Marquis's Argument against Abortion


Abortion, as a very controversial topic, has arisen many times in the life of people all over the globe. At these days, this is one of the world's top issues that needs a particular way of solving, especially because it is directly related to a human life, a precious gift everyone is given. It is well-known that in terms of morality, abortion has always been defined as an immoral act, which violates the laws of nature. This fact has been repeatedly confirmed and proved by various sciences and studies. However, the abortion issue still remains undetermined and, with every day, is becoming increasingly philosophical in nature.

The abortion debates have caused the public to be divided into those, who believe that abortion should remain as a choice for a woman, and those, who are sure that abortion should not be accepted under any circumstances. Both of the given groups have certain reasons in support of their attitudes. However, what must be really under consideration is the human understanding of a choice that is being made regarding this issue. Generally, abortion is a murder. The way one determines whether abortion is acceptable in society or not, shows how much one values life itself.

A substantial number of famous philosophers throughout the world, such as Mary Anne Warren, Peter Singer, Jeff McMahan, Don Marquis,  and others, made a significant contribution to the issue discussion by developing logical arguments. Some of them are made in opposition to abortion, while others are made in support of it. The present paper makes a strong emphasis specifically on the Don Marquis's philosophical approach against abortion, which represents an absolutely brand new vision towards the way one should perceive the core of the problem existed. Challenging thoughts and ideas of Marquis, being explained in his argument, make a public look at the abortion issue in a quite different way.

Marquis's Argument Overview

Don Marquis is known as an American philosopher, who particularly strengthens his focus on ethics and medical ethics. Being professor of philosophy, he conducted studies of various ethical issues and offered quite provocative ideas that caused waves of criticisms and objections by public. Abortion became one of the ethical issues that provoked Marquis's interest the most. In April 1989, he wrote the article entitled “Why Abortion is Immoral”.It was published in the Journal of Philosophy. This was his first work dedicated to the abortion issue.

The article represents a brand new anti-abortion argument that significantly differs from the variety of others. Marquis is sure that abortion should be primarily seen and understood by public as a seriously wrong act that should not be performed, except in certain cases. These cases may include abortion after rape, abortion, when the fetus is anencephalic, abortion in any of the first fourteen days after conception or in cases, when a woman's life is in danger. These exceptions are determined as potential, and in case any of them takes place, abortion itself should not be considered as an immoral act.

Marquis supports the idea that abortion is a murder. It does not matter, whether it is a fetus or already a born baby. It is a human being that has a right to life. At this point, killing the unborn, as well as the born or adults equals. Killing is primarily wrong and should be perceived this way. However, it is noted quite clear that abortion still may be permissible in some cases. Here goes the similar line, along with killing a child or adult, for example, in purposes of self-defense.

Another interesting point of the Marquis's argument lies in the following: abortion deprives a fetus of a valuable future (Marquis, 1989). It means that when an unborn child dies, he or she is deprived of all the valuable things that he or she could have in future. In other words, it is called “future like ours”. A fetus will not have future activities, experiences, projects, excitements and enjoyments. This kind of deprivation is considered to be a substantial harm to the unborn. Nobody should ever try to perform it towards them. Therefore, it is ethically wrong.

Thus, Marquis has presented the unique idea why abortion should not be understood as a normal acceptable act. His argument has two sufficient standpoints that make one start to think of performing abortion as a violent act towards the future of the unborn. It makes one realize that a fetus as well as a born child or adult has a natural right to life, and there is no one and nothing that should be able to deprive of it.

Marquis's Approach against Abortion, and Other Approaches

Among many strong anti-abortion arguments that mainly support the idea of natural right to life, the Marquis's approach, also known as the deprivation argument, explains an act of abortion as a killing of the valuable future that may be lived out by a fetus. This point of view is exactly the one that makes this approach absolutely different. Many philosophers think of a current moment of abortion and give it a meaning of killing a life inside of a woman's body as violation of simple nature laws (Steinbock, 2011). In this sense, Marquis goes another way. He gives a much more deeper meaning to the act of abortion, because he looks at it from the standpoint of future.

Mary Anne Warren as well as Marquis presents her argument against abortion. She believes that it is wrong, because the embryo is an innocent human being, and, logically, it is seriously wrong to kill innocent human beings. This fact is related to a natural right to life. Basically, there is no significant difference between thoughts of Marquis and Warren. However, Warren does not give any explanations or reasons why a fetus should even have a right to life if it is not yet supposed to be a person, who really has any rights in society at all, because he or she is not born at the moment. She thinks that a term “human being” has different meanings. For example, it may mean a “person”, or it is just a “human organism that in future will become a person”. In this context, Warren does not give any supporting ideas if the embryo should be seen as a person or just biological human. Therefore, her argument is weak, presenting the thought that a fetus has a right to life, because she holds, whether it is already a person (and at this point he or she has a moral right to life), or it is a biological human organism (and this means that he or she does not have a moral right to life, because not being born yet, he or she cannot receive any moral rights).

Another interesting argument against abortion is presented by John T. Noonan, Jr. He believes that a fetus has a right to life, because it is conceived by human parents (Lewis, 2012). It means that it is a human being, and every human being deserves to have a right to life. Again, this approach is related to the natural right to life. Nonetheless, one sees that the difference between the Marquis's and Noonan's arguments lies in understanding the reason why abortion is so immoral. Noonan supports it by the fact that a fetus is already a human, and it has a right to life no matter, whether it is already born or not, but Marquis points out that not only belonging to a humankind gives a fetus a chance to live, while making abortion so ethically wrong. Moreover, the core of the abortion issue lies in the future that it is deprived of.

