Ethics Updates


Abortion & Ethics

Internet Resources on Abortion

Survey Resources Updated Video Link

Video Resources

PowerPoint Resources

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Court Decisions Updated Video Link

  • Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood. (2006, 5-4,upheld the ban on partial-birth abortion)
  • Gonzales v. Carhart (2006, 5-4, upheld the Congressional Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act against charges that it is unconstitutionally vague and imposes an undue burden on the pregnant woman)
  • Hill, Leila, et al. v. Colorado, et al. 98-1856. ( 2000, 6-3, upheld a Colorado ban to prevent abortion protesters from approaching women going into an abortion clinic)
  • Stenberg v. Carhart (2000, 5-4, struck down a Nebraska ban on partial-birth abortions)
  • Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York (1997)
  • Madsen et al. v. Women's Health Center (1994, prohibited abortion protesters from interfering with the running of a Florida abortion clinic and with the private lives of the clinic's staff; it affirmed the right to protest in ways that did not interfere in these ways, including the right to picket on the sides and backs of abortion clinics)
  • Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992, 5-4, introduced standard of whether laws impose an "undue burden" on the pregnant woman, allowing numerous restrictions in Pennsylvania's Abortion Control Act)
  • Rust v. Sullivan (1991, 5-4, upheld federal restriction against abortion counseling and referrals in clinics that receive federal funding, thereby upholding the 1984 Reagan "gag rule." Obama struck down the "gag Rule" in early 2009, after it had been rescinded by Clinton and then Resurrected by Bush).
  • Webster v. Reproductive Health Services (1989, 5-4, upheld state ban on use of state resources to facilitate abortions)
  • Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (1986, 5-4, struck down Pennsylvania law requiring women to listen to a speech designed to persuade them not to have an abortion)
  • City of Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health and Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft (1983, decided on same day, struck down a number of Akron restrictions on minors and abortion and struck down a Missouri law requiring second trimester abortions be done in a hospital, but upheld requirement that minors get permission from either parents or a judge)
  • Harris v. McRae (1980, 5-4, upheld the Hyde amendment and maintained that there was no necessity for the federal government to pay for abortions for indigent women)
  • Maher v. Roe, Beal v. Doe, and Poelker v. Doe (1977, all dealing with the public funding of abortion and allowing states greater latitude in restricting funding and encouraging motherhood over abortion; all decided on the same day)
  • Belotti v. Baird (1976, 1979, 8-1, struck down state laws requiring minors to get consent from parents)
  • Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth (1976, struck down Missouri requirements that required consent of spouse or--for minors--parents.)
  • Roe v. Wade (1973, 7-2, struck down a Texas law outlawing abortion except in cases where it was necessary to save the mother's life; also stated that 14th Ammendment guarantees to a "person" do not include the unborn; establishyed trimester schema)
  • Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972, 6-1,established privacy right for non-married couples in regard to controceptive information)
  • Griswold v. Connecticut (1965, established right to privacy for married couples and their freedom from government intrusion--a foundation upon which Roe v. Wade would rest eight years later)

Legislative Documents Relating to Abortion

If you want to see recent and current (including pending) legislation on abortion (including late term abortions), enter that search term in Thomas, the legislative search engine of Congress.  

To see congressional hearings, etc. on partial-birth abortions, click here and then type in the search term "partial birth abortion." Set the maximum number of items to 500 and search "All sections."

Papal Documents Relating to Abortion

Web Sites Relating to Abortion

In addition to the resources mentioned above, there are links available to a number of both "pro-life" and "pro-choice" pages. Among the more helpful are:

Online Surveys

Searching for the Latest Popular Articles on Abortion

Mizuko Kuyo:

Memorial rites for the spirits of departed fetuses

Notable On-Line Full Text Articles Relating to Abortion

NPR's "Talk of the Nation"

Life After Abortion   Host:  Melinda Penkava  Guests:Dana Dovich *Co-author, The Healing Choice (a Fireside Book published by Simon & Schuster, 1997), *Psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles, specializing in reproductive health, post-abortion conflict, stress, trauma, and other women's issues.  Description:  The never ending argument over abortion is wrapped in a contentious web of moral, religious, and political concerns. But even for the most ardently pro-choice, the decision to abort can be excruciating-- and while some may feel a sense of relief after the procedure, for others, feelings of regret, shame, or anger may creep in over time. Join Melinda Penkava and guests for a look at life after abortion.   October 6, 1999.

