Thinking Critically About Abortion
This book introduces readers to the many arguments and controversies concerning abortion. While it argues for ethical and legal positions on the issues, it focuses on how to think about the issues, not just what to think about them. It is an ideal resource to improve your understanding of what people think, why they think that and whether their (and your) arguments are good or bad, and why. It's ideal for classroom use, discussion groups, organizational learning, and personal reading.  

This open educational resource is freely available in PDF, full textGoogle DocePub, Mobi, and other formats. It's also now posted as a speech-to-text "audiobook" on these pages (although this currently seems unreliable: we are working to fix this). 

A $5.38 paperback can be ordered and shipped to anyone who would benefit from it: governmental representatives and other elected officials, organizational leaders and community activists, thought leaders and influencers, leaders of religious organizations, friends and family and anyone else who would benefit from a thorough assessment of arguments on all sides of the abortion debates. (Why $5.38? This is currently the lowest price Amazon would allow). It's also a Kindle book for $.99 (or free), which can be shared and sent also.

The book is by two philosophy professors with extensive teaching and research experience on abortion and related issues: Nathan Nobis, PhD at Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA and Kristina Grob, PhD at the University of South Carolina Sumter. 

About this Book

From the Preface 

To many people, abortion is an issue for which discussions and debates are frustrating and fruitless: it seems like no progress will ever be made towards any understanding, much less resolution or even compromise. 

Judgments like these, however, are premature because some basic techniques from critical thinking, such as carefully defining words and testing definitions, stating the full structure of arguments so each step of the reasoning can be examined, and comparing the strengths and weaknesses of different explanations can help us make progress towards these goals.

When emotions run high, we sometimes need to step back and use a passion for calm, cool, critical thinking. This helps us better understand the positions and arguments of people who see things differently from us, as well as our own positions and arguments. And we can use critical thinking skills help to try to figure out which positions are best, in terms of being supported by good arguments: after all, we might have much to learn from other people, sometimes that our own views should change, for the better.

Here we use basic critical thinking skills to argue that abortion is typically not morally wrong. We begin with less morally-controversial claims: adults, children and babies are wrong to kill and wrong to kill, fundamentally, because they, we, are conscious, aware and have feelings. We argue that since early fetuses entirely lack these characteristics, they are not inherently wrong to kill and so most abortions are not morally wrong, since most abortions are done early in pregnancy, before consciousness and feeling develop in the fetus.

Furthermore, since the right to life is not the right to someone else’s body, fetuses might not have the right to the pregnant woman’s body—which she has the right to—and so she has the right to not allow the fetus use of her body. This further justifies abortion, at least until technology allows for the removal of fetuses to other wombs. Since morally permissible actions should be legal, abortions should be legal: it is an injustice to criminalize actions that are not wrong.

In the course of arguing for these claims, we:
  1. discuss how to best define abortion;
  2. dismiss many common “question-begging” arguments that merely assume their conclusions, instead of giving genuine reasons for them;
  3. refute some often-heard “everyday arguments” about abortion, on all sides;
  4. explain why the most influential philosophical arguments against abortion are unsuccessful;
  5. provide some positive arguments that at least early abortions are not wrong;
  6. briefly discuss the ethics and legality of later abortions, and more.
This essay is not a “how to win an argument” piece or a tract or any kind of apologetics. It is not designed to help anyone “win” debates: everybody “wins” on this issue when we calmly and respectfully engage arguments with care, charity, honesty and humility. This book is merely a reasoned, systematic introduction to the issues that we hope models these skills and virtues. Its discussion should not be taken as absolute “proof” of anything: much more needs to be understood and carefully discussed—always.

Advanced Praise

"A lucid and engaging introduction to the ethics of abortion. Nobis and Grob are refreshingly fair and balanced in their treatment of a hotly contested issue. They seek to find the best arguments, not arguments that fit any particular agenda. For such a short book, the text is remarkably comprehensive: they define key terms such as ‘murder and ‘baby,’ assess everyday arguments about abortion, discuss the science of fetal development, and rigorously engage the most important philosophical arguments. I have taught many class sessions on abortion; no text I’ve used is nearly as useful as this one. Highly recommended!"
—Rebecca Tuvel, PhD, Rhodes College, Tennessee

"It's hard to think clearly about abortion. This book helps. It provides a great set of tools for talking about this thorny issue, and most importantly, it explains exactly what goes wrong in many common arguments. All this is essential: we need it if we're going to do better. So even if you disagree with the conclusions that the authors reach, you'll learn a great deal by reading this accessible and thoughtful volume."
—Bob Fischer, PhD, Texas State University

