Non Religious Views Against Abortion Essay

Religion and Politics

The relation between religion and politics continues to be an important theme in political philosophy, despite the emergent consensus (both among political theorists and in practical political contexts, such as the United Nations) on the right to freedom of conscience and on the need for some sort of separation between church and state. One reason for the importance of this topic is that religions often make strong claims on people’s allegiance, and universal religions make these claims on all people, rather than just a particular community. For example, Islam has traditionally held that all people owe obedience to Allah’s will. Thus, it is probably inevitable that religious commitments will sometimes come into conflict with the demands of politics. But religious beliefs and practices also potentially support politics in many ways. The extent and form of this support is as important to political philosophers as is the possibility for conflict. Moreover, there has been a growing interest in minority groups and the political rights and entitlements they are due. One result of this interest is substantial attention given to the particular concerns and needs of minority groups who are distinguished by their religion, as opposed to ethnicity, gender, or wealth.

This article surveys some of the philosophical problems raised by the various ways in which religion and politics may intersect. The first two main sections are devoted to topics that have been important in previous eras, especially the early modern era, although in both sections there is discussion of analogs to these topics that are more pressing for contemporary political thought: (1) establishment of a church or faith versus complete separation of church and state; and (2) toleration versus coercion of religious belief, and current conflicts between religious practice and political authority. The second pair of sections is devoted to problems that, for the most part, have come to the fore of discussion only in recent times: (3) liberal citizenship and its demands on private self-understanding; and (4) the role of religion in public deliberation.

Table of Contents

  1. Establishment and Separation of Church and State
  2. Toleration and Accommodation of Religious Belief and Practice
  3. Liberalism and Its Demands on Private Self-Understanding
  4. Religious Reasons in Public Deliberation
  5. Conclusion
  6. References and Further Reading

1. Establishment and Separation of Church and State

While the topic of establishment has receded in importance at present, it has been central to political thought in the West since at least the days of Constantine. In the wake of the Protestant Reformation, European societies wrestled with determining exactly what roles church and state should play in each other’s sphere, and so the topic of establishment became especially pressing in the early modern era, although there was also substantial discussion in the Middle Ages (Dante, 1995). The term “establishment” can refer to any of several possible arrangements for a religion in a society’s political life. These arrangements include the following:

  1. A religious body may be a “state” church in the sense that it has an exclusive right to practice its faith.
  2. A church may be supported through taxes and subject to the direction of the government (for example, the monarch is still officially the head of the Church of England, and the Prime Minister is responsible for selecting the Archbishop of Canterbury).
  3. Particular ecclesiastical officials may have, in virtue of their office, an established role in political institutions.
  4. A church may simply have a privileged role in certain public, political ceremonies (for example, inaugurations, opening of parliament, etc.).
  5. Instead of privileging a particular religious group, a state could simply enshrine a particular creed or belief system as its official religion, much like the “official bird” or “official flower.”

Note that these options are not mutually exclusive—a state could adopt some or all of these measures. What is central to them is they each involve the conferral of some sort of official status. A weaker form of an established church is what Robert Bellah (1967: 3-4) calls “civil religion,” in which a particular church or religion does not exactly have official status, and yet the state uses religious concepts in an explicitly public way. For an example of civil religion, he points to Abraham Lincoln’s use of Christian imagery of slavery and freedom in justifying the American Civil War.

Contemporary philosophical defenses of outright establishment of a church or faith are few, but a famous defense of establishment was given by T. S. Eliot in the last century (1936, 1967). Trained as a philosopher (he completed, but did not defend, a dissertation at Harvard on the philosophy of F. H. Bradley) and deeply influenced by Aristotle, Eliot believed that democratic societies rejected the influence of an established church at their peril, for in doing so they cut themselves off from the kind of ethical wisdom that can come only from participation in a tradition. As a result, he argued, such a society would degenerate into tyranny and/or social and cultural fragmentation.

Even today, there are strains of conservatism that argue for establishment by emphasizing the benefits that will accrue to the political system or society at large (Scruton, 1980). According to this line of thought, the healthy polis requires a substantial amount of pre- or extra-political social cohesion. More specifically, a certain amount of social cohesion is necessary both to ensure that citizens see themselves as sufficiently connected to each other (so that they will want to cooperate politically), and to ensure that they have a common framework within which they can make coherent collective political decisions. This cohesion in turn is dependent on a substantial amount of cultural homogeneity, especially with respect to adherence to certain values. One way of ensuring this kind of homogeneity is to enact one of the forms of establishment mentioned above, such as displaying religious symbols in political buildings and monuments, or by including references to a particular religion in political ceremonies.

Rather than emphasizing the distinctively political benefits of establishment, a different version of this argument could appeal to the ethical benefits that would accrue to citizens themselves as private individuals. For example, on many understandings of politics, one of the purposes of the polis is to ensure that citizens have the resources necessary for living a choiceworthy, flourishing life. One such resource is a sense of belonging to a common culture that is rooted in a tradition, as opposed to a sense of rootlessness and social fragmentation (Sandel, 1998; MacIntyre, 1984). Thus, in order to ensure that citizens have this sense of cultural cohesion, the state must (or at least may) in some way privilege a religious institution or creed. Of course, a different version of this argument could simply appeal to the truth of a particular religion and to the good of obtaining salvation, but given the persistent intractability of settling such questions, this would be a much more difficult argument to make.

