Jessica Flanigan (University of Richmond): "The Ethics of Prenatal Injury"

Wed, Nov 14, 2018, 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm

ABSTRACT: The claim that abortion is permissible, even if the fetus has moral status, raises a puzzle about prenatal injury, which still seems impermissible despite the fact that prenatal injury is less harmful to the fetus than abortion. I argue it is permissible for women to expose their unborn children to risks and injury during pregnancy for the same reasons that it is permissible for women to terminate their pregnancies. Since abortion is permissible, it is permissible for a pregnant woman to prevent an unborn child from experiencing any future wellbeing. If it is permissible for a pregnant woman to prevent an unborn child from experiencing any further wellbeing in his or her lifetime, then it is permissible for her to provide an unborn child with insufficient prospects for wellbeing throughout his or her lifetime. Therefore, it is permissible for a pregnant woman to make risky or harmful choices that provide a child with only minimal or insufficient wellbeing throughout his or her lifetime. This argument has revisionary implications for policies related to clinical trial participation for pregnant women and punishment for recreational drug use during pregnancy. It also explains why moralistic criticism of pregnant women is generally unwarranted. 

BIO: Jessica Flanigan is associate professor of philosophy, politics, economics and law and of leadership studies at the University of Richmond Jepson School of Leadership Studies. She is the author of Pharmaceutical Freedom: Why Patients Have a Right to Self-Medicate (OUP 2017), and co-author of Debating Sex Work (under contract with OUP). Her current research includes a defense of nasalism and maternal rights, a series of essays about philosophical methodology and applied ethics, an analysis of supererogation, and a project defending anarchism as a political ideal. She is also a proponent of Effective Altruism. At the University of Richmond, she teaches ethics, medical ethics, and critical thinking.  

RESPONDENT: Elizabeth Harman