. Killing a foetus results in no tangable loss of identity, since the foetus is easily incapable of forming viable memories for that four-dimensional identity to exist. It isn’t anything that isn’t going to cease existing shortly anyway.

C3. Extenuating Circumstances
Pro has confirmed with me that this resolution also encompasses foetuses that are conceived without consent on any level. For example – foetuses that are conceived as a result of rape, or failed contraception. Clearly in neither of these cases is there any scope for consent, yet prohibiting abortions as the resolution demands would entail a woman being forced to carry her attacker’s/estranged partner’s child to full term, while already under significant psychological trauma, and then be forced to raise said child for the next two decades. This is a gross violation of the woman’s liberty, and again virtually no other analogy relating it to other socially and legally acceptable practices are even remotely defensible.[9]

C4. The alternative
Highly restrictive abortion laws do not actually correlate with decreased incidence of abortion. By restricting abortion we essentially drive the practice “underground”, with illegal abortions becoming prominent – these abortions lack the safety controls and health considerations that legal abortions have with brutal methodologies such as “beating a woman’s abdomen”, piercing the amniotic sac with a sharp object (e.g. coathangers) and the use of makeshift poisons.[9] Abortions are going to occur regardless of whether or not it is permitted in statute, and prohibiting it carries massively increased risk of complications, injury and death as a result.

An excellent case study is in South Africa – where legalising abortion yielded a 90% reduction in abortion-related deaths. Abortion rates have been found by well-established studies to not change upon legalisation, with countries with strict abortion laws under a similar rate of abortion to those who do not.[10] Thus even if we assume a legal system which values harm over liberty – legalised abortion is a superior stance to restrictions.[11-12]

I look forward to Pro’s rebuttals!

6. health/articles/2012/01/23/abortion-safer-for-women-than-childbirth-study-claims

Debate Round No. 2


Thank you Envisage :)


I am in agreement with Con when he states that 'we cannot allow infinite liberty for all people, and a limited government, which rules when one's liberty impinges on another'. This is essentially J.S Mill's Harm Principle:

'The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.' (1)

The disagreement in this debate it whether abortion constitutes significant 'harm to others' and hence whether power can be rightfully exercised upon women to prevent them from having an abortion.

Women's Bodily Rights

I accept Con's premise that bodily autonomy is a genuine right, although I dispute that this is applicable to human pregnancy to the extent that it justifies the killing of a human foetus.

If we define bodily autonomy as the liberty to control one's body, then clearly we recognise that this is a right. However, in accordance to the harm principle, this liberty cannot be extended to the point at which it harms others. For example, I have the bodily autonomy to control my fists, but not to the extent where I can punch someone (since this causes harm). As Zechariah Chafee wrote:

'Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins' (2)

Does abortion harm the foetus? Consider the definition of harm:

'Physical injury, especially that which is deliberately inflicted' (3)

Clearly, a foetus is physically injured (since it is killed) and it is deliberately inflicted (as defined in R1).

Therefore, according to the Harm Principle [a], the right to abortion is not entailed by the right to bodily autonomy.


Con likens being prevented from having an abortion to being forced to donate organs. Clearly, in the latter scenario, someone has the liberty to withhold the use of their organs and hence the government ought to not enforce it even in cases where it would be life-saving.

However, I argue that abortion-prevention is not analogous to forced-organ-donation. For multiple reasons:

1. There is a difference between declining to donate an organ and hence causing someone's death, and directly killing that person. If I refuse to donate my organ to someone I probably won't even be reproached by society, yet if I was to slit that person's throat I would be most likely be jailed. Clearly therefore, the government places a significant distinction between the two actions, even if the outcome is the same. This is because people don't have a right to have organs donated to them to sustain their life, but people do have a negative right not to be killed. Since abortion is the direct killing of the foetus, this infringes upon this latter right, not the former (because the former is not a genuine right). The fallacy within the bodily-autonomy argument is that it wrongly presumes that pro-lifers appeal to the foetus's right to be sustained by the mother, whereas in reality we appeal to the foetus's right not to be killed.

2. In a stable, civilised society, the mother has obligations to ensure the welfare of her offspring, whereas she may not have these obligations to those who are not her offspring. This is why it is illegal to neglect your child whereas it is not illegal to neglect a complete stranger. Therefore, motherhood ascribes certain obligations on a mother to ensure the welfare of her children. Abortion is the ultimate form of neglect, and therefore should be illegal on the same grounds that it is illegal to neglect a born child [b].

