February 20, 2024

Peter Singer on abortion

Peter Singer has some surprising views on abortion

Utilitarian ethicist Peter Singer spoke recently at the Stevens Institute of Technology on a wide range of election issues. Journalist John Horgan, who directs a centre for science writing there, reported the highlights in Scientific American. He admired Singer’s cool and detached analysis and his apparent compassionHere are Singer’s views on abortion, which came as a surprise to Horgan. 

First of all, he agreed with many pro-lifers that a fetus, even at six weeks, is a “living human being.” He showed us slides of fetuses, because we should not “run away from what abortion is.”

Singer nonetheless believes that abortion is ethical, because even a viable fetus is not a rational, self-aware person with desires and plans, which would be cut short by death; hence it should not have the same right as humans who have such qualities. Abortion is also justified, Singer added, both as a female right and as a method for curbing overpopulation.

For very different reasons than abortion opponents, Singer actually opposes Roe v. Wade.

Singer further surprised me—and showed his meta-commitment to democracy and reason–when he said that he, like Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan, disliked Roe V. Wade. That 1973 Supreme Court decision, Singer felt, provides a flimsy rationale for abortion and has corrupted the process whereby Supreme Court Justices are chosen. Ideally, Singer said, voters rather than unelected judges should determine the legal status of abortion. Singer nonetheless acknowledged that if Roe V. Wade is overturned, some states might outlaw or severely restrict abortion. “I’m torn,” he admitted.

Michael Cook
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Peter Singer