On the unborn offspring – Regina Rini in TLS:
‘The abortion debate seems always to return to this point. If only we could reach agreement on what a foetus is, we seem to think, then we could agree on what to do about it. But the reality is not so simple. For starters, a foetus is fundamentally a developing thing, whose whole job is to grow and change over time. Even more importantly, the path from “what it is” to “how to treat it” runs straight through the life, and the body, of another person. As the philosopher Mary Anne Warren once put it, pregnancy is an ethically unique relationship in which “the legal personhood of one human being is necessarily incompatible with that of another”.
Warren also pointed out (in an article of 1989 called “The Moral Significance of Birth”) that abortion debates are tripped up by what she called the “intrinsic properties assumption”. Philosophers routinely distinguish the intrinsic properties of an entity (features that appear without reference to any other entities, such as size or shape) from the extrinsic properties (features that cannot be defined without mentioning some other entity, including distance or parenthood).’
‘… we should accept that the ethics of abortion depends on the extrinsic properties of the foetus, not on its intrinsic properties. Extrinsic properties involve the relations between things. A foetus has the extrinsic property of being located within the body of another human being. It can have the extrinsic property of being anticipated by adults eager to be its parents. And it can have the extrinsic property of receiving a woman’s consent to go on occupying her body.’
‘Our instinct in the abortion debate is always to find that one intrinsic property that will settle everything. But extrinsic properties have moral weight too. When I enter a supermarket, whether I count as a customer or as a thief depends on how I relate to the merchandise. In thinking about abortion, our focus cannot be on the foetus alone.’
Read the article here.
I often disagree with Rini, but this is an important fresh way of looking at what has become a tiresome debate. (Most debates are tiresome.)
As with other many debates, the arguments are often crude and trite, which once again prolongs the stalemate.
The question is not where life begins, that question has been debated long enough, the question is what exactly is the relationship between the unborn offspring and the bearer of the unborn offspring.
The bearer of the offspring is entitled to not consent with what is growing in her body. The same way that the owner of a supermarket is entitled to refuse a well-known thief entry to the supermarket.