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Abortion is Generally Immoral

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/29/2012 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 5,284 times Debate No: 24498
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I would like to debate the proposition that abortion is generally immoral.

I do accept life-saving abortions as morally jusitified, in cases (such as ectopic pregnancy) where the woman's life is in immediate jeopardy and the child cannot also be saved. This is because it is better to lose one life than to lose two, even though losing one life is still tragic. This can be seen in triage, that if two patients are morally wounded and only one can be saved, the one with the greatest chance of survival is saved.

First round for acceptance.
Second round for opening arguments/rebuttals.
Third round for rebuttals.
Fourth round for rebuttals/closing statements.


I'll be delighted to take this on. I have no intention to use 'life at risk' cases like ectopic pregnancies. Also, I'll state up front I won't be relying on pregnancies via rape, incest or pregnancies incompatible with life or profound handicap, as these are small fractions of abortions performed.
Debate Round No. 1


I would like to thank Thrasymachus for accepting my debate challenge.

I will put my argument in the form of a syllogism and then support my premises.

Premise 1: From fertilization, the preborn are biological members of humanity.
Premise 2: All members of humanity are intrinsically valuable based on the kind of thing they are, humans.
Premise 3: It is prima facie wrong to kill an innocent human being.
Premise 4: Abortion takes the life of an innocent human being.
Conclusion: Therefore, abortion is generally immoral.

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." [1]

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." [2]

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.” [3]

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." [4]

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

Human value is an intrinsic value, not an instrumental one. Most people agree that humans outside the womb are valuable and should be protected. People decry the loss of innocent human life, especially when those lives lost are children. Human value is not something we get in degrees, it's something we either have or don't have. A pre-born human is just as valuable as a born human, and any reason used to rationalize abortion due to the preborn human being "different" leads to discrimination and would allow us to discriminate against someone outside the womb who fits those same characteristics.

Aside from simply belonging to our species, Homo Sapiens, preborn humans have the inherent capacity to perform the functions that make human beings valuable. All the things that make humans value (e.g. sentience) may not be immediately exhibited by a human in utero, but they have the inherent capacity to fulfill these functions. If you are going to support abortion because they do not immediately exercise those functions, then like certain pro-choice philosophers (e.g. Michael Tooley and Peter Singer), you must also support infanticide, killing people in their sleep, and killing people in a reversible coma.

Premise 3

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.

Premise 4

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, humans are intrinsically valueable, and killing an innocent member of humanity is 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] Ronan O'Rahilly and Fabiola Müller, Human Embryology and Teratology, 3rd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 2001. p. 8.
[2] Keith L. Moore, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology, 7th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 2003. p. 16.
[3] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 85-86.
[4] David Boonin, A Defense of Abortion. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2003) 20.


Hello everyone, my thanks to Keytar for the debate. First, I’ll show the substance view of personhood is false, and so abortion does not harm morally significant beings. Second I’ll show pregnancy remains supererogatory from woman to (fully person) foetus, and women refusing to continue are not generally immoral.

Foetuses and persons

If the human foetus is not a person, then abortion is likely permissible, as harm to the fetus is the main motivation to be opposed to abortion. The question becomes when (and in virtue of what) to we gain personhood. (Maklin 1983)

Those who hold abortion is generally immoral are obliged to take a substance view of personhood – that personhood arrives fully at conception. The bulk of abortions in the developed world occur <20 weeks gestation (see e.g. Department of Health 2011, Lilo et al. 2003), and so competing views of personhood hold the foetus at this stage to have little moral salience. Yet the substance view is false.

The Scourge

Ord asks us to imagine the following. (Ord 2008)

The Scourge struck swiftly and brutally. This terrifying new disease, more deadly than any before it, left no part of the world untouched. From the poorest countries in Africa to the richest countries of the West, it killed with equal, horrifying, efficiency. It struck quickly, killing most of its victims within a few weeks of onset, and silently, for there were no detectable symptoms prior to death. Before the Scourge, the global death rate was 55 million per annum. That is, all causes of death—old age, war, murder, disease, and so on—conspired to take 55 million lives each year. The Scourge changed this dramatically. It alone killed more than 200 million people every year. From that time on, more than three quarters of the deaths each year were due to the Scourge. Where life expectancy in the West had risen steadily over the past century to 78 years, it had now dropped to just 29. Perhaps worst of all, the effects of the Scourge were not felt equally across all members of society. It killed only the very young and innocent—those who were completely powerless to prevent it.

