Many people accept abortion on the grounds that foetuses aren't persons, and that personhood is what defines the right to life. I've always been intrigued about what defines personhood; obviously attributes like consciousness (or the ability to suffer) and personal identity seem to play a role.

Some would say you can abort a foetus because it has no sense of personal identity, it can feel no pain and its death will have a net positive effect. But could you not make this argument for a toddler?

A toddler has hardly any rational faculties, it certainly has no developed sense of identity, and if you had a method of killing it painlessly, what would be wrong with that (say, if the toddler was draining an already financially struggling and drug addicted single mother)? Obviously the thought of this seems reprehensible, but where is the philosophical line here?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Geoffrey Thomas Dec 21 '19 at 10:13
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    This is a straw-man: You at least need to try reading Judith Jarvis Thompson and accept that the primary feminist argument for abortion rights does not rest on the idea that fetuses are not people. Even if the fetus is a person, if another person were connected to you without your permission, you would not owe it to them to let them remain attached. If the mother and the child are equally persons, the child's attachment becomes an assault, and the mother would be entitled to defend herself. The fact that separating herself from the child kills the child does not remove her right to do so. – hide_in_plain_sight Jan 19 '20 at 22:18
  • @hide_in_plain_sight “Even if the fetus is a person, if another person were connected to you without your permission” but when you have sex you implicitly acknowledge that you might get pregnant, meaning that you implicitly give permission (rape and similar situations are exempt from the previous statement) – Ekadh Singh May 10 at 16:08
  • @EkadhSingh. If you had sex, but actively tried not to get pregnant, you were not implicitly giving permission for anything, you just failed at something. If you accidentally take a life, you do not implicitly agree to die -- not all killing is murder, and not even all murder is a premeditated choice, so there are intermediate levels of responsibility for killing -- similarly, if you accidentally create a life, you do not implicitly agree to hold complete responsibility for it. – hide_in_plain_sight May 19 at 0:58

14 Answers 14


A toddler can (with a minimal amount of assistance) continue living and developing on its own. Setting aside that you underestimate the cognitive capacities of infants, an infant is a fully formed and biologically functional entity. A fetus is not; it cannot breathe, consume food, or perform any of the necessary biological functions for survival outside the womb. At the end of the first trimester — the normal Western upper limit for abortion — a fetus is roughly 1.5 inches long, and has a partially developed brain that is far smaller than that of the average chicken (you know, those birds we slaughter by the tens of billions every year).

Put a newborn on the ground and walk away, and it will survive perfectly well (for a while at least) until someone comes and finds it. Put a fetus on the ground and walk away, and it will cease to function before you've taken ten steps.

Let's be frank. The notion of 'personhood' in the abortion debate has distinctly different meanings on the Right and the Left. On the Left, personhood is a secular moral argument about the rights and privileges of individuals within society; on the Right, personhood generally means that an individual 'has a soul.' It is not at all clear that non-viable fetuses have the rights and privileges of individuals within a society, since they are neither individuals nor properly within society until after they are born. It is fairly well established, in fact, that even young children do not share all of the rights and privileges of personhood, since they are considered incompetent; most of children's rights and privileges defer to their parents or guardians. And as far as having a soul goes, every cultural group I know of — including Christianity prior to fundamentalist revisionism — placed the entry of the soul into the child at the point where the fetus 'quickens', which occurs roughly at the end of the first trimester. Fundamentalists have tried to push back the entry of the soul to the moment of conception in a kind of mishmash of biological pseudoscience, but if we dismiss that then there are absolutely no 'personhood' considerations to address.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not fond of the practice of abortion; in my view it should be a procedure of last resort. But it is a necessary option to preserve the 'personhood' of women in a world that has a long history of treating women as chattel. If you ask me to pit the actual personhood of a woman against the potential and speculative personhood of a fetus, I will come down on the side of the 'actual' every time.