Absolute/selective bodily autonomy

For those who advocate bodily autonomy, there are two views:

1. Bodily autonomy cannot be infringed, it is an absolute right
2. Bodily autonomy is a right, but is subject to reasonable parameters (e.g the harm principle).

Abortion can only be justified via bodily autonomy if bodily autonomy is held to be absolute, as otherwise it would fail the reasonable parameters of a selective right to bodily autonomy [d].

However, the view that bodily autonomy is absolute is absurd. When someone says 'I have a right to X', they are essentially saying that 'my body has a right to X', since we are essentially the same as our bodies.
Therefore, if one is to say that they have a right to bodily autonomy then this is synonymous with saying that they have a right to autonomy. If this right is absolute, then it would follow that we have an unalienable right to do whatever the hell we want. Clearly, we have no such right [c] so therefore (reductio ad absurdum) bodily autonomy is not absolute.

Since the bodily-autonomy argument presupposes that bodily autonomy is an absolute right, it is an invalid argument because the presupposition is patently false.

Health Risks

Whilst it is true that childbirth is riskier than abortion, it is still very unlikely that childbirth will be fatal. If it looks like it will, then abortion is justified because it is classed as 'extenuating circumstances'. But the other health risks of pregnancy don't justify abortion either, since we are not justified in killing others in order to improve our health. For example, bringing up a toddler can cause stress, anxiety and other health issues, yet it does not follow that the mother is justified in killing her toddler in order to improve her health [d].

The foetus

Con attempts to distinguish why society disapproves of killing an adult human but not a foetus by appealing to identity and memory. However, I will now demonstrate that neither identity or memories affect the morality of killing.


Con postulates that a 'sense of identity' is necessary for having freedom and liberty. However, numerous counterexamples exist. For example, this criterion would mean that comatose/unconscious people have no liberty (including the freedom not to be killed). Yet clearly the government maintains the liberty of unconscious people.

Therefore, neither identity, rationality, thought or intelligence remove one's liberties. Since an unconscious person retains their liberty despite having no sense of identity or rational thought.

Memory & Values

Con seems to imply that killing is justified before the age of two years old, since we do not retain memories before that age. Aside from this justifying infanticide (which is illegal), Con does not demonstrate the connection between the permissibility of killing and the remembering of past events (memories).

What he also implies is that abortion is justified because a foetus does not value its liberty. However, it is not demonstrated that one can only have liberty if they value it. It is a bare assertion.
I would argue that the valuing of liberty is not a prerequisite to having liberty itself. For example, a slave born into slavery does not know the concept of autonomous living or being free from slavery, and hence would not value freedom. However, it does not follow that the slave owner is justified in keeping this slave simply because the slave does not value the liberty of freedom.

Therefore, one does not have to value their liberty in order to have liberty; therefore a foetus can still qualify as a being that has human liberties.


Both of Con's attempts to remove a foetus's liberty are invalid, and hence the foetus retains basic liberties [f] (namely the liberty not to be killed).


Con argues that abortion in cases of rape is justified because it will otherwise force a woman to carry her rapists child to full term and then be forced to raise the child for two decades.
Firstly, the latter is simply false (it can be put up for adoption). Furthermore, Con makes the false assumption that having an abortion in these cases would increase the welfare of the woman.

David Reardon interviewed over 200 women who became pregnant via rape, and found that out of all of those who chose to birth their child, the majority thought that it was the right thing to do. In contrast, more than 80% of those who chose to abort felt that it increased their pain. (4).

Therefore, abortion is not justified in cases of rape because there is no reason to suppose that it actually helps the rape victim, and it even suggests that it negatively affects them.

Illegal/legal abortion

There are multiple problems with this argument:

1. Women are not forced to have an illegal abortion (if they are, those who are forcing them ought to be arrested), and hence they accept the risks of abortion by choosing to have one. In short, they take responsibility for their own welfare so it is no longer the government's concern.

2. Banning abortion would deter most women from having one. (5)

3. Most illegal abortions are done by 'reputable physicians in good standing in their local medical associations' (6), not shady people in back alleys with rusty coat-hangers.

4. Legalising abortions has little causal effect, if any, on their safety. From this graph (, you can observe that the safety of abortions was increasing due to better medical technology, with legalisation having little effect.