Against these positions, the liberal tradition has generally opposed establishment in all of the aforementioned forms. Contemporary liberals typically appeal to the value of fairness. It is claimed, for example, that the state should remain neutral among religions because it is unfair—especially for a democratic government that is supposed to represent all of the people composing its demos—to intentionally disadvantage (or unequally favor) any group of citizens in their pursuit of the good as they understand it, religious or otherwise (Rawls, 1971). Similarly, liberals often argue that fairness precludes devoting tax revenues to religious groups because doing so amounts to forcing non-believers to subsidize religions that they reject. A different approach for liberals is to appeal directly to the right to practice one’s religion, which is derivable from a more general right to freedom of conscience. If all people have such a right, then it is morally wrong for the state to force them to participate in religious practices and institutions that they would otherwise oppose, such as forcing them to take part in public prayer. It is also wrong, for the same reason, to force people to support financially (via taxation) religious institutions and communities that they would not otherwise wish to support.

In addition, there are liberal consequentialist concerns about establishment, such as the possibility that it will result in or increase the likelihood of religious repression and curtailment of liberty (Audi, 2000: 37-41). While protections and advantages given to one faith may be accompanied by promises to refrain from persecuting adherents of rival faiths, the introduction of political power into religion moves the state closer to interferences which are clearly unjust, and it creates perverse incentives for religious groups to seek more political power in order to get the upper hand over their rivals. From the perspective of many religious people themselves, moreover, there are worries that a political role for their religion may well corrupt their faith community and its mission.

2. Toleration and Accommodation of Religious Belief and Practice

As European and American societies faced the growing plurality of religious beliefs, communities, and institutions in the early modern era, one of the paramount social problems was determining whether and to what extent they should be tolerated. One of the hallmark treatises on this topic remains John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration. A political exile himself at the time of its composition, Locke argues (a) that it is futile to attempt to coerce belief because it does not fall to the will to accept or reject propositions, (b) that it is wrong to restrict religious practice so long as it does not interfere with the rights of others, and (c) that allowing a wide range of religious groups will likely prevent any one of them from becoming so powerful as to threaten the peace. Central to his arguments is a Protestant view of a religious body as a voluntary society composed only of those people who choose to join it, a view that is in sharp contrast to the earlier medieval view of the church as having authority over all people within a particular geographic domain. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that the limits of Locke’s toleration are coextensive with Protestantism; atheists and Catholics cannot be trusted to take part in society peacefully because the former do not see themselves as bound by divine law and the latter are beholden to a foreign sovereign (the Pope). Still, Locke’s Letter makes an important step forward toward a more tolerant and pluralistic world. In contrast to Locke, Thomas Hobbes sees religion and its divisiveness as a source of political instability, and so he argues that the sovereign has the right to determine which opinions may be publicly espoused and disseminated, a power necessary for maintaining civil peace (see Leviathan xviii, 9).

Like the issue of establishment, the general issue of whether people should be allowed to decide for themselves which religion to believe in has not received much attention in recent times, again because of the wide consensus on the right of all people to liberty of conscience. However, despite this agreement on liberty of belief, modern states nevertheless face challenging questions of toleration and accommodation pertaining to religious practice, and these questions are made more difficult by the fact that they often involve multiple ideals which pull in different directions. Some of these questions concern actions which are inspired by religion and are either obviously or typically unjust. For example, violent fundamentalists feel justified in killing and persecuting infidels—how should society respond to them? While no one seriously defends the right to repress other people, it is less clear to what extent, say, religious speech that calls for such actions should be tolerated in the name of a right to free speech. A similar challenge concerns religious objections to certain medical procedures that are necessary to save a life. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their religion precludes their accepting blood transfusions, even to save their lives. While it seems clearly wrong to force someone to undergo even lifesaving treatment if she objects to it (at least with sufficient rationality, which of course is a difficult topic in itself), and it seems equally wrong to deny lifesaving treatment to someone who needs it and is not refusing it, the issue becomes less clear when parents have religious objections to lifesaving treatment for their children. In such a case, there are at least three values that ordinarily demand great respect and latitude: (a) the right to follow one’s own religion, not simply in affirming its tenets but in living the lifestyle it prescribes; (b) the state’s legitimate interest in protecting its citizens (especially vulnerable ones like children) from being harmed; and (c) the right of parents to raise their children as they see fit and in a way that expresses their values.

A second kind of challenge for a society that generally values toleration and accommodation of difference pertains to a religious minority’s actions and commitments which are not themselves unjust, and yet are threatened by the pursuit of other goals on the part of the larger society, or are directly forbidden by law. For example, Quakers and other religious groups are committed to pacifism, and yet many of them live in societies that expect all male citizens to serve in the military or register for the draft. Other groups perform religious rituals that involve the use of illegal substances, such as peyote. Does the right to practice one’s faith exempt one from the requirement to serve in the military or obey one’s country’s drug policies? Is it fair to exempt such people from the burdens other citizens must bear?

