J Med Ethics 34:793-797 doi:10.1136/jme.2007.023606
  • Law, ethics and medicine

Critical notice—Defending life: a moral and legal case against abortion choice by Francis J Beckwith

  1. D Stretton
  1. Mr D Stretton, 19 Bass Gardens, Griffith ACT 2603, Australia; dean_stretton{at}
  • Received 31 October 2007
  • Accepted 17 December 2007


Francis Beckwith’s Defending life: a moral and legal case against abortion choice defends the pro-life position on moral, legal and political grounds. In this critical notice I consider three key issues and argue that Beckwith’s treatment of each of them is unpersuasive. The issues are: (1) whether abortion is politically justified by the principle that we should err on the side of liberty in the face of reasonable disagreement over the moral status of the fetus; (2) whether the fetus’s natural capacity or genetic propensity to develop rationality and communication is sufficient to give it a moral right to life; and (3) whether abortion is morally justified on the basis of bodily rights. I also show that Beckwith’s book fails to consider several important issues and arguments.


  • Competing interests: None declared.