[a] Which is essential to a stable society; it clearly defines the extent to which the government can infringe upon out liberties.
[b] Whether a child is still in its mother's womb is irrelevant to the parental obligations of the mother.
[c] If we did, then there would be no such thing as a just law or a stable society.
[d] Since these parameters would most likely employ something similar to the harm principle, which rules out abortion.
[e] Whether someone is born or is sentinent does not affect their right to life,
[f] Con admits that human rights 'Start with all rights and have them limited from top-down'.


(1) Mill, John Stuart - On Liberty
(4) Reardon, David - Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting from Sexual Assault
(5) Reardon, David - Aborted Women: Silent No More
(6) Willke, John - Abortion Questions and Answers


Because mine & Pro’s case both start from the axiom that government ought to create a stable society, then it comes down to contrasting cases and values. While I have defended my value of liberty - Pro’s defence of his value of utilitarianism has severely lacking.

Rebuttals to Pro’s defence of utilitarianism
Just how is utility essential to all human existence and being? Pro’s quote only goes as far as to define utility in terms of augmenting or diminishing happiness – and doesn’t go anywhere in defending the principle as something that a government should do.

I assert, that the act of creating a stable society transcends this, and thus a utopian society with maximal happiness for all is not possible. The government needs to make practical choices in the waves of human selfishness, imperfections, lack of omniscience, and imperfect reason. As a result, political devices, such as human rights (of which I affirmed liberty is one of the most fundamental) are required, which does not entail maximising happiness on a case-by-case basis.

Utilitarianism is impossible to define & utilise pragmatially
What is happiness? What is defined as “a lot” of happiness? What is defined as “no happiness? Utilitarianism lacks any quantifying nature, and thus assessments cannot be reasonably be made between two parties. It is only by subjective assessment that one party is deemed to be “happier” than another, thus it is useless as a device for separating out the preference of one act over another – especially if it strips away the context.

Furthermore, it entails unjust environments, such as the following scenario:

Scenario 1
Person 1: 0 Arbitrary units of happiness
Person 2: 1000 Arbitrary units of happiness

Scenario 2:
Person 1: 450 Arbitrary units of happiness
Person 2: 450 Arbitrary units of happiness

Utilitarianism would posit that scenario 1 is preferable to scenario two (1000 units of happiness vs. 900), despite the massive unjust disparity between the two people involved. Yet this is exactly what we see on some level in heavily wealth-segregated countries, where the rich live in luxury at the expense of the poorer classes. With large power gaps in wealth, influence, and freedoms. Scenario 2 is clearly more concoctive to a stable society since everyone is equal, and nobody is feeling unfairly treated, and hence is less likely to object to this specific circumstance. Scenario #1 would entail 50% of people are feeling unfairly treated, and will want things to change.

Even if we assume that scenario 2 is more concoctive to happiness, we cannot pragmatically know, assess or judge this – since happiness is a super-nebulous term. It is far clearer to make a judgement based on liberty, since either rights are equal, or they are no – it comes with no surprise to libertarians that scenario 2 a preferable one.

Transplant Surgeon Objection
Utilitarianism completely ignores human rights and privilages, and human rights are the bedrock of how a society is pragmatically held together. While human rights are not objective, they are demonstrably an effective way in ensuring a stable society. For example, in the transplant surgeon objection, we have a healthy person in a hospital, who happens to be a match for five people needing different organs to survive. Under utilitarianism, assuming utility per person or total utility, they should kill this man, take his organs and transplant them. By doing so we have saved five lives, however at the expense of violating the man’s human right to bodily autonomy, to life, safety, etc. Clearly a society that enables this would be disastrous in terms of stability. Thus, our implementation of human rights prevents these cases, allowed increased stability – at the cost of not maximising happiness – which contradicts Pro’s value assertion.[13]

Reductio - Rape-Culture
As well as being incoherent, utilitarianism to concoct a stable society is also self-refuting by assuming virtually identical lines of reasoning such as permitting people to rape at will without contraception would entail maximising utility, since it would entail an increased number of pregnancies (not to mention that pro must also assume that these pregnancies cannot be aborted under utilitarianism), thus the following is mandated:

1. Legalised rape
2. People must otherwise have sex as often as humanly possible and birth as many children as possible
3. Those who are infertile are obliged to undergo IVF/other methods to ensure pregnancy

Such measures would quite obviously lead to a critically unstable society, yet these follow when assuming utilitarianism in the manner Pro assumes it. Because utilitarianism entails parallel situations that clearly do not concoct a stable society.