Many examples of this second kind of challenge are addressed in the literature on education and schooling. In developed societies (and developing ones, for that matter), a substantial education is necessary for citizens to be able to achieve a decent life for themselves. In addition, many states see education as a process by which children can learn values that the state deems important for active citizenship and/or for social life. However, the pursuit of this latter goal raises certain issues for religious parents. In the famous case of Mozert v. Hawkins, some parents objected for religious reasons to their children being taught from a reading curriculum that presented alternative beliefs and ways of life in a favorable way, and consequently the parents asked that their children be excused from class when that curriculum was being taught. Against the wishes of these parents, some liberals believe that the importance of teaching children to respect the value of gender equality overrides the merit of such objections, even if they appeal directly to the parents’ religious rights (Macedo, 2000).

Similarly, many proposals for educational curricula are aimed at developing a measure of autonomy in children, which often involves having them achieve a certain critical distance from their family background, with its traditions, beliefs, and ways of life (Callan, 1997; Brighouse, 2000). The idea is that only then can children autonomously choose a way of life for themselves, free of undue influence of upbringing and custom. A related argument holds that this critical distance will allow children to develop a sufficient sense of respect for different social groups, a respect that is necessary for the practice of democratic citizenship. However, this critical distance is antithetical to authentic religious commitment, at least on some accounts (see the following section). Also, religious parents typically wish to pass on their faith to their children, and doing so involves cultivating religious devotion through practices and rituals, rather than presenting their faith as just one among many equally good (or true) ones. For such parents, passing on their religious faith is central to good parenting, and in this respect it does not differ from passing on good moral values, for instance. Thus, politically mandated education that is aimed at developing autonomy runs up against the right of some parents to practice their religion and the right to raise their children as they choose. Many, though not all, liberals argue that autonomy is such an important good that its promotion justifies using techniques that make it harder for such parents to pass on their faith—such a result is an unfortunate side-effect of a desirable or necessary policy.

Yet a different source of political conflict for religious students in recent years concerns the teaching of evolution in science classes. Some religious parents of children in public schools see the teaching of evolution as a direct threat to their faith, insofar as it implies the falsity of their biblical-literalist understanding of the origins of life. They argue that it is unfair to expect them to expose their children to teaching that directly challenges their religion (and to fund it with their taxes). Among these parents, some want schools to include discussions of intelligent design and creationism (some who write on this issue see intelligent design and creationism as conceptually distinct positions; others see no significant difference between them), while others would be content if schools skirted the issue altogether, refusing to teach anything at all about the origin of life or the evolution of species. Their opponents see the former proposal as an attempt to introduce an explicitly religious worldview into the classroom, hence one that runs afoul of the separation of church and state. Nor would they be satisfied with ignoring the issue altogether, for evolution is an integral part of the framework of modern biology and a well-established scientific theory.

Conflicts concerning religion and politics arise outside of curricular contexts, as well. For example, in France, a law was recently passed that made it illegal for students to wear clothing and adornments that are explicitly associated with a religion. This law was especially opposed by students whose religion explicitly requires them to wear particular clothing, such as a hijab or a turban. The justification given by the French government was that such a measure was necessary to honor the separation of church and state, and useful for ensuring that the French citizenry is united into a whole, rather than divided by religion. However, it is also possible to see this law as an unwarranted interference of the state in religious practice. If liberty of conscience includes not simply a right to believe what one chooses, but also to give public expression to that belief, then it seems that people should be free to wear clothing consistent with their religious beliefs.

Crucial to this discussion of the effect of public policy on religious groups is an important distinction regarding neutrality. The liberal state is supposed to remain neutral with regard to religion (as well as race, sexual orientation, physical status, age, etc.). However, as Charles Larmore points out in Patterns of Moral Complexity (1987: 42ff), there are different senses of neutrality, and some policies may fare well with respect to one sense and poorly with respect to another. In one sense, neutrality can be understood in terms of a procedure that is justified without appeal to any conception of the human good. In this sense, it is wrong for the state to intend to disadvantage one group of citizens, at least for its own sake and with respect to practices that are not otherwise unjust or politically undesirable. Thus it would be a violation of neutrality in this sense (and therefore wrong) for the state simply to outlaw the worship of Allah. Alternatively, neutrality can be understood in terms of effect. The state abides by this sense of neutrality by not taking actions whose consequences are such that some individuals or groups in society are disadvantaged in their pursuit of the good. For a state committed to neutrality thus understood, even if it were not explicitly intending to disadvantage a particular group, any such disadvantage that may result is a prima facie reason to revoke the policy that causes it. Thus, if the government requires school attendance on a religious group’s holy days, for example, and doing so makes it harder for them to practice their faith, such a requirement counts as a failure of neutrality. The attendance requirement may nevertheless be unavoidable, but as it stands, it is less than optimal. Obviously, this is a more demanding standard, for it requires the state to consider possible consequences—both short term and long term—on a wide range of social groups and then choose from those policies that do not have bad consequences (or the one that has the fewest and least bad). For most, and arguably all, societies, it is a standard that cannot feasibly be met. Consequently, most liberals argue that the state should be neutral in the first sense, but it need not be neutral in the second sense. Thus, if the institutions and practices of a basically just society make it more challenging for some religious people to preserve their ways of life, it is perhaps regrettable, but not unjust, so long as these institutions and practices are justified impartially.

