Animality and Agency: A Kantian Approach to Abortion

This paper situates abortion in the context of women’s duties to themselves. I argue that Kant’s fundamental moral requirement (found in the formula of humanity) to respect oneself as a rational being, combined with Kant’s view of our animal nature, form the basis for a view of pregnancy and abortion that focuses on women’s agency and moral character without diminishing the importance of their bodies and emotions. The Kantian view of abortion that emerges takes abortion to be morally problematic, but sometimes permissible, and sometimes even required. I first sketch Kant’s account to duties to oneself, highlighting duties to oneself as an animal and moral being. Next, I discuss pregnancy and the challenges it poses to women’s self-preservation, development, and efficacy as rational human agents. I then give my main argument: that abortion is morally problematic because it is antagonistic to an important subset of morally useful emotions that we have self-regarding duties to protect and cultivate. I argue that self-regarding moral considerations ground a rebuttable deliberative presumption against maxims of abortion for inclination-based ends. Finally, I consider three objections to this account of abortion: that it rests on implausible assumptions about the effects of abortion on women’s morally useful sentiments; that it portrays the virtuous agent’s reasoning about abortion as objectionably self-regarding; and that it fails adequately to recognize the moral significance of the fetus as a potential rational being.
Keywords Kantian ethics  abortion  duties to oneself
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DOI 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2007.00117.x
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