Abortion,  Ethics,  Logic

A Silly Pro-Abort Argument

Having ‘moral status’ equates to being the kind of thing it is wrong to kill. According to Elizabeth Harman, if a woman decides to have an abortion, then the fetus does not have moral status. If the mother decides not to have an abortion, then, due to the future life of that fetus, the fetus has moral status.

I have moral status. If my mother had decided to abort me, then I would not have had moral status. When I was a fetus, my mother decided not to abort me and, in virtue of that fact, I had a future life. Consequently, I had, and still have, moral status.

This is a terrible and silly argument.

First, moral status of the kind in question is not something one has accidentally. One does not have it in virtue of any fact apart from the existence of the kinds of things that have it. For any x, if x has moral status, then x has moral status at any time at which x exists. Human persons have moral status at any time at which they exist.

Second, if this is not the case, and it is the case that moral status is contingent on some external factor, then there is nothing to stop one concluding the following: I have moral status unless you decide to shoot me dead. If you decide to shoot me dead, then, in virtue of that fact, I do not have a future life and, consequently, I do not have moral status.

What Harman should do is either argue that there is some feature of the fetus that renders it lacking in moral status or some morally sufficient reason for killing a child. Though, I don’t think either route works, what she proposes instead is silly and dangerous (the above looks of Harman’s interviewers are appropriate in the circumstances)

Assistant Professor of Philosophy and History of Ideas at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and The College at Southeastern.


  • Matthew Beech

    I wonder if she'd feel the same way if it was a great ape, tiger cub or puppy she was talking about.

    In fact, how do you define morality? Most would say that it would require one to be able to be a moral agent. Animals don't fall into that category, thus killing animals would never be wrong, regardless of their state of existence.

    Come to think of it, neither do rain forests, oceans and deserts.

  • Ben Holloway

    Matthew, Thanks for you comment. Harman defined moral status as some entity that it is wrong to kill (this is usually what we mean by saying that something has 'moral status'). A human person is one of those entities. So, it is wrong to kill a human person. You appear to be suggesting that there are other entities that might qualify as having moral status. You suggest animals might have moral status. If they do, then it would be wrong to kill them. I don't think they have such as status and so it is not wrong to kill animals. However, this does not entail that killing animals is never wrong. It would be wrong to kill one's neighbor's pets, for example. I am not sure one can kill anything that is not alive. One can pollute oceans or deserts. One might be said to kill the trees and animals in a rain forest, but we are more likely to say that we are destroying a rain forest. If you think you have moral status, then you will likely think that it is wrong for someone to kill you. If you don't have it, then it is not wrong. The point is: if you have such a status now, then you, as long as you–a human person–exist, you should not be killed. It is not a property anyone else can bestow on you; it is a property you have as long as you are a human person. This is why it is wrong to kill a baby in the womb – the baby is a human person regardless of the mother's desire to have the baby. Therefore, we should not support abortion any more than we should support the murder of any human person.

  • Matthew Beech

    Thank you!

    To wit, I wasn't saying that I actually believe killing animals was ok for any reason at any time, I was taking things to the absurd.

    And you are correct, I worded my last line poorly, I was referring to the living flora and fauna in said environments.