3. Liberalism and Its Demands on Private Self-Understanding

In addition to examining issues of toleration and accommodation on the level of praxis, there has also been much recent work about the extent to which particular political theories themselves are acceptable or unacceptable from religious perspectives. One reason for this emphasis comes from the emergence of the school of thought known as “political liberalism.” In his book of that name, John Rawls (1996) signaled a new way of thinking about liberalism that is captured by the idea of an “overlapping consensus.” An overlapping consensus refers to reasoned agreement on principles of justice by citizens who hold a plurality of mutually exclusive comprehensive doctrines (a term that includes religious beliefs, metaphysical positions, theories of morality and of the good life, etc., and may also include beliefs such as theories of epistemic justification). Rather than requiring citizens to accept any particular comprehensive doctrine of liberalism, a theory of justice should aim at deriving principles that each citizen may reasonably accept from his or her own comprehensive doctrine. Thus, the consensus is on the principles themselves, rather than the justification for those principles, and as such the conception of justice offered is “political” rather than “metaphysical.” This view of liberal justice marked a break with Rawls’s earlier “metaphysical” liberalism as expressed in A Theory of Justice, although debate continues among commentators about just how sharp a break political liberalism is and whether or not it is an improvement over the earlier view. The aim, then, for a political conception of justice is for all reasonable citizens to be able to affirm principles of justice without having to weaken their hold on their own private comprehensive views. However, some writers have argued that this is impossible—even a “thin” political conception of justice places strains on some comprehensive doctrines, and these strains might be acute for religious citizens. One such argument comes from Eomann Callan, in his book Creating Citizens. Callan points to the role played in Rawls’ theory of “the burdens of judgment” (see Rawls, 1996: § 2): fundamentalists will not be able to accept the burdens of judgment in their private lives, because doing so requires them to view rival faiths and other beliefs as having roughly equal epistemic worth. If Rawlsian liberalism requires acceptance of the burdens of judgment, then the overlapping consensus will not include some kinds of religious citizens.

A different way that liberal citizenship might conflict with a religious person’s self-understanding is if the former requires a commitment to a kind of fallibilism while the latter requires (or at least encourages) certitude in one’s religious belief. Richard Rorty has been read as arguing for the need for liberal democratic citizens to privatize their faith (1999) and to hold their beliefs at an “ironic” distance—that is, provisionally, and with a healthy skepticism about the extent to which they decisively capture reality (1989). But this kind of irony is not possible to maintain along with authentic faith, at least as the latter is understood in many religious traditions that emphasize the importance of certitude in one’s belief and totality of one’s commitment to God.

Thus, a religious citizen could feel an acute conflict between her identity qua citizen and qua religious adherent. One way of resolving the conflict is to argue that one aspect of her identity should take priority over the other. Witness the conflict experienced by the protagonist in Sophocles’ Antigone, as she buries her brother in defiance of Creon’s decree; in doing so, she acknowledges that her religious duties supersede her civic duties, at least in that context. For many religious citizens, political authority is subservient to—and perhaps even derived from—divine authority, and therefore they see their religious commitments as taking precedence over their civic ones. On the other hand, civic republicanism has tended to view a person’s civic role as paramount because it has seen participation in politics as partly constitutive of the human good (Dagger, 1997).

In contrast to these approaches, the liberal tradition has tended to refuse to prioritize one aspect of an individual’s identity over any other, holding that it is the individual’s task to determine which is most important or significant to her; this task is often seen as the reason for the importance of personal autonomy (Kymlicka, 2002). But this tendency makes it more challenging for liberals to adjudicate conflicts between religion and politics. One possibility is for the liberal to argue that the demands of justice are prior to the pursuit of the good (which would include religious practice). If so, and if the demands of justice require one to honor duties of citizenship, then one might argue that people should not allow their religious beliefs and practices to restrict or interfere with their roles as citizens. However, not even all liberals accept the claim that justice is prior to the good, nor is it a settled issue in the literature on political obligation that norms of justice can successfully ground universal duties of citizenship (see “The Obligation to Obey Law” and “Political Obligation”).

4. Religious Reasons in Public Deliberation

One recent trend in democratic theory is an emphasis on the need for democratic decisions to emerge from processes that are informed by deliberation on the part of the citizenry, rather than from a mere aggregation of preferences. As a result, there has been much attention devoted to the kinds of reasons that may or may not be appropriate for public deliberation in a pluralistic society. While responses to this issue have made reference to all kinds of beliefs, much of the discussion has centered on religious beliefs. One reason for this emphasis is that, both historically and in contemporary societies, religion has played a central role in political life, and often it has done so for the worse (witness the wars of religion in Europe that came in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, for example). As such, it is a powerful political force, and it strikes many who write about this issue as a source of social instability and repression. Another reason is that, due to the nature of religious belief itself, if any kind of belief is inappropriate for public deliberation, then religious beliefs will be the prime candidate, either because they are irrational, or immune to critique, or unverifiable, etc. In other words, religion provides a useful test case in evaluating theories of public deliberation.

