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Applied Ethics Forum: Nathan Howard
October 8 @ 2:30 pm - 4:30 pm
‘Maternal autonomy and prenatal harm’
Nathan Howard (Texas A&M University)
Friday 08 October 2021 • 2:30pm–4:30pm • zoom link
Abstract: Prenatal harm to a fetus seems to differ in important ways from other harms. For example, other things being equal, it is preferable to harm someone than to kill them. However, harming an early-term fetus seems criticizable in ways that abortion is not, suggesting that prenatal harm is not preferable to abortion. McMahan (2006) calls this phenomenon the ‘Pareto Paradox’; Roberts (2010) calls it the ‘Abortion Paradox’. This paper identifies structural similarities between key cases of prenatal harm and the recently characterized ‘all-or-nothing’ problem from Horton (2017; c. f., 2019). These similarities extend Horton’s solution to the problem to the explanatory challenge posed by prenatal harm. According to Horton, a willingness to sacrifice is a condition of bearing certain obligations. Extending this solution, I argue, implies that a willingness to parent incurs a duty to protect the fetus from harm. This implication provides independent support for so-called ‘voluntarist’ or ‘intentionalist’ accounts of parental role obligations according to which, roughly, a mother’s autonomous choice to parent a child suffices for having the obligations distinctive of parenthood towards the child.