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Part of the book series: Biomedical Ethics Reviews ((BER))

Abstract

In this chapter I argue that three widely accepted principles regarding abortion and parental rights are prima facie jointly inconsistent. These principles are probably accepted by most who consider themselves feminists, so the conundrum posed is particularly acute for them. There is one obvious way of resolving the inconsistency. However, as will be made clear, this solution is prevented by a fourth principle—that fathers have an absolute obligation to provide material support for their children. I argue that this principle is false, that fathers have no such absolute obligation, and thereby provide a way of making the first three principles consistent.

[S]acrifice all desirability to truth, every truth, even plain, harsh, ugly, repellent, unchristian, immoral truth.—For such truths do exist.

—Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals, essay I §1

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Notes and References

  1. Indeed, Beverly Wildung Harrison (1983), in Our Right to Choose: Toward a New Ethic of Abortion,Beacon Press, Boston, p. 7, defines feminism as “the contention that women as a group ought to have the same basic standing as `rational moral agents’ as do men, with all the rights and responsibilities attendant to that status.”

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  2. N.B.: The duty stipulated in principle 3 is a transferable one. The parents may decide to give the child up for adoption, and thereby transfer the duty of support to someone else willing to accept it. Such transference would constitute a morally permissible discharge of duties. So it is clear that 3 does not insist that the parents personally provide support for the child. Support is provided, and 3 satisfied, if someone else is found who will personally support the child.

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  3. For some discussion, see Jeffrey Blustein (1982), Parents and Children,Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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  4. With the right qualifiers, of course. The duties are specifically parental ones, and the right is dated—i.e., it can only be exercised during pregnancy. But these niceties are irrelevant to what follows.

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  5. A defense of this can be found in Heather J. Gert, “Viability,” presented at the 1991 meetings of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association. I believe that sympathy for the view can be found in Mary Anne Warren, “On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion,” reprinted in Joel Feinberg, ed. (1984), The Problem of Abortion 2nd ed., Wadsworth, Belmont, CA, see especially p. 117.

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  6. An example of this kind of argument can be found in Rosalind Pollack Petchesky (1984), Abortion and Woman’s Choice: The State, Sexuality, and Reproductive Freedom, Longman, New York, pp. 354–356.

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  7. For some criticism of this, see Wesley D. H. Teo (1975), Abortion: the husband’s constitutional rights, Ethics 85 and George W. Harris (1986), Fathers and fetuses, Ethics 96. But note the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Planned Parenthood of Missouri v. Danforth, Attorney General of Missouri (428 US 52 [1976], majority opinion by Mr. Justice Blackmun), reprinted in O. O’Neill and W. Ruddick (eds.), Oxford University Press, Oxford: The mother is allowed to make a unilateral decision regarding the disposition of the fetus “since it is the woman who physically bears the child and who is the more directly and immediately affected by the pregnancy.” p. 68.

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  8. Petchesky, p. 354, thinks that biology prevents the having of equal rights. She does not discuss whether striving for equality as an ideal is a laudable goal.

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  9. It is hard to find defenses of this principle, since it is so widely assumed. Acceptance of it is implicit in, for example, C. R. Castner and L. R. Young (1981), In the Best Interest of the Child: A Guide to Child Support and Paternity Laws, National Conference of State Legislatures; Carol Smart (1987), There is of course the distinction dictated by nature: law and the problem of paternity, in Reproductive Technologies, Michelle Stanworth (ed.), University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis; L. M. Purdy (1976), Abortion and the husband’s rights: a reply to Wesley Teo, Ethics 86; Alison Jaggar (1984), Abortion and a woman’s right to decide, in R. Baker, and F. Elliston (eds.), Philosophy and Sex, Prometheus Books, Buffalo; and Francis J. Beckwith (1992), Personal bodily rights, abortion, and unplugging the violinist, Int. Philos. Quart. 32, esp. pp. 111,112. In “Fathers and fetuses” Harris may reject this principle; at least, he rejects something similar to it. But his project is different than mine, and he does not discuss paternal obligations in any sustained way.

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  10. Harris offers an interesting defense of this in “Fathers and fetuses.”

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  11. Citing statistics showing that many fathers are noncompliant with respect to mandatory child support is irrelevant here. Rejection of principle 4 means that it can often be wrong to demand a father to provide support in the first place.

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  12. Judith Jarvis Thomson, “A defense of abortion,” reprinted in Feinberg, The Problem of Abortion,p. 184.

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  13. This analogy gains additional momentum for those who consider corporations to be moral persons.

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  14. Most famous is, of course, Thomson, but see also Jane English, Abortion and the concept of a person, reprinted in Feinberg, The Problem of Abortion,pp. 151–160.

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  15. This chapter is the result of conversations with Timothy Johnson, a physicist who should have been a philosopher. It could not have been written without his insight. I am also indebted to David Blumenfeld, Susan Hales, and Steven Rieber for lengthy and helpful discussions about this topic, and to Stephen Beck, Angelo Corlett, James Dreier, Michael Ialacci, and George Rainbolt for criticisms of earlier drafts.

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© 1996 Springer Science+Business Media New York

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Hales, S.D. (1996). Abortion and Fathers’ Rights. In: Humber, J.M., Almeder, R.F. (eds) Reproduction, Technology, and Rights. Biomedical Ethics Reviews. Humana Press, Totowa, NJ. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-59259-450-4_1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-59259-450-4_1

  • Publisher Name: Humana Press, Totowa, NJ

  • Print ISBN: 978-1-4757-6403-1

  • Online ISBN: 978-1-59259-450-4

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