Much of the literature in this area has been prompted by Rawls’ development of his notion of public reason, which he introduced in Political Liberalism and offered (in somewhat revised form) in his essay “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.” His view is not as clearly expressed as one would wish, and it evolved after the publication of Political Liberalism, but the idea is something like this: when reasonable citizens engage in public deliberation on constitutional essentials, they must do so by offering reasons that do not appeal to any comprehensive doctrine. Since citizens have sharp disagreements on comprehensive doctrines, any law or policy that necessarily depends on such a doctrine could not be reasonably accepted by those who reject the doctrine. A prime example of a justification for a law that is publicly inaccessible in this way is one that is explicitly religious. For example, if the rationale for a law that outlawed working on Sunday was simply that it displeases the Christian God, non-Christians could not reasonably accept it.

Rawls makes important exceptions to this norm of public discourse, and he seems to have gradually softened its requirements somewhat as he developed his views on public reason, but his intention was to ensure that democratic outcomes could be reasonably accepted by all citizens, and even in his theory’s latest manifestations he seemed to view “public” reasons as those which could reasonably be accepted by everyone rather than explicitly drawing on comprehensive views.

A different explanation of “reasons which could be reasonably accepted by everyone” comes from Robert Audi, who argues that the set of such reasons is restricted to secular reasons. Since only secular reasons are publicly accessible in this way, civic virtue requires offering secular reasons and being sufficiently motivated by them to support or oppose the law or policy under debate. Religious reasons are not suitable for public deliberation since they are not shared by the non-religious (or people of differing religions) and people who reject these reasons would justifiably resent being coerced on the basis of them. However, secular reasons can include non-religious comprehensive doctrines, such as particular moral theories or conceptions of the human good, and so Audi’s conception of public deliberation allows some views to play a role that would be excluded by conceptions that restrict all comprehensive doctrines.

Proponents of the idea that the set of suitable reasons for public deliberation does not include certain or all comprehensive doctrines have come to be known as “exclusivists,” and their opponents as “inclusivists.” The latter group sometimes focuses on weaknesses of exclusivism—if exclusivism is false, then inclusivism is true by default. Others try to show that religious justifications can contribute positively to democratic polities; the two most common examples in support of this position are the nineteenth-century abolitionist movement and the twentieth-century civil rights movement, both of which achieved desirable political change in large part by appealing directly to the Christian beliefs prevalent in Great Britain and the United States.

A third inclusivist argument is that it is unfair to hamstring certain groups in their attempts to effect change that they believe is required by justice. Consider the case of abortion, an example Rawls discusses in a famous footnote in Political Liberalism (243-244) and again in “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited” (169). Many—though not all—who defend the pro-life position do so by appealing to the actual or potential personhood of fetuses. But “person” is a conceptually “thick” metaphysical concept, and as such it is one that is subject to reasonable disagreement. Consequently, on some versions of exclusivism, citizens who wish to argue against abortion should do so without claiming that fetuses are persons. But for these citizens, personhood is the most important part of the abortion issue, for the ascription of “person” is not simply a metaphysical issue—it is a moral issue, as well, insofar as it is an attempt to discern the bounds of the moral community. To ask them to refrain from focusing on this aspect of the issue looks like an attempt to settle the issue by default, then. Instead, inclusivists argue that citizens should feel free to introduce any considerations whatsoever that they think are relevant to the topic under public discussion.

5. Conclusion

Although secularism is proceeding rapidly in many of the world’s societies, and although this trend seems connected in some way to the process of economic development, nevertheless religion continues to be an important political phenomenon throughout the world, for multiple reasons. Even the most secularized countries (Sweden is typically cited as a prime example) include substantial numbers of people who still identify themselves as religious. Moreover, many of these societies are currently experiencing immigration from groups who are more religious than native-born populations and who follow religions that are alien to the host countries’ cultural heritage. These people are often given substantial democratic rights, sometimes including formal citizenship. And the confrontation between radical Islam and the West shows few signs of abating anytime soon. Consequently, the problems discussed above will likely continue to be important ones for political philosophers in the foreseeable future.

