Discussion Questions on Don Marquis, "Why Abortion is Immoral"
1. What is Marquis' major assumption on the first page of his essay? Does it seem at all controversial to you?
2. Why does Marquis think that there has been a standoff between those defending and attacking the legality of abortion? What problems does he see with the moral principles that both sides rely on, and why does he believe that attempts to patch up the principles only lead to further difficulties?
3. Marquis writes, "If 'human being', on the other hand, is taken to be a moral category, then the claim that a fetus is a human being cannot be taken to be a premise in the anti-abortion argument, for it is precisely what needs to be established" (p. 186). What does he mean? Do you think he is right? Marquis goes on to argue that the pro-choice position suffers from "an analogous problem." "the pro-choicer is left with the problem of explaining why psychological characteristics should make a moral difference. . . .If it is legitimate for the pro-choicer to demand that the anti-abortionist provide an explanation of the connection between the biological character of being a human being and the wrongness of being killed..., then it is legitimate for the anti-abortionist to demand that the pro-choicer provide an explanation of the connection between psychological criteria for being a person and the wrongness of being killed" (p. 187). Is Marquis right? Are the problems just the same? What solutions might anti-abortionists and pro-choicers offer?
4. Marquis argues that the best explanation for why it is seriously morally wrong to kill adult human beings is that it deprives them of the valuable things that typically characterize a person's future. How does his argument work? What alternative explanations does he offer for why it is seriously morally wrong to kill adult human beings? How does he show that his preferred explanation is better? In what ways might his argument be challenged? Do you think he is right? If not, what do you think is the best explanation for why it is seriously morally wrong to kill adult human beings?
5. A child born in Sierra Leone has a life expectancy of less than 40 years, while a child born in Japan has a life expectancy of nearly 80 years. Furthermore, the child born in Sierra Leone is much more likely to experience disease, injury, malnutrition, and suffering of all sorts. Does Marquis' theory imply that it is not nearly as seriously morally wrong to kill a child in Sierra Leone than it is to kill a child in Japan? How would Marquis respond to such a criticism?
6. How does Marquis' argument that abortion is seriously morally wrong work? Can you write it out as a valid argument? Does he manage to avoid relying on any claims concerning the moral status or rights of fetuses or embryos? Is Marquis' argument sound? Are there any abortions that Marquis' argument would not condemn?
7. Marquis argues that his position does not imply that contraception is seriously immoral. How does he avoid this implication? Are you convinced? Why is it important for him to show that his position does not have this implication?