Compared with the Scourge, all other problems seemed insignificant. The Scourge was the major issue of the age, and there was an overwhelming obligation on society to fight it. Other projects had to be put on hold and a major international effort directed towards loosening the Scourge’s grip upon humanity.

If the substance view is true, then this Scourge is no fiction, but rather the fact of natural embryo loss. All estimates agree 50% or more of all conceptions never make it to term (see e.g. Bocklage 1990, French and Bierman 1962, Driscoll and Bieber 1995). If all are persons from moment of conception, natural embryo loss kills more than any disease – indeed, more than all diseases combined.

If so, our medical budget is completely misallocated: we should be spending all (or at least most) of our resources trying to conquer natural embryo loss, rather than diseases like HIV or Malaria that kill orders of magnitude fewer. Yet virtually everyone finds this recommendation preposterous. The substance view must be wrong.

  1. If the substance view is true, then orders of magnitude more people die from natural embryo loss than HIV, Malaria, etc.
  2. If orders of magnitude more people die from X than Y, then we should spend much more money on X than Y.
  3. It is wrong to spend much more money on natural embryo loss than HIV or Malaria.
  4. The substance view is false.

So here is the first argument: For abortion to be generally immoral, the substance view must be true, for other views on personhood will not accord foetuses at <20 weeks great moral salience, and so make abortion generally innocuous. Yet we see the substance view is untenable for it entails this reductio. So there are no grounds for holding abortion to be generally immoral.

Here’s a map of the argument.

Violins and bodily duties

Although the substance view is necessary, it is not sufficient to make abortion generally immoral. Following Thomson (Thomson, 1971) perhaps the circumstances of pregnancy are such that the woman is ‘within her rights’ to refuse this relationship, even if that results in the death of another human person. Here’s my modified violinist analogy:

One morning, you are visited by the Society of Music Lovers. They tell you of the plight of the Famous Violinist, and inform you that you are the only known match they could find. They tell you that to save his life, you would have to be hooked up to him for nine months before you could both go on your way, and are fastidious in informing you about the risks of the hooking-up process. Although not a member of the Society, you love the Violinist's music, so you give enthusiastic consent. After establishing that you are fully informed and you are still happy to help after a week, you are booked in for hooking-up, and you are in the bed next to the unconscious violinist.

Sadly, your attitude changes a month later, and you cease to want to stay hooked up for nine months, or any longer - perhaps you find being hooked up intolerable, or you realize the costs for your family are too great. It is now your settled view you want to unhook yourself. You do, and the violinist dies.

It is worth noting that this is much stronger than the original violinist example. Instead of being hooked up without one’s knowledge (and against one’s will), one gives explicit and informed consent. Yet it remains intuitive that one is ‘within one’s rights’ to unhook oneself: granted it may be more laudable to stay hooked-up, but that doesn’t make unhooking oneself immoral. You haven’t harmed the violinist (you gave him a month of life he would otherwise never have had), and the fact he could have lived even longer had you stayed hooked-up gives him no ground for complaint, as you were already going ‘beyond the call of duty’ to be hooked-up for any length of time. This parallels the law in similar situations: transplant donors always retain the right to opt out at any stage, and few states demand a ‘duty to rescue’ (and even then not when one it is at risk).

So a woman does nothing immoral when she aborts a pregnancy to which she gave her prior and informed consent, for doing so is only a refusal of (further) supererogatory actions towards another person. A fortiori a woman does nothing immoral when she aborts a pregnancy she knowingly ‘ran the risk’ of happening but did not desire (e.g. contraceptive failure, ill-advised sex). So even if the foetus is a person, the vast bulk of pregnancies are morally permissible, and not generally immoral.

I look forward to PROs response.


Bieber, F. R., & Driscoll, D. G. (1995). Evaluation of early pregnancy loss. In G. B. Reed, A. E. Claireux, & F. Cockburn (Eds.), Diseases of the Fetus and Newborn (2nd ed., pp. 175–186). London: Chapman & Hall.

