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A critique of “the best secular argument against abortion”
  1. C Strong
  1. Professor C Strong, Department of Human Values and Ethics, College of Medicine, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, 910 Madison Avenue, Suite 311-313, Memphis, Tennessee 38163, USA; cstrong{at}


Don Marquis has put forward a non-religious argument against abortion based on what he claims is a morally relevant similarity between killing adult human beings and killing fetuses. He asserts that killing adults is wrong because it deprives them of their valuable futures. He points out that a fetus’s future includes everything that is in an adult’s future, given that fetuses naturally develop into adults. Thus, according to Marquis, killing a fetus deprives it of the same sort of valuable future that an adult is deprived of in being killed and this makes abortion seriously wrong. Commentators have raised a number of objections to Marquis’s argument, to which he has satisfactorily responded. In this paper, difficulties with Marquis’s argument that have not been considered by previous commentators are pointed out. A main thesis of this paper is that Marquis does not adequately defend his argument against several important objections that he himself has raised. These new considerations support the view that Marquis’s argument is unsuccessful.

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  • Competing interests: None.

  • i See also Marquis, p233 3.

  • ii See Marquis.23 See also Marquis, p184,1 and p229.3

  • iii For another statement that Marquis is identifying the essence of the wrongness of killing, see Marquis, p368.24

  • iv Marquis appears to agree with this when he states, in the passages quoted above (Marquis, p190)1, “... it would seem that what makes killing any adult human being prima facie seriously wrong is the loss of his or her future.” Similarly, he states elsewhere, “Surely we can find some justification, some account of why it is wrong to kill all of these individuals whom we believe it is wrong to kill” (Marquis, p229)3 (emphasis added).

  • v For similar discussions by Marquis, see pp364–6,2 and pp227–9, 231–2.3

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