Bioethics Blogs

Guest Post: Abortion, punishment and moral consistency

Written by: Rajiv Shah, PhD Candidate, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge

Donald Trump suggested that women who have abortions should face punishment. For that he was criticised by both the pro-choice side and the pro-life side. The latter claimed that their view is that women should not face punishment for having abortions but that only providers should. This raises the interesting question of whether the pro-life position is coherent. It would seem that it is not. If the foetus has the right to life then having an abortion is like murder and so those who abort should be treated as such. This post argues that the pro-lifer can coherently reject this implication whilst still holding that the foetus has the right to life. Since it considers the responses a pro-lifer could make this post will assume for the sake of argument that the foetus does have a right to life.

Abortion is not like murder

The pro-lifer could accept Thomson’s analysis that abortion is more like letting die than it is killing,[1] whilst also rejecting her view that there is no duty on the part of woman to support the foetus.[2] So, on that view, abortion would be more like child abandonment. Child abandonment is typically punished but the standard case involves two elements: (a) not supporting the child and (b) preventing others from giving support to the child (e.g. by failing to give the child to orphanage). In the case of a pregnancy there are no other people who could provide the support the child needs.

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.