Boklage, C. E. (1990). Survival probability of human conceptions from fertilization to term. International Journal of Fertility, 35(2), 75, 79–80, 81–94.

Department of Health. (2012). Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2011. Retrieved from

French, F. E., & Bierman, J. M. (1962). Probabilities of fetal mortality. Public Health Reports, 77(10), 835–848.

Macklin, R. (1983). Personhood in the Bioethics Literature. The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly. Health and Society, 61(1), 35–57. doi:10.2307/3349815

Ord, T. (2008). The scourge: moral implications of natural embryo loss. The American Journal of Bioethics: AJOB, 8(7), 12–19. doi:10.1080/15265160802248146

Strauss, L. T., Gamble, S. B., Parker, W. B., Cook, D. A., Zane, S. B., & Hamdan, S. (2003). Abortion Surveillance - 2003 ( No. 55(SS11)). Surveillance Summaries (pp. 1–32). Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

Thomson, J. J. (1971). A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1(1), 47–66.

Debate Round No. 2


I would like to thank Con for his time is discussing this issue. I will begin my rebuttal by stating that Con has not undermined the Substance View at all, and has not proven pregnancy to be a supererogatory action from woman to fetus.

On Personhood

I actually hesitate to use the term “person” in a debate on abortion because “person” is just a legal term that has been used to discriminate against groups of humans in the past. For example, in the United States blacks were once considered sub-human; they were 3/5ths of a person for voting purposes only. In modern America, corporations are even considered “persons.” As such, it proves nothing about the moral worth of the unborn whether we consider them “persons” or not. Therefore, the pro-life case is the more solid, because personhood is not granted at some arbitrary time in human development (e.g. birth, viability, etc.). It is the inclusive view, including all humans as persons.

The Scourge

Con asks us to imagine a case of a “scourge,” implying that the substance view is false simply because of its ramifications regarding natural embryo loss. But this is fallacious. Something is not true or false despite its ramifications. One might easily take this case and apply it to pre-Civil War times, when blacks were not considered persons.

Say white slave owners started losing black slaves to a new disease that only targeted Africans, due to something in their biological make-up. It would be much easier to say “obviously blacks aren’t people, otherwise we’d have to spend all this time and energy into preventing this new disease that is taking their lives.” What Con is arguing is that the Substance View fails because it is easier to consider them non-persons. Then we don’t have to trouble ourselves with preventing their deaths. Instead, all Con has proven is that if the unborn are persons (or, human beings), then we should take a greater interest in the fact that we lose so many of them to miscarriage and other factors.

Also, this does not mean we would have to spend all of our resources on preventing natural embryo loss to the detriment of these other diseases. After all, we have many organizations fighting all kinds of diseases (e.g. AIDS, cancer, malaria, etc.). They are not just concentrating on Earth’s biggest killer. Nor would we only have to concentrate on natural embryo loss.

Finally, just because we do lose embryos through miscarriage and natural process, does not give us the right to kill them intentionally. People die of natural causes but this does not justify murder. Many people simultaneously die from natural disasters (e.g. hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.), but this does not justify nuking countries.

Con has done absolutely nothing to undermine the Substance View.

Bodily Rights

Con’s reformulation of the violinist analogy is, indeed, stronger – but it is subject to the same fatal flaws as the original.

First, abortion is not merely unplugging from the unborn, you must actually kill the unborn to remove it. This is equivalent to having to stab the violinist in the heart in order to unplug yourself. Philosopher Frank Beckwith points out, “Euphemistically calling abortion the ‘withholding of support’ makes about as much sense as calling suffocating someone with a pillow the withdrawing of oxygen.” [1]

Stephen Schwartz gives the following analogy: I return home to find a stranger in my house who will die unless I take care of him. Assume that I have no duty to give my support. May I then throw him out even if it means tossing him off a high cliff or into a deep lake where he will drown? Of course not. That I throw him out in the name of withholding support does not mean that I don’t do something else – kill him. That the woman throws the child out in the name of withholding support does not mean that she also does not do something else – kill the child. [2]

Second, even though in this reformulation the woman gave her consent, there is still a fundamental difference between the analogies. In the violinist, the person is unnaturally connected to the violinist, whereas in pregnancy the man and woman (in the vast majority of cases) are responsible not only for the child’s creation, but for creating a naturally needy child. She bears a responsibility for the needy child. In short, you are not responsible for the condition the violinist finds himself in; you are responsible for creating a naturally needy child. As such, carrying the pregnancy to term is not supererogatory, but morally obligatory.

