City of Brass

Lets get my personal opinion out of the way: I am generally in suppoort of Roe vs Wade because I think it does a good job of providing a simple, algorithmic solution to the messy lack of moral and ethical concensus on abortion. Ultimately the “maximal” positions of the pro-life movement and the pro-choice movements are untenable (though there are far more of the former than the latter).

As far as I am concerned, Roe vs Wade must be defended at all cost, not because I am devoutly pro-choice, but rather because it is actually a very reasonable compromise between the maximal positions. I think that there’s a need however to examine the abortion issue from behind the safety of Roe however so that we can establish what principles we truly uphold as a society and then seek to apply them to other areas of law. In a sense, thanks to Roe, the abortion debate might be a tool for clarifying the moral issues surrounding life and death. We must accept as an axiom that – unlike child molestation or homicide or rape – there is no concensus on abortion, and there never will be, because abortion is a unique case because pregnancy is a symbiosis between two individuals with equal rights.

Once we accept the reality that Roe is here to stay, we can move forward and explore the abortion issue with fresh perspectives. One example of this is from one of my favorite conservative blogs, League of Ordinary Gentlemen (LOG), where guest author Sidereal attempts to dismantle the linear abortion debate axis into a two-dimensional graph, and makes what I think are key insights into where American public opinion really lies (and thus illustrates exactly why there is a political stalemate, since the politics of abortion are waged at the maximal ends, and thus essentially irrelevant).

I think however that the obsession with Roe has obscured the larger philosophical issues that abortion encompasses, however – what has been lacking these past 30 years has been a thorough examination of the actual principles by which we assert our pro-life or pro-choice convictions. The central issue is one of rights, in conflict between those of the mother and those of the baby. For the most part the politics f abortion have reduced this complex issue to a caricatured argument about “value” and “convenience”. Before the issue was so crazily political, though, there were people trying to investigate the philosophical aspects of the issue – for example, this fascinating philosophy paper (PDF) from 1971 by Judith Jarvis Thomson that really approaches the entire debate from an original perspective, which attempts to justify abortion after explicitly conceding the point (in the hypothetical) that life begins at conception. This is not easy reading but it really is a profound and thorough analysis. One of the key points it argues is in defining just what, exactly, is meant by the concept, “right to life” – and argues persuasively that the right to life “consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly.” It also makes a distinction between the Good Samaritan and the Minimally Decent Samaritan. It’s essential reading and really broadens the abortion debate in a meaningful way – including raising questions about how the same arguments should apply to issues like the death penalty and collateral damage.

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