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Mary Anne Warren's On The Moral And Legal Status Of Abortion

1751 words - 7 pages

Mary Anne Warren’s “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” describes her justification that abortion is not a fundamentally wrong action for a mother to undertake. By forming a distinction between being genetically human and being a fully developed “person” and member of the “moral community” that encompasses humanity, Warren argues that it must be proven that fetuses are human beings in the morally relevant sense in order for their termination to be considered morally wrong. Warren’s rationale of defining moral personhood as showcasing a combination of five qualities such as “consciousness, reasoning, self-motivated activity, capacity of communication, and self-awareness” forms the basis of her argument that a fetus displays none of these elements that would justify its classification as a person and member of the morally relevant community (Timmons 386).
Warren begins her argument by explicitly defining a human person as someone who is a “full-fledged member of the moral community” (Timmons 385). Warren believes that this community consists of all and only people that possess the ability to express the five qualities that were previously mentioned as opposed to all human beings that possess the genetic code of humanity. Being a member of this community entitles a person to have full moral rights, including the rights of life and happiness, which must be respected. Warren justifies that the five qualities are sufficient criteria of determining the apparent “personhood” of a being by stating that such principles of humanity would be used when attempting to study alien life forms on distant planets. Despite discernable differences in physiological and (potentially) cultural development, these alien beings may demonstrate enough of the five qualities to legitimize their status as “persons” and thus have moral rights that we must respect. Warren argues that the same logic must be applied while determining the apparent “personhood” of a fetus. While a fetus will increasing demonstrate human-likeness in appearance as its development continues, it will fail to display any of the five qualities Warren suggests are critical in establishing “personhood”. Therefore Warren concludes that a fetus, despite being a human in the genetic sense, cannot be considered a person and therefore is not a member of the moral community and does not have rights whose strength overpowers the rights of any beings considered a person. For example, the fetus’s right to life would not overrule the right of the mother to have an abortion. Warren further states that “to ascribe full moral rights to an entity that is not a person is as absurd as to ascribe moral obligations and responsibilities to such an entity” (Timmons 387). This can be taken as true because by Warren’s controversial definition of personhood, humans who have fallen into a permanent vegetative state are, like fetuses, unable to demonstrate any of the five qualities of personhood and are thus also considered...

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