Third, and perhaps less important than the first two, pregnancy is not a prison bed. Whereas you will have to stay connected in bed to the violinist, most pregnant women are able to move around, go to the store, even continue working until a couple of months before the due date. As Dr. Bernard Nathanson points out, “Few pregnant women are bedridden and many, both emotionally and physically, have never felt better. For these, it is a stimulating experience, even for mothers who did not originally want to be pregnant.” [3]

To briefly reiterate, Con’s objections do not undermine the Substance View, or the fact that women bear a responsibility to the child that they create.

I look forward to our next round.

[1] Beckwith, Francis, Politically Correct Death: Answering Arguments for Abortion Rights (Grand Rapids: MI, Baker, 1993), p. 133.
[2] Schwartz, Stephen, The Moral Question of Abortion (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1990), p. 118.
[3] Bernard N. Nathanson and Richard Ostling, Aborting America (New York: Doubleday, 1979), p. 123.


Below I’ve mapped PRO’s original argument. Note it isn’t strictly valid: it does not follow from “Abortion kills an innocent human being” and “Killing an innocent human being is prima facie immoral” that “Abortion is generally immoral” (my emphasis). Counter example: “Killing a human being is prima facie immoral”/ “Just war kills an innocent human being”// Just war is generally immoral.

Most of PRO’s R2 was spent supporting premises I accept (e.g. “From fertilization, the preborn are biological members of humanity”).[1] My own R2 implies two attacks on PRO’s argument. If either of these attacks succeeds, PRO’s case against abortion fails.


If we take the substance view seriously we must consider natural embryo loss a much higher priority than HIV, Malaria, or any other disease, as more than half of all (substance view) people die due to natural embryo loss. We should spend far more on treating natural embryo loss than (for example) HIV. Yet this is absurd, so the substance view is wrong.

One ‘out’ PRO tries is that aren’t obliged to spend all our money on natural embryo loss, and that we can spend some effort on lesser killers like HIV and Malaria. I agree, but we only need (and I only used) very weak resource allocation claims to make the conclusion preposterous: for natural embryo loss kills orders of magnitude more than HIV, and so surely deserves more funding than HIV. Yet this is absurd.

PRO asserts that “[J]ust because we do lose embryos through miscarriage and natural process, does not give us the right to kill them intentionally”. True, but irrelevant: I never used the embryo loss data to argue ‘we may kill embryos intentionally’, but that the substance view is false.

The centrepiece of PROs objection is an accusation this sort of argument is ‘fallacious’, that ‘something is not true or false despite its ramifications’. Yet reductios aren’t fallacious: and are standard practice in moral philosophy (see Rescher 2005): if we find some belief Y implausible, then it follows (by modus tollens, no less) that any belief that entails Y is implausible too. If PRO really thinks this sort of reasoning is fallacious, I defy him to provide a citation from anyone who agrees.[2]

We can charitably construe PRO as offering a better objection. “It is absurd to prioritize natural embryo loss over HIV” is an intuition. Yet moral intuitions can be wrong, and PRO invites us to consider how, if there was a black-only serious disease, how racists could use a scourge like argument to vindicate racism.[3].

But so what? That we our moral faculties sometimes get it wrong is no reason to disregard all their deliverances, no more so than the fact my eyes occasionally deceive me means I’d better wear a blindfold. PRO needs an argument either that all moral intuitions are not to be trusted, or that the particular intuition supporting my reductio is wrong, and PROs thought experiment supplies neither.

Here’s a map of where we are so far.


Even if the foetus is a person from conception, pregnancy remains a supererogatory act from woman to foetus. So refusing this relationship, much like unhooking yourself from a dependent violinist, is not immoral. PRO makes a number of objections. None are successful.