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    Which do you need a source for: the idea that a newborn can survive for a decent amount of time unattended, or the idea that a non-viable fetus cannot? That is the definition of 'viable' as laid out by the medical community. – Ted Wrigley Dec 18 '19 at 18:08
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    @user96931 - We can (and do) debate the personhood of a fetus. We cannot debate the personhood of a woman. They are not equivalent in the Aristotelian sense or any other. And even if they were equivalent, then all we've done is created a case of competing/conflicting rights, Do you believe that one person can oblige another person to be a full-time, unpaid, legally bound servant? – Ted Wrigley Dec 18 '19 at 23:48
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    @user96931 — People kill people every day, including defenseless children. How may defenseless children do you think the US has killed with drone strikes in the middle east? How many defenseless children have been put at risk because their parents refuse to vaccinate them? There are numerous examples in which people are legally and morally justified in killing others. In fact, the attempt to enslave someone would generally be considered sufficient grounds for the use of lethal force. Now, are you going to continue avoiding my question? – Ted Wrigley Dec 19 '19 at 2:41
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    @user96931 — Arab children blown up by drone strikes pose no threat to anyone, either, so on what grounds are they killed? And really, by what right do you get to dictate that a woman must spend 9 months in pregnancy, with consequent restrictions, limitations, health risks, agonies, and loss of income? Are you going to pay for the woman to take time off work, pay for her doctor's care and hospital stays, and pay for her child to be raised in foster care or a state home if no adoptive parents can be found? And you still haven't answered my question; that tells me you don't have an answer. – Ted Wrigley Dec 19 '19 at 3:08
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    @ribs2spare — Again, I'm not sure what you're complaining about. The pro-life movement is (and always has been) closely associated with Christian conservatism. The only other major component of the movement came from masculinists, who believe that that the proper place of women is to bear children and tend house. But even masculinism is deeply steeped in Christian traditionalism. The pro-life movement cannot escape its Christian roots, and so it cannot escape the relationship between personhood and ensoulment. It isn't my fault if you guys don't think through your own beliefs... – Ted Wrigley Dec 19 '19 at 16:47

There's no one answer to your question, because this is a live debate, and different thinkers have very different moral intuitions about it. Traditional Catholic theology represents perhaps the position most to the end of one extreme, that the fetus should be treated as a full person (regardless of its actual ontological status) from the very moment of conception.

At the other end of the spectrum, utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer is perhaps the visible figure who has most fully embraced your exact line of reasoning with all its uncomfortable ramifications --in his point of view, a young child, an intelligent animal, and a mentally disabled adult should all be viewed as essentially equivalent based on their intellectual capacities and respective abilities to live a rich life. He would argue that if it is justified to kill any one of those, it would be justified to kill any of the others given the necessary equivalences --in other words, that the mere fact of personhood (in terms of biological membership in the human species) doesn't invoke any special protections or privileges. This is also the basis of his arguments in favor of animal rights.

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    From there "The modern magisterium has carefully avoided confusing "human being" with "human person", and avoids the conclusion that every embryonic human being is a person, which would raise the question of "ensoulment" and immoral destiny". So no, the Catholic Church doesn't hold the idea that the fetus has full personhood – user43434 Dec 18 '19 at 9:38
  • @baudsp As I said above, this is uncited. See the responses in the other thread. – probably_someone Dec 18 '19 at 13:49
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    @ChrisSunami I was referring to the fact that the Wikipedia quote that bandusp keeps bringing up has no relevant citation attached. A citation for the statement as it appears on Wikipedia is definitely needed, and I'm in the process of bringing this up on the talk page of the relevant article. – probably_someone Dec 18 '19 at 14:41
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    @MCMastery I'm no expert on Singer, but I believe he has been at least criticized on the grounds that his commitments would entail something along those lines (that people's lives are less valuable if they are disabled). – Chris Sunami supports Monica Dec 19 '19 at 1:21
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    @MCMastery "Less valuable" != "without value". To take your example to the extreme: A quadruple amputee would be significantly less capable than a person with full use of all their limbs. In a wide variety of contexts, that would make the latter more valuable than the former. It would not then follow that our quadriplegic would be of no value to society. – eclipz905 Dec 20 '19 at 21:51

First, a toddler is a child in the technical sense approximately between 12-36 months year old. If you're looking for a counter argument to your specific wording:

Some would say you can abort a foetus because it has no sense of personal identity, it can feel no pain and its death will have a net positive effect. But could you not make this argument for a toddler?

