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Mary Anne Warren: On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion

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Warren believes that abortion is morally right because a fetus does not meet the criteria for personhood. I intend to oppose Warren’s liberal position that contains illogical and fallacious statements that splinter her argument, down to the postscript she tacked on many years later. (Work on this)

Warren starts off her introduction with a barrage of questions on how everyone should define the moral community, who should have total moral rights to life, and whether a fetus fits into these categories. She also dives into a slight history lesson, bringing up Thomas Jefferson to share his view on human rights that “all men are created equal,” and swaying the idea as if it were only men. While Jefferson didn’t state all human beings had rights, just looking at the Declaration of Independence a little bit will show you that’s not true. That is exactly what the document is for, to protect all of the innocent citizens from the government if something were to happen, just like it did back in Britain. With that in mind, Warren brings up John Noonan, who questions what truly defines a human, and something he doesn’t consider is, why establish the moral community with all human beings in the way we have chosen? (revise)

After a short introduction, Warren expands further on Noonan’s question about the definition of a human. She gives an example of a deductive argument which states (1) it is wrong to kill innocent human being, (2) fetuses are innocent human beings, and (3) it is wrong to kill fetuses. While I believe this is a very reasonable argument with the basic definition of human, though Warren takes it a step further by discrediting her premise and turning it into a fallacy. (continue here)Warren proposes that the word ‘human’ has two independent definitions, the moral sense and the genetic sense. The moral sense, also referred to as the Homo Sapiens, are the full-fledged members of the moral community, while the genetic sense is any member of the species is a human being. (argue here) Warren wraps up her first section by digging into Noonan’s arguments in “Deciding Who is Human,” he states that fetuses have full genetic code and have the potential for rational thought. For this to be true, a fetus would need to be human in a moral sense, and though Noonan gives no evidence to support his statement, potential shows that an someone can become a human in a in a moral sense. (argue)

(transition) Warren establishes that genetic humanity is not sufficient enough to define moral humanity, and so the traits of the moral community surfaced. The moral community consists of only people, not human beings. Warren’s self-evidence is the concept of personhood, what entities are and are not persons, and what being a person or not involves for their moral rights. Though Warren isn’t entirely wrong here, she is mostly. The statements she’s generating aren’t as “self-evident” as she’s making them out to be. She never gives explanation as to why these statements are so obvious, if I didn’t know the article was already about abortion, and the lives of fetuses, that paragraph would have been extremely confusing. Not everyone agrees with Warren about unborn children not being considered people, and it’s simple to make a counterargument to defend innocent when Warren gives no evidence to support herself.

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Moving right along, Warren admits that she isn’t going to waste anybodies time explaining more than she wants to about the definition of personhood, and determining why a fetus is or isn’t one. All she needs is a simple outline with rudimentary standard of personhood, and what an entity needs to qualify in order to be considered a person. To gather such criteria, Warren explains you must look outside your bubble of references. She gives an example of a space traveler who comes in contact with alien beings. To behave morally toward them, he has to determine whether they are people with full moral rights, or something of a lower tier, such as food. There are multiple possibilities on how to try and go about making a decision, and Warren states two different ones, the anthropological and anthropocentric backgrounds. Starting with anthropological, the space traveler would try to distinguish the aliens from his predecessors by looking for religion, art, tools, weapons, and shelters. However, the anthropocentric approach, which would be the exact opposite evidence found, with none of the above found, still doesn’t mean they can’t be human.

(transition) Warren states the five traits she collected to share that she believes are most important in defining a person. The five traits presented consist of consciousness with the ability to feel pain, reasoning, self-motivated activity, the capacity to communicate, the presence of self-concepts and self-awareness. Our philosopher realizes some objections can be made to such specific guidelines of the moral community, but she accepts that everyone, including the space traveler understands the five traits and would be able to apply them when needed. (argue here) She switches gears soon after, explaining that the five of personhood are merely there as guidelines, and an entity doesn’t need all of them to be considered a person. Warren pushes that a being usually only needs a couple of traits to be enough, typically traits (1)-(3), though in the same sentence she also won’t insist on the traits being necessary for personhood. This is where Warren sinks her argument entirely. She has been setting up plan and building up to define her terms to personhood before taking a huge swing at it by saying none of it matters anymore because if no traits are truly necessary, wouldn’t anything be considered human? Her argument, now continuing into the next paragraph states that all anybody needs to understand is that fetuses aren’t people because they don’t check any of the marks for personhood. That it’s extremely obvious to the naked eye that they can’t possibly be people, and anyone who thinks such a thing doesn’t even know what a person is and may be confused with the concept of genetic humanity. This is probably the most out of line section in Warren’s entire essay. Not only is she contradicting herself by riding on self-evidence again, but also being extremely unprofessional and distasteful with her choice of words here. Warren’s tone of condescension here is overpowering, even though she is the one making things so complicated for the audience.

Finishing off her section on the moral community, Warren shifts gears slightly to explain that genetic humanity really doesn’t matter for establishing any kind of title such as personhood. Humans can’t always be people, and people aren’t always human. She gives an example of a person who suddenly loses consciousness forever, but remains alive; she considers them a human but no longer a person. She also brings up defective human beings, fetuses, self-aware robots and super computers, as well as other intelligent beings from different planets. Warren has already given her stance on fetuses, a human but not yet person with full rights. Though, I believe the other examples are the focus of this situation, starting with the person in a coma. I don’t believe someone can just lose their person status because of a traumatic event, of course that person is still the same, and still alive at that, just never going to truly wake up. Moving to defective or disabled humans as I would rather call them, which I believe Warren means someone who is unable to care for themselves, and needs extra attention rather than someone who’s entirely healthy. Leukodystrophies may be an example of what Warren is referring to, such an Alexander Disease which is a genetic brain disease that affects all aspects of a person’s daily activities, such as walking, talking, behaving and even someone’s senses. Even though the unfortunate soul will eventually meet their end sooner than most, they still tend to live up to middle age. With all that said, you can’t disqualify someone from having full rights just because they don’t fit the definition of normality. To me, that’s what it seems like this has truly become, an elitist club where only the biggest, best and healthiest get in, while all the others are left to fend for themselves.

Warren faces her next two issues right at the beginning of her next section, about the definition to her moral community and how to determine the moral rights of the unborn. The example of personhood she gave is for a normal human being, and with that, here come the questions. (1) With this paradigm, how far advanced must a fetus become before it gains its rights because it’s person like enough, and (2) Since a fetus has potential to become a human, does that grant it some rights in the first place?

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Mary Anne Warren: On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 6, 2023, from
“Mary Anne Warren: On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
Mary Anne Warren: On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Dec. 2023].
Mary Anne Warren: On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2023 Dec 6]. Available from:
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