An analysis of the abortion argument
University of British Columbia
Master of Laws - LLM
The purpose of this thesis is to provide an overview of the current abortion debate. The introduction argues that only three topics are relevant to abortion discussion namely personhood, potentiality and rights. There are three possible decisions on the nature of the foetus' moral status: a) it is a person b) it is not a person c) the matter is non-decidable. Chapter 1 examines the argument that personhood and humanity are equivalent concepts. It rejects this conclusion. Personhood is a normative concept whilst humanity is a biological one. Thus the foetus' humanity does not automatically entitle it to rights. Rights are ascribed to persons. What requires to be clarified is the criterion of personhood, that is, those qualities which qualify a biological entity to be ascribed moral rights and duties and thus the concomitant moral status of person. Chapter 2 details the various theories of personhood presented in both the legal and the philosophical literature, and attempts to abstract the single most convincing criterion from them. The relationship between personhood and rights is elucidated and the moral significance of the foetus' potential to be a person discussed. Chapter 3 examines the conflict between foetal and maternal rights and interests in various fact situations. The radically different conclusions on the moral permissibility of abortion when the foetus is a) accounted a person, and b) accounted a non person are delineated. Chapter 4 returns to the matter of non-decidability and considers abortion's permissibility when the criteria of (a) justifiability, and (b) pragmatism are employed as rational alternative criteria to that of personhood/non personhood.
Law, Peter A. Allard School of