Happiness per Person vs Net Happiness
Pro makes a subtle equivocation in his argument, between how he affirmed utilitarianism as a value, and how he applies it to abortion. See the following:

I propose that laws based upon the principle of utility are the most conducive to a stable society. This is because utility is essential to all human existence and living, and hence it is the most prudent principle upon which to make laws."

This strongly implies utility per person, i.e. how happy each person is in society – however he affirms his arguments for abortion in a sense that he is maximising total or net utility. These are two completely different measures, and hence he cannot hold on to his argument that “we lose a total of 71 years of happiness if we abort” with his current arguments for his value of utilitarianism – as it is a fallacy as it stands. Utilitarianism under Pro’s assumptions mandates perpetual growth of the population in order to maximise utility, there is no end point. However this seriously neglects the existing population:

Population A: 500 People
Population B: 1000 People

Which society is happier? There are two ways of looking at this, one is to take a sum, and hence add up the happiness each person has – in which case if we assume positive happiness for each person (which Pro is light years away from proving, and Pro has made it his job in handwaving his job here), then obviously Population B is happier. However, “happiness per person” is ignored – and for a society to be stable, then it is more concoctive
to maximise the happiness of the members of society that already exist.

If Population A has a slightly higher happiness per person than B, then the population will exhibit greater content, and less rebellious/corrupt behaviour than Population B. The number of people in a population is irrelevant to how stable/content/corrupt and thus how stable a society is.

Given that we live in a world with limited resources, and limited growth and limited space, then these points are directly relevant to the world we live in. Contrasting India with Norway for example, the former has a population of well over 1 billion, thus we have many more years of happiness in that country than Norway, with a population of only ~5 million. Yet it is Norway that tops the Human Development Index at 0.944, compared with India’s 0.586 – Norway does better in virtually every category of adult literacy rates, adult poverty, employment, well being, etc. It is Norway that is the more stable state by an extremely large margin.[14]

When applied to Pro’s argument, it no longer follows that by allowing an “extra 71 years of utility” by adding a new person to the population is most concoctive to a stable society, and nor can it.

Illegal Abortions vs Legal Abortions
Pro makes the claim that prohibiting the ban on abortions would entail far fewer abortions than enabling them – but provides not a shred of evidence to substantiate it or quantify the scale of it and its impact. I already provided evidence to the contrary.

Liberty of Foetus
All of Pro’s defences to my arguments assumes that the foetus is equivalent to an adult human in its rights and liberties – to which I have already provided reason why this is not the case. I have already given evidence why they are much less considerable than our fellow animal kingdom – to whom we do not grant anywhere near the same rights to.

Pro appeals to comatose people, however ignores that identity is four-dimensional and the continuity is provided by one’s memory. If a person was both comatose AND amnesic (a far superior analogy), then Pro would have to provide very good reason why the government should not kill that person. Just because the government maintains liberty of the person in the eyes in the law doesn’t mean it does so coherently nor correctly. Pro begs the question here.

Moreover Pro doesn’t object to any of my facts regarding what foetus is, a cluster of cells with no ability to feel pain or experience anything (especially in the first few weeks). With many weeks needing to pass before the foetus can be argued to surpass even a rodent.

I don’t intend to demonstrate the connection of the permissibility of killing – I intended to demonstrate that the lack of memories means that the foetus is for the purposes of liberty – dead as a person. Regardless of whether or not its cells are dividing and it is undergoing respiration – if it has no personal identity on any level, then it is dead. There is a reason why the government permits the killing of brain-dead patients – despite their bodies being perfectly sustainable via. life support.

However, it is not demonstrated that one can only have liberty if they value it. It is a bare assertion.”

And this is a strawman, since I prefaced the conclusion with an “even if one does not accept my liberty value”. Furthermore my argument isn’t about being aware of one’s value of identity, only that we do (as a society) value our identity (hence why we prohibit actions that affect it, such as murder) - thus we cannot value the foetus in the same way since it clearly does not have an identity in that regards.


Debate Round No. 3


Defence of utilitarianism

Utility is essential to all human existence because everything we do, we do it for utility. The single reason why a person does something is that he believes that doing so will increase the happiness of himself or others. We simply cannot act without justifying our action by appealing to utility.