Abortions Down ; Guests: Mohammed N. Akhter, MD, MPH Executive Director, American Public Health Association (Washington, DC) Former Senior Advisor, U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services in the Agency of Health Care, Policy and Research (1994-1996) Former Washington, DC Commissioner of Public Health Rita J. Simon, Distinguished Professor of Public Affairs and Law, American University, Washington, DC Author, Abortion: Statutes, Policies and Public Attitudes the World Over [1998]   February 24,1999.

Do Extremes Control the Debate? October 28,1998

Roe V. Wade   Host: Ray Suarez  Guests: Cynthia Gorney Author, Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars [Simon and Schuster, 1998], Former reporter, The Washington Post (1975-1991); David Garrow
Author, Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade [Macmillian, 1994],
Professor, Emory University School of Law; Janet Benshoof Executive Director, Center for Reproductive Freedom; James Bopp General Counsel, National Right to Life Committee. Description: It's been 25 years since the Supreme Court legalized abortion with the ruling in Roe versus Wade. Though legal, abortion has remained a highly controversial issue, having moral implications on American politics, legislation, and religion. Join host Ray Suarez for a discussion about the impact of Roe v. Wade, the history of the anti-abortion and pro-choice movements, and the evolution of abortion services.  January 26, 1998

International Family Planning .    Guests:  Sara Seims  Assistant Director, Population Science Division at the Rockefeller Foundation Marty Dannenfelser, Head of the Government Relations Department, Family Research Council; Victoria Markell  Vice-President and Director, Political Affairs for Population Action International Member, U.S. Delegation to the International Conference on Population and Development, 1994   February 5, 1997 

Partial Birth Abortion Debate   March 05,1997

FreshAir (with Terri Gross) interview with Art Caplan and James McCartney on the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, including a discussion of viability.

Hugh LaFollette's "Ideas and Issues"


A Bibliographical Survey of Philosophical Literature on Abortion

Biliographical essays are drawn from Lawrence M. Hinman, Contemporary Moral Issues

Review Articles

For a comprehensive bibliographical guide, see Diane E. Fitzpatrick, A History of Abortion in the United States: A Working Bibliography of Journal Articles (Monticello, IL: Vance Bibliographies, 1991). For excellent surveys of the philosophical issues, see Mary Anne Warren, "Abortion," in A Companion to Ethics, edited by Peter Singer (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), pp. 303-314, and Nancy (Ann) Davis, "Abortion," Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), Vol. I, pp.2-6. For demographic data, see Paul Sachdev, International Handbook on Abortion (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988).

