Moral Consistency: Animal Rights and Abortion

In “Adventures in Moral Consistency: How to Develop an Abortion Ethic through an Animal Rights Framework,” Abbate criticizes Francione’s claim that the principles in animal rights and those in the abortion discussion differ in moral predicaments. She proceeds to outline the argument by defining moral status, sentient beings, animal and fetus rights, and then offers responses by Singer and Regan.

Abbate’s main argument is that a “fully developed animal rights theory, which stems from Francione’s account of animal rights, entails a broad set of ethical considerations that have moral implications for the abortion discussion” (Abbate 18). Abbate defines moral status as a characteristic synonymous with the moral considerations attributed to animals in order to maintain moral consistency: “Sentience, i.e. the capacity to experience pain and suffering” (Abbate 3). This is the only characteristic that would establish a fetus having moral status since animal rights activists conclude moral status of non-human animals as well.

Abbate continues to analyze Francione’s philosophy by pointing out that his belief in rights for sentient beings should also extend to fetuses that are considered sentient. In her article, she reports that the general scientific community agrees that fetuses cannot experience pain or pleasure until the 20th week of gestation. However, Francione attributes sentience to lobsters and fish even though they are missing the neocortex, an imperative brain structure that allows conscious awareness of pain. His defense is that these animals display pain behavior in response to “noxious stimuli” and that their functioning brains have “basic neurological structures” although rudimentary (Abbate 7). Therefore, this defense should appropriately be extended to fetuses that are at 8 weeks of gestation because at this point there is neurological evidence that they have a functioning brain and a central nervous system.

One key term that Abbate continuously emphasized throughout the article was the need for moral consistency. Applying basic moral principles to the topic of animal rights makes it more critical for the “doer” or individual to understand the consequences of his/her opinions on the abortion discussion. The “morally significant act or omission is not the sexual intercourse, but rather, the morally significant omission is the choice to not abort the fetus in the first eight weeks gestation (Abbate 16). If one is to support animal rights in the sense that the individual wants to protect the interests of the animal because of its sentience, then the same moral value should be placed on protecting the interests of a sentient fetus.

However, the responses by Singer and Regan are similar in that they are considered theories of moral individualism, meaning that the theories look at the moral consideration of the doer. Singer contends that if you are sentient, then you are also morally considerable for your actions. Regan also disputes that if you are a “subject-of-a-life,” then you are also granted certain rights. Cora Diamond, an analytic and moral philosopher, dismisses moral individualism by claiming that “to argue as Singer and Regan do, is not to give a defence of animals; it is to attack significance in human life” (Diamond 8). She argues that moral individualism places too much emphasis on the difference between animals and humans instead of focusing on the developing relationship between the two.


Works Cited

Abbate, Cheryl E. “Adventures in Moral Consistency: How to Develop an Abortion Ethic through an Animal Rights Framework.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice (2014): 1-20.

Diamond, Cora. “Eating meat and eating people.” Philosophy 53.206 (1978): 465-479.

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