Even the existence of rights and liberties only serves to maximise peoples' happiness. If people would generally be more happy without rights or liberties, then we would not value them. Hence Con is misguided in implying that rights and liberties form the basis of a governmental ethic. Instead, rights and liberties are extrinsically valuable insofar as they lead to a happier end. Therefore, it is happiness that forms the basis of a governmental ethic.

Note that, by affirming utilitarianism, all I am asserting is that the government ought to make laws on the basis of maximising happiness for all parties involved. I am definitely not asserting that the government ought to maximise happiness on a case-by-case basis, since this goes beyond the government's role as a legislative authority. This is essentially rule utilitarianism, where we make laws on the principle of maximising peoples' happiness.

Con states that:

'a utopian society with maximal happiness for all is not possible'

Which I agree with, but it does not follow that the government is wrong to attempt to maximise happiness. To use an analogy, it is not possible to totally eliminate poverty, but it does not follow that we ought not to attempt to eliminate poverty.

Next, he writes:

'political devices, such as human rights (of which I affirmed liberty is one of the most fundamental) are required, which does not entail maximising happiness on a case-by-case basis.'

Whilst they (rights) do not entail maximising happiness on a case-by-case basis, they entail maximising happiness if a rule is instigated that enforces them. If we have a law that states 'everyone shall have human rights', then the presence of this law will cause more net happiness for the people involved than the absence of the law. This is the reason why human rights exist, because their existence maximises overall net utility.

If legally-enforced human rights caused a net decrease in happiness for the people involved, then there would be no reason to have them. This is because human rights only exist because their existence causes an increase in net happiness, even if this does not happen in each individual situation where rights conflict with utility.

Quantifying happiness

Although we cannot exactly define happiness, we can still recognise both the presence and magnitude of it. Generally, there are things that we almost universally find to be conducive to happiness; such as life, liberty, love and knowledge - so even if we cannot exactly quantify happiness, we can still recognise an increase of happiness as well as compare people's happiness.

Furthermore, most humans are involved in the 'pursuit of happiness', viz. the existential drive to seek happiness. Since the pursuit of happiness will most likely lead to some form of happiness, it follows that we can also maximise happiness by maximising one's opportunity to pursue happiness. This is where liberty comes in as a concept that serves to maximise happiness. So utility does not necessarily have to know what happiness is defined as, it just needs to allow the maximising of happiness indirectly by allowing the pursuit of happiness.


Con presents two scenarios.

Scenario 1 has a greater net happiness, yet is far more imbalanced than scenario 2. Con argues that this presents a case where stable society =/= more net happiness.

The fallacy here is that this examines specific scenarios. This is classical utilitarianism whereas I argue for rule utilitarianism. Whilst it is true that scenario 1 would have more happiness in the enclosed bubble of that scenario, if this scenario was applied to everyone throughout wider society [a] then the lack of equality would lead to an unstable society. An unstable society would lead to overall unhappiness and hence have negative utility.

As we can see yet again, everything comes back to happiness at the end of the day. In individual cases, enforcing equality can lead to less happiness, but for a whole society, the overall happiness is maximised by having equality.

Transplant Surgeon objection

Again, this objection only rebukes classical utilitarianism. This is a straw-man fallacy because my tenet of a utilitarian-based legislative body emphasises rule utilitarianism.

Whereas classical utilitarianism ignores rights and privileges (because there are cases where happiness can be increased when we disregard rights), rule utilitarianism upholds them because it recognises that a society will generally be happier if we establish certain rights.

Rule utilitarianism would disallow the killing of a man to harvest his organs because if this was allowed throughout society, people would not trust doctors, be afraid to go to hospital and consequently have poor health. This would cause an overall decrease in happiness.

'Rape culture' reductio

Con misunderstands the principle of utility, it is not:

'Maximise happiness'

instead, it is:

'Maximise happiness for all parties involved'.

The former has absurd conclusions because it includes potential beings as well (of which there are near-infinite amount of) which would render it impossible to pragmatically assess the utility of a certain law. The latter only considers actual beings, which is much more pragmatic because there is the ability to know (roughly) the resultant utility of our actions by seeing how it will affect those involved.

Con's argument is actually a rebuttal of the principle of 'maximise happiness', yet this is not what I argued for. I argued for the latter principle. Hence this reductio is another straw man fallacy.

