Abstract: This essay explicates and evaluates the roles that fetal metaphysics and moral status play in Rosalind Hursthouse’s abortion ethics. It is motivated by Hursthouse’s puzzling claim in her widely anthologized paper Virtue Ethics and Abortion that fetal moral status and (by implication) its underlying metaphysics are in a way, fundamentally irrelevant to her position. The essay clarifies the roles that fetal ontology and moral status do in fact play in her abortion ethics. To this end, it presents and then develops her fetal metaphysics of the potential and actual human being, which she merely adumbrates in her more extensive treatment of abortion ethics in her book Beginning Lives. The essay then evaluates her fetal ontology in light of relevant research on fetal neural and psychological development. It concludes that her implied view that the late-stage fetus is an actual human being is defensible. The essay then turns to the analysis of late-stage abortions in her paper and argues that it is importantly incomplete.
Comment: This paper provides a detailed analysis and critique of Rosalind Hursthouse's argument in 'Virtue Ethics and Abortion'. As Hursthouse's paper is frequently taught, this article would provide a good counterpoint to it. This dialogue could form part of an examination of the practical application of virtue ethics, or as part of an examination of the applied ethics of abortion from alternative ethical perspectives. This paper is suitable for undergraduate or graduate teaching.