Then it's important to point out that while strictly speaking, one can make claims that a fetus until the third trimester doesn't feel pain based on it's development, but that one might not be make the same claim can for toddlers. Anecdotally, a toddler is capable of intentionality to the point that it can offer propositions such as "Daddy, my knee hurts". A fetus can do no such thing, and therefore the informal argument immediately suffers from weakness in it's premises undermining it's overall cogency.

Another riposte to the argument is the presumption that toddlers have "hardly any rational faculties" or that they possess "no sense of identity". I'm on my third toddler, and anecdotely, by 3 children develop the ability not only to reason superficially, but do so with acumen often exposing the hypocrisy of words relative to the motivations of adults. This is such a common phenomenon, there's a phrase in English for it. "From the mouths of babes!" As for identity, I can only proffer that children's notion of identity begins before becoming verbal. In developmental psychology, the number cited for self-awareness in a psychological fashion happens months out of the womb. From Child Development: An Introduction, page 545:

Age in months: 0-3 Interest in social objects; emergence of self-other distinction
Age in months: 3-8 Consolidation of self-other distinction, recognition of self through contengency
Age in months: 8-12 Emergence of self-permanence and self categories; recognition of self through contingency and onset of feature recognition.

I would say that these three counterattacks on premises are enough to make the argument barely cogent and expose the argument as merely prima facie.

One might try to recover the thesis with some form of solipsism which presumes that fetuses and toddlers aren't people with minds which would be extreme, or one could create doubt as to the seriousnes of whether suffering of fetuses and toddlers is meaningful if one questions the nature of their minds along lines of attack in problem of other minds.

One can also attack the enthymeme in the loose sense, by attacking the implied premise that all toddlers deserve to live and be pain free. Certainly in-group and out-group thinking could lay the ground for two different moralities, one for the in-group and the other for the out-group, hence SOME toddlers should be euthanized and SOME should not on criteria other than you mention.

In my estimation, another place of the argument might be strengthened is by arguing that the goodness that comes from the death of the infant outweighs other concerns. Will the death of the infant save a thousand others, or perhaps the entire species? Will the death of the infant lead to a cure for cancer? As undesirable as it is in contemporaneous times, the practice that it is moral to sacrifice one's children for God or gods goes back a long way is woven into the Judeo-Christian religion itself.

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    I felt like "toddler" was the wrong word - maybe a bad translation or spoken by someone that's never been around one for any length of time. A toddler has hardly any rational faculties, it certainly has no developed sense of identity doesn't make sense to anyone that's ever cared for one. – JPhi1618 Dec 18 '19 at 16:08
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    The claim about child sacrifice is extremely inaccurate. At all points the Bible forbids human sacrifice. God asked Abraham in order to test him, but prevented the act. Those practicing or entertaining or supporting it are built on a foundation that is antithetical to Christianity. Abraham's example and God's test and intervention for him by no means constitute a "practice that it is moral to sacrifice one's children". The claim is simply false. – pygosceles Dec 19 '19 at 0:11
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    @pygosceles How would you expect to get compelling evidence that a person can perceive or remember or form judgments in the womb? Under hypnosis, some people claim to remember past lives, are you suggesting something like that? Also, – Andy Dec 19 '19 at 3:03
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    @pygosceles Note the story of Abraham was a lesson to discourage child sacrifice precisely because the practice happened in ancient times. The whole role of God sacrificing his son Jesus was in the same vein. Christianity indeed helped bring an end to child sacrfice, precisely because child sacrifice was considered moral by many cultures before the spread of Christianity. Hence, since Christianity tackles the issue of child sacrifice, it IS woven into the Judeo-Christian myths. christianpost.com/news/… – J D Dec 19 '19 at 13:55
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    @pygosceles I suspect your grandfather may have been unintentionally confabulating. Human memories are notoriously unreliable evidence. – J D Dec 19 '19 at 13:58

To answer the question in the title, the matter of abortion revolves around two aspects: the killing of a developing human and the capacity to which a pregnant woman has bodily autonomy. So a moral decision on abortion must consider the dilemma of bodily autonomy and feticide. On the other hand infanticide involves only the killing of an infant. So, the moral dilemma is more straight forward.