Happiness Per Person

I affirm that the principle of utility I support concerns happiness per person (HPP). This applies to abortion in the way I presented.
In cases of abortion, there are two persons significantly affected. The mother and the foetus. With a law based on the principle of utility, we should consider the comparative HPP of the foetus and the mother. It just so happens that the foetus stands to lose a greater HPP than the mother if the abortion is carried out, so it follows that the law should ban abortion.

This does not, as Con implies, entail the growth of the population. This is because potential human beings are not actual human beings, and hence are not considered when comparing HPP. In contrast, a foetus is an actual, not potential, human being (1). Therefore when we consider HPP, a foetus should be considered in this.

So my argument definitely does not entail that we ought to maximise the population, all it entails is that we ought to maximise the happiness of each person within the population.

When Con states:

'When applied to Pro’s argument, it no longer follows that by allowing an “extra 71 years of utility” by adding a new person to the population is most concoctive to a stable society, and nor can it.'

He demonstrates a fatal misunderstanding. This is because not-aborting doesn't add a new person to the population. The person already exists in the population! [b] Hence the government ought to consider their happiness when making laws.

Illegal/legal abortions

Con states that I haven't provided 'a shred of evidence' to support my claim that prohibiting abortion would reduce the frequency of abortion. This is completely false. My source in Round 3 stated that banning abortion would deter most women from having one. (R3 source 5).
Furthermore, a study concluded that the number of abortions decreased by 22.22% from 1990 to 2005, and wrote that 'one factor that played a role was the increased amount of anti-abortion legislation that was passed at the state level.' (4)

Liberty of the foetus

Con continues to present differences between adult humans and foetuses, yet fails to demonstrate why these are relevant differences.


Con moves the goalposts here from 'sense of identity' to 'subconscious memory of identity'. Again, he has yet to explain why this is relevant to the liberty of a person. He presents a modified analogy where someone is both comatose and amnesiac. Oddly, Con thinks that it would be okay to kill this person. Although if Con was comatose and amnesiac, I imagine he wouldn't be happy with being killed!

I accept that a foetus is presently just a cluster of cells. But we must consider the future of the person in a utilitarian calculation (since the past is irrelevant and the present infintesimal). It is a fact that a foetus will feel pain/pleasure in the future. A rodent, which may be more sensous in the present, has little capacity to develop in the future.


Con makes the comparison with how the government supports the killing of brain-dead patients. But this is only in cases where there is no chance that they will live a future life. If it is known that a brain-dead patient will recover and live a long life thereafter, then the government certainly wouldn't be justified in killing them. Yet the latter scenario is more analogous to a foetus.


Whilst it is true that we value identity, we also value having identity in the future (I value having identity next year). Since a foetus has future identity, society should value a foetus.

(out of characters)


[a] As a rule utilitarianism-based government would do.
[b] Population is defined as 'the body of inhabitants of a place' (2) and 'inhabitant' is defined as 'a person... that inhabits a place'(3). Since a foetus is a person (1), it is an inhabitant and therefore a member of the population.


(1) US Senate report on senate bill 158, cited by [Kaczor, Christopher 'The Edge of Life: Human Dignity and Contemporary Bioethics' p48]


I thank Philocat for this debate. Time to wrap up.

I did not advocate for the harm principle (nor did I even cite it), hence large swaths of Pro’s rebuttal to my positive case is a blatant strawman. I advocated explicitly for maximising liberty, to which a common everyday consequence may well be to [generally] reduce harm to others – however that is a corollary and not the central thesis – there are numerous circumstances where the harm principle ends up impacting liberty – which is nonsensical from a pure libertarian stance.

Pro has made no other rebuttals to liberty as a value, and also Pro drops my Human Development Index defence of liberty, thus on framework alone Pro has already lost this debate, since he has not successfully rebutted my value – and his value has at worst been heavily mitigated (it not, outright refuted).

Pro only in the final round actually gets around to supporting his value contention (rule violation). Moreover Pro only runs into the exact same problems I already highlighted, Pro is conflating utility-per-person with overall-utility. These are two different metrics, and Pro needs to be consistent for his arguments following from utilitarianism to be valid.

“We simply cannot act without justifying our action by appealing to utility.”

