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Abortion and Moral Theory

Abortion and Moral Theory

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    Abortion and Moral Theory
    Book Description:

    At the heart of the current debate over abortion is the question of what is at stake: for the liberal feminist group it is the woman's autonomy over her own body; for the conservative/ pro-life" group it is the life of the fetus itself. Rejecting both of these views as extremes, L W. Sumner opts for a moderate position for which he provides a moral foundation.

    Originally published in 1981.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5405-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. CHAPTER ONE The Abortion Debate
    (pp. 3-39)

    As late as two decades ago abortion was nowhere a prominent public issue. In virtually every nation of the world, performing an abortion was, under all but the rarest of circumstances, a criminal act. Abortions were done none the less, whether in the penumbra of the law where they could be disguised as orthodox medical procedures or in the backstreets, but transactions in the abortion market were shrouded in secrecy. Abortionists, qualified and unqualified alike, risked prosecution for practicing their trade. Their patients were liable to subtler but surer pressures from a public that regarded abortion, like sex itself, as...

  2. CHAPTER TWO The Liberal View
    (pp. 40-81)

    The liberal’s defense of a permissive abortion policy rests on the claim that abortion is a private activity, which rests in turn on denying moral standing to the fetus. To be denied moral standing is to be reduced to the status of a mere thing that may be manipulated as the needs of others dictate. Withholding moral standing from any being, especially a human being, is therefore a step that requires careful justification. If the liberal’s position on the fetus is to be persuasive, it must not only cohere with credible treatments of connected issues; it must also be grounded...

  3. CHAPTER THREE The Conservative View
    (pp. 82-123)

    The conservative’s defense of a restrictive abortion policy rests on the claim that abortion is (or involves) one sort of homicide, which rests in turn on ascribing full moral standing to the fetus. To attribute full moral standing to a creature is to award that creature the same right to life as is possessed by the paradigm of a mature and normal human being. It is therefore to impose the strictest constraints on the circumstances in which the creature can be killed or its life left unprotected. If the conservative view of abortion is to be persuasive, there must be...

  4. CHAPTER FOUR A Third Way
    (pp. 124-160)

    The established views have failed on both the intuitive and theoretical levels. Their conceptions of the moral status of the fetus, if they are not shallow and arbitrary, violate widely shared moral convictions concerning contraception and infanticide. The conservative’s defense of a restrictive policy violates equally widely shared convictions concerning the individual’s right of self-defense against threats to life, liberty, or personal integrity. Moreover, both views are underdetermined by their own moral theories. Liberals have been unable to ground their view of the fetus in a theory of rights, whereas conservatives have been served even less well by a natural-law...

  5. CHAPTER FIVE Morality and Utility
    (pp. 161-194)

    A credible third option in the abortion debate must be a moderate, differential view of abortion. No other view can be made to cohere with considered and reasonable judgments on connected moral issues. A view of abortion requires, however, more than merely intuitive support. The counterintuitive implications of the established views are a surface manifestation of their lack of a deep structure. Both views presuppose moral theories that treat rights and/or duties as basic, but neither can be supported by appeal to such theories. The remaining task is to show that a moderate view has an adequate deep structure.


  6. CHAPTER SIX Life and Death
    (pp. 195-228)

    A direct utilitarian theory of the good conjoined with an indirect theory of the right can serve as the deep structure for moral rules that allocate particular rights and duties. The remaining task is to show that it can also serve as the deep structure of a moderate view of abortion. Abortion is a difficult moral issue largely because it challenges us to decide whose rights or welfare we are to acknowledge in our moral decision-making. It is not a simple matter, therefore, to derive conclusions about abortion from a moral theory. If utilitarianism is the foundation for a moderate...