6. References and Further Reading

  • Audi, Robert. Religious Commitment and Secular Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
    • Much of this book is an expression of Audi’s position on public deliberation, but there is also discussion of the separation of church and state.
  • Audi, Robert, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. Religion in the Public Square: The Place of Religious Reasons in Political Debate. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.
    • An accessible, well-reasoned exchange between an inclusivist (Wolterstorff) and an exclusivist (Audi), with rebuttals.
  • Bellah, Robert N. “American Civil Religion.” Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 96.1 (1967): 1-21.
  • Brighouse, Harry. School Choice and Social Justice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.
    • Portions of this book deal with education for autonomy and religious opposition to such proposals.
  • Burtt, Shelley, “Religious Parents, Secular Schools: A Liberal Defense of Illiberal Education” The Review of Politics 56.1 (1994): 51-70.
  • Callan, Eomann, Creating Citizens: Political Education and Liberal Democracy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1997.
    • An exploration of civic education in light of Rawlsian political liberalism.
  • Carter, Stephen L. The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion. New York: Basic Books, 1993.
  • Clanton, J. Caleb. Religion and Democratic Citizenship: Inquiry and Conviction in the American Public Square. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007.
  • Coleman, John A., ed. Christian Political Ethics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
    • A collection of essays on political topics from a wide array of Christian traditions.
  • Cuneo, Terence, ed. Religion in the Liberal Polity. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005.
    • A collection of essays on religion, rights, public deliberation, and related topics.
  • Dagger, Richard. Civic Virtues: Rights, Citizenship, and Republican Liberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Dante. De monarchia. Tr. Prue Shaw. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
    • Book 3 of this work concerns the relation (and division) between Church and State.
  • Eberle, Christopher J. Religious Convictions in Liberal Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002
    • A thorough critique of the varieties of exclusivism.
  • Eliot, T. S. “Catholicism and International Order.” Essays, Ancient and Modern. London: Faber and Faber, 1936.
  • Eliot, T. S. “The Idea of a Christian Society” and “Notes Toward the Definition of Culture.” Christianity and Culture. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1967.
  • Gaus, Gerald F. Justificatory Liberalism: An Essay on Epistemology and Political Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Gaus, Gerald F. “The Place of Religious Belief in Liberal Politics.” In Multiculturalism and Moral Conflict, edited by Maria Dimova-Cookson. London: Routledge, 2008.
  • Greenawalt, Kent. Religious Convictions and Political Choice. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Greenawalt, Kent. Private Consciences and Public Reasons. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Gutmann, Amy. Democratic Education. Rev. ed. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
  • Gutmann, Amy. Identity in Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.
    • Includes a helpful chapter on religious identity in politics.
  • Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Ed. Edwin Curley. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1994.
  • Kymlicka, Will. Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  • Kymlicka, Will. Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
    • A fine introduction to the field, useful for beginners but detailed enough to interest experienced readers.
  • Larmore, Charles. Patterns of Moral Complexity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
  • Locke, John. A Letter Concerning Toleration. Ed. James Tully. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1983.
  • Macedo, Stephen. Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multicultural Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.
    • Contains extensive discussion of religion and liberal civic education.
  • MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 2nd ed. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984.
    • An influential critique of modernity and the philosophies which (he argues) have given rise to it.
  • Mozert v. Hawkins County Board of Education. Nos. 86-6144, 86-6179, and 87-5024. United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit. July 9, 1987.
    • Landmark federal case concerning parental religious objections to particular forms of education.
  • Neuhaus, Richard John. The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans, 1986.
    • An influential book among religious conservatives and neoconservatives.
  • Okin, Susan Moller, Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women? Ed. Joshua Cohen, Matthew Howard, and Martha C. Nussbaum. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999.
    • Parts of the discussion in this book concern the status of women in religious minorities.
  • Perry, Michael J. Under God?: Religious Faith and Liberal Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1971.
  • Rawls, John. Political Liberalism.New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
  • Rawls, John. “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited.” The Law of Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.
  • Rorty, Richard. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
  • Rorty, Richard. “Religion as Conversation-stopper.” Philosophy and Social Hope. New York: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1999.
  • Sandel, Michael J. Democracy’s Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1996.
  • Sandel, Michael J. Liberalism and the Limits of Justice. Rev. ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
    • A thorough critique of Rawlsian liberalism from a broadly communitarian perspective, although Sandel has tended to resist that label.
  • Scruton, Roger. The Meaning of Conservatism. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1980.
  • Stout, Jeffrey. Democracy and Tradition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.
  • Talisse, Robert B. Democracy After Liberalism: Pragmatism and Deliberative Politics. London: Routledge Press, 2004.
  • Weithman, Paul J., ed. Religion and Contemporary Liberalism. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997.
    • This collection of essays concerns many aspects of the intersection of religion and politics.
  • Weithman, Paul J.. Religion and the Obligations of Citizenship. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
    • Argues that religion has positive contributions to make toward civic ends.
  • Wisconsin v. Yoder. Nos. 70-110. United States Supreme Court. May 15, 1972.
    • An important case concerning the right of Amish parents to exempt their children from the requirement to attend school up to a specified age.

Author Information

Christopher Callaway
Email: ccallaway@sjcme.edu
Saint Joseph’s College of Maine
U. S. A.

The abortion debate is the ongoing controversy surrounding the moral, legal, and religious status of induced abortion.[1] The sides involved in the debate are the self-described "pro-choice" movement and the "pro-life" movement. "Pro-choice" emphasizes the right of women to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy. "Pro-life" movement emphasizes the right of the embryo or fetus to gestate to term and be born. Both terms are considered loaded in mainstream media, where terms such as "abortion rights" or "anti-abortion" are generally preferred.[2] Each movement has, with varying results, sought to influence public opinion and to attain legal support for its position, with small numbers of anti-abortion advocates sometimes using violence.

For many people, abortion is essentially a moral issue, concerning the commencement of human personhood, the rights of the fetus, and a woman's rights over her own body. The debate has become a political and legal issue in some countries with anti-abortion campaigners seeking to enact, maintain and expand anti-abortion laws, while abortion rights campaigners seeking the repeal or easing of such laws while expanding access to abortion. Abortion laws vary considerably between jurisdictions, ranging from outright prohibition of the procedure to public funding of abortion. Availability of safe abortion also varies across the world.