This is false. I act on impulse, instinct, and the fact that I want to do something, it doesn’t need justification

“Even the existence of rights and liberties only serves to maximise peoples' happiness.”

No they don’t (also, citation needed). I pre-emptively covered this objection in my opening framework. Because Pro’s entire defence of value is predicated on a strawman, then his objections to liberty and rights are also a strawman. Pro is running with the assumption that laws are there to maximise happiness, but doesn’t make any attempt to prove this or rebut my liberty value which contradicts it.

Quantifying happiness
“Although we cannot exactly define happiness, we can still recognise both the presence and magnitude of it.”

No, you can’t. If you could then there would not exist ethical positions such as anti-natalism – which posits that the net utility is negative, efilism, sentient utilitarianism (prioritises sentience), negative utilitarianism (prioritises minimising pain), act/case utilitarianism (maximising happiness), etc. etc. etc. Since these theories (and several others) exist precisely because quantified happiness is poorly defined.[15]

Justice & transplant objection
“Whilst it is true that scenario 1 would have more happiness in the enclosed bubble of that scenario… An unstable society would lead to overall unhappiness and hence have negative utility.”

Excellent, Pro’s has just demonstrated that his entire argument is explicitly circular:

1. Utility is most concoctive of a stable society
2. … because a stable society increases overall utility

Pro must first assess the action’s affect on the stability of society first before assessing its effect on utility. Because Pro must first assume the conclusion, before justifying the premise, his position explicitly begs the question, and hence is unsound (since stability of government is exactly what we are trying to affirm here, it is the conclusion we are trying to achieve). Also Pro is conflating a consequence of a stable society (increased utility from the norm) with the requisite of a stable society.

Also Pro’s objection doesn’t work, because I have already defined scenario 1 to have more happiness than scenario 2, so simply stating that “scenario 1 would lead to less happiness” is outright false. Pro is conflating long-term happiness with short-term, and hence making an equivocation with his position and following arguments.

“ rule utilitarianism upholds them because it recognises that a society will generally be happier if we establish certain rights"

If rule utilitarian compromises on happiness because establishing rights increases it, then none of Pro’s arguments for maximising utility in the case of abortion are sound. Because Pro already concedes that mitigating factors, such as rights and freedoms, also affect total happiness. Just where is Pro’s argument that the right and freedom to abortion does not increase total happiness via. increased stability? Pro needs to presuppose libertarianism in order to affirm his utility appeals.

Because Pro has dropped the framework, then liberty arguments take priority over utility. Virtually all of Pro’s case can be dismissed on these grounds.

Defence of Positive Case for Right to Abortion
C1. Women's Bodily Rights
Pro’s defence against this argument presupposes the harm principle, which is a strawman of the arguments I have put forth. My priority is maximising liberty (viz. freedoms), not minimising harm. Also, Pro’s defence here

presupposes that the foetus is a being who has rights to begin with (question begging).

Organ Donation
Given that Pro accepts the premise that someone ought to have the right and liberty to withhold use of their organs – even if it maximises utility – then Pro’s defence here is already dubious.

1. Define “directly” and “indirectly”. Since preventing organ donation “directly” withholds what is life-sustaining from the patient. Withholding the use of the mother’s body, uterus, and vital life support systems “directly” withholds what is life-sustaining from the patient. According to Pro’s logic – then it would be acceptable to just snip the umbilical cord (or wherever else is necessary – perhaps even remove the entire uterus itself, which is clearly part of the mother) and wait for the foetus to die on its own accord (such as is performed in some hyserosomy abortions).[16] The only reason why “indirect” death is preferable is due to diffusion of responsibility (perhaps the patient could have obtained an organ donation elsewhere, etc.). Yet that serves only to obfuscate the issue.[17]

2. Obligations - These presuppose the mother is a parent, and that the foetus is an offspring. Pro has not supported these equivocations. Also Pro is arguing from outside utility or libertarianism with “obligations” (what obligations, legal obligations?), and thus has not established a value to base this rebuttal on. These laws are based on the assumption that the [born] child has liberties of its own to be protected, and hence those need to be examined on their own merits before this rebuttal is substantive.

Absolute/selective bodily autonomy
We have already established that bodily autonomy ought to be upheld for a stable society, even if it restricts the rights, or harms other people (such as is the case with the organ transplant scenario). Thus, while #2 of Pro’s dichotomy is correct (liberty ought only be impeded if it impedes on the liberty of others), these parameters do not apply in the same way to bodily autonomy.

