Permitting Abortion and Prohibiting Prenatal Harm Essay

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There is a basic contradiction involved in permitting abortion while at the same time prohibiting prenatal harm. (1) This contradiction can be stated in personhood terms and in terms of the woman's rights. I'd like to elucidate that contradiction and examine three solutions which rise out of current literature; I'd like then to propose a somewhat new, fourth solution.

The Contradiction

Stated in terms of personhood, the contradiction is this: abortion is permitted or condoned because the fetus (2) is not a person, but prenatal harm is prohibited or condemned because the fetus is a person. (3) Obviously one can't have it both ways — either the fetus is or is not a person.

Stated in terms of the woman's rights, the contradiction is
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One can also argue against prenatal harm on grounds other than personhood. The fetus may not be a person and still it may be unacceptable to cause it harm; the arguments of animal rights advocates such as Regan (7) and Singer (8) may be applicable in this case. (Alternatively, the fetus may be a person and still it may be acceptable to cause it harm; surgeons do this every day. (9) )

The woman's rights version of the contradiction can also be solved by appeals to other grounds. There are grounds other than the right to control one's body that justify abortion. For example, abortion could be permitted because the fetus is not developing 'correctly' and/or its development and birth will likely kill the woman.

And prenatal harm can be prohibited even if one does have the right to control one's body. After all, non-pregnant women presumably with the right to control their bodies are not permitted to cause postnatal harm.

In both cases, resorting to other grounds solves, or rather, dissolves, the contradiction by eliminating the need to make the determinations which create the contradiction — specifically whether or not the fetus is a person and whether or not the woman has the right to control her own body. These determinations are simply unnecessary; one…

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