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DeGrazia on abortion law and policy
  1. Sheelagh McGuinness
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sheelagh McGuinness, School of Law, Centre for Health Law, Science & Policy, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK; s.mcguinness{at}

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In Creation Ethics, David DeGrazia deals with a range of questions that challenge our understanding of ethical reproduction.1 In this short commentary, I wish to focus on DeGrazia's treatment of the ethics of abortion and specifically his views on whether abortion should be publically funded.

DeGrazia on the ethics of abortion

In Chapter 2, entitled ‘Prenatal Moral Status and Ethics’, DeGrazia outlines his views on the ethics of abortion. DeGrazia deals thoughtfully and in a nuanced way with the ethics of prenatal moral status and it is to his credit that he strives to give the fairest reading to a range of pro-life arguments. Aside from scholarly integrity, DeGrazia has a principled commitment to taking seriously those who believe that the foetus/embryo has moral status. His liberal pluralism regarding the permissibility of abortion means that ‘[u]nlike nearly every philosopher I know who holds a liberal view on prenatal moral status and/or the ethics of abortion and embryo research’ he believes ‘that a broadly pro-life approach remains standing as a reasonable option’ (p.43).1 Specifically, DeGrazia ends up endorsing the view that abortion is generally permissible but is it not necessary to publicly fund such care.

DeGrazia's arguments on the ethics of abortion rest on his defence of a tripartite framework for understanding prenatal moral status. The three prongs of this framework are:

  1. A biological essentialist account of identity (p.24).1

  2. Sentience is a relevant criterion for moral status (p.29).1

  3. A form of the time relative interests argument whereby ‘a right to life depends on a strong interest in remaining alive’ (pp.33–34).1

It is not the purpose of this commentary to engage in a critique of DeGrazia's arguments on these points. Rather, the above is outlined so that the reader gets a sense of the basis of DeGrazia's position. However, I would like to …

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  • Acknowledgments Thanks to John Coggon, Adrian Viens, and Jeremy Williams.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

  • i Thanks to Jeremy Williams for the helpful discussions and suggestions. For a detailed critique of Rawlsian public reason and abortion see Jeremy Williams, Public Reason and Prenatal Moral Status. Journal of Ethics, forthcoming. He argues that Rawlsian public reason is far more permissive of abortion than is often presumed.

  • ii As quoted in John H. Richardson “The Abortion Ministry of Dr Willie Parker”. features/abortion-ministry-of-dr-willie-parker-0914 (accessed 28 Sep 2014).

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