Elizabeth Harman puts forth the following 'principle':
The Actual Future Principle: An early fetus that will become a person has some moral status. An early fetus that will die while it is still an early fetus has no moral status. ("Creation Ethics: The Moral Status of Early Fetuses and the Ethics of Abortion," Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 28, no. 4 (Autumn 1999), 310-324, 311. https://www.princeton.edu)/~eharman/creationethics.pdf)
What Harmon is saying is that the actual future of an early fetus determines its moral status. This implies that there are two different kinds of early fetuses. There are those that die while they are early fetuses. At no time during their existence do they instantiate the intrinsic properties that confer moral status. Thus the members of the first kind do not have moral status. The members of the other kind will in the future have the full moral status of persons for they will come to instantiate the intrinsic properties that confer moral status. Harman thinks that if an early fetus will one day possess the full moral status of a person then that is a "good reason" (her words) to think that it has that status when it is an early fetus.
The idea, then, is that an early fetus that does not, while it is an early fetus, have the properties that confer moral status nevertheless possesses moral status while it is an early fetus if it comes to have those properties later on in its development.
Harman is thus denying a widespread if not universal assumption, namely, that
A. For any two early fetuses at the same stage of development and in the same health, either both have the same moral status or neither does. (311)
Questioning assumptions is something philosophers do and so she cannot be faulted for that. But not all assumptions are reasonably denied. This is one of them. Her fancy footwork does nothing to detract from the evident truth of (A).
When I first encountered Harman's argument in the muddled form of a video in which she is interviewed (see below) by an actor and another professor the following objection occurred to me:
Harman is maintaining in effect that the moral status of a biological individual depends on something contingent: how long it lasts. Accordingly, moral status is not intrinsic to the early fetus but depends on some contingent future development that may or may not occur. So the early fetus that developed into Elizabeth Harman has moral status at every time in its development, because it developed into what we all recognize as a person and rights-possessor, while an aborted early fetus has moral status at no time in its development because it will not develop into a person and rights-possessor.
Harman's argument issues in the absurd consequence that one can morally justify an abortion just by having one. For if you kill your fetus (or have your fetus killed), then you guarantee that it has no actual future. If it has no actual future, then it has no moral status by Harman's principles. And if it has no moral status, then killing it is not morally impermissible, and is therefore morally justified.
A reader points out, however, that Harman anticipated something like my objection in the above-cited paper:
"Third objection: "According to the Actual Future Principle, you just can't lose! If you abort, then it turns out that the fetus you aborted was that kind of thing it's okay to abort. If you don't abort, then it turns out that the fetus was the kind of thing it's not okay to abort." (320)
My objection, however, asserts only the first of Harman's conditionals. My objection has the form of a reductio ad absurdum: if you accept Harman's principles then you are committed to an absurdity; you are committed to saying that you can morally justify your abortion just by having one. But this is absurd in the sense of incoherent. One cannot justify an action just by performing it.
Harman responds by saying that here view is "very liberal." No doubt. "Therefore, according to the Actual Future Principle, no moral justification is required for an early abortion." (320) But now she is contradicting herself: moral justification is required if the early fetus has an actual future. It cannot be true both that no moral justification is required for an early abortion and that moral justification is required if the fetus has an actual future.
But there is no point in wasting any more time on this sophistry.
One gets the impression that many of the producers of these bad pro-abortion arguments want to have sex whenever they want, with whomever they want, with no consequences. Should a human life arise as a result of their sexual activities, they want to be able to dispose of it easily for their own convenience. One gets the impression that concupiscence is what drives these 'arguments,' suborning the otherwise truth-directed intellect, and seducing it into self-serving sophistry.