September 18, 2008

Aborting an abortion argument


APOLOGIABy Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, September 18, 2008)

Aborting an abortion argument

Here is an oft-heard argument in favour of abortion (I call it the body-part-control argument):

· Premise 1: Every woman has the right to control her own body.
· Premise 2: The fetus is a part of the pregnant woman’s body.
· Conclusion: Women have the right to abortion.

The argument sounds good, but is it sound?

Consider the following reasoning.

First, assume (for the sake of argument) that the second premise is true. That is, assume that the fetus is a part of the pregnant woman’s body.

Second, consider the logical relation of transitivity. If A is a part of B, and B is a part of C, then A is a part of C. If a brick is part of a wall, and the wall is part of a house, then the brick is part of that house.

Third, keep in mind two facts: (1) a woman has two feet; and (2) a fetus has two feet.

Now, consider the following: if a fetus’ two feet are a part of the fetus, and if the fetus is a part of a pregnant woman, then the fetus’ two feet are a part of that woman. Hence, the woman has four feet.

Now, also consider the fact that the male fetus has a penis. If the penis is a part of the fetus, and if the fetus is a part of the pregnant woman, then the woman has a penis. (Think, too, about the possibility of male triplets.)

Since absurdities follow logically from the assumed truth of the second premise, we can conclude that the second premise is false.

Significantly, premise 2 fails to recognize the distinction between the concepts of part and connection. An object A can be connected to object B, yet object A need not be a part of B. The piano in a mover’s truck is connected (via straps, etc.) to the truck, yet the piano is not a part of that truck. Similarly, the fetus is connected to a woman’s body, yet the fetus is not a part of the woman’s body.

Sure, every woman has the right to control her own body. But aren’t there two bodies involved in an abortion?

In other words, the crucially important moral status of the prenatal child needs to be addressed, but isn’t. Thus, the body-part-control argument fails to justify abortion.

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Providence College, located in Otterburne, Manitoba, Canada.)

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