This book introduces readers to the many arguments and controversies concerning abortion. It focuses on how to think about the issues, not just what to think about them. It is an ideal resource to improve your understanding of what people think, why they think that and whether their (and your) arguments are good or bad, and why. It's ideal for classroom use, discussion groups, organizational learning, and personal reading.
From the Preface:
"To many people, abortion is an issue for which discussions and debates are frustrating and fruitless: it seems like no progress will ever be made towards any understanding, much less resolution or even compromise.
Judgments like these, however, are premature because some basic techniques from critical thinking, such as carefully defining words and testing definitions, stating the full structure of arguments so each step of the reasoning can be examined, and comparing the strengths and weaknesses of different explanations can help us make progress towards these goals.
Here we use basic critical thinking skills to argue that abortion is typically not morally wrong. We begin with less morally-controversial claims: adults, children and babies are wrong to kill and wrong to kill, fundamentally, because they, we, are conscious, aware and have feelings. We argue that since early fetuses entirely lack these characteristics, they are not inherently wrong to kill and so most abortions are not morally wrong, since most abortions are done early in pregnancy, before consciousness and feeling develop in the fetus.
Furthermore, since the right to life is not the right to someone else's body, fetuses might not have the right to the pregnant woman's body-which she has the right to-and so she has the right to not allow the fetus use of her body. This further justifies abortion, at least, until technology allows for the removal of fetuses to other wombs. Since morally permissible actions should be legal, abortions should be legal: it is an injustice to criminalizing actions that are not wrong.
In the course of arguing for these claims, we:
1. discuss how to best define abortion; 2. dismiss many common "question-begging" arguments that merely assume their conclusions, instead of giving genuine reasons for them; 3. refute some often-heard "everyday arguments" about abortion, on all sides; 4. explain why the most influential philosophical arguments against abortion are unsuccessful; 5. provide some positive arguments that at least early abortions are not wrong; 6. briefly discuss the ethics and legality of later abortions, and more.
This essay is not a 'how to win an argument' piece or a tract or any kind of apologetics. It is not designed to help anyone 'win' debates: everybody 'wins' when we calmly and respectfully engage arguments. And its discussion should not be taken as absolute 'proof' of anything: much more needs to be understood and carefully discussed-always."
"A lucid and engaging introduction to the ethics of abortion. Nobis and Grob are refreshingly fair and balanced in their treatment of a hotly contested issue. They seek to find the best arguments, not arguments that fit an agenda." -Rebecca Tuvel, Rhodes College
"This book provides a great set of tools for talking about this thorny issue. Even if you disagree with the conclusions that the authors reach, you'll learn a great deal by reading this accessible and thoughtful volume." -Bob Fischer, Texas State University
"An easy to read, yet rigorous, exploration of key concepts and assumptions present in both popular and philosophical discourse on abortion. An excellent introduction." -Chelsea Haramia, Spring Hill College
About the Authors
Nathan Nobis, Philosophy, Morehouse College Kristina Grob, Philosophy, University of South Carolina Sumter
Nathan Nobis, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA. He has taught courses, given lectures and published articles and chapters on a wide variety of topics concerning ethics and animals, bioethics, ethical theory and other topics in philosophy.
Thinking Critically About Abortion: Why Most Abortions Aren’t Wrong & Why All Abortions Should Be Legal by Nathan Nobis and Kristina Grob
“Thinking Critically About Abortion” introduces readers to basic philosophical arguments regarding abortion. Professors Nobis and Grob, provide the public with a better way of thinking about the issues regarding abortion. This succinct 78-page book includes the following six chapters: 1. Introduction, 2. Defining “Abortion”, 3. Fetal Consciousness & Facts about Abortions, 4. Bad Arguments: “Question-Begging” Arguments & “Everyday” Arguments, 5. Better Arguments: Philosophers’ Arguments, and 6. Conclusion.
Positives: 1. A well-written book. It’s thought provoking and succinct. 2. An important topic, abortion. 3. Focuses on the best arguments for and against abortion. 4. Provides the best definition for abortion and explains why. “A final definition understands abortion in terms of an intentional killing of a fetus to end a pregnancy.” 5. Defines the important concept of fetal consciousness. “Scientific evidence suggests consciousness likely emerges, at the earliest, after the first trimester, at least three or four months into pregnancy.” 6. Important facts provided. “Most abortions occur early in pregnancy: two-thirds in the first two months, and around 90% in the first three months.” 7. Social factors behind abortions. “This information suggests, at least, that if women were economically better off, had better access to affordable child-care and other forms of support, and had ready access to more reliable forms of contraception, there would likely be fewer abortions.” 8. Provides a better way of thinking about abortion. “Accusations about motives are fruitless: it’s better to engage the basic questions of whether abortion is wrong or not and why, like we are doing here, instead of speculating about motives.” 9. Provides bad everyday arguments for and against abortion and explains why. “Laws should be religiously-neutral; on that we all should agree.” 10. Provides better arguments based on philosophy. “Concerning abortion, early fetuses would not be persons on this account: they are not yet conscious or aware since their brains and nervous systems are either non-existent or insufficiently developed.” 11. Provides a very good example that illustrates why abortions should be legal. 12. Provides a helpful further reading list.
Negatives: 1. A topic of this importance requires more depth. 2. I would have preferred more examples. 3. Very little on the legal aspect of abortion.
