University of St Martin - Fall, 2006 - PHIL232

Monday, Sept. 26 - Abortion (1)

Midterm Essay
Monday, Sept. 4 - What is philosophy?
Wednesday, Sept. 6 - Aristotle (1)
Monday, Sept. 11 - Aristotle (2)
Wednesday, Sept. 13 - Aristotle (3)
Monday, Sept. 18 - Nietzsche (1)
Wednesday, Sept. 20 - Nietzsche (2)
Monday, Sept. 26 - Abortion (1)
Wednesday, Sept. 28 - Abortion (2)
Excursus 1: Historical overview
Excursus 2: Abortion in Judaism and Christianity
Excursus 3: Abortion in Islam
Excursus 4: Pro-choice argument
Monday, Oct. 2 - Suicide (1)
Wednesday, Oct 4 - Revision
Monday, Oct 16 - Suicide (2)
Wednesday, Oct 18 - Paradigm shifts
Monday, Oct 23 - Brave New World (1)
Wednesday, Oct 25 - Philosophical Anthropology (1)
Monday, Oct 30 - Sexual History of the USA
Wednesday, Nov 1 - Philosophical Anthropology (2)
Monday, Nov 6 - Race, death, tragedy, and bad faith
Wednesday, Nov 8 - Race, Biology, and Culture
Monday, Nov 13 - Racism and culture
Wednesday, Nov 15 - Existentialism
Monday, Nov 20 - Political Obligation, Moral Duty, and Punishment
Wednesday, Nov 22 - Kant and Moral Obligation
Monday, Nov 27 - War and Peace
Wednesday, Nov 29 - Non-Western Philosophies (1)
Monday, Dec 4 - Non-Western Philosophies (2)
Wednesday, Dec 6 - The End
Final Paper

Text: Shirley Chisholm, Facing the Abortion Question.


Background information:


Shirley Chisholm

Biographical information


Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm (November 30, 1924January 1, 2005) was an American politician, educator and author. She was a Congresswoman, representing New York's 12th District for seven terms from 1969-1983. In 1968, she became the first African American woman elected to Congress. On January 23, 1972, she became the first African American and the first woman to make a serious bid to be President of the United States.

She was born in Brooklyn, New York, as Shirley St. Hill. She spent part of her childhood in Barbados with her grandmother, attending the local British-run school system. She later attended Brooklyn College and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949. While working as a teacher, Chisholm earned a Master's degree in elementary education from Teachers College, Columbia University. From 1953-1959, she was director of the Hamilton-Madison Child Care Center, and from 1959-1964, was an educational consultant for the Division of Day Care.

In 1964, Chisholm ran and was elected to the New York State Legislature. She then ran as the Democratic candidate for New York's 12th District congressional seat and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1968. She defeated Republican candidate James Farmer, to become the first African American woman elected to Congress.

As a freshman, Chisholm was assigned to the House Forestry Committee. Given her district, she felt the placement was a waste of time and shocked many by demanding reassignment. She was placed on the Veterans' Affairs Committee. Soon after, she voted for Hale Boggs as Majority Leader over John Conyers, even though Boggs was white. As a reward for her support, Boggs assigned her to the much-prized Education and Labor Committee; she was the third-highest ranking member when she retired.

Chisholm joined the Congressional Black Caucus, in 1969, as one of its founding members. In 1972, Chisholm made a bid for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, and received 152 delegate votes, but ultimately lost the nomination to South Dakota Senator George McGovern. Chisholm's base of support was ethnically diverse and included the National Organization for Women. Among the volunteers who were inspired by her campaign was Barbara Lee, who would go on to become a congresswoman some 25 years later. Chisholm said she ran for the office "in spite of hopeless odds," "to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo."

Chisholm created controversy when she visited rival and ideological opposite George Wallace in the hospital soon after his shooting during that campaign. Several years later, when Chisholm worked on a bill to give domestic workers the right to a minimum wage, Wallace got her the votes of enough southern congressmen to push the legislation through the House. Throughout her tenure in Congress, Chisholm would work to improve opportunities for inner-city residents. She was a vocal opponent of the draft and supported spending increases for education, healthcare and other social services, and reductions in military spending. She announced her retirement from Congress in 1982, and was replaced by a fellow Democrat,Major Owens, in 1983. After leaving Congress, Chisholm was named to the Purington Chair at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, where she taught for four years. She was also very popular on the lecture circuit.

Chisholm was married to Conrad Chisholm from 1949-1977. Upon their divorce, she married Arthur Hardwick, Jr., who died in 1986.

Shirley Chisholm was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. In 1993, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. Chisholm also authored two books, Unbought and Unbossed (1970) and The Good Fight (1973).

