The meaning of "life": Belief and reason in the abortion debate

This Article criticizes how both sides in the abortion debate have treated the concepts of "human life" and personhood. Much legal scholarship has focused on whether abortion should be permitted, but little attention has been cast on the role of rhetoric in the debate. The Article argues that appeals to "human life" are vague and deceptive, since most conservatives would not consistently treat a fetus as a legal person. Conservatives can commit only to a "thin" conception of life (an embryo or fetus is a human organism in the process of developing into a person) even as they trade on the more emotionally compelling "thick" notions that the term "life" invokes. In response, liberals often simply assume that "life" means "personhood" and then assert that abortion must be permitted even if the fetus is a person. Alternatively, liberals sidestep the question of fetal personhood, arguing that principles of individual autonomy do not permit any single view to be imposed upon everyone. The Article criticizes both of these responses. The first does not hold up under scrutiny, and the second is disingenuous, for if any abortions remain legal, society has not sidestepped the question but rather has rejected fetal personhood. Moreover, the Article claims, the standard liberal responses neglect the important role women's autonomy and dignity should play in the debate.This Article argues that liberals and conservatives must address directly the question of fetal personhood. In reflective equilibrium, conservative and liberal views of abortion would likely converge on a gradualist view of embryonic and fetal life (an embryo is intrinsically valuable but its moral weight increases with gestation). The distracting and misleading question of embryonic or fetal personhood could then be laid aside in favor of a more honest, fruitful public conversation about the morality of abortion.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 15,831
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

49 ( #68,370 of 1,724,889 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

1 ( #349,138 of 1,724,889 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.