Regarding the topic in your post, I think personhood can be simplified down to "individuality" in the sense of how we see two human beings as unique based on their behaviour, personality, and other cognitive functions. With respect to that definition, fetuses in the early stages could be considered by some as indistinguishable from one another like a zygote or a blastocyst, whereas infants--despite having limited cognition, demonstrate unique attributes in terms of their likes, dislikes, what they allow, disallow, personality, how they react to different stimuli etc. making them "persons".

I think this fine line is similar to how some people in Western culture will run into a burning building to save their dog, but are ok with raise young cattle for slaughter. This is likely because they see their dog as a unique creature with respect to other dogs, but all cows are just "cows" thus making it easier to sacrifice a cow for meat.


I'll offer an emphatic answer by Philip K. Dick. Wikipedia claims without corroboration that it is a response to the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade.

In his chilling story "The Pre-Persons"1 Dick illustrates his opinion that there is no ethical difference between aborting fetuses and killing children. A critic noted:

But even wry smiles fade with "The Pre-Persons" and its futuristic comment on abortion laws. The title hints at the core question: when does a human organism attain true identity? Hyperbole dramatizes the issue as Dick's future society names age twelve as the time when a human being acquires soul and thus is rendered inviolate.

In the story, all children up to the age of twelve live under the constant threat of being "aborted" by their parents; occasionally a truck roams the neighborhood and one of their playmates is gone.

1 I'm not sure about the copyright situation (the story is 45 years old and still available in anthologies), but there are a few PDFs online if you look for it.

  • +1 for reference to PKD. – puppetsock Dec 18 '19 at 20:41
  • It seems that your answer to the question in the title is “there is none”, but you haven’t made this explicit. Could you please do so for the benefit of the reader? – Konrad Rudolph Dec 20 '19 at 15:23
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    @KonradRudolph Is "Dick illustrates his opinion that there is no ethical difference between aborting fetuses and killing children" not explicit enough? – Peter - Reinstate Monica Dec 20 '19 at 17:12
  • @Peter-ReinstateMonica Just clarifying that you are indeed proffering his view as an answer, rather than, say, noting it here for its patent absurdity, since the scenario is clearly not how Roe v Wade actually played out and is thus clearly strawmanning. – Konrad Rudolph Dec 20 '19 at 18:36

There's some great philosophy written on this topic (see Thomson). Suffice to say, even if you assume that a fetus is a child, a pregnant person still has the right to terminate the pregnancy. The difference is in how the two bodies relate to each other, and the mechanics of how support is provided.

Put simply:

No one can force you to donate blood. However, donating blood saves lives; if you choose not to donate blood, are you guilty of murder? No, of course not.

Similarly, a woman has the right to cease donating blood to a fetus. That has the consequence of ending the pregnancy. If the fetus is not viable without that blood (and other resources) then the result is an abortion.

For an infant, it's no longer a matter of donating blood; the infant is not literally living off of the parent's body. The parent can choose to give up responsibility for the child and put it up for adoption without resulting in the death of the child. Neglect of a child, while maintaining responsibility for it (that is, not putting up for adoption), is a crime (because it is not fulfilling a responsibility that has been accepted).

Basically, the 'death' of the fetus is not the purpose of enforcing the right to bodily autonomy, but can be a result (depending on viability); infanticide, however, implies specific (malicious) intent.

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    But abortions are rarely about "ceasing to donate blood to the fetus". They involve taking drugs to deliberately induce miscarriage, introducing invasive instruments into the womb to mutilate the fetus and extract it from the womb, or as simple as deliberate force induced trauma to kill the fetus. I don't see how it's anything but the right to enforce bodily autonomy. – Cell Dec 18 '19 at 16:19
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    It's unclear how you jump from citing Thomson's (justly famous) article to the unequivocal claim, "A pregnant person still has the right to terminate the pregnancy." Thomson is hardly the last word on the issue, and while you may certainly defend her arguments, or claim that you are convinced by them, it's misleading to present them as uncontroversial. – brianpck Dec 18 '19 at 17:18
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    @puppetsockreinstateMonica this is not a well formed argument, but it doesn't seem appropriate to conflate taking of one's body with taking of one's property. Your property is not your self. – Mr.Mindor Dec 18 '19 at 20:39
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    @puppetsockreinstateMonica you can! You have the right to not pay taxes to America, you just can't also benefit from American society; that is, you'll have to renounce your citizenship and move to another country (which you have the right to do). Taxes are the price we (as a society through our right to vote) have placed on citizenship, but that doesn't take away your right to not participate – you just can't have your cake and eat it too. – Elliot Schrock Dec 18 '19 at 21:02
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    A voluntary blood donor in general did not beget the life he is contemplating doing a good deed for. Proximity and responsibility defeat the argument that a person is as obligated to give blood to those with whom he has had no prior contact as a mother is to nourish her own offspring. The blood donor analogy also does not seem well supported on another level: The fetus manufactures his or her own blood in a circulatory system that is physically isolated from the mother's. A primary purpose of the placenta is to exchange oxygen and nutrients from the mother to child, not blood itself. – pygosceles Dec 18 '19 at 22:21