Therefore, there are many philosophical approaches and theories that support the idea of abortion being ethically wrong. Many of them, as it has been already mentioned above, are partly similar to the Marquis's deprivation argument, but only on the basis of breaking the nature laws and depriving the natural right to life from a fetus, who is an innocent human being and cannot defend and save itself. None of the approaches ever represented does really explain abortion as an immoral act because of the deprivation of a valuable future from a fetus (Baird, 2001). This is the standpoint that makes Marquis's ideas unique among others. In case, when there is no vision of a future that a fetus may really have if its life is not taken away, there remains an idea that a human being has a right to life, but there is no understanding for what. Marquis has given a full and complete reply to this question. A fetus has a right to life because it is a human being, who will have a valuable future that no one ever should have a right to take away from him.

Is Marquis's Approach a Sufficient Answer to the Abortion Issue?

In all times, a human life has always been considered as the most precious gift. A human being has a right to life. In addition, he has a right to have a valuable future. This is what he or she is given by the mother nature and moral community. Marquis fully agrees and supports this idea. But does his argument really give an adequate answer to the abortion issue? Could one suppose that his ideas of the deprivation of a valuable future from a fetus are really sufficient? Though his approach may seem as a brand new alternative to the moral issue discussed, it is difficult to perceive it as a right way of understanding the core of the problem, due its consequences and impacts on society and humanity in the whole. There are many reasons why his argument is weak.

First of all, Marquis states that every human being has a right to life and a valuable future. Any kind of its deprivation, including abortion, is considered to be an immoral act. No one should have a right to decide, whether to deprive life or not, and it does not matter if this is an unborn child or adult. Nevertheless, Marquis gives a list of exceptional circumstances, when abortion should be understood as a morally right thing to do. This already breaks his statement expressing that every human being has the natural right to life, because these very exceptions point out that a human being has a right to life under certain circumstances. Among the exceptions, presented by Marquis, it is essential to take one in order to explain the vision of why his argument at this point is weak. For example, Marquis believes that a woman has a right to abort a fetus if it is a result of her raping. Here goes a question, why her innocent child, who is not born yet, does not deserve to live? This obviously breaks the nature laws, because the only reason why a fetus is deprived of its life and a valuable future lies in a mother who does not want him. At this point, what is the difference if, for example, a woman gets pregnant, understands that she does not want her child to be born and makes a decision to abort him? It can be seen that in both cases a fetus is simply unwanted. Then, why in case when a woman is raped, it is ethically right to abort him, and when a woman is not raped, it is not ethically right to do so? It is absurd if to look from the standpoint of the natural right to life given to every human being. Marquis does not clearly explain this fact.

Another interesting point is that a fetus has a future like any other human being, and it is immoral to take it away from it. This way, sperm and ovum (or both sperm and ovum together) have a valuable future. At this point, any kind of contraception should be understood as ethically wrong and immoral in terms of killing (Calef, 2010). However, people realize all the absurd this statement presents. Those, who believe that contraception is wrong, do not agree that it is as bad and wrong as killing. Therefore, neither the sperm nor the egg could ever live out a kind of a valuable future Marquis talks about, because their combination is considered to be an absolutely brand new entity.

Marquis's argument states that the embryo and a born child later is one and the same entity. It means that the embryo as well as a child has a valuable future ahead. However, according to the certain theories of personal identity, a born child is not viewed as a biological organism, but a person, who has particular psychological capacities. It is obvious that the embryo does not have them. As a result, the embryo and a born child are not the same entity. Thus, the embryo itself does not have a valuable future like the any other human being, but only has a potential to have it.

According to the Marquis's theory, killing is wrong, but not just because of the deprivation of a future of value, but the deprivation of a future that one is interested in. People clearly understand that the embryo does not have any conscious interest in its future. That is why abortion as killing of the unborn cannot be seen as an immoral act.

From the standpoint of psychology, a human being is seriously harmed, when he or she is deprived of a future of value, only if he or she has strong psychological connections to it. For example, it could be beliefs, desires or memories between the embryo and its later self, who lives out a future of value. Nonetheless, as there are no such existing connections, the deprivation of a valuable future from the embryo does not bring a serious harm to it. It means that abortion is not seriously wrong and cannot be considered as immoral.

The Marquis's argument against abortion is also weak, because it leads to unacceptable inequalities. Killing is seriously wrong. It deprives the victim of a future of value. Some futures can be more valuable than others. For example, a 15 year old girl has a longer future than an 87 year old woman. As a result, some killings should be understood as more wrong than others. In fact, all of them are equally wrong under any circumstances.

Therefore, there is no way to claim that the Marquis's argument against abortion is an adequate reply to this moral issue. His approach fails any time an objection is made. However, his ideas are basically sufficient. For example, Marquis is right that killing in any form is immoral and should not be accepted by society.


Marquis has presented his argument against abortion. It is based on the idea of a valuable future a fetus is deprived of, when abortion is performed.  His approach has been criticized many times by the public and other philosophers, because it does not adequately answer the moral issue of abortion, but instead it brings more confusing questions. The objections described above, such as personal identity objection, contraceptional objection, psychological objection, and others, have shown a weakness of Marquis's argument and, by this, have confirmed that the deprivation of a valuable future cannot be taken as a sufficient explanation of abortion.

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