abortion - Justice, Spring 2006-1 The Political Morality of...

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Justice , Spring 2006—1 The Political Morality of Abortion 1. Stating the Issue The issue of abortion—or, more precisely, rights of reproductive choice—is arguably the most contested problem in American political life over the past 30 years. In general terms, the terms of debate are clear: defenders of relatively unrestricted rights of reproductive choice think that stringent restrictions on reproductive choice—from long waiting periods, spousal consent requirements, and intrusive review procedures in hospitals, to simple abortion bans—impose an unacceptably heavy and insulting burden on women. Critics of those rights think that the current system licenses a particularly horrible form of murder, namely the taking of the most innocent human life. To address the issue, we need to begin by distinguishing two questions about abortion: a question of personal morality and a question of political morality. The question of personal morality asks: is it morally permissible to have an abortion, or is abortion morally wrong? The question of political morality asks: is it permissible for a legal-political system to impose restrictive regulations on reproductive choices (or, to put the question from the other side, permissible for a legal system to allow abortions)? The proposition that these two questions are distinct is disputable, but true, I believe. While people who think that legal regulation is impermissible often also believe that abortion is morally permissible, a person might believe that abortion is morally impermissible, but at the same time oppose regulation because the person knows that other citizens disagree
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, Spring 2006—2 conscientiously and profoundly on the moral question and thinks that political regulation is impermissible when citizens have such profoundly different views on the moral issue. Similarly, a person might think that abortion is morally permissible, but that restrictive regulation is nevertheless permissible. Someone who holds this view might say that, in a democracy, the views of the majority should rule, unless the rules favored by the majority are in clear conflict with constitutional rights. So if the majority thinks that abortion ought to be outlawed, then they may permissibly outlaw it—at least if the law is consistent with basic constitutional rights. 1 Here, then, I will focus on the question of political morality: may a majority justifiably establish stringent restrictions on reproductive choice? 2. Roe and Casey The Supreme Court had addressed this question in two important decisions over the past 30 years: first in the case of Roe v. Wade (1973), then more recently in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which (in general terms) upheld the decision in Roe (thus creating what was described in the Roberts hearings as a “superprecedent”). The basic claims in Roe v. Wade can be summarized as follows: 1. Decisions about continuing a pregnancy are intimate and personal
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This note was uploaded on 02/27/2012 for the course POLS 101 taught by Professor Nemnich during the Fall '09 term at Boise State.

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abortion - Justice, Spring 2006-1 The Political Morality of...

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