If fetuses are persons, abortion is a public health crisis

Bruce Blackshaw, Daniel Rodger

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    Pro-life advocates commonly argue that fetuses have the moral status of persons, and an accompanying right to life, a view most pro-choice advocates deny. A difficulty for this pro-life position has been Judith Jarvis Thomson's violinist analogy, in which she argues that even if the fetus is a person, abortion is often permissible because a pregnant woman is not obliged to continue to offer her body as life support. Here, we outline the moral theories underlying public health ethics, and examine the COVID-19 pandemic as an example of public health considerations overriding individual rights. We argue that if fetuses are regarded as persons, then abortion is of such prevalence in society that it also constitutes a significant public health crisis. We show that on public health considerations, we are justified in overriding individual rights to bodily autonomy by prohibiting abortion. We conclude that in a society that values public health, abortion can only be tolerated if fetuses are not regarded as persons.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)465-472
    Number of pages8
    Issue number5
    Early online date2 Apr 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021

    Bibliographical note

    © 2021 The Authors. Bioethics published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


    • Abortion, Induced/ethics
    • COVID-19
    • Civil Rights
    • Dissent and Disputes
    • Ethical Analysis
    • Ethical Theory
    • Female
    • Fetus
    • Human Rights
    • Humans
    • Moral Obligations
    • Moral Status
    • Pandemics/ethics
    • Personhood
    • Pregnancy
    • Pregnant Women
    • Public Health/ethics
    • Reproductive Rights
    • Value of Life


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