The moral issues underlying the political issue can be stated
in many ways. We often ask when, if ever, abortion is morally
permissible. But we could also ask when, if ever, the state is
justified in requiring a woman to carry a pregnancy to term. The
way we phrase the question places emphasis on the rights of a
particular party: the right of the fetus to live or the right
of a woman to control her body or her capacity to have children.
There is no one correct question. Ariadne spends more time on
the moral status of the fetus than on the rights of the mother
because no one denies that she has the full rights of a person.
Nevertheless, it is the relationship between these parties (and
their rights) that must ultimately be decided.
The questions discussed here are phrased mainly in terms of moral
rights, but this is not the only available language. Using the
language of rights is a convention of American politics and many
philosophers. But abortion can also be approached from the viewpoint
of constitutional law, from the Bible, from the Koran, from Jewish
tradition, from the Catholic tradition of natural law, and from other intellectual traditions. Very
complex reasoning is possible in each case.
Ariadne takes a secular approach using the language of rights partly
because I am most familiar with it and partly because most of
our public argument (on network television, for example) operates
that way. For better or for worse, the secular rights-based approach has become
a common language in which to debate issues even for those who
prefer a different framework.
Many of the words used in the moral debate over abortion are 'loaded'
terms. (One of the best known books on the subject has a chapter
on which words to use in order to promote the view favored by
the authors.) Labels such as "pro-life" and "pro-choice"
are chosen to appeal to widely held values. Terms like "fetus"
sound detached and amoral while "unborn child" sounds
intimate and loving. Even so, a choice must be made.
The arguments here on Ariadne's Thread usually avoid using "pro-life"
or "pro-choice" except for brevity. As for the "fetus"
or "child", I usually use the medical terms "embryo"
and "fetus" but sometimes "unborn child" and
always "infant" or "baby" for a newborn. This
usage is not meant to prejudge any of the moral issues. There is no ideal language available to use.
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