Anthologies and Books

There are a number of excellent anthologies of selections dealing solely with the issue of abortion. The Problem of Abortion, 2nd ed., edited by Joel Feinberg (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1984) contains a number of important pieces covering a wide range of positions, as does The Ethics of Abortion: Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice, edited by Robert M. Baird and Stuart E. Rosenbaum (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989). Lewis M. Schwartz's Arguing about Abortion (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1993) not only contains a number of important essays, but also (a) provides a well-done introduction to reconstructing and evaluating argumentative discourse and (b) offers an outline and analysis of six of the essays contained in the anthology. Abortion: Moral and Legal Perspectives, edited by Jay L. Garfield and Patricia Hennessey (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984) contains several new essays as well as reprints of some previously pieces. Also see Marshall Cohen, Thomas Nagel, and Thomas Scanlon, eds., Rights and Wrongs of Abortion (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974) and John T. Noonan, Jr., ed., The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970). The anthology Abortion: Understanding Differences, edited by Sidney Callahan and Daniel Callahan (Plenum Press, 1984) contains a number of perceptive essays. For an excellent selection of both philosophical and popular articles, see Abortion: Opposing Viewpoints, edited by Charles P. Cozic and Stacey L. Tripp (San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1991). Among the many excellent books on this issue, see L. W. Sumner, Abortion and Moral Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981) for a carefully-reasoned moderate view on the permissibility of abortion. Rosiland Hursthouse's Beginning Lives (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987) includes a perceptive account of the issue of abortion. John T. Noonan, Jr., who represents a conservative Catholic view, has several books on this issue, including How to Argue About Abortion (New York, 1974) and A Private Choice: Abortion in America in the Seventies (New York: The Free Press, 1979); Germain G. Grisez's Abortion: The Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments (New York: Corpus Books, 1970) also argues for a strongly conservative view. Baruch Brody's Abortion and the Sanctity of Human Life: A Philosophical View (Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1975) defends a fairly conservative view, arguing that the fetus becomes a person when brain activity begins. Michael Tooley's Abortion and Infanticide (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983) presents some controversial arguments in support of abortion and situates the issue within the larger context of infanticide and the killing of non-human animals. Bonnie Steinbock's Life Before Birth: The Moral and Legal Status of Embryos and Fetuses (New York: Oxford, 1992) concentrates primarily on the isue of the status of embryos and fetuses, while F. M. Kann's Creation and Abortion (New York: Oxford, 1992) develops a broader theory of creating new people responsibility, and explores the issue of abortion within this context. Also see Stephen D. Schwarz, The Moral Question of Abortion (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1990).

Key Essays

Among philosophers, there are several key essays that have set the stage for the philosophical discussion of abortion. The most reprinted essay in contemporary philosophy is probably Judith Jarvis Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion," which originally appeared in the inaugural issue of Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Fall, 1971), pp. 47-66 and is reprinted in her Rights, Restitution, & Risk: Essays in Moral Theory (Cambridge; Harvard Univesity Press, 1986)-which also contains her "Rights and Deaths," a reply to several critics of her initial essay--and in both the Feinberg and the Schwartz anthologies cited above. Thomson's article has elicited a number of replies; one of the more recent and insightful of these is John Martin Fisher, "Abortion and Self-Determination," Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. XXII, No. 2 (Fall, 1991), pp. 5-13. John T. Noonan, Jr.'s "An Almost Absolute Value in History," is also widely reprinted (including in Noonan's The Morality of Abortion, cited above) and is a strong, classic statement of the conservative view. Joel Feinberg's "Abortion," in Matters of Life and Death, edited by Tom Regan (New York: Random House, 1980), pp. 183-217 is a careful and nuanced discussion of the question of the moral status of the fetus. Roger Werthheimer's "Understanding the Abortion Argument," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Fall, 1971), pp. 67-95 presents strong arguments for a fairly conservative view. Mary Anne Warren's "On the Moral and Legal Status of Abortion," The Monist, Vol. 57 (1973) argues for a strongly liberal position, maintaining that the fetus is not a person. For background on the principle of double effect, see Joseph T. Mangan, "An Historical Analysis of the Principle of Double Effect," Theological Studies, Vol. 10 (1949), pp. 41-61. G. E. M. Anscombe's "Modern Moral Philosophy," Philosophy, Vol. 33 (1958), pp. 26-42, raises important questions about the distinction between intended consequences and forseen consequences. Phillipa Foot expresses doubts about the moral significance of this distinction in her article, "Abortion and the Doctrine of Double Effect," in her Virtues and Vices and Other Essays (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 19-32. For a short survey of the philosophical issues surrounding this principle, see William David Solomon, "Double Effect," Encyclopedia of Ethics, edited by Lawrence C. Becker and Charlotte B. Becker (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), Vol. I, pp. 268-69.


