Abolitionism (animal rights)

Abolitionism (animal rights)

Description The legal ownership of non-human animals should be abolished.
Proponents Gary Francione
Tom Regan
Subject Animal rights, ethics, law, philosophy

Abolitionism is the advocacy of animal rights that oppose all animal usage by humans and maintains that all sentient beings, humans or nonhumans, share a basic right: the right not to be treated as the property of others.[1] The word alludes to the historical term abolitionism—a social movement to end slavery or human ownership of other humans—but is modified in this context to promote ending the human ownership of all animals. Animal rights theory is the idea that focusing on animal welfare reform not only fails to challenge animal suffering, but may prolong it by making the exercise of property rights over animals appear acceptable. The abolitionists' objective is to secure a moral and legal paradigm shift, whereby animals are no longer regarded as things to be owned and used. The American philosopher Tom Regan writes that abolitionists want empty cages, not bigger ones. This is contrasted with animal protectionism, the position that change can be achieved by incremental improvements in animal welfare.[2]


Gary Francione, professor of law and philosophy at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, argues from the abolitionist perspective that self-described animal-rights groups who pursue welfare concerns, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, risk making the public feel comfortable about its use of animals. He calls such groups the "new welfarists," arguing that, though their aim is an end to animal use, the reforms they pursue are indistinguishable from reforms agreeable to traditional welfarists, who he says have no interest in abolishing animal use.[3] He argues that reform campaigns entrench the property status of animals, and validate the view that animals simply need to be treated better. Instead, he writes, the public's view that animals can be used and consumed ought to be challenged. His position is that this should be done by promoting ethical veganism.[4] Others think that this should be done by creating a public debate in society.[5]

It is argued[6] that there is no logical or practical contradiction between abolitionism and "welfarism." Welfarists can be working toward abolition, but by gradual steps, pragmatically taking into account what most people can be realistically persuaded to do in the short as well as the long term, and what suffering it is most urgent to relieve. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, for example, in addition to promoting local improvements in the treatment of animals, promote veganism. And although changing the legal status of nonhuman sentient beings,[7][8] is not yet abolishing ownership or mistreatment, it is a first step in that direction.


In 1992, Switzerland amended its constitution to recognize animals as beings and not things.[9] The dignity of animals is also protected in Switzerland.[10]

New Zealand granted basic rights to five great ape species in 1999. Their use is now forbidden in research, testing or teaching.[11]

In the interests of future generations, Germany added animal welfare in a 2002 amendment to its constitution, becoming the first European Union member to do so.[9][12][13]

In 2007, the parliament of the Balearic Islands, an autonomous province of Spain, passed the world's first legislation granting legal rights to all great apes.[14]

In 2013, India officially recognized dolphins as non-human persons.[15]

In 2014, France revised the legal status of animals from movable property to sentient beings,[7] and the province of Quebec in Canada is considering similar legislation.[8]


  1. ^ The Six Principles of the Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights
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  4. ^ Francione 1996, chapter. 5.
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  6. ^
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ a b
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Constitutional Protection for Germany's Animals. page 13
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^

Further reading

  • Francione, Gary. Rain Without Thunder: The Ideology of the Animal Rights Movement. Temple University Press, 1996.
  • Francione, Gary and Garner, Robert. The Animal Rights Debate: Abolition Or Regulation?. Columbia University Press, 2010.
  • Francione, Gary. Ingrid Newkirk on Principled Veganism: “Screw the principle”, Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach, September 2010.
  • Francione, Gary. "Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach", accessed February 26, 2011.
  • Francione, Gary. Animals, Property, and the Law. Temple University Press, 1995.
  • Hall, Lee. "An Interview with Professor Gary L. Francione on the State of the U.S. Animal Rights Movement", Friends of Animals, accessed February 25, 2008.
  • Regan, Tom. Empty Cages. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004.
  • Regan, Tom. "The Torch of Reason, The Sword of Justice", animalsvoice.com, accessed May 29, 2012.
  • Regan, Tom. "On Achieving Abolitionist Goals", Animal Rights Zone, May 18, 2011, accessed May 24, 2011.
  • Regan, Tom. The Case for Animal Rights. University of California Press, 1980.