Mary Ann Warren–On Abortion

Category: Abortion, Mother, Pregnancy
Last Updated: 21 Apr 2020
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The question of abortion causes heated debates among politicians and moralists, sociologists and philosophers. The main problem society tries to solve is moral statue of fetus and its resemblance with the human being. In the essay “Abortion, and the concept of a Person” Mary Ann Warren proposes a unique vision on these problems and moral choice of women discussing a status of fetus and its moral rights.

Following Judith Thomson, Warren discuses the status of fetus as a person and impact of this approach on moral side of abortion. Warren distinguishes two dimensions: a biological and moral status of fetus. Warren believes that a proper understanding of human biology can somehow rule out the possibility that a fetus is a separate human being. Similar to pro-life advocates she invokes our understanding of fetus, particularly the resemblance between fetuses and babies. Warren states that if we consider fetus a person, it should have the same human rights as other citizens. She opposes this opinion and in her words: ‘in the relevant respects, a fetus, even a fully developed one, is considerably less person-like than the average fish` (Warren).

Warren singles out five main factors which could help to distinguish a person in moral and biological sense. A person has consciousness and can feel pain; it (he/she) has the ability to reason and act in ways that go beyond instinct (based on motives and goals). A person has “the ability communicate and a sense of self” (Warren). Warren rejects the idea that biological resemblance of fetus with the human beings is essential. She states that: [I]f the right to life of the fetus is to be based upon its resemblance to a person, then it cannot be said to have any more right to life than, let us say, a newborn guppy” (Warren).

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If researchers and moralists accept this position, the implications for women, and for the law, would be staggering. Of course, the traditional immunity of women from prosecution for abortion would be untenable. Any woman who had or sought an abortion would at least be liable to punishment for attempted murder or for aiding and abetting the physician who performed the deed.

Warren gives a special attention to cloning and new technologies which could clone a cell from a human body. She asks: “Are all my cells now potential persons?” Trying to answer this question, she comes to conclusion that a part of a human body, “in some dim sense, [can] be a potential person” (Warren). Some might argue that a "person" comes into existence only at the point when there is a specific and determined chromosome genetic identity. Warren argues that if a new-born baby is “more-person like” and moralists justify abortion, they should also justify infanticide and murder.

This is one of the most controversial parts of her essay, because if we assume that infanticide is wrong we should accept that abortion is also wrong. Also, Warren includes the case of homosexuals into discussion. If the society does not treat a fetus as ‘a person’, it should treat homosexuals the same way. In this case, “we can make a limited point: because of the differences we have noted between a skin cell and a fertilized ovum, it is at least not clear that Warren`s analogy is a good one” (Warren). In answering that question on the premise that the fetus is a person, it is important not to underestimate the extent of the sacrifice being asked of the woman.

Critical remaining issues are whether a child which is never born alive is a person within the meaning of the statute, and whether it is possible to prove that the injury caused the unborn child's death. Warren addresses mothers’ choice and their freedom stating that: “The minute the infant is born, its preservation no longer violates any of its mother`s rights” (Warren). It sometimes is permissible for a pregnant woman to have an abortion because by means of an abortion she stops herself from helping bring about the state that she finds stressful. If she were not helping to bring about the state of affairs in the particular way that she is, she could not interfere with its coming about.

Taking into account Warren’s arguments and logic, I suppose that she improperly uses different philosophical and moral categories, law and biological issues. Likewise, those who support abortion rights invoke principles of biology in support of their claim that whatever else it is, a fetus simply cannot be a separate "person".  The same is true of the unfertilized ovum is alive. Warren’s arguments and approaches are not clear and even confusing in many points. Her argumentation lacks objectivity and logic that misleads and perplex readers.

Thus I agree with Warren that the status of fetus is central in this debate, but we should also take into account mother’s rights and civil liberties. Pregnancy and childbirth are always physically risky activities. More significantly, they produce between woman and child real and life-altering bonds, both psychological and physiological. Woman denied the right to decide whether or not to end a pregnancy is not merely being asked to refrain from killing another person but being asked to make an affirmative sacrifice, and a profound one at that, in order to save that person.

Still, there is some force to the moral argument that the right to choose abortion can be distinguished in cases of voluntary, as opposed to involuntary, pregnancy. To be sure, one powerful strand of feminist theory posits that within our society even most nominally sex, particularly in cases where the woman does not feel free to use or to suggest the use of birth control, involves coercion. But if one assumes a pregnancy that did not result from any sort of coercion, then perhaps the imposition of continued pregnancy on the woman may not be unjust.

Warren does not include into discussion such important things as fetal age and weight. There remains considerable disagreement over which of many criteria is most adequate in determining viability, and over the precision of any such measures. In addition, the viability rule is difficult to apply because it is an indeterminate concept that depends on the individual development of a specific fetus and the health of the mother.

The five factors she used to identify a person can be applied to many animals and primates but we do not consider them as ‘persons’. Thus, following Warren it is by no means enough to show that the fetus is person and that all persons have a right to life - so killing the fetus violates its right to life, i.e., that abortion is unjust killing.

Abortion will not be morally wrong if we apply another criteria and factors to analysis of its legacy: typical requirements of the statutes include: the existence of a " person " who has died; the death of the person from injuries resulting from a wrongful act, neglect, or default that would have conferred a cause of action upon the person who has died, had that person survived; and the act, neglect, or default that caused the fatal injury must have been performed by another. I suppose that the logical fallacies are that Warren takes into account only a fetus and compares it rights, moral and legal status with human beings.

It would be more important to compare rights and status of a mother vs fetus. The fetus, being person, has a right to life, but as the mother is a person too, so has she a right to life. I agree with Warren that a fetus in not a human yet, but I am disagree that we have a right to compare a fetus with a fish. Presumably they have an equal right to life. The main problem with Warren’s position is that she denies a moral status of fetus. Still, I agree with the author that: “a right of that magnitude could never override a woman`s right to obtain an abortion at any stage of her pregnancy` (Warren).

The major remaining basis of the inconsistency of establishing the rights of the unborn to a cause of action for wrongful death is the question of whether or not a fetus is a person under the appropriate statutes and, if so, at what point in gestation? A related question is whether or not the fetus must be live born before action is allowed. This issue is crucial, because if the fetus is defined as a person, the action will be recognized; if not, the action will be dismissed.


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Mary Ann Warren–On Abortion. (2017, Mar 26). Retrieved from

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