Overview[edit]

In ancient times, abortion, along with infanticide, was considered in the context of family planning, gender selection, population control, and the property rights of the patriarch.[3] Rarely were the rights of the prospective mother, much less the prospective child, taken into consideration.[4] Although generally legal, the morality of abortion, birth control and child abandonment (as a form of infanticide) was sometimes discussed. Then, as now, these discussions often concerned the nature of man, the existence of a soul, when life begins, and the beginning of human personhood.

While the practice of infanticide (as a form of family planning) has largely been eradicated in developed countries, birth control and abortion are still practiced; and their morality and legality continues to be debated. While modern debates about abortion retain some of the language of these older debates, the terminology has often acquired new meanings.

Discussion of the putative personhood of the fetus may be complicated by the current legal status of children. Like children or minors in the U.S., and unlike corporations, a fetus or an embryo is not legally a "person", not having reached the age of majority and not deemed able to enter into contracts and sue or be sued.[5] Since the 1860s, they have been treated as persons for the limited purposes of Offence against the person law in the UK including N. Ireland, although this treatment was amended by the Abortion Act of 1967 in England, Scotland and Wales.[6] Furthermore, there are logistic difficulties in treating a fetus as "the object of direct action." As one New Jersey Superior Court judge noted,

If a fetus is a person, it is a person in very special circumstances – it exists entirely within the body of another much larger person and usually cannot be the object of direct action by another person.[7]

Proposals in the current debate range from complete prohibition, even if done to save the woman's life,[8] to complete legalization with public funding, as in Canada.[9]

Terminology[edit]

Many of the terms used in the debate are seen as political framing: terms used to validate one's own stance while invalidating the opposition's. For example, the labels "pro-choice" and "pro-life" imply endorsement of widely held values such as liberty or the right to life, while suggesting that the opposition must be "anti-choice" or "anti-life" (alternatively "pro-coercion" or "pro-death").[10] Terms used by some in the debate to describe their opponents include "pro-abortion" or "pro-abort". However, these terms do not always reflect a political view or fall along a binary; in one Public Religion Research Institute poll, seven in ten Americans described themselves as "pro-choice" while almost two-thirds described themselves as "pro-life".[11] Another identifier in the debate is "abolitionist", which harks back to the 19th-century struggle against human slavery.[12][13]

Appeals are often made in the abortion debate to the rights of the fetus, pregnant woman, or other parties. Such appeals can generate confusion if the type of rights is not specified (whether civil, natural, or otherwise) or if it is simply assumed that the right appealed to takes precedence over all other competing rights (an example of begging the question).

The appropriate terms with which to designate the human organism prior to birth are also debated. The medical terms "embryo" and "fetus" are seen by some pro-life advocates as dehumanizing,[14][15] while everyday terms such as "baby" are viewed as sentimental by some pro-choice advocates.

Political debate[edit]

Politics refers to the processes, defined and limited through legal documents, by which decisions (laws) are made in governments. In politics, rights are the protections and privileges legally granted to citizens by the government. In a democracy, certain rights are considered to be inalienable, and thus not subject to grant or withdrawal by government. Regarding abortion law, the political debate usually surrounds a right to privacy, and when or how a government may regulate abortion[citation needed]. There is abundant debate regarding the extent of abortion regulation. Some pro-choice advocates argue that it should be illegal for governments to regulate abortion any more than other medical practices.[16] On both sides of the debate, some argue[who?] that governments should be permitted to prohibit elective abortions after the 20th week,[17]viability,[18] or the second trimester.[19] Some want to prohibit all abortions, starting from conception.[20]

Privacy[edit]

Even though the right to privacy is not explicitly stated in many constitutions of sovereign nations, many people see it as foundational to a functioning democracy. In general the right to privacy can be found to rest on the provisions of habeas corpus, which first found official expression under Henry II in 11th century England, but has precedent in Anglo-Saxon law. This provision guarantees the right to freedom from arbitrary government interference, as well as due process of law. This conception of the right to privacy is operant in all countries which have adopted English common law through Acts of Reception. The Law of the United States rests on English common law by this means.

Time has stated that the issue of bodily privacy is "the core" of the abortion debate.[21]Time defined privacy, in relation to abortion, as the ability of a woman to "decide what happens to her own body".[21] In political terms, privacy can be understood as a condition in which one is not observed or disturbed by government.[22]

Traditionally, American courts have located the right to privacy in the Fourth Amendment, Ninth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, as well as the penumbra of the Bill of Rights. The landmark decision Roe v Wade relied on the 14th Amendment, which guarantees that federal rights shall be applied equally to all persons born in the United States. The 14th Amendment has given rise to the doctrine of Substantive due process, which is said to guarantee various privacy rights, including the right to bodily integrity. In Canada, the courts have located privacy rights in the security of persons clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 7 of that charter echoes language used in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which also guarantees security of persons.

While governments are allowed to invade the privacy of their citizens in some cases, they are expected to protect privacy in all cases lacking a compelling state interest. In the US, the compelling state interest test has been developed in accordance with the standards of strict scrutiny. In Roe v Wade, the Court decided that the state has an "important and legitimate interest in protecting the potentiality of human life" from the point of viability on, but that prior to viability, the woman's fundamental rights are more compelling than that of the state.