where is the philosophical line here?

There is no such line post-conception. Human life is initiated at conception, and only disease, injury, natural and innate responses to inviability can terminate the life from progressing and growing in utero. Voluntarily invoking such termination constitutes elective abortion. The fact that the child is dependent on his or her mother (and father) until he or she has reached many facets of developmental maturity does not lessen his or her identity nor the impact of terminating that life.

We would be well-served by asking the question, "What would happen to this child if nature took its course?" Nature includes natural family relations and responsibilities. Interventions that improve the likelihood and quality of life for mother and child are commendable. Interventions that do the opposite for either one are damnable. We declare ourselves to be morally inferior to brute beasts if we destroy our offspring. This is what life is: It is offspring. It grows, it matures, it has some opportunity to thrive within its sphere. Interruption or cessation of that process is rightly called taking a life.

It is incumbent upon all who have feeling hearts and a still-active conscience to share the means of living with their nearest of kin so that no lack of stupid paper money or any other material object or metaphysical desire ever devolves into a pretended justification of murder. Extended family should be relied upon when immediate relatives are absent or cannot provide the needed support. We are all related, we are all connected, and justification and nobility follow the conscious and courageous choice to save a life from the jaws of despair or neglect.

Having sexual relations causes the male and female involved to enter into a non-negotiable contract under immutable and eternal law to care and provide for the offspring that arise or that could arise from such activity. Mortal life begins at conception through the means appointed. Once initiated, nothing can stop the inexorable growth and progress of life but disease or death. Intentionally terminating viable human life resulting from even partially consensual sex whether in or out of the womb is and ought to be a crime against humanity and to be prosecuted as such.

Until people take responsibility for their sexual acts through the societal contract of marriage and family formation, they will increasingly be impelled towards murder and bloodlust in a vain attempt to erase the natural consequences of their actions.


This remains a subjective debate and it is impossible to draw a clear line, due to the paradox of the heap (also known as the sorites paradox)

If a heap of sand is reduced by a single grain at a time, at what exact point does it cease to be considered a heap?

Similarly, if it is not morally acceptable to kill a toddler, is it acceptable to kill it when it was one second younger? One hour younger? If it is not morally acceptable to kill a newborn, is it acceptable to kill the baby one second before being born? Two seconds? Ten?

Wherever you draw the line where a fetus younger than that is acceptable to be killed and a fetus older than that is not, you inevitably bounce into the problem of two fetuses, one slightly older and one slightly younger, where the two are completely indistinguishable yet one would be morally totally acceptable to be killed, while the other not.

Therefore this question cannot have a clear and precise line, and especially not a line which can unanimously be drawn.