“If this right is absolute, then it would follow that we have an unalienable right to do whatever the hell we want.”

With our bodies, yes, we can prtty much. We can tattoo it, cut it, kill it, skin it, whatever. But Pro equivocates this with anything that doesn’t involve our bodies – which is false, and Pro has given no reason to accept this equivocation.

Health Risks
“Whilst it is true that childbirth is riskier than abortion, it is still very unlikely that childbirth will be fatal.”

It doesn’t matter. Me shooting a person once increases risk of death, yet it is still very unlikely they will die. Has Pro got a justified arbitrary gauge on “how much increased risk” is too much? No. Also this assumes an extremely wealthy environment, which is not the case for an extremely large minority of the world, see the following chart:

Pro also drops that it causes other complications, including reduced quality of life, mental health issues, etc. Pro equivocates a foetus with a toddler in his defence with no justification.

C2. Foetus’ lack identity
I have previously addressed rebuttals to identity & memory arguments for a foetus’ lack of liberty, thus I extend these.

C4. The Alternative
Illegal/legal abortion

1. “In short, they take responsibility for their own welfare so it is no longer the government's concern”

If we are assuming utility as a value, then Pro cannot make this defence without undermining his own case. Since abortion actually increases utility here no matter which way the facts are interpreted. If we are assuming liberty as a value, then right to medical and health liberties is violated.

2. Pro’s citation here is a 400 page book with no page reference. Given that I have presented precise facts to the contrary, Pro’s rebuttal can be treated as a bare assertion. I could cite the journal “Science”, all 100,000+ pages of it, to support a fact if we accept Pro’s citation here. Fact is that no correlation is found between legalising abortion and abortion incidence, with nations and regions with increased restrictions having similar abortion rates to those without. Even within sub-regions, such as between different US states, this was found to hold. Thus, people are going have abortions regardless of whether or not it is legal.[18] See following chart:

Note the extremely high incidence of abortion of women in Africa, where strict anti-abortion laws exist, and hence virtually all abortions are illegal.

3. Same issue with sourcing as point #2. Impossible to check Pro’s facts on this, and ignores the evidence already presented.

4. After points #2 and #3, I am thoroughly disgusted by Pro’s sourcing here. Pro’s source provides no:

i. Context
ii. No axis labels (wtf do these values signify)
iii. Reference (it is just a chart) – which would contain information on where the data was collected, how, and where it is valid

This chart could mean virtually anything as a result, it could be looking at one household for all we know and the mortality of abortion of that household. Moreover it only measures one metric - death, and ignores all others.


Debate Round No. 4
32 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by Envisage 1 year ago
I think should have just dropped all moral values and argued from the perspective of a stable society exclusively. Since that was the shared axiom.
Posted by Philocat 1 year ago
Actually , in hindsight I should probably have dropped util and just argued against abortion from a libertarian perspective.
Posted by Philocat 1 year ago
Thanks for the RFD! I agree with you that it was too much to both defend utilitarianism and attack abortion. Probably why I lost out.
Posted by salam.morcos 1 year ago
Good debate
Posted by salam.morcos 1 year ago
Weak cases, strong rebuttals. I will be voting on this when I get a change. But overall, a good debate.
Posted by Ragnar 1 year ago
I will have to read this one, with such good debaters I might learn something I do not already know on the subject... Sadly, the most I could fairly do would still be a null vote, due to the overwhelming strength of my bias on this topic.
Posted by Philocat 1 year ago
Hmm.. Perhaps it would have been better to agree on a value (either utility or liberty) and then argue about abortion in regards to an established axiom.
Posted by Envisage 1 year ago
Maybe. I think it would have been more interesting if the debate was done assuming utilitarianism. Since the debate just ended up getting cloggy with the value justification. I personally don't really care too much, since I am neither a libertarian nor a util, I am more of a contrarian or egoist in my applied ethics.
Posted by Philocat 1 year ago
Thanks for the debate Envisage :) it was good, although so think most of it was actually a utilitarianism vs libertarianism debate.
Posted by Envisage 1 year ago
GG Philocat. Think it could have used an extra round (2 rounds for presentation & defence of own case, and 2 rounds for rebuttal and mitigation of opponents case) although I guess that would get tedious on the voters.
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Vote Placed by Death23 1 year ago
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