On women's experiences with the abortion decision, see Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982), which contains in-depth interviews with young women who have faced the abortion decision. Linda Bird Francke's The Ambiguity of Abortion (New York: Random House, 1978) is an excellent source of interviews with women of all ages who have had abortions. Martha Bolton's "Responsible Women and Abortion Decisions," in Having Children: Philosophical and Legal Reflections (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 40-51 places the decision within the context of the narratives of individual women's lives. For collections of narratives about abortion, see The Choices We Made: Twenty-five Women and Men Speak Out About Abortion, edited by Angela Bonavoglia (New York: Random House, 1991). For a fascinating portrait of individuals involved on all sides of the abortion controversy, see Faye D. Ginsburg, Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989). Also see Denise Winn, Experiences of Abortion (London: Macdonald & Co., 1988) and Ellen Messer and Kathryn E. May, Back Rooms: Voices from the Abortion Era (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1988) and The Voices of Women: Abortion, in Their Own Words (Washington, DC: National Abortion Rights Action League, 1989).

Abortion and the Law

On Roe v. Wade, see especially David J. Garrow, Liberty and Sexuality. The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade (New York: Macmillan, 1994). For a broader history, see Mary Ann Glendon, Abortion and Divorce in Western Law (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987).

On Finding a Common Ground

Several recent contributions to the search for common ground in the abortion discussion are Laurence H. Tribe, Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes (New York: Norton, 1992); Roger Rosenblatt, Life Itself (New York: Vintage Books, 1992) Ronald Dworkin, Life's Dominion: An Argument about Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom (New York: Knopf, 1993); and Elizabeth Mensch and Alan Freeman, The Politics of Virtue. Is Abortion Debatable? (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993). For an excellent review of Tribe's book, see Nancy (Ann) Davis, "The Abortion Debate: The Search for Common Ground," Ethics, Vol. 103, No. 3 (April, 1993), pp. 516-539 and Vol. 103, No. 4 (July, 1993), 731-78. For a discussion of abortion within the general context of a theory of compromise, see Martin Benjamin, Splitting the Difference: Compromise and Integrity in Ethics and Politics (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 1990), esp. pp. 151-71. 

Earl Conee, "Metaphysics and the morality of Abortion", Mind 1999. Argues that metaphysics has no importance for our views about abortion.

Timothy Chappell, "Reply to Conee", Mind 2000. Contests Conee's argument.

Timothy Chappell, Understanding Human Goods (Edinburgh UP/ Columbia UP 1998): Chs.3-4 discusses personhood and abortion, arguing (1) that all human animals are persons, (2) that there is a moral absolute protecting the lives of persons, (3) that foetuses are human animals, and so (4) that there is a moral absolute protecting the lives of foetuses.

David Oderberg, Applied Ethics (Blackwell, 2000): chapter 1 is a new and forceful statement of a strongly pro-life position on abortion.

Selected Recent Philosophical Literature on Abortion

  • Jose Luis Bermudez, "The Moral Significance of Birth," Ethics, Vol, 106, No. 2 (January, 1996), pp. 378-403.
  • Jim Stone, "Abortion as Murder?: A Response," Journal of Social Philosophy, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Spring, 95), 129-146.
  • Edward S. Shirley, "Marquis' Argument Against Abortion: A Critique," Southwest Philosophy Review, Vol. 11, No. 1 (January, 1995), pp. 79-89.
  • Don Marquis, "Justifying the Rights of Pregnancy: The Interest View," Criminal Justice Ethics, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Winter-Spring 94), pp. 67-81.
  • Elisabeth Porter, "Abortion Ethics: Rights and Responsibilities," Hypatia, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Summer, 1994), pp. 66-87.
  • Laurie J. Shrage, Moral Dilemmas of Feminism: Prostitution, Adultery, and Abortion (New York: Routledge, 1994).
  • Kathie Jenni, "Dilemmas in Social Philosophy: Abortion and Animal Rights," Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Spring 94), pp. 59-83.
  • Louis P. Pojman and Francis J. Beckwith, eds., The Abortion Controversy: A Reader (Boston: Jones & Bartlett, 1994)
  • Warren Quinn, Morality and Action (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
  • Jeff McMahan, "The Right to Choose an Abortion," Philosophy and Public Affairs, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Fall, 1993), pp. 331-348
  • William LaFleur, Liquid Life: Abortion and Buddism in Japan, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992). See the review in The Journal of Buddhist Ethics by Charles Prebish and Damien Keow.

