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Philosophy professor presents and disproves both sides of abortion debate

Popular arguments for the moral status of abortion are considered unsound by most philosophers, a University of Colorado philosophy professor said Thursday night in Palko Hall.

The conflict between the embryo’s right to life and the woman’s right to control what happens inside her own body serves as the underlying issue on the debate on abortion, said Michael Tooley, a philosophy professor from the University of Colorado at Boulder and 2010 Green Honors Chair Professor for the philosophy department.

The abortion morality argument that receives the most attention in philosophical circles is the appeal to potentialities, he said. This theory states that any human fetus has the potential to acquire the capacity for thought and self-consciousness and therefore has a serious right to life. Tooley said any argument for or against abortion must be applicable to all issues pertaining to life and death, such as those who are in a coma or remain dependent on others to live.

The scale can tip in favor of one over the other based on the woman’s responsibility to the creation of the embryo and one’s perception of the embryo as a human. Tooley said the woman’s responsibility to the embryo depends on the woman’s participation in sexual intercourse, whether voluntary or involuntary. The ambiguous nature of the point when the embryo develops characteristics that distinguish it as human is subject to debate within the scientific community and therefore makes it easy for either side to interpret.

Cameron Kistler, sophomore health and fitness major, said he has considered himself pro-choice in the past, but after hearing Tooley’s lecture, he said he seriously questioned the reasons that brought him to that decision. The potentiality argument, he said, brought up interesting points that he had never considered philosophically before.

Tooley emphasized the differences in arguments of ordinary people opposed to those of philosophically informed people. Often participants in popular arguments do not consider abortion to be an intellectual dilemma, he said.

“I think many people feel that their views on abortion are part of a very general view,” Tooley said.

People who identify with either the pro-choice or pro-life movement often see the belief as an integral issue that is indivisible from their other political views, he said. He used the example of feminists identifying themselves as pro-choice and Catholics identifying themselves as pro-life not on the moral status of abortion, but as a part of their general beliefs.

“It’s important to take the argument seriously,” Tooley said. “One must think not in terms of one view or the other but really focus on the argument, and the other argument and what arguments are good.”

Regardless of anyone’s political views on the issue of abortion, Tooley said he hoped the lecture would allow attendees to examine both sides and understand the importance of an argument based on logic, rather than looking at the issue as good or evil.

Tooley will speak on arguments for and against the existence of God today at 2 p.m. in Palko Hall.

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