It is commonly claimed that restrictions on abortion illegitimately impose some people’s religious beliefs on the rest of us. This is the wrong way to defend abortion rights. It implies that religious motives have no legitimate place in lawmaking. In fact, we all have normative commitments that we have trouble articulating – you could call them matters of faith – and we sometimes support legislation because of those commitments. (The point is particularly relevant today, because for the foreseeable future we are going to be talking about abortion a lot.)
With respect to many issues, including some involving abortion, Americans who differ on moral fundamentals should be able to work together. We will inevitably disagree about whether personhood begins at the moment of conception. But defenses of abortion should focus not on the allegedly improper ideals of those who would restrict it but on the liberty and equality of women.
Not all arguments against (or opponents of) abortion are religious. But the disagreement is like religious disagreement in that it is intractable and frustrating.
I’ve studied the secular philosophical literature on abortion in some detail. The arguments on both sides tend to be circular. We can’t even agree about the significance…Read More
Andrew Koppelman, John Paul Stevens Professor of Law at Northwestern University, is the author of “Burning Down the House: How Libertarian Philosophy Was Corrupted by Delusion and Greed” (St. Martin’s Press, forthcoming). Follow him on Twitter @AndrewKoppelman.