PRO notes the analogy does not permit direct killing of the foetus. Thomson herself agrees: “[B]ut to say this [unplugging yourself is permissible] is by no means to say that if, when you unplug yourself, there is a miracle and he survives, you then have a right to turn around and slit his throat.“ Thomson 1971, pp.66). This at best is an argument for methods that evacuate instead of kill. Medical abortion remains acceptable, as it works by halting maternal blood flow to the placenta and stimulating uterine contractions to expel the foetus (see Fiala and Danielsson 2006 accord Physicians for Life 2012). As medical abortions are common, are growing in proportion (see eg. Department of Health 2012 pp. 10) and could replace surgical methods in most cases, this concession is innocuous.

Next, cursory inspection shows Schwatz’s analogy to be a disanalogy. In our day-to-day lives there are other options besides letting an intruder stay in your house or chucking him into the sea. No such ‘middle ground’ exists for pregnancy due to foetal dependence. If you find some intruder on your lifeboat whilst the ship is sinking, and letting him remain entails risks to your life and welfare – and those of your family, then we arrive at a similar intuition that one is ‘within one’s rights’ to get rid of this intruder, even if he will drown.[4]

Finally, PRO notes that in pregnancy one is responsible for creating the foetus in a ‘naturally needy state’, and this entails an obligation. Yet there is no ‘third option’ for the woman to have the foetus not be in this naturally needy state: either the foetus exists needily or not at all. So if the woman actualizes this foetus in this state for a month and then opts to no longer support it, the foetus has no grounds for complaint: it had a month of life it would never have had otherwise, and one which the woman was never obligated to provide it. So any pregnancy for any time and regardless of dependency remains a supererogatory action.

To return to our violinist analogy, the ‘naturally needy state’ can be modelled by having there need to be a ‘life saving’ procedure prior to ‘hooking-up’, and without the life-saving the violinist dies immediately, but with it he still needs the nine months of hooking up to provide, so, by consenting to the life saving procedure, you are responsible for the violinist being in the needy state. If the woman (supererogatorily) accepts to participate in the life saving procedure she does not assume an obligation to stay hooked-up for any length of time.

Another map

My arguments stand, and each independently show abortion is generally permissible, and each independently show PRO’s argument to be unsound.

Enjoy life,



Department of Health. (2012). Abortion Statistics, England and Wales: 2011. Retrieved from

Fiala, C., & Danielsson, K.-G. (2006). Review of medical abortion using mifepristone in combination with a prostaglandin analogue. Contraception, 74(1), 66–86. doi:10.1016/j.contraception.2006.03.018

Physicians For Life - Abstinence, Abortion, Birth Control - RU 486 -- Mechanism of Action (How it Works). (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2012, from

Rescher, N. (2005). Reductio ad Absurdum. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from

Thomson, J. J. (1971). A Defense of Abortion. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 1(1), 47–66.

[1] Although I’ll note that calling non substance views ‘arbitrary’ is - at best – question begging, and that although Tooley and Singer consider infanticide permissible this isn’t a necessary consequence of a non-substance view. If (like me) you take personhood to obtain in a degree way throughout development, then you broadly preserve early abortion is permissible whilst infanticide is not (ditto killing those who’ve reversibly lost consciousness).

[2] As further support. None of the dozen or so articles published in response to Ord’s argument ever made the fallacy accusation.

[3] Note this is exactly the sort of ‘appeal to ramifications’ PRO told us was a fallacy!

[4] PRO notes that pregnancy “not a prison bed”. Yet, in general it remains burdensome: there are increased risks of mortality and morbidity, and it may in particular circumstances engender pain, social isolation, stigma, etc. Accepting such burdens for the benefit of a stranger can only ever be supererogatory.

Debate Round No. 3


My argument certainly is strictly valid. Prima facie means at first sight. The pro-life
case is that it is immoral to kill a human without moral justification. As such, Con’s counter-example fails. Just war is not immoral. The innocent people who die during war time are tragic, and soldiers have a moral obligation to protect the innocent. The point of war is not to kill innocent people, though innocent people do die from it. The point of abortion is to stop a woman from being pregnant by killing the innocent human within. But there is no moral justification for killing the innocent human. (For example, a woman who can’t afford it is not moral justification. If you would not allow a woman to kill her two-year-old child because he becomes too expensive, then neither is it justifiable to kill an unborn child for that reason.)

