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Home Philosophy Don Marquis "Abortion Is Immoral" Textual Analysis

Don Marquis “Abortion Is Immoral” Textual Analysis

In the 1989 essay “Abortion Is Immoral,” Don Marquis argues that abortion is morally wrong. Marquis feels that most contemporary philosophers ignore the issue of the morality of abortion because of their affiliation with secular higher education settings, which makes them believe that the anti-abortion viewpoint is “a conclusion generated by seriously confused philosophical argument.” In contrast to contemporary philosophers, Marquis argues that abortion is unethical and that it is in the same category as killing an innocent adult.

To develop an argument on the unethical nature of abortion, Don Marquis states that we must ask the question of why it is morally wrong to kill someone. Marquis determines that what makes killing wrong is the effect that it has on the victim itself. Marquis argues that loss of one’s life “deprives one of all the experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments” that they will have in their life, and that would have defined their future. As such, killing an innocent person is wrong in Marquis’ opinion because it prevents a person from following through on the activities and experiences that would have defined their future life and helped to make them stand out as an individual. Te idea that the elimination of a person’s future is what makes killing wrong is illustrated by the fact that killing denies the victim of more than any other crime does.

Don Marquis next asserts that the idea that the loss of a person’s future potential is what makes killing morally wrong gains further support when several its implications are examined. The first two implications are that his theory would support the belief that it would be wrong to kill beings that are members of other species and that the futures of some animals are like the prospects of people and that it is thus immoral to take their lives. The third implication discussed by Marquis is the claim that the loss of one’s future is the “wrong-making feature of one’s being killed does not entail that active euthanasia is wrong.” On the other hand, Marquis asserts that it is the value of a human’s future which makes killing wrong in this theory. The fourth implication is that the account of the wrongness of killing entails that it is immoral and unethical to kill children and infants because “we do presume that they have futures of value.”

Don Marquis mentions that the potential future of a standard unborn child includes a series of experiences that are identical to an ordinary adult or young children. Considering that one can assert that it is immoral to kill a person after birth because it denies a person of their future potential, Marquis states that similar logic can be used to argue that abortion is morally wrong. The structure of Marquis’ anti-abortion argument is defended through a comparison with the case against inflicting pain on animals, which assumes that it is morally wrong to inflict pain on others. Both the argument against abortion and the argument against causing pain to animals begin with a premise regarding what it is wrong to do to another person and the consequences of a wrong action. Additionally, both recognize that the “wrong-making feature of such immoral actions is a property of actions sometimes directed at an individual other than postnatal human beings.” Marquis then argues that if the structure of the argument against the wrongness of inflicting pain on animals is correct, then the argument against abortion would be right as well.

Don Marquis next mentions that abortion can be justified on certain grounds such as if the birth of a child would seriously threaten the life of the expectant mother. Even if abortion would be morally acceptable under a rare case, Marquis argues that they would only be admissible if they were to occur early in the pregnancy. Marquis also looks at the morality of contraception and its relation to the belief that killing denies an individual of their future potential. Even though contraception prevents the actualization of a possible future of value for a person that may potentially be conceived, Marquis argues that contraception is not immoral in practice. Marquis feels that contraception is not immoral because there is no identifiable subject of the loss of their future and value in the case of contraception.

The ethical theory put forward by Don Marquis in “Abortion Is Immoral” is the idea of Utilitarian ethics. Utilitarian ethics stipulates that all pains and pleasures are morally significant and that the most morally right course of action to take is the one that limits suffering and maximizes pleasure for all people in society. Following such logic, Utilitarianism would argue that both sentient or non-sentient beings are subjects of moral consideration and that it is immoral to harm anyone. It can be reasoned that the argument by Marquis is related to Utilitarianism because he argues that abortion increases suffering because it prevents the opportunity for unborn children from realizing their full potential as they develop and mature. Additionally, Marquis also considers unborn children to be full subjects of moral consideration and feels that they are entitled to the same rights as all other people within society.

The argument put forward by Don Marquis in “Abortion Is Immoral” includes several strengths and weaknesses. The main weakness regarding his argument is that it does not consider the belief that fetuses lack the awareness to take an interest in their future. Scientists often debate over whether fetuses have a conscious understanding of their future and the world surrounding them. If fetuses lack an understanding of their future and the world around them, then they do not take an active interest in their future. Assuming that fetuses lack an understanding or interest in their future, one can make the argument that it is not morally wrong to kill them through an abortion. On the other hand, the main strength of Marquis’ argument is that it considers the fact that killing an innocent person is morally wrong because of the effect that it has on themselves. By killing a person, you eliminate any hope that they may have for their future and attempt to dehumanize and devalue people by making them out as mere objects within society.

Matthew Rose
Matt studies and analyzes politics at all levels. He is the creator of, a scholarly resource exploring political trends, political theory, political economy, philosophy, and more. He hopes that his articles can encourage more people to gain knowledge about politics and understand the impact that public policy decisions have on their lives. Matt is also involved in the preservation of recorded sound through IASA International Bibliography of Discographies, and is an avid record collector.


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