Abortion and Infanticide

This essay deals with the question of the morality of abortion and infanticide. The fundamental ethical objection traditionally advanced against these practices rests on the contention that human fetuses and infants have a right to life. It is this claim which will be the focus of attention here. The basic issue to be discussed, then, is what properties a thing must possess in order to have a serious right to life. My approach will be to set out and defend a basic moral principle specifying a condition an organism must satisfy if it is to have a serious right to life. It will be seen that this condition is not satisfied by human fetuses and infants, and thus that they do not have a right to life. So unless there are other substantial objections to abortion and infanticide, one is forced to conclude that these practices are morally acceptable ones. In contrast, it may turn out that our treatment of adult members of other species-cats, dogs, polar bears-is morally indefensible. For it is quite possible that such animals do possess properties that endow them with a right to life.

Michael Tooley
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing
Published in: Philosophy and Public Affairs
1972 Vol. 2, No. 1 Pages 37-65