The Potentiality Objection

Replies to Objections

The four arguments in the previous section establish that abortion is, except in rare cases, seriously immoral. Not surprisingly, there are objections to this view. There are replies to the four most important objections to the FLO argument for the immorality of abortion.

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The FLO account of the wrongness of abortion is a potentiality argument. To claim that a fetus has an FLO is to claim that a fetus now has the potential to be in a state of a certain kind in the future. It is not to claim that all ordinary fetuses will have FLOs. Fetuses who are aborted, of course, will not. To say that a standard fetus has an FLO is to say that a standard fetus either will have or would have a life it will or would value. To say that a standard fetus would have a life it would value is to say that it will have a life it will value if it does not die prematurely. The truth of this conditional is based upon the nature of fetuses (including the fact that they naturally age) and this nature concerns their potential.

Some appeals to potentiality in the abortion debate rest on unsound in- ferences. For example, one may try to generate an argument against abor- tion by arguing that because persons have the right to life, potential persons also have the right to life. Such an argument is plainly invalid as it stands. The premise one needs to add to make it valid would have to be something like: “If Xs have the right to Y, then potential Xs have the right to Y.” This premise is plainly false. Potential presidents don’t have the rights of the presidency; potential voters don’t have the right to vote.

In the FLO argument potentiality is not used in order to bridge the gap between adults and fetuses as is done in the argument in the above para- graph. The FLO theory of the wrongness of killing adults is based upon the adult’s potentiality to have a future of value. Potentiality is in the argument from the very beginning. Thus, the plainly false premise is not required. Ac- cordingly, the use of potentiality in the FLO theory is not a sign of an illegit- imate inference.

A second objection to the FLO account of the immorality of abortion in- volves arguing that even though fetuses have FLOs, nonsentient fetuses do not meet the minimum conditions for having any moral standing at all because they lack interests. Steinbock has presented this argu- ment clearly:

Beings that have moral status must be capable of caring about what is done to them. They must be capable of being made, if only in a rudimentary sense, happy or miserable, comfortable or distressed. Whatever reasons we may have for preserving or protecting non-sentient beings, these reasons do not refer to their own interests. For without conscious awareness, beings cannot have inter- ests. Without interests, they cannot have a welfare of their own. Without a welfare of their own, nothing can be done for their sake. Hence, they lack moral standing or status.

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