Chisholm retired to Florida and died January 1, 2005. She is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, NY. In February 2005, Shirley Chisholm '72: Unbought and Unbossed, a documentary film chronicling Chisholm's 1972 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, was aired on U.S. public television. Directed and produced by independent, black woman filmmaker Shola Lynch, the film was featured at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004. On, April 9, 2006, the film was announced as a winner of a Peabody Award.



General introduction to the Abortion question


“Whether or not abortion should be legal turns on the answer to the question of whether and at what point a fetus is a person. This is a question that cannot be answered logically or empirically. The concept of personhood is neither logical nor empirical: It is essentially a religious, or quasi-religious idea, based on one’s fundamental (and therefore unverifiable) assumptions about the nature of the world.” Paul Campos, professor of law at the University of Colorado. (2002) 1

“The real question today is not when human life begins, but, ‘What is the value of human life?’ The abortionist who reassembles the arms and legs of a tiny baby to make sure all its parts have been torn from its mother's body can hardly doubt whether it is a human being.” President Ronald Reagan, (1983).2


Life refers to anything that is alive: animal, vegetable, and (at least for some followers of Aboriginal, Earth-centered, and other religions) even mineral.

Human life is anything that is alive and contains human DNA.

Human person is a form of human life that is has civil rights of which the prime right is to not be murdered.

What a zygote (pre-embryo) looks like:

The human ovum (egg) enters the fallopian tubes, many hours or days before it has the opportunity to be fertilized. Women release one about each month between puberty and menopause -- totaling a few hundred in a lifetime. Almost all of these are destined to not be fertilized and to be ejected from her body. Unless a couple is having difficulty conceiving, very little thought is given to these hundreds of ova. It is about 1/100" in diameter, and is barely visible to the naked eye. Although the ovum does contain human DNA, there is a consensus that it is not a human person. They only have the potential to join with a spermatozoon and -- depending on one's beliefs -- either immediately or eventually produce a human person.

Hundreds of millions of male sperm are liberated during a typical sexual encounter. A few week's worth of ejaculations from a single male would theoretically provide sufficient sperm to double the earth's human population, if each were used to fertilize a separate ovum. Each spermatozoon is miniscule is size when compared to an ova. Viewing them under a microscope reveals them to be energetic swimmers, even though they are not actually alive. Essentially all of these will fail to fertilize an ovum. Again, unless infertility is a problem, little attention is given to their fate. An average man produces thousands of sperm a second. At most, a very tiny percentage during his lifetime will find an ovum and contribute to the formation of a baby. Few men are consciously aware of the loss. Although sperm contain human DNA, there is a consensus that they are not human persons; they are not human organisms. They only have the potential to join with an ovum and -- depending on one's beliefs -- either immediately or eventually produce a human person.

The meeting of sperm and ovum often causes conception. When the first spermatozoon penetrates the wall of the ovum, a barrier is set up which almost always prevents additional spermatozoa from entering. Shown above is a microphotograph of a typical, just-fertilized ovum, called a zygote. It has formed a new and unique DNA sequence of 46 chromosomes out of the DNA which was contained in the original sperm and ovum. The latter two contain 23 chromosomes each.

The just-fertilized ovum, called a zygote, is alive. It contains human DNA. It is considered a form of human life. This event is considered by scientists to be the start of a new human organism. Many pro-lifers believe that it is also a human person at this point.

If all goes well, the single cell divides in two.

This process of division continues. 72 hours after conception, the embryo may have reached the 7 cell-stage, shown here. (The embryo is the oval structure in the center of the microphotograph, being held between two micro-pipettes.) 

Among women without an IUD, perhaps 50% of fertilized ova develop into a baby which is born about nine months later. Some of the rest are expelled naturally by the body. Others, because of genetic imperfections or other reasons, are lost later by a miscarriage. Although the exact mechanism by which an IUD functions is not fully known, it seems that the device does not inhibit fertilization, but does prevent pregnancy from beginning by preventing the organism from being implanted in the womb. Thus, for women who use an IUD, almost all of the fertilized ova are expelled from the woman's body. Whether this is killing of human beings or terminating the life of potential humans depends upon your point of view.

To think about       

"Any society that values creativity also needs to enable criticism. If we cannot question the way we are doing things and thinking about things at present, it will not occur to us that they could be thought of or done differently. (...) So philosophy is important partly because cultural criticism is so important."

CHRISTENSON, Tom (2001). Wonder and Critical Reflection. An invitation to Philosophy, p. 37. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.


This page was updated on Nov 21, 2006
at 10.00 PM St Martin Time (-4 UT)