Natural embryo loss

Con’s view that spending resources on NEL is absurd commits the fallacy of begging the question. The only reason one would find it absurd is if one didn’t think the unborn were human beings, or that they have moral value. He has already admitted he accepts the premise of the substance view, which is that the preborn are biological members of humanity. But this is exactly what the substance view entails! It entails that since we are the same biological entity (i.e. “substance”) as we were in utero, then if a morally justifiable reason is required to kill us now, one is also required to kill the being in utero. The example of the scourge does not undermine this, for just because embryos die naturally (even a great number of them), this does not entail that we have the right to kill them intentionally.

Con has essentially ignored my main defense against his argument. I did not say that reductio ad absurdum is a logical fallacy. I said that his argument was fallacious thinking. The “scourge” does not entail the substance view is false; it merely entails that if the substance view is correct, then we should take a greater interest in NEL. This is a conclusion that I support.

Now, we do actually take an interest in miscarriage. We tell pregnant mothers not to smoke or drink while pregnant, because that increases the chances of miscarriage. Doctors will operate on an unborn child in the womb. We do take an interest in preservation of the unborn. It’s not something that we just completely ignore.

However, it still does not follow that we would have to spend most or all of our resources on it. First, we have organizations that try and find cures for all kinds of illnesses. If we stop looking for cures for cancer, etc., then those people will continue to die while we search for a cure for NEL. Say it takes us ten years to find a cure for NEL. That’s ten additional years it will take us to find a cure for other ailments. It would not be wise to set cancer research back ten years while we try to find a cure for NEL.

Second, NEL is not threatening the human race with extinction. It would be far more pressing to find a cure for a “scourge” that was killing born people because we need these people to keep society running. This is because people who are born (e.g. police officers, the president, etc.) have more instrumental value than someone who is barely in the beginning of their lives. So while NEL is a tragedy, it is not one that threatens the very survival of our race. So while we should find a way to prevent it, it is not so pressing that we would have to put off finding a cure for all the other ailments of our race.

It is also worth noting that my example of the racist disease was not an “appeal to ramifications” like Con was making. It was merely a counter-example to show that it is not absurd to suppose that if the unborn are human beings with moral value, that we should put resources into preventing their deaths. Con has essentially side-stepped my counter example.


It is worth point out that, especially in the United States, the risk of death through pregnancy is incredibly rare – a woman has less than a 1% chance of dying in pregnancy or childbirth. [1] Also, Con illustrates another difference between the violinist and pregnancy – the unborn is not a stranger. The unborn is the child of the woman. What parent would deny their child a blood transfusion, or an organ that their child needs, if their child is in danger of dying? However, I didn’t bring this objection up last round because one could simply tweak the violinist analogy to where the violinist is a long-lost relative. Even though it’s a child, the parent is still not morally obligated to “stay connected,” even though one would certainly look down on a parent for denying their child something she needed to survive. Pregnancy remains a morally obligatory act, not supererogatory.

None of Con’s objections to my rebuttal are successful.

Regarding killing the fetus, this objection certainly is powerful against surgical abortions, in which you must kill the unborn in order to “unplug” from the fetus. There have been abortion survivers. But regarding Thomson’s objection, abortion is not “slitting the throat” if the baby survives through a miracle. Abortion is “slitting the throat” of the child in order to unplug the child. Abortion works through dismemberment, suction, or chemicals. So at least in the case of surgical abortion, we can see that the violinist analogy fails.

Now, if there is someone who risks your life and the only way to get rid of them is to kill them, then it is morally permissible to do so. However, this was a concession I made in round one. I believe that lifesaving abortions are morally justifiable if the unborn is not yet viable. However, if you find a stowaway on your boat, despite the fact that he will continue to use your resources, you are not morally justified in throwing him overboard and leave him to drown or be eaten by sharks. You are morally obligated to leave him aboard until you reach shore. Abortion is not morally justified in the off chance it may become life threatening, especially since a woman has less than a 1% chance of dying in full-term pregnancy and delivery. Schwartz’ analogy stands.

