Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Why the nuclear option? Supporting pregnant women without new categories of moral status
  1. J Burke Rea
  1. Philosophy, Eastern University, Saint Davids, Pennsylvania, USA
  1. Correspondence to J Burke Rea, Philosophy, Eastern University, Saint Davids, Pennsylvania, USA; burke.rea{at}

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.

Recourse to a being’s moral status is the ‘nuclear option’ of moral theorising—it tells us not only what obligations we have and to what degree, but whether we have obligations to them in the first place and whether their moral concern trumps concern for other beings simply in virtue of the kind of being they are. As such, we should only explain obligations in terms of a being’s moral status if doing so is principled and necessary to defend that obligation. In ‘Pregnancy and Superior Moral Status: A Proposal for Two Thresholds of Personhood’, Robinson1 argues that pregnant women achieve a second and therefore superior threshold of moral status to ‘mere persons’. She insists that this is not a view about the woman and the fetus together but that ‘the pregnant woman herself is more than one individual’. This gives us strong reason to re-balance the imbalanced burdens experienced by women due to pregnancy. I will argue her proposal is neither principled nor necessary. We can explain special obligations to pregnant women without appealing to a distinct moral status, without reaching for the ‘nuclear option’.

First, consider Robinson’s1 claim that pregnant women ‘are performing a role which is of supreme importance: that of creating new human life, and maintaining the survival of the human species’. …

View Full Text


  • Contributors The author confirms sole responsibility for the writing and preparation of the proposal manuscript.

  • Funding The author has not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

Linked Articles

Other content recommended for you