In summary, this is a worthwhile look at what matters regarding abortion. I like where the professors were going with their arguments but I just wanted more. I wanted to look at this from various angles besides the welcomed philosophical point of views. A good synopsis, but I was left wanting more. There are better books out there on this topic.
Further recommendations: “A Defense of Abortion” by Judith Jarvis Thomson, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion” by Mary Anne Warren, “A Defense of Abortion” and “Beyond Roe: Why Abortions Should Be Legal” by David Boonin, and “Reason and Argument” by Richard Feldman.
Everyone who holds a view on this topic one way or the other should read this book and more. A bad defense of the right position is often far worse than any attack on it, because a neutral observer is exposed to good arguments against the position and bad arguments in favor of it.
This book first deals with bad arguments both for and against the right to abortion. It then deals with the relatively better arguments against abortion, offers a counter to those arguments, and then provides positive arguments in favor of the right to abortion.
While I don't consider the author's arguments to be perfect, it's still an incredibly helpful resource and will likely help your thinking on the topic.
Why all abortions should be legal: the "right to life" does not include the "right to use another person's body." I agree with this.
Unfortunately the author basis the "right to life" in the criteria of personhood (roughly, being or having been conscious) which I believe is philosophically problematic and prevents the argument from being airtight. But that's a conversation for another day.
Apart from this book I also highly recommend Leonard Peikoff's essay Abortion Rights Are Pro-Life which as one of the best formulations on the topic that I've seen so far:
"We must not confuse potentiality with actuality. An embryo is a potential human being. It can, granted the woman’s choice, develop into an infant. But what it actually is during the first trimester is a mass of relatively undifferentiated cells that exist as a part of a woman’s body. If we consider what it is rather than what it might become, we must acknowledge that the embryo under three months is something far more primitive than a frog or a fish. To compare it to an infant is ludicrous.
If we are to accept the equation of the potential with the actual and call the embryo an “unborn child,” we could, with equal logic, call any adult an “undead corpse” and bury him alive or vivisect him for the instruction of medical students."
You don't have to reach the same conclusions, but this is absolutely worth a read if you're truly interesting in thinking critically about this issue rather than falling for the endless straw-man arguments (of either side) or reductive arguments that really only "beg the question".
Perhaps ironically, I would recommend to someone who is already convinced, rather than someone who is agnostic on the issue. It would be especially recommended for someone who is using bad arguments to convince others, such as repeating mantras like "abortion is murder" or "my body my choice." I would not recommend it to someone who is an agnostic on the issue or is just starting to learn about it, as it is misleading in some key points and complexities and doesn't provide a good path toward exploring those complexities.
This book is a mix of a critical thinking guide and a pro-choice argument. Being pro-life, I really wish this was just a critical thinking guide. The good points would be that it cuts through many trash arguments for or against abortion that are used in everyday language, many of them are question-begging (assuming the conclusion within the argument). I appreciated this aspect. It also at least introduced some of the philosophical arguments on both sides. As mentioned previously, I would only recommend this book to those who are already convinced of their side, and especially if one regularly uses silly arguments. For an agnostic, the pro-life leanings and lack of exposure to the real complexity of the issues (especially pro-life positions) or pro-life further reading almost certainly will solidify the issue for pro-choice. The ‘Further Reading’ section only includes 1 pro-life article, 4 pro-choice articles or books, and 5 ‘neutral’ articles (hopefully more neutral than this book) by the authors (who are pro-choice).
I thought pro-life was misrepresented a couple times and could have been strengthened quite a bit. The subtitle of “Why Most Abortions Aren’t Wrong & Why All Abortions Should Be Legal “ really shines through here. For example, its response to the pro-life argument against killing human beings was by saying that it is only wrong because “we are conscious and feeling,” and in response to the intrinsic human right-to-life argument was that the “rights come from being a rational being,” rather than adequately discussing any intrinsic human dignity argument (which aren’t just religious arguments). The result of that is that pain and thus consciousness is roughly the only morally relevant characteristic to killing (think about its application to other issues like euthanasia). It did attempt to discuss into the argument from the Bible, which consisted of some painfully poor exegesis and even condemnation of biblical morality, including loving your neighbor as yourself and loving your enemies. They make a hand waving dismissal of divine command ethics. At least one author has written multiple pro-choice publications and were quick to cite these (at the expense of having an equal number of pro-life citations).
One point they made about innocent embryos was interesting: if a fetus is not a free moral agent aka can’t do right or wrong or doesn’t know between right or wrong, then the proposition “it is wrong to kill an innocent human being” may not apply to a fetus, as the concept of “innocence” implies free moral agency.
Finally, it makes an extremely quick leap from moral permissibility to legality. The book says, “Since morally permissible actions should be legal, abortions should be legal: it is an injustice to criminalize actions that are not wrong.” So the authors suggest that the only things that should be illegal are those that are immoral, rather than things that promote a well-functioning society but aren’t immoral. For example, speed limits. It isn’t immoral to go over 30 miles per hour in a car anywhere logically prior to the legal code already being in place. Many things are (and probably should be) illegal that are not immoral, including voting age, driving age, seat belt requirements, and some things such as drug or alcohol use could go here.
Overall, this was an okay book. It helps you get some grasp on the breadth of arguments that are discussed (though it leaves much out of the debate in academic philosophical circles, understandably). It could help both sides see the other side better than before (though the pro-choice side is much better represented). It's worth reading if you don't hesitate to call yourself pro-life or pro-choice.