Philosophical Studies

, Volume 174, Issue 5, pp 1217–1226 | Cite as

Abortion and miscarriage

  • Amy BergEmail author


Opponents of abortion sometimes hold that it is impermissible because fetuses are persons from the moment of conception. But miscarriage, which ends up to 89 % of pregnancies, is much deadlier than abortion. That means that if opponents of abortion are right, then miscarriage is the biggest public-health crisis of our time. Yet they pay hardly any attention to miscarriage, especially very early miscarriage. Attempts to resolve this inconsistency by adverting to the distinction between killing and letting die or to the difficulty of preventing miscarriage fail, leaving a dilemma. Opponents of abortion should either advocate a substantial shift in our political and medical priorities or else give up the view that fetuses are persons from the moment of conception.


Abortion Miscarriage Bioethics Killing and letting die Fetal personhood 



Thanks to Craig Agule, Richard Arneson, Matt Braich, David Brink, Theron Pummer, and an anonymous reviewer at Philosophical Studies for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.


  1. Abortion. Gallup. (2016). Gallup. 2015. Accessed 13 April 2016.
  2. After Tiller. (2013). Dir. Martha Shane and Lana Wilson. Code Red.Google Scholar
  3. A Timeline of HIV/AIDS. (2016). US Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed 13 April 2016.Google Scholar
  4. Berghella, M., & Achenbach, A. (2012). Early pregnancy loss. In V. Berghella (Ed.), Obstetric evidence-based guidelines (2nd ed., pp. 142–149). London: Informa Healthcare.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Deaths and Mortality. (2015). Centers for disease control and prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services, 21 August. Accessed 13 April 2016.
  6. Hardy, S., & Kukla, R. (2015). Making sense of miscarriage online. Journal of Social Philosophy, 46(1), 106–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Harman, E. (1999). Creation ethics: The moral status of early fetuses and the ethics of abortion. Philosophy and Public Affairs, 28(4), 310–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. How to Survive a Plague. (2012). Dir. David France. Sundance Selects.Google Scholar
  9. Heart Disease Facts. (2015). Centers for disease control and prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services, 10 August. Accessed 13 April 2016.
  10. Induced Abortion in the United States. (2016). Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher Institute, March 2016. Accessed 13 April 2016.
  11. Macklon, N. S., Geraedts, J. P. M., & Fauser, B. C. J. M. (2002). Conception to ongoing pregnancy: The ‘Black Box’ of early pregnancy loss. Human Reproduction Update, 8(4), 333–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Marquis, D. (1989). Why abortion is immoral. Journal of Philosophy, 86(4), 183–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Miscarriage. (2014). Medline Plus. US National Library of Medicine. Accessed 13 April 2016.Google Scholar
  14. Moore, P. (2015). “Three quarters say longmont attack is murder.” YouGov. YouGov. Accessed 13 April 2016.Google Scholar
  15. Nepomnaschy, P., et al. (2006). Cortisol levels and very early pregnancy loss in humans. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 103(10), 3938–3942.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Ord, T. (2008). The scourge: Moral implications of natural embryo loss. American Journal of Bioethics, 8(7), 12–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Pogge, T. (2010). Politics as usual. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  18. Porter, L. (2015). Miscarriage and person-denying. Journal of Social Philosophy, 46(1), 59–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Saad, L. (2012). Abortion is threshold issue for one in six U.S. voters. In Gallup. Gallup, 4 October 2012. Accessed 13 April 2016.Google Scholar
  20. Scandlyn, J. (2000). When AIDS became a chronic disease. Western Journal of Medicine, 172(2), 130–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Simpson, J. L. (2011). Early pregnancy loss. In G. Kovacs (Ed.), The subfertility handbook: A clinician’s guide (2nd ed., p. 2011). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Stoyles, B. (2015). The value of pregnancy and the meaning of pregnancy loss. Journal of Social Philosophy, 46(1), 91–105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Warren, M. A. (1973). On the moral and legal status of abortion. Monist, 57(4), 43–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Weintraub, A., & Sheiner, E. (2011). Early pregnancy loss. In E. Sheiner (Ed.), Bleeding during pregnancy: A comprehensive guide (pp. 25–44). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Wendler, D. (1999). Understanding the ‘conservative’ view on abortion. Bioethics, 13(1), 32–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA

Personalised recommendations