These questions are meant to provoke reflection and conversation. Some are intended to gauge the pro-choice individual’s commitments and presuppositions. Others are designed to poke holes in the philosophical justification for “abortion rights”. Responses are welcome, and encouraged.
1. In terms of biology, the human life cycle begins at conception and ends at death. At what point in this life cycle do you believe human life becomes “valuable”? Is the value of a human life an “all-or-nothing” attribute, or are some human lives more valuable than others?
2. At what point in this life cycle do you believe humans should acquire legal rights? Why?
3. Pro-choice philosophers typically define the value of a human life in terms of utility (development of brainwaves, consciousness, etc.). If this is true, then why is it morally acceptable to sacrifice pigs and dogs for the purpose of medical/scientific research, but not human infants? Neurologically speaking, it’s not at all controversial to say that pigs and dogs are in many ways “more advanced” than human infants. Yet society only accepts sacrificing the former for experimental purposes. Do you? If so, why?
4. Do you support paternal child support laws? (Consider this quote from Dr. Michael Pakaluk: “[Suppose] that the reason the woman has sole right to decide to have an abortion is that the status of the fetus somehow depends upon how she chooses to regard it: thus, the fetus is not a child until the mother decides that it is, say, at some point later in pregnancy. But then a consequence of this is that the man, through having intercourse with the woman, does not conceive a child. Rather, he conceives only a fetus, and the fetus at some later point becomes a child, only because of the woman’s deciding that it is. But then the man’s role in intercourse is not a cause of a child. He brought into existence only a fetus, and it was the woman’s decision to ‘continue the pregnancy through term’ that made it a child. But if so, it is not clear why the man should have any responsibility for the child. How could the woman bring a claim for paternity support against him? After all, he could rightly reply: ‘You decided to regard the fetus as a child; so the child is your responsibility.'”)
6. Perhaps the strongest argument in favor of “abortion rights” is the pregnant woman’s right to autonomy (read more here). This is especially relevant to abortion cases involving rape. Consider the following thought experiment: Suppose that a woman lives alone in a remote location. One day a man breaks into her home, assaults her, robs her, and before leaving, deposits his infant son on the woman’s kitchen table. Clearly it will require the sacrifice of both autonomy and valuable resources to care for the child until help arrives. Furthermore, it’s likely that the very sight of the infant brings back traumatic memories for the woman. Considering these challenges, is she morally justified in killing the infant, or allowing him to die of exposure? Does she have any legal (or moral) obligation to attend to the survival needs of the child?
7. What is your position on “two-minus-one” abortions? Are they ethical? Should they be legal?
8. Many of those who identify as “pro-choice” are particularly concerned with issues of inequality and discrimination. Are discriminatory abortions (such as sex-selective abortions) legally or morally defensible? Suppose that scientists developed a prenatal test to determine whether or not one’s child will be homosexual. Would you support a woman’s legal right to abort her fetus solely because of his homosexuality?
9. In the United States, many pro-choice activists believe that it violates women’s rights to ban abortions after 20 weeks (even when these restrictions include exceptions for maternal health). Suppose that two women get pregnant at the same time. At 23 weeks, the first woman decides to legally obtain an abortion. On the same day, the second woman delivers a premature infant. Several hours after the delivery, she decides she doesn’t want to “keep” the infant and smothers him to death. Should the second woman be held legally accountable for her action? Why or why not?
10. It is often claimed that a fetus cannot have legal rights if she isn’t “viable” (that is to say, capable of living independently outside of the womb). Interestingly, this fetus is capable of living and thriving within one environment (the womb) but not another (Earth’s atmosphere). You and I are capable of living and thriving in Earth’s atmosphere, but not underwater or on Jupiter. Does an individual’s ability to survive within a specific environment have any bearing on his or her moral worth?
11. Suppose you have a friend, daughter, or sister who excitedly begins informing people that she’s pregnant. Do you believe that it’s ethically consistent to simultaneously celebrate the new life growing within her, and deny the personhood and legal status of that new life? How would you respond if, after giving birth, she was reluctant to let pro-choice individuals near her child (knowing that they had, only recently, denied her child human rights and legal equality)?
12. What argument (or arguments) convinced you to identify as pro-choice? What did you find persuasive about these arguments? What objections to these arguments would you anticipate from pro-lifers, and how would you address these objections?