Palin, Abortion & Hunting

Governor Palin has become a rather popular topic here in the United States. In addition to all the political issues surrounding her, she has also generated some interesting philosophical discussions.

Some of my more liberal friends find her views on abortion (against) and hunting (for) to be morally appalling. After all, they contend, a woman should have a right to chose and people should not shoot helpless animals. Naturally enough, I started thinking about possible connections between the ethics of abortion and the ethics of hunting.

While there are obvious differences between an abortion and shooting an animal, there are important similarities between them. Both obviously involve killing. Both involve beings that are often regarded as inferior to developed human beings. Both involve choice. At the moral core of both is a basic question: when is it morally acceptable to kill another being?

One standard argument for abortion is based on the view that there is a right to choose. Naturally enough, hunters can help themselves to this view. Just as a woman decides have someone kill for her when she has an abortion, a hunter decides to kill an animal. Of course, those who oppose hunting or abortion would contend that the two situations are different in morally relevant ways. Those against abortion often argue that humans are superior to animals and hence it is acceptable to kill animals but not abort humans. Those against hunting often focus on the fact that the woman is dealing with a being inside her body and this grants her a right to kill that hunters lack. These differences appear relevant and are well worth considering.

Another standard argument for abortion is that a woman should have the right to an abortion because having one can make her life better. For example, consider the stock scenario: a poor high school girl who has the potential to go to college gets pregnant. She cannot afford to raise the baby, the father is not around, and she cannot got to college if she has a child. In order to have a better life, she elects to have an abortion. This is justified because an act of killing will make her life better and more enjoyable.

Hunters can, of course, help themselves to this argument as well. Many people find hunting very enjoyable. This is hardly surprising since humans evolved as hunters and gatherers. One might say that we are hunters by nature. By killing animals and enjoying it, hunters have a better and more enjoyable life. While it comes at the price of death, if abortion can be justified on these grounds then so too can hunting.

Obviously, those who oppose hunting but support abortion would argue that the woman gains much more by an abortion than a hunter gains by killing an animal. The hunter enjoys the hunt, the kill and telling the tale. But the enjoyment is brief. Using the example given above, the high school girl avoids nine months of pregnancy, avoids the burden of taking care of a child and gains a better life. Hence, because of the greater rewards one kill is justified and the other is not-or so one might argue.

Someone who is pro-hunting and anti-abortion might contend that while the woman gains more, she is killing a potential person while the hunter is killing a mere animal. So, while the woman gains more, she also (it might be argued) destroys more to get it.  Naturally enough, the pro-abortion person might reply that a potential human is inferior to an animal and hence she is actually killing a much lesser being to gain much more. This, obviously enough, leads to the matter of the moral worth of the beings involved.

In light of the above discussion, it seems clear that abortion and hunting are morally similar. Whether they have the same moral status or not is something that I have not settled, but it is worth raising the matter for discussion.

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