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Human Rights and Common GoodCollected Essays Volume III$
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John Finnis

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199580071

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199580071.001.0001

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The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion

The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion

Chapter:
(p.282) 18 The Rights and Wrongs of Abortion
Source:
Human Rights and Common Good
Author(s):

John Finnis

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199580071.003.0019

This chapter, written in 1973, offers a response to Judith Thomson's famous proto-feminist attempt to vindicate abortion by a thought-experiment which accepts the humanity of the unborn child. It begins by showing that casting the issue in terms of rights (to life verses to decide what happens in one's body) obscures the underlying question, which (as she belatedly concedes) is about what is morally required. But abortion, at least in most cases, cannot reasonably be assimilated to the range of Good Samaritan problems. The traditional moral discussion of killing is traced, and the traditional casuistry distinguishing justifiable terminations of pregnancy from ‘direct’ abortions is critically analysed (with a partly defective concept of intention). Arguments of Jonathan Bennett and Philippa Foot are considered along the way, as well as Thomson's incidental comparison of the embryo to an acorn. An endnote points the way to rectifying the account of intention.

Keywords:   Judith Thomson, rights, moral requirements, abortion, Good Samaritan problems, direct abortion, intention, Philippa Foot

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