For me the answer to the question of whether abortion is right or wrong depends on the ontological status of the fetus. Is a fetus the kind of being that has a right to live or is it not? I don't know. How on earth can I know that? If I knew then I wouldn't be an agnostic on this issue. Most people, if I am not mistaken, take it for granted that a new born baby has the kind of being that gives it the right to live. So what reason is there to think that a young baby has the kind of being that gives it the right to live? What about an older baby or an adult...if we can stretch this question to its limits.

Ontology is always in the mind of the person contemplating the nature of being, so I applaud your agnostic stance. Beneath your question lies a very important question: what is the role of science in philosophy and morals? Our ability to visualize the tiniest gametes meet to form a zygote is a wondrous thing indeed. But science cannot provide ontological insight on the matter; it can only trace its trajectory toward becoming a fetus or not based on conditions in the uterine and hormonal environment. The fetus (9 weeks gestation and beyond) has overcome many obstacles, but again, its ontological status is elusive at best. I don't believe "potentiality" can be a claim of ontological status, but I'll defer to my colleagues who study Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas and Natural Law. But it seems to me there is a very risky step made by those who would accord person-hood status to the fetus. What is the presumption? Because science can observe the various stages of embryonic development, we suddenly "know"what a person is? The isolation of a fetus from all the relational complexities that being persons entails seems a barren abstraction and a pretense of knowing far beyond our ken. This is not to say that one should not care about the unborn but rather we should not stake our values on visuals.

Your questions raise a host of difficult issues. What gives anything a right to life? In other words, what in general (if anything) about an individual makes it morally wrong for others to end its life? I've never seen a satisfying answer to that basic question. Does an individual's right to life inhere in the individual, or does it instead depend on the individual's relations to others? Prof. Manter referred to "all the relational complexities that being persons entails." If by "persons" she meant "beings with a right to life" and if by "entails" she meant some kind of logical implication (and it's possible she meant neither), then she's implying that a right to life doesn't inhere in the individual. I'm not sure I'd accept that consequence. Suppose you become a hermit and totally disconnect because you're tired of other people. If you had a right to life before you chose total isolation, then I'd say you still have it, and it would be at least presumptively wrong for any of us to kill you. Or suppose you're the last human being alive on earth. If you had a right to life before the rest of humanity died off, you still do, and it would be at least presumptively wrong for an intelligent alien to beam down and kill you.

I should note that some philosophers explicitly reject your assumption that the morality of abortion depends on the ontological status of the fetus. Most famous among them is Judith Jarvis Thomson (see "A Defense of Abortion," 1971). According to Thomson, even if fetuses have an undoubted right to life, abortion is still morally permissible in at least the great majority of cases.

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