Targeting the Fetal Body and/or Mother-Child Connection: Vital Conflicts and Abortion

The Linacre Quarterly:1-14 (2019)
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Is the “act itself” of separating a pregnant woman and her previable child neither good nor bad morally, considered in the abstract? Recently, Maureen Condic and Donna Harrison have argued that such separation is justified to protect the mother’s life and that it does not constitute an abortion as the aim is not to kill the child. In our article on maternal–fetal conflicts, we agree there need be no such aim to kill (supplementing aims such as to remove). However, we argue that to understand “abortion” as performed only where the death of the child is intended is to define the term too narrowly. Respect for the mother, the fetus, and the bond between them goes well beyond avoiding any such aim. We distinguish between legitimate maternal treatments simply aimed at treating or removing a damaged part of the woman and illegitimate treatments that focus harmfully on the fetal body and its presence within the mother’s body. In obstetrics as elsewhere, not all side effects for one subject of intervention can be outweighed by intended benefits for another. Certain side effects of certain intended interventions are morally conclusive.

Author Profiles

Anthony McCarthy
International Theological Institute
Helen Watt
University of Edinburgh (PhD)


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