Abortion and Morals

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Religion, personal rights, or science normally fuels the debate on abortion. However abortion can be looked at philosophically and debated whether it is moral or immoral. In this paper I will argue that abortion is immoral because it deprives the zygote from any future life. In The Journal of Philosophy, Don Marquis argues in his essay, “Why Abortion is Immoral” that abortion is wrong because it deprives the fetus of a ‘future like ours’. I agree with his claim, but feel his overall argument is weak because of word fetus and the statement ‘future like ours’.

His use of the word fetus was told to represent all stages of pregnancy, since that was not his debate. However in my argument the word zygote will be used, since a zygote would be the earliest form of a potential life. The idea in his statement ‘Future like ours’ is the same as mine, but I feel the claim ‘like ours’ makes it unclear. For example killing someone will deprive him or her of a future like mine, but also making someone blind or paralyzed or any other thing that hinders life will deprive him or her of a future like mine.

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Since we are talking specifically any future life at all and not just a worse life I will use the statement any future life; which includes any life whether it is like ours or not. This paper is not here to argue whether or not the zygote is a human being, has a right to life, is conscious, can feel pain, or any of the normal debates. It also does not apply to the rare cases of abortion involving rape or the mother’s life being at risk. This paper is to argue simply that when a sperm and ovum create a zygote, that zygote has a future and abortion immorally takes that away.

In order to establish that abortion is immoral we must first solve whether killing an adult is moral or not. When people are held at gunpoint, fear starts to set in that their life might be over, which is why they become terrified. Life therefore has value. “The loss of one’s life deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments that would otherwise have constituted one’s future”(Marquis). A leading online dictionary Merriam Webster defines killing as to deprive of life: cause the death of. When an adult is killed, he or she is deprived from the rest of their life.

The adult is robbed of their future, which is the ultimate loss, “…what makes killing any adult human being prima facie seriously wrong is the loss of his or her future”(Marquis). The philosopher Marquis supported this theory with two considerations. He first stated that this explains why killing is considered one of the world’s worst crimes. “Killing…deprives the victim of more than perhaps any other crime”(Marquis). His second consideration is that when someone is diagnosed with any terminal illness they believe that dying is a very bad thing. Dying is hard to deal with because you see that you no longer have a future.

With the future being the key aspect on why killing is so wrong and dying so hard to deal with, you can see that killing an adult is immoral because it takes away their future life. A zygote has a future life as well. Whether the zygote grows up to cure cancer, become the president or just the local garbage man, is irrelevant. Don marquis asserts that, “The future of a standard fetus includes a set of experiences, projects, activities, and such which are identical with the futures of adult human beings and are identical with the futures of young children”(Marquis).

The point being is that the zygote has a future, just like any adult or child does. The only way to take that future life away from that zygote is the same way it is taken away from an adult, by killing (BBC). Since killing an adult is immoral because it takes away their future life, abortion is therefore also immoral. Marquis explains that this conclusion proceeded independently of the potential person, personhood, and right to life categories (STAIRS). On the other hand, an objection to this argument can be found in “Does A Fetus Already Have A Future Like Ours? by Peter McInerney. McInerney makes a clear argument that, “killing a fetus is morally very different from killing a normal adult human”(McInerney). He claims that Marquis’ argument is not valid because of, “The unexamined premise in the argument…that a fetus already has a future-like-ours of which it can be deprived. For the argument to be convincing, it is necessary that a fetus at its time “possess” or be related to a future-like-ours in a way that allows the transfer from the wrongness of killing us persons to the wrongness of killing fetuses”(McInerney).

McInerney is explaining that in order for Marquis theory to be correct that fetus has to posses a personal future like ours, and according to him it does not. He goes on to say that a fetus is very different from normal adult humans. He claims that, “Philosophical investigations of personal identity through time have revealed the complexity of the biological and psychological connections between the earlier and later stages of one person. These significant differences invalidate the claim that a fetus has a personal future in the same way that a normal adult human has a personal future”(McInerney).

McInerney is saying that the personal futures of an adult and a fetus are not the same. Therefore the statement that it is wrong to kill adults because it deprives them of a future has no correlation to the statement that it is wrong to abort fetuses because a fetus’ personal future is not the same as a future possessed by an adult human. Although his argument is one of the strongest objections thus far to the future life theory, I do not feel his reasoning is strong enough to cancel out the argument all together, but perhaps spark further thought on the subject.

Furthermore, Marquis knew he would have objections to his argument so he went ahead in his essay and wrote off a few. One objection he thought of would be the issue of animal rights and if killing them would be immoral as well because you are depriving them of their futures too. Marquis handles this question by explaining that it is in no relation to the subject at hand and that animal rights are a whole other controversial issue.

He expresses that his dismissal of that account “should not reflect badly on this sketch of an elementary theory of the wrongness of killing that it is indeterminate with respect to some very difficult issues regarding animal rights”(Marquis). In other words, his essay is about the immorality of abortion and although animal rights is an issue it will not be addressed and should not affect the strength of his argument. Another objection that followed his essay in The Journal of Philosophy is the essay “Killing, Abortion, and Contraception: A Reply to Marquis” by Allastair Norcross.

Norcross first defined deprave and deprive, making quite the start to a potential objection claiming that contraception is then no different from abortion according to the theory of a ‘future like ours’. He went on to state that, “Marquis might object at this point that he does not have to argue that the difference between a depriving and a depraving is morally significant, because it is just obvious that there is a morally important difference between depriving a thing of its potentialities and preventing it from coming about that there is a thing with potentialities.

It is difficult to know what to say to this, except to point out that it is far from obvious to me”(Norcross). Norcross’ findings led to no conclusion just an open-ended question basically saying he needs more of an explanation to understand how abortion differs from use of contraception because both are depriving a ‘thing’ from its future by his definition. In conclusion, this essay on the ethics of abortion was set out to argue that abortion is immoral without using religion, personal rights or science behind any arguments.

By using the philosophy presented by Don Marquis in his essay “Why Abortion Is Immoral”, the reasoning behind the argument is clear and concise. It is immoral to deprive an adult of its future life by killing, therefore it is immoral to deprive a zygote its future life by abortion.

Works Cited

“BBC – Ethics – Abortion: Future like Ours. ” BBC – Homepage. BBC. Web. 25 June 2011. . Marquis, Don. “Why Abortion Is Immoral. ” The Journal of Philosophy 84. (1989): 183-202. JSTOR. Web. 25 June 2011. . McInerney, Peter K. “Does a Fetus Already Have a Future-Like-Ours? ” The Journal of Philosophy 87. 5 (1990): 264-68. JSTOR. Web. 24 June 2011. . Norcross, Alastair. “Killing, Abortion, and Contraception: A Reply to Marquis. ” The Journal of Philosophy 87. 5 (1990): 268-77. JSTOR. Web. 24 June 2011. . Stairs, Allen. “Don Marquis: A Non-Religious Anti-Abortion Argument. ” Stairs. umd. edu. UMD. Web. 24 June 2011.

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Abortion and Morals. (2017, Jan 05). Retrieved from


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