In the 2005 article “Most Abortions Are Morally Legitimate,” Bonnie Steinbock puts forward an argument stating that abortion is in fact morally justified in most cases. Steinbock begins by declaring that her belief on the morality of abortion is based on two considerations which are the moral status of the embryo and the fetus and the burdens imposed on women through pregnancy and childbirth. Steinbock also puts forward the interests view, which limits moral status to people who have interests in their future and restricts the possession of interests to people who are conscious of the world around them. Following the logic presented by the interest view, Steinbock argues that fetuses are not conscious enough to understand their interests and that it is not morally wrong to kill a fetus when there is an adequate reason for doing so. Steinbock further discusses the view on abortion possessed by Don Marquis and argues that it is wrong because it attempts to claim that a fetus is a conscious living being and that it would be immoral to kill an unborn child even though they have no awareness of their interests and the outside world.
Bonnie Steinbock first discusses the moral status of a fetus. Many opponents of legalized abortion tend to argue that abortion is an unethical practice because they view it as the killing of an innocent person. Additionally, abortion opponents do not see any difference between a fetus during the early stages of pregnancy and a newborn child. Following such logic, it could be argued that if it is morally wrong to kill a young child, it would also be morally wrong to kill a fetus through abortion. In contrast, Steinbock asserts that killing a fetus is morally different than killing a newborn baby because fetuses are not sentient beings because they cannot experience pain or pleasure. Steinbock states that being sentient is important because non-sentient beings lack interests of their own. As such, non-sentient beings should not be categorized among those whose interests people are required to consider in their day-to-day actions.
The main point of criticism regarding the interest view, according to Bonnie Steinbock, is that opponents tend to ask why a being must experience or feel anything to have a unique set of interests. Steinbock argues that the main flaw with this approach is that it misconceives the interest view because the interest view can acknowledge that certain non-sentient beings and objects have value and that people have all kinds of reasons to protect and preserve any non-sentiment beings and objects. Additionally, the main difference between sentient and non-sentient beings is that because non-sentient beings have no feelings and cannot be made to suffer, it does not matter what is done to them and in people deciding what they can do, they should not consider their interests because they do not have any. The interest view relates to the morality of abortion because most scientists agree that fetuses in the early gestation phase do not have feelings and understand their interests and are thus non-sentient beings. Considering such factors, Steinbeck concludes that a non-sentient being such as a fetus not deprived of anything by being killed and that abortion is thus not morally wrong.
Bonnie Steinbock then discusses her criticisms against the potentiality principle. Through the potentiality principle, opponents of abortion argue that the potential of a fetus to become a sentient being with a unique set of interests and awareness of its future is enough to ascribe moral status to a fetus and to give it the same rights as any other person. One such flaw with this approach is that it does not follow from the fact that “something is a potential x that should be treated as an actual x.” Additionally, this argument also raises the question that if abortion is morally wrong, then the use of contraceptives such as spermicide is also unethical because it prevents a potential person from being born. Considering that few abortion opponents are willing to accept such a conclusion, Steinbock states that they are often forced to either give up or modify their overall argument.
Bonnie Steinbock criticizes Don Marquis’s argument against abortion by highlighting his objections to the interest view. Marquis holds that his opinion is correct because it can explain why it is morally wrong to kill people who are temporarily unconscious. For example, Marquis asks if it is morally right to kill a non-sentient being, then how come it is wrong to kill a person in a comma considering that the individual is not conscious or sentient. If people appeal to the future conscious state of the individual in a comma, then the same argument can apply to a fetus, which will become conscious and sentient if we allow it to develop. Steinbock argues that two responses can be made to the objection to the interest view proposed by Marquis. The first is that there is a difference between a temporarily unconscious person and a fetus because the person who is unconscious had past experiences and an interest in its future. On the other hand, a fetus does not have past experiences and lacks a stake or awareness in its future. The second response is that people’s interests are not limited to what they take an interest in. According to Steinbock, if the non-conscious fetus is not interested in continuing to live, we could argue that continued existence it not in its best interest considering its personal desires.
The ethical theory that is explored by Bonnie Steinbock is the idea of Kantian ethics. Kantian ethics argues that for a person to qualify for moral consideration, they must be able to use their reasoning skills to derive and understand moral issues. As such, the only people that would qualify for moral consideration under Kantian ethics would be individuals who were developed enough to have basic reasoning skills and a basic understanding of what is morally right or wrong. Steinbock’s position on the morality of abortion aligns with Kantian ethics because she argues that an unborn fetus lacks reasoning power and an awareness of what in fact is ethical. Considering her view that fetuses lack reasoning powers, Steinbock would argue that fetuses do not qualify for moral consideration and that it is not morally incorrect to destroy a fetus through an abortion.
Overall, the argument put forward by Bonne Steinbock in “Most Abortions Are Morally Legitimate” includes several strengths and weaknesses. The main weakness of Steinbock’s argument is that it asserts that a fetus is not a sentient being and thus is not considered a moral agent. The main flaw with this argument is that scientists have yet to reach a full conclusion regarding whether a fetus can feel pain or is conscious of the world around them. If a fetus can, in fact, feel pain, then the argument posed by Steinbock that a fetus is not a living thing would, in turn, be invalid. The main strength of Steinbock’s argument is that she raises the question of the differences between sentient and non-sentient beings. The differences between sentient and non-sentient beings are often ignored by most contemporary philosophers, and many people tend to ignore the distinctions between both categories. By highlighting their differences, Steinbock is seeking to frame the debate regarding the morality of abortion in an entirely different light that is often ignored by recent studies on ethical issues.