Recent Popular Literature on Abortion

Mary Gordon has several interesting essays relating to abortion, including "Abortion: How Do We Think about It?" and "Abortion: How Do We Really Choose?", both of which are to be found in her Good Boys and Dead Girls and Other Essays (New York: Viking, 1991), pp. 128-37, 138-47, respectively. Also see in that same volume her journal entries on "Having a Baby, Finishing a Book," pp. 215-221. The "How Do We Really Choose?" piece is particularly interesting, beginning with an account of a number of women recalling abortions from their youth. Powerful and provocative.

Lisa Belkin, "Kill for Life?" The New York Times Magazine, (October 30, 1994), Section 6, pp. 47 ff. and Verlyn Klinkenborg, "Violent Certainties: Abortion Politics in Milwaukee, Wisconsin," Harper's Magazine, Vol. 289; No. 1736 (January, 1995), pp. 37 ff.

  • Two interesting and nuanced portraits of abortion protesters.

Naomi Wolf, "Our Bodies, Our Souls: Rethinking Pro-choice Rhetoric." The New Republic, Vol. 213 ; No. 16 (October 16, 1995), pp. 26 ff. A very interesting and thought-provoking article by the author of The Beauty Myth, who maintains "that we need to contextualize the fight to defend abortion rights within a moral framework that admits that the death of a fetus is a real death; that there are degrees of culpability, judgment and responsibility involved in the decision to abort a pregnancy; that the best understanding of feminism involves holding women as well as men to the responsibilities that are inseparable from their rights; and that we need to be strong enough to acknowledge that this country's high rate of abortion--which ends more than a quarter of all pregnancies--can only be rightly understood as what Dr. Henry Foster was brave enough to call it: "a failure."

Naomi Wolf, "Pro-Choice and Pro-Life." New York Times, Op-Ed., April 3, 1997. Wolf asks, "What if we called abortion what many believe it to be: a failure, whether that failure is of technology, social support, education, or male and female responsibility?"

Suggestions for Discussion Questions and Term Paper Topics

Late Term Abortions

  • In recent months, there has been intense debate in Congress over the morality and legality of late term abortions, especially those that involve the active killing of a partially-born fetus that might have been able to survive on its own. At what point does the fetus become a person? To what extent does your answer to this question affect your position on late term abortions?

Abortion Clinic Protests

  • In the eyes of many, abortion clinic protests--and especially those that end in the injury or murder of abortion providers--are profoundly upsetting. To what extent are these protests justified if the fetus is a person with the same rights as, say, a newborn infant? Are those who protest so strongly acting in a way that is consistent with their beliefs?

How Do We Change Society?

  • Many people--including those who do not think that abortion involves the killing of a human being--espouse the goal of a society in which abortion is at least rare. Some see increasing legal restrictions on abortion as the most effective means to that goal, but others doubt the wisdom of that approach. What are the possible courses of action that will help to reduce the number of abortions in the United States? How do you see these various courses of action being combined into a coherent approach to the issue of abortion?

Are Some People Too Old to Become Parents?

  • With the development of new reproductive technologies, it is now possible for women to become pregnant even after menopause. Are some people too old to become parents? In the past, men could father children late in their own lives; now women in their fifties can bear children--and a few already have. Should their be any restrictions on the age at which people can become parents? Should these restrictions be gender-neutral? What kind of restrictions should they be--general moral prohibitions, or should they have some legal or financial sanction? For a discussion of this issue, see "Are Some Parents Too Old?"

New Birth Control Developments

Recently, researchers have raised the possibility of developing a birth control vaccine--medication that prevents the process of conception from beginning at all. What is the morality of using such birth control methods that do not allow the process of conception to begin in the first place? Are there any moral reasons for hesitating to use such methods? Are there any moral reasons for requiring such methods?