The above considerations suggest that whether abortion is morally permis- sible boils down to the question of whether fetuses have the right to life. An argument that fetuses either have or lack the right to life must be based upon some general criterion for having or lacking the right to life. Oppo- nents of abortion, on the one hand, look around for the broadest possible plausible criterion, so that fetuses will fall under it. This explains why clas- sic arguments against abortion appeal to the criterion of being human. This criterion appears plausible: The claim that all humans, whatever their race, gender, religion or age, have the right to life seems evident enough. In addition, because the fetuses we are concerned with do not, after all, belong to another species, they are clearly human. Thus, the syllogism that generates the conclusion that fetuses have the right to life is apparently sound.
On the other hand, those who believe abortion is morally permissible wish to find a narrow, but plausible, criterion for possession of the right to life so that fetuses will fall outside of it. This explains, in part, why the stan- dard pro-choice arguments in the philosophical literature appeal to the criterion of being a person. This criterion appears plausible: The claim that only persons have the right to life seems evident enough. Furthermore, because fetuses neither are rational nor possess the capacity to communicate in com- plex ways nor possess a concept of self that continues through time, no fetus is a person. Thus, the syllogism needed to generate the conclusion that no fetus possesses the right to life is apparently sound. Given that no fetus pos- sesses the right to life, a woman’s right to control her own body easily gen- erates the general right to abortion. The existence of two apparently defensible syllogisms which support contrary conclusions helps to explain why partisans on both sides of the abortion dispute often regard their opponents as either morally depraved or mentally deficient.
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