"This book takes on and takes seriously many of the common arguments and appeals that one so frequently hears on the issue of abortion. It provides fair and balanced analyses that are concise and varied. It is an easy to read yet rigorous exploration of key concepts and assumptions present in both popular and philosophical discourse. It's an excellent introduction for anyone who wishes to better reflect critically on the practice of abortion." 
—Chelsea Haramia, PhD, Spring Hill College, Alabama

"A concise, fair, and thorough introduction to the arguments from all sides in the debate about abortion. Required reading for anyone wanting to engage the topic seriously."
—Noah Levin, PhD, Golden West College, California

"A nice presentation of the arguments and counterarguments on both sides of the debate about abortion. Nobis and Grob subject these arguments to critical scrutiny to arrive at well-reasoned conclusions on the issue."
—Ari Joffe, MD, Clinical Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta

Reviews & Further Praise

Reviews from Amazon:
  • October 7, 2019
    Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
    I came to this book after seeing high praise from Peter Singer on twitter. This book is a clearly written and extremely useful survey and critical dissection of arguments on each side of the abortion debate. Although I've read many books on this issue, I still encountered new insights that I hadn't heard or thought of previously. That the authors have made this open access is a huge public service.
  • July 11, 2019
    Format: Paperback
    Provocative, accessible, clear and concise, this book offers an important opportunity to cut through the culture wars and approach this controversial topic from a unique angle. The writer’s propose questions and possibilities that need to be considered no matter what assumptions and conclusions one ha about abortion prior to reading. Great for individuals and for discussion groups. Don’t pass this resource by!
  • July 20, 2019
    Format: Paperback
    This is the best write-up I know of for the various ethical considerations relevant to abortion. It is especially challenging to find clarity on this topic because of the strong emotions on both sides and the amount to which public discourse involves simply talking past each other. Nobis and Grob have also included the most important policy and scientific aspects of abortion that inform the ethical debates.
Reviews from GoodReads:
  • "You don't have to reach the same conclusions, but this is absolutely worth a read if you're truly interested in thinking critically about this issue rather than falling for the endless straw-man arguments (of either side) or reductive arguments that really only 'beg the question.'"
  • "Quick and easy read for anyone looking to recognize bad arguments for what they are, and replace them with better ones."
  • "An excellent and critical analysis of the most common arguments pro and against abortion. I personally enjoyed the way it’s set up to go over things one at a time. It helped me look at abortion from a morally neutral standpoint. Great read!"

Table of Contents

2.1 “Murdering Babies” 
2.2 “Termination” 
2.3 “Killing”
3.1 Fetal Consciousness 
3.2 When Most Abortions Occur 
3.3 Why Most Abortions Occur
4.1 “Question-Begging” Arguments
4.1.1 “Against” Abortion: 
4.1.2 “For” Abortion:
4.2 “Everyday” Arguments
4.2.1 “Against” Abortion “Abortion ends a life.” “Abortion kills babies and children.” “Abortion is murder.” “Abortion kills innocent beings.” “Abortion hurts women.” “The Bible says abortion is wrong.” “Abortion stops a beating heart.” “How would you like it if . .?”
4.2.2 “For” Abortion “Women have a right to do whatever they want with their bodies.” “People who oppose abortion are just trying to control women.” “Men shouldn’t make decisions about matters affecting women.” “Women and girls will die if abortion isn’t allowed.”
5.1 Arguments Against Abortion
5.1.1 Fetuses are human 
5.1.2 Fetuses are human beings 
5.1.4 Fetuses are potential persons 
5.1.5 Abortion prevents fetuses from experiencing their valuable futures
5.2.1 No good arguments that it is wrong 
5.2.2 Early fetuses aren’t conscious & feeling: personhood and harm 
5.2.4 “What ifs”: rape and later-term abortions

Research Tools & For Further Reading

Here are some research tools to better review other ethical, legal and scientific evidence and arguments on the issues, as well as some suggested further readings


The book is ideal for teaching purposes. If you would prefer to use something non- or less-argumentative, however, please review Nobis and Grob's "Common Arguments About Abortion" and Nobis's "The Ethics of Abortion," which pair together well, along with any other readings on the topics. 

Discussion Questions

The book includes a set of discussion questions that are ideal for teaching and discussion groups.

About the Authors

Nathan Nobis, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the author and co-author of many articles, chapters and other writings in ethics and philosophy. 

Kristina Grob, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina Sumter. Her interests include ethics and moral development. Each semester she shows students that philosophy can be a way of life, no matter their day jobs.


Please feel free to contact the authors through this form with any comments or questions. 

They can also be contacted through the book's Facebook page


Since the book came out, we've published this related essay in Areo Magazine
"Abortion and Soundbites: Why Pro-Choice Arguments Are Harder to Make

The APA (American Philosophical Association) Blog did a "Recently Published Book Spotlight" on the book.

Also, Political Animal Magazine posted an excerpt of the book as one of a pair of essays introduced as:
"Arguing Dialectically about Abortion"