Miscarriage Is Not a Cause of Death: A Response to Berg’s “Abortion and Miscarriage”

Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 46 (4):394-413 (2021)
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Some opponents of abortion claim that fetuses are persons from the moment of conception. Following Berg (2017), let us call these individuals “Personhood-At-Conception” (or PAC), opponents of abortion. Berg argues that if fetuses are persons from the moment of conception, then miscarriage kills far more people than abortion. As such, PAC opponents of abortion face the following dilemma: They must “immediately” and “substantially” shift their attention, resources, etc., toward preventing miscarriage or they must admit that they do not actually believe that fetuses are persons from the moment of conception (or, at least, they must recognize that they are not acting in ways that are consistent with this belief). In this essay, I show that Berg’s argument fails at each step. Specifically, after outlining her argument (in section 1), I consider the central claim of Berg’s style of argument: That “miscarriage…is much deadlier than abortion.” In section 2, I argue that this claim is false (when taken literally) and misleading otherwise. In section 3, I show that Berg’s style of argument is identical in structure to a criticism that is sometimes levied against the recent “Black Lives Matter” movement. In the latter context, the argument has been vehemently rejected. I argue that Berg’s style of argument should be rejected for the same reasons. Finally, in section 4, I show that Berg’s suggestion that opponents of abortion should divert “substantial” amounts of money and attention to miscarriage prevention faces two problems. First, these claims are made without any evidence regarding the actual priorities and spending habits of PAC opponents of abortion. If we are told “not enough is being done,” one wonders: What is being done and how much counts as “enough”? Berg gives no answer to either question. Second, even if it is true that opponents of abortion do not pay substantial attention to miscarriage prevention, Berg fails to notice that this may be for good reason. I conclude that PAC opponents of abortion do not face the dilemma that Berg presents.

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Nicholas Colgrove
Augusta University


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