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The fetus's mother.

A logically necessary condition for being a mother is having a child. If a woman does not have or has never had a child, then she cannot be a mother. This is not to make any presuppositions about what constitutes being a child; if "mother" is to be correctly used to describe a woman, then one must be prepared to designate something as the child.

It is surprising, therefore, to find so many discussions of abortion talking about "the mother" and "the fetus." To call the woman a mother because she is pregnant (assuming, of course, that she has neither given birth nor adopted) presupposes that the fetus is a child. And whether or not this is the case is frequently at issue in discussions of abortion.

Some instructive examples of this confusion are displayed in joel Feinberg's valuable anthology The Problem of Abortion (2nd edition, 1984). Feinberg himself observes in his introduction that philosophical discussions of abortion require "a degree of clarity about basic concepts that is seldom achieved in legislative debates and letters to newspapers," but almost immediately following comments "The former questions can be divided into two groups: those concerned with problems about the moral status of the unborn and those concerned with the resolution of conflicting claims-in particular, the claims of the mother and those of the fetus." But, if the pregnant woman is a mother, then the fetus is a child. Without an argument, "mother" is a question-begging description.

A survey of the now classic discussions of abortion reprinted in the anthology reveals that most fail to distinguish between pregnant woman" and "mother." Thus, one author writes: "According to the liberal, the fetus should be disposable upon the mother's request until it is viable..." (Roger Wertheimer, "Understanding the Abortion Argument," 43) Others similarly conflate pregnant woman and mother: "whereas an almost full term fetus would have considerably more of a right, but still less than its mother" (Norman Gillespie, "Abortion and Human Rights," 96); "the common presumption that the problem of abortion must be argued in terms of the conflict of right between the living mother and the unborn fetus, may be a mistake" (S. I. Benn, "Abortion, Infanticide, and Respect for Persons," 136); "While the fetus is located within its mother's body, it is, of course, not a part of that body" (Loren Lomasky, "Being a Person-Does it Matter?," 165); "How, then, can we weigh the rights and the interests of mother and fetus, where they conflict?" (Sissela Bok, "Ethical Problems of Abortion," 188).

Nor is it clear that philosophers are now more aware of this point than they were when these classic discussions of abortion were written. C. Bedate, writing in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy in December 1989 states, "In the process of differentiation the embryo interacts with the mother... " (643; emphasis added). And in the November/ December 1989 Hastings Center Report Gilbert Meilaender writes, "This is not to say, of course, that every fetus in its natural environment will at every moment be wanted or desired by its mother" (16; emphasis added).

What is distressing about all this is that philosophical discussions about abortion do demand the highest clarity. And philosophers are frequently the first ones to tell us this. They would certainly not tolerate uncritically describing the fetus as a baby-we would be told about all the assumptions built into that description. But the same holds for describing the pregnant woman as a mother. The point is obvious, but even philosophers sometimes need to be reminded of the importance of conceptual clarity when discussing abortion.-Frederik Kaufman, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Ithaca College.
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Title Annotation:confusion of terms in discussions of abortion
Author:Kaufman, Frederik
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:May 1, 1990
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