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    In society there are many instances where discrete qualities are applied to humans for legal reasons. For example in some places you must be 21 years old to buy alcohol and being a day older or younger doesn't matter. People are pronounced dead based on qualities like lack of consciousness and brain activity and it doesn't matter if you were alive a second ago. Why is it that this becomes an "impossible" task for fetuses if some "personhood" criteria (as mentioned in the question) is applied and not in the other instances? – Cell Dec 19 '19 at 13:24
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    @Cell : that's true, in a legal sense, but this question was asking about morals and philosophical implications. And the existence of this dilemma does affect how people feel about the topic, legal definitions notwithstanding. – vsz Dec 19 '19 at 14:05
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    This line of reasoning goes back before conception. It must not be morally acceptable to throw out an egg and a sperm in two separate test tubes, that someone was going to mix in another test tube tomorrow! – user253751 Dec 19 '19 at 19:22
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    @user253751 : that's not a really convincing argument. According to your example, "no sand at all" is to be considered a heap of sand, because someone later might bring some sand. The comparison with the sand heap was that a single grain of sand is not a heap, and a single cell is not a human. The dilemma is where to draw the line. – vsz Dec 20 '19 at 19:18
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    In other words, what pygosceles is saying is that there is a Boolean here: conceived or not. That's where life truly begins, and that's why we say any fetus killed is murder. There is no heap argument here (except to disprove that a fetus at a particular age is alive or not alive; though some opt for heartbeat or brain activity etc.). Many try to argue that it is once the baby is born that they are alive, but there is literally no difference inside or outside except for a feeding tube and the location. – Andrew Dec 20 '19 at 19:49

While a great number of arguments have been advanced in an attempt to justify elective abortion (we'll lay aside the rape/incest/danger to the health of the mother cases for now since those are a minority and a somewhat distinct can of worms), none of them are particularly convincing. Many examples exist of human beings that cannot feel pain, possess no true sense of self-awareness, cannot survive on their own, etc. that any reasonable, sane person would not feel comfortable judging as "not a person" or unentitled to live. I can empathize with the typical arguments related to women's rights, but those cannot hold in the case of voluntary sexual activity in light of the above arguments.

I'm afraid that in a sense, abortion is the (American) Left's equivalent of climate change denial; inconvenient facts are distorted and rationalized away in an attempt to justify current behaviors.

(Update based on comments) Nor is the fact that many governing bodies condone and/or promote the practice of abortion proof of its moral rectitude/acceptability. Governing bodies throughout history (including those of first-world countries in recent history) have promoted many practices that we now denounce as wrong - Japanese internment during WWII, pogroms, the excesses of the McCarthy era, the execution of political opponents, etc, so governmental support cannot be taken as proof of moral rightness, regardless of whether or not those decisionmakers are genuinely convinced of the rightness of their decisions.

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    -1. "none of them are particularly convincing." They are convincing enough that many first world countries allow abortions. And euthanasia is a counter example to the examples you listed. People DO feel comfortable pulling the plug on hospitalized family members that have a terrible quality of life or are in a permanent coma etc. regardless of your opinion. – Cell Dec 18 '19 at 19:12
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    Many first world countries are also taking essentially no effective action against climate change. Does that make it right? "Everyone else is doing it" is not necessarily a valid argument regarding the rightness/wrongness of something. To your second point, pulling the plug on someone with a terrible quality of life is different from ending a perfectly viable life. My point in saying those things was to point out that those conditions do not necessarily render a being "not a person" or "not entitled to life," arguments made to justify elective abortion. – ka101 Dec 18 '19 at 19:31
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    @ka101 Cell does not appear to be saying first world countries allowing it makes it right. They are countering that the justifications you do not find particularly convincing ARE convincing to many first world governing bodies. – Uueerdo Dec 18 '19 at 19:54
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    I'm not necessarily disagreeing that those bodies haven't found those arguments convincing, rather than their approval doesn't necessarily bestow moral correctness upon the practice. Various governing bodies throughout history have been convinced of the rightness of and condoned a variety of practices that we now hold up as wrong - the Inquisition, Japanese internment during WWII, etc. All sanctioned by governing bodies, all wrong. Therefore, the approval of a court, legislature, executive, or any other authority does not convey moral rightness upon a practice. – ka101 Dec 18 '19 at 20:42
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    @ka101 no one was claiming government approval conveys rightness. – Uueerdo Dec 18 '19 at 21:28

In the grand scheme of things, disallowing abortion would be similar to forced kidney transplants to relatives,. If your relative is sick and can only survive with your kidney, is society morally obliged to take yours? Or is that tyrannical, by itself, even with justification? So, the question of the morality of having an abortion and the morality of disallowing abortion can be separate, and can both be wrong or right by their own merits.

