This study will analyze the pros and cons of the moral arguments for and against the fetus as a person or human being (with respect to abortion) in two works, Mary Ann Warren's "The Abortion Issue" and John T. Noonan's "An Almost Absolute Value in History." The study will first defend, then criticize each of the essays, and will conclude with this reader's own views on the subject of personhood, siding with Warren and against Noonan in the debate.
Warren argues that the fetus is not a person because the definition of personhood is based on sentience, which a fetus does not possess. A fetus is not a moral agent because of this lack of sentience, and therefore abortion is not an act against morality. Warren writes:
In the ways that matter from a moral point of view, human fetuses are very unlike human persons. . . . First-trimester fetuses have not yet begun to develop a capacity for sentience and thus lack a necessary precondition for the possession of moral rights (Warren, 1987, p. 139).
Warren strengthens her argument against the personhood of the first-trimester fetus by acknowledging that "late-term fetuses probably do possess some capacity for sentience" and thus should be seen as having more moral status than an earlier-term fetus. However, she addresses this issue effectively as well, arguing that such late-term fetuses "are not . . . persons in the empirical sense" because such a "capacity for sentience, in the absence of rationality [and] self-awareness . . . is not a sufficient condition of personhood." In addition, she argues, women are fully persons and their basic rights outweigh a merely sentient being's rights (Warren, 1987, p. 139).
Warren convincingly argues, based on biological evidence, that "newly fertilized human eggs and very small embryos do not yet have any of [the] mental or behavioral capacities" which accompany the moral consciousness of a person (Warren, 1987, p. 131). These capacities inclu...