Which Lives are you “Pro”?

Andrew Fenton and Letitia Meynell defend Richard Dawkins’ claim that “pro-life” ethics should also be “pro-animal”


In a recent tweet, Richard Dawkins claimed that it’s immoral to intentionally continue a pregnancy where the fetus has Down syndrome (though he has qualified his claim in a subsequent blog. Dawkins is probably responding, in part, to a current push by social conservatives to restrict abortion services in the UK, with a particular focus on late term abortions involving fetuses that are developing serious health problems.  But regardless of the context and the qualifications on his blog, his view reflects a simplistic and ableist understanding of the quality of life of individuals with Down syndrome, the ways that many folks with Down syndrome are valued by their families and communities, and what grounds are morally adequate for terminating pregnancies.

FarmAnimalsRather than engage with these important issues, we want to focus on Dawkins’ puzzling tweet, posted in response to various comments and challenges, that “Unless you are a vegan (most Pro-‘Lifers’ are not) you are in no position to object to abortion”. We think that there’s something right about this particular claim, namely that a morally consistent “pro-life” position should work to protect many animal lives, not just humans. Here’s why.

A “pro-life” ethics tends to make the following claims:

(i) human zygotes, embryos and fetuses are human beings;

(ii) all human beings have a right to life;

(iii) terminating (aborting) a pregnancy in such a way that it kills the zygote, embryo or fetus violates its right to life; and

(iv) it’s always wrong to violate a human being’s right to life.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.