Genetic Selective Abortion: Still a Matter of Choice

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 23 (2):445-455 (2020)
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Jeremy Williams has argued that if we are committed to a liberal pro-choice stance with regard to selective abortion for disability, we will be unable to justify the prohibition of sex selective abortion. Here, I apply his reasoning to selective abortion based on other traits pregnant women may decide are undesirable. These include susceptibility to disease, level of intelligence, physical appearance, sexual orientation, religious belief and criminality—in fact any traits attributable to some degree to a genetic component. Firstly, I review Williams’ argument, which claims that if a woman is granted the right to abort based on fetal impairment, then by parity of reasoning she should also be granted the right to choose sex selective abortion. I show that these same considerations that entail the permissibility of sex selective abortion are also applicable to genetic selection abortion. I then examine the objections to sex selective abortion that Williams considers and rejects, and show that they also lack force against genetic selection abortion. Finally, I consider some additional objections that might be raised, and conclude that a liberal pro-choice stance on selective abortion for disability entails the permissibility of selective abortion for most genetic traits.

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Bruce P. Blackshaw
University of Birmingham


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