There is no third option for the woman, so killing a needy child she had a hand in creating is not justified. You may not remove someone if the only way to remove them is to kill them (as I have shown). There is a critical difference in Con’s modified analogy – you may now be responsible for the condition the violinist finds himself in, but that is only because you saved his life and elongated it. Without the treatment, he would have died – you simply gave him longer to live. This is not analogous to pregnancy, in which you cause a being to begin life in a naturally needy state. You did not elongate its life.

So what about medical abortion? As I have shown, remaining pregnant is still a morally obligatory action. So while medical abortion may be more analogous to simply “unplugging” from the fetus, it is still morally impermissible due to the reasons already mentioned – if you create a naturally needy child, you are morally obligated to care for that child.

I can show this in an analogy. Say you see a button on a wall that will give you a very pleasurable experience, but has a 1/100 chance of a baby popping out. You press the button and receive the experience, but a baby, indeed, pops out. Are you now obligated to care for that child, or are you justified in walking away and leaving that child to die?


In short, my argument stands. Con’s objections do not work against the pro-life case.

Thank you for reading, and thank you to Con for debating this with me.

Note: This article shows that early-term abortion is safer than childbirth.
This is irrelevant to the case at hand; besides, even though early-term abortion
is safer, full-term pregnancy and delivery is still not a danger to the woman.



Thrasymachus forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 4
24 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by KeytarHero 6 years ago

The problem is, that my pro-life views are based on the fact that we are all human from fertilization. As such, since we are all the same organism now as we were in the womb (with certain minor differences between then and now), if it requires a morally justifiable reason to kill a human outside the womb, then an equally justifiable reason is required to kill someone inside the womb.

I also believe that abortions are justifiable in the cases that the mother's life is in immediate jeopardy (if the unborn human cannot also be saved). I believe that there are certain qualities that make us human, but it's our inherent capacity to fulfill these functions that makes us valuable. Not simply our ability to perform them at the moment, but our inherent ability to perform them. This is because if the immediate capacity to fulfill these functions was required, then personhood would essentially come and go. For exmaple, if the present capacity for consciousness was what gave us basic human rights, then it would be legal to kill someone who is asleep, in a reversible coma, or even a toddler, without any justification whatsoever.

But what is it about gaining things that philosophically make us "human" (by your definition) that suddenly grants the organism the right not to be killed?
Posted by Catalyst 6 years ago
I will grant you that the unborn are physically "human" from fertilization. There is no other status it could have. They are physically human organisms. To me, there is a difference between a human organism and a human being (member of humanity). There is a point in development at which the fetus gains those attributes that make us human (philosophically, not physically) and at that point their value becomes equal to that of the rest of humanity. So I guess this would best fit as not agreeing with your second premise.
I am unfamiliar with formal debate and out of practice in general. I have not debated anything since my Medicinal Ethics class in college many years ago. I will debate with you if we can decide upon a topic that makes sense from both our stances.
I do not care that bodily rights is seen as easier to defend. It holds no place in my beliefs. If the unborn have value (as we both believe, just the when is different) then abortion is immoral except in the case where the mother's life is in danger and some other exceptions.
I put very little stock in quotes. I would only accept quotes from embryologists to support physical development. Being an expert on human embryos means they are experts in the physical development of embryos. It does not give their oppinion as to the VALUE of the embryo any more standing than a layman. I am extremely familiar (expert even) in the production of various medical products. However, my oppinion as to the value of those drugs to a particular patient is moot. I am not a doctor. Knowing how something is made, or how something works, does not equal knowing how it should be used or knowing the true value of the product.
Message me and we can see if we can come up with something.
Posted by KeytarHero 6 years ago
Also, my case for the pro-life cause is based on scientific evidence as well as philosophical evidence. I would be willing to have a formal debate with you on this topic, if you wish, and we can present our cases and whatever scientific information we have to support our views. I also have many more quotes I can use, I just didn't want to bog this down. Also, since embryologists are experts on human embryos (go figure), I think it's perfectly reasonable to quote people from that field.
Posted by KeytarHero 6 years ago

This is not a "potential." They are actually human from fertilization. You simply can't get around that. It doesn't matter what they develop at a certain point; they have the capacity right from the beginning. Right from the beginning they are a living, human organism. This is supported by science and even by sophisticated pro-choice philosophers (because, let's face it, arguing from bodily rights is much stronger than arguing against the unborn being alive and human at any point in their development).