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    I think the more apt comparison would be, at what point during the procedure to transplant a kidney to somebody else can you change your mind? – puppetsock Dec 18 '19 at 20:37
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    You did not beget your non-offspring relatives. The principle of responsibility applies: Those responsible for the action are those who are to be held responsible for its outcomes, including, centrally, progeny. This is a deliberate choice. – pygosceles Dec 18 '19 at 23:53
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    @pygosceles Your claim that every pregnancy, without exception, is a deliberate act of will is self-evidently false. – barbecue Dec 19 '19 at 0:41
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    @barbecue that is a rare exception, and the responsibility principle still applies without exception: people are not responsible for what they did not choose to do. They are responsible for what they do choose to do. My statement clearly applies to all consensual activities. – pygosceles Dec 19 '19 at 5:24
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    @pygosceles No. Your comment did NOT clearly apply to all consensual activities. If it had, I would not have made the comment I did. I also question the morality of holding people responsible for things they are incapable of understanding, but that's a separate discussion. – barbecue Dec 19 '19 at 14:30

We are trying to present a difference between two persons to kill one of them. That's totally normal. We kill people in war, we kill on the road, we kill people with pollution. We tolerate the deaths. Because these deaths are for a greater goal: Security, Freedom, Wealth.

We don't tolerate murder. As opposed to the above, a murder is killing for the personal benefit of the single murderer.

You are allowed to kill, when you belong to a tolerated group. e.g. Army, Cardriver, Energyprovider ...

We have a pretty weird morality when we talk about killing. This could be solved. Imagine two worlds:

a) Killing is totally legal. At best every human behaves in a form that there will be no reason for the other human to kill him. A world of eremites?

b) Killing is not tolerated in any case That would mean that the reasons for killing must be nullified. Eg we have to provide enough social workers, that conflicts would be solved early enough. We should share our wealth that there is no reason for other countries to attack us. We should provide technical barriers that cars can't kill ...

To solve the problem of abortion, we should not try make difference between different stages of fetal development. We either declare it as legal. Because we cannot make the difference between a child in a first world country or a child in Kabul. Both would be killed by a person.

Or ...

We declare all life as precious. Than we should begin to give mothers a chance to raise the kid in without loosing income, social status or freedom. This would afford a massive investion in healthcare, psychological assists, jobs ... And we have to get rid of all weapons, armies, ...

Tell me the difference between a child killed on the road, a child killed by a bomb, a child starved from hunger and a child killed in a womb.

No, don't tell me, tell it the desperate mother. Tell her from face to face. In private, when you are empathic enough to listen to her sorrows.

I couldn't tell her.

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    So it's a black or white decision? Either it's always okay to end a life, or it's never okay? – user253751 Dec 19 '19 at 19:23
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    Yes, it is a black white decision - dead or alive. @robert from a scientific point of view I agree with you. However if talking to the hardliners even contraceptives are murder. But it hides the real problem. We first have to be consistant in how we treat life, and than make a decision on the definition of the start. – Joachim Weiß Dec 20 '19 at 6:42
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    @JoachimWeiß Do you believe it is okay to poison ants or swat flies? How about washing hands? – user253751 Dec 20 '19 at 10:54
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    @barbecue Well, he said that either all killing is fine, or all killing is bad. Maybe I can prove that he doesn't believe the second one. – user253751 Dec 20 '19 at 15:59
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    @barbecue How can I tell that he is only talking about human life? And is there a reason why this argument should discriminate between human and non-human life? Why don't we ask Joachim himself? – user253751 Dec 20 '19 at 16:21

It's hard to argue scientifically that a child's sense of identity and ability to feel pain is 'turned on' at the very moment of birth. Or at any other point. The boundary between abortion and infanticide is an artificial legal and moral construct. And, as we know, some legal and/or moral systems place the cut-off point some time before birth, even as far back as the moment of conception.

As far as I know, none place it AFTER birth. 'My parents wanted to have me aborted. But they were told it was too late, I'd started school' is a joke.

So the answer to the question - as is stated IN the question - can only be that the moral difference is wherever a community chooses to put it. Few moral issues are absolute. Though communities often like to claim that THEIRS are, even when circumstance makes otherwise plainly evident! :-)

  • Thanks for your answer. Within what moral framework do you claim that few moral issues are absolute? – pygosceles Dec 20 '19 at 19:18

A way to lower the emotional aspects this question evokes and yet maintain the logical aspects would be not to talk about toddlers but kittens. So, what is the logical difference between: to kill a kitten for no reason versus to kill a cat fetus for no reason?