Plus, we all begin life as a single cell. It is alive because it grows, and it is human because it has human DNA and is the product of human parents. I understand that you may work in the biotechnology field, but I have embyrologists (which are the experts on the matter) who consistently agree, plus pro-choice philosophers who agree with this. My very argument rests on the fact that we are all alive and biologically human from fertilization. I can understand why it seems like a single-celled organism being a human being is absurd, but this is what it is. The fact that it is less-developed and smaller than we are has no bearing on the rights that should be assigned ot it, unless you would agree that smaller and younger humans have less basic human rights (such as the right to life) than bigger and older humans.
Posted by KeytarHero 6 years ago
Kinesis, my position is not a religious one and is irrelevant to whether or not we have souls (although I do believe we do). This is not a political position. This is a scientific one.

Any pro-choice advocate who refuses to accept the life and humanity of the unborn are simply uneducated, and appear so. Plus, it's simply weak to argue against it. Bodily rights is a much stronger argument, so any pro-choice advocate would do well to accept the unborn being alive and human, and use the stronger arguments the pro-choice side has to offer.
Posted by Kinesis 6 years ago
Other people should voote on thiis. It's greeat.
Posted by Catalyst 6 years ago
By the way, I will add that I am pro-life. Apparently just for very different reasons that you are. I rely on scientific evidence, not random quotes from a couple of embryologists. If you look hard enough, you will find a Doctor or scientist that believes anything. It does not make them right.
Posted by Catalyst 6 years ago
My first comment states the point at which we go from being "non-human to human" and yes there is indeed a certain point depending upon your viewpoint. The acquisition of uniquely human attributes (not just the potential for them)
Having quotes from some philosophers and embryologists (regardless of whether they are pro or con) does not definitively prove your point. In science, there is never 100% agreement. Again, this comes down to you definition of human. If all you saying is that to be human is to possess a full set of human DNA than that is technically correct.
What it takes to become a "member of humanity" is most definitely debatable and my claim could be easily defended.
You have extrapolated too much from their statements concerning fertilization creating a unique set of human DNA. DNA is only one part among many that makes a human being. And please refer to your own source..."Human development begins at fertilization". Development being the key word. That does not read, a human being is created at fertilization.
I am a scientist working in the biotechnology field. It is currently common practice to splice human DNA in to bacteria and CHO cells. Does this elevate those organisms to a greater status than their relatives who have not been genetically manipulated?

The notion that a single celled organism could possibly be a human being is absurd to me.

Also, do you know what biological make-up means? I am not sure what you are referring to. How can you say that a single cell is equivalent "in biological make up" to a fully developed human being.
Posted by Kinesis 6 years ago
" I just can't see why any pro-choice advocate *wouldn't* accept the full humanity and even personhood of the unborn"

You honestly can't see why they would believe that? I know you come from a Christian viewpoint which views humans as endowed by souls from conception, but you must be able to see why people without that belief wouldn't hold little collections of cells barely biologically different from skin cells scratched from their nose to have 'personhood'.

I know you say things to get around this like "they have the inherent capacity to fulfill these functions" - so, in the future they will exhibit consciousness. And I know you can provide counterexamples (comas, unconscious adults), but at least those people have brains at that point. They have the capacity to think in a much more robust sense than the potential sense you appeal to.
Posted by KeytarHero 6 years ago
I should also note that my entire argument rests on scientific evidence and philosophical arguments. Not once have I used a religious argument or talked about the existence of a soul.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by ceruleanpolymer 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: FF
Vote Placed by Kinesis 6 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: This debate was clear, short and deep. Pro's first round laid out a typical pro-life argument (I think he should have spend more time defending premise 2 than premise 1. Only someone unfamiliar with the debate would deny it.) Con's response amounted to two intuition pumps challenging premises 2 and 3 (although without the prima facie - as Con pointed out, the conclusion does not follow because of 3). Pro responded with enough dis-analogies to make me doubt that either was conclusive.