To answer this question, I list the differences and similarities between and a cat fetus and a kitten

Differences between cat fetus and kitten: (location) The kitten is outside the mother the fetus is inside the mother (age) The kitten is older than the fetus (size) Fetus is small kitten is bigger (abilities) Kitten can do more things than the fetus

Similarities between cat fetus and kitten: (uniqueness) The fetus and the kitten are unique; they are not biologically part of the mother (basic needs) To stay alive and grow the fetus and the kitten only need food and shelter (keeping alive) For the fetus the mother provides food and shelter automatically; feeding and protecting a kitten is also an automatic instinctive act of the mother (state of being) The fetus and kitten are alive (completeness) Kitten and fetus are genetically complete (state of development) Kitten and fetus do not yet have all the attributes of an adult cat (potential) In time kitten and fetus can reach same level of development (biological branch) Fetus and kitten are cats

The similarities between cat fetuses and kittens are greater than their differences. The differences only refer to location, age, size and abilities; thus, in essence, they are trivial. These differences are also present between kittens and adult cats. Therefore, if it is against the law to kill kittens for no reason it should also be against the law kill cat fetuses for no reason.

  • This completely glosses over the crucial difference between an embryo and a fetus, while most abortion laws do only allow for abortion of embryos (with some notable exceptions for special cases). Thus, the comparison kind of misses the point around which the discussions turn. If you did the same thing for an embryo, you'd realise that embryos are not biologically independent. And, more importantly, just stating that a fetus is alive (human fetuses are biologically unable to survive, ie. self-sustain, before the 20th-ish week, even with ideal support) seems unsubstantiated. – Philip Klöcking Jan 19 '20 at 16:36

Now I had to register an account here as well as I feel most answers are lacking in tackling step one of answering the question. The question is for a moral difference. A perception of right and wrong. Most here seem to grasp the complexity of the question and the effort it entails to actually form a moral standpoint about this. I have no proof, but believe that most with an opinion has not put enough effort into the question to come up with a view of their own, but rather adopted a view. In such cases I would argue that it is not a moral standpoint, but a religious or political one. (No, I did not put this last in only to generate comments to my answer.)

To look at it from each individuals view point is of course not a viable option here, but some possible examples might serve to indicate the scope of the question and why it should most definitely be broken down into smaller components (unless a specific individuals moral compass is sought).

First you have the definition of life. A fetus, like a toddler is a life and therefore it is wrong to take a life by having an abortion. Moral priority is on all life is sacred coupled with a definition of a fetus as a separate living organism. This argument is fundamentally a fanatical approach that many people seem to reference but none live up to. We all take life by living and it is an inescapable fact. What is meant is usually that it is a human individual and as such must not be killed. Here is where the whole debate enters a territory of what is an individual and morality then becomes a question of how to define something as complex as a person which is then simplified by most to be manageable.

Another consideration is area of responsibility. A fetus is a part of an individual, like the cecum. While the toddler has been separated and has its own place in society. To debate morals from this perspective then becomes a matter of drawing the line between an individuals rights and obligations.

With only the two highly simplified examples above we also get the further complexities of two sides arguing the morals of abortion from these two perspectives and thus mixing up the topics. One side arguing against abortion from a all life matters perspective while another is arguing for abortion from an area of responsibility perspective. Not only does that require a stance within the individual areas, but also a stance of which moral area takes precedence.

So these are two different ways of seeing the moral differences, there are others like importance placed on quality of life and the obligations of society to care for the children if abortion is allowed/not allowed.

The question itself was not very interesting to me as I found it exceedingly biased, but I found that the answers did not sufficiently enough challenge the fundamentals which is why I tried to add a pinch of my thoughts (though this format does not lend itself well to deep philosophical reasoning from what I see here). What I did find to be an intriguing aspect of this massive question is the fact that to me, the presence of abortion means that you can put higher demands on the care of the toddler. Infanticide is not really something I consider to be a serious issue, but if it was, then it would be more immoral because of the option of abortion. Now there is a moral difference to consider.

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