U.S. judicial involvement[edit]

Main article: Abortion in the United States

Roe v. Wade struck down state laws banning abortion in 1973. Over 20 cases have addressed abortion law in the United States, all of which upheld Roe v. Wade. Since Roe, abortion has been legal throughout the country, but states have placed varying regulations on it, from requiring parental involvement in a minor's abortion to restricting late-term abortions.

Legal criticisms of the Roe decision address many points, among them are several suggesting that it is an overreach of judicial powers,[23] or that it was not properly based on the Constitution,[24] or that it is an example of judicial activism and that it should be overturned so that abortion law can be decided by legislatures.[25] Justice Potter Stewart, who joined with the majority, viewed the Roe opinion as "legislative" and asked that more consideration be paid to state legislatures.[26]

Candidates competing for the Democratic nomination for the 2008 Presidential election cited Gonzales v. Carhart as judicial activism.[27] In upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, Carhart is the first judicial opinion upholding a legal barrier to a specific abortion procedure.

"Where, in the performance of its judicial duties, the Court decides a case in such a way as to resolve the sort of intensely divisive controversy reflected in Roe and those rare, comparable cases, its [505 U.S. 833, 867] decision has a dimension that the resolution of the normal case does not carry. It is the dimension present whenever the Court's interpretation of the Constitution calls the contending sides of a national controversy to end their national division by accepting a common mandate rooted in the Constitution [...W]hatever the premises of opposition may be, only the most convincing justification under accepted standards of precedent could suffice to demonstrate that a later decision overruling the first was anything but a surrender to political pressure and an unjustified repudiation of the principle on which the Court staked its authority in the first instance." — Majority opinion of Planned Parenthood v. Casey.[28][29]

"Quite to the contrary, by foreclosing all democratic outlet for the deep passions this issue arouses, by banishing the issue from the political forum that gives all participants, even the losers, the satisfaction of a fair hearing and an honest fight, by continuing the imposition of a rigid national rule instead of allowing for regional differences, the Court merely prolongs and intensifies the anguish [over abortion]." — Justice Antonin Scalia, "concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part".[29]

Canadian judicial involvement[edit]

Main article: Abortion in Canada

With R v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court of Canada removed abortion from the Criminal Code. Relying on the security of person clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the court determined that, while the state has an interest in protecting the fetus "at some point", this interest cannot override that of the pregnant woman because: "the right to security of the person of a pregnant woman was infringed more than was required to achieve the objective of protecting the fetus, and the means were not reasonable." The only laws currently governing abortion in Canada are those which govern other medical procedures, such as those regulating licensing of facilities, the training of medical personnel, and the like.

Because the courts did not specifically establish abortion as a right, Parliament has leave to legislate on this aspect of the matter; and in 1989, the Progressive Conservative government attempted to do just that. A bill was introduced that would allow abortion only if two doctors certified that the woman's health was in danger. This bill passed the House of Commons but was defeated by a tie vote in the Senate.

Several additional cases have considered further issues.

Although the courts have not ruled on the question of fetal personhood, the question has been raised in two cases, Tremblay v. Daigle and R. v. Sullivan. Both cases relied on the born alive rule, inherited from English common law, to determine that the fetus was not a person at law.

Two further cases are notable: Dobson (Litigation Guardian of) v. Dobson, and Winnipeg Child & Family Services (Northwest Area) v. G . (D.F.), [I9971 3 S.C.R. 925 M], which dismissed so-called fetal abuse charges.

Worldwide stances[edit]

Countries that refuse abortions[edit]

As of December 2016, there were 6 countries that banned abortion: El Salvador, the Vatican, Chile, Malta, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. This bans women from an abortion for any reason (underage, fetal impairment, rape/incest), even if it might mean saving her life. [30][31]All of these countries have a punishment if it is done illegally of jail time.

Countries with strict laws[edit]

Ireland only allows abortions if it is a risk to the woman's life. It is also a very expensive procedure. There are also penalties of jail time if an abortion is induced for any other reason.[30] China has a free abortion policy but for the reason of complying with the one child policy - so many times it is forced upon them.[30] The Philippines also only have abortions in place to save the woman's life but it is not stated in the law. This means that it is also punishable by jail time. [30]

Effects of legalization/illegalization[edit]

Pro-choice advocates argue that illegalization of abortion increases the incidence of unsafe abortions, as the availability of professional abortion services decreases, and leads to increased maternal mortality. According to a global study collaboratively conducted by the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, most unsafe abortions occur where abortion is illegal.[32]

The effect on crime of legalized abortion is a subject of controversy, with proponents of the theory generally arguing that "unwanted children" are more likely to become criminals and that an inverse correlation is observed between the availability of abortion and subsequent crime.[citation needed]

Economist George Akerlof has argued that the legalization of abortion in the United States contributed to a declining sense of paternal duty among biological fathers and to a decline in shotgun weddings, even when women chose childbirth over abortion, and thus to an increase rather than a decrease in the rate of children born to unwed mothers.[33][34]

Personhood[edit]

There are differences of opinion as to whether a zygote/embryo/fetus acquires "personhood" or was always a "person". If "personhood" is acquired, opinions differ about when this happens.

Traditionally, the concept of personhood entailed the soul, a metaphysical concept referring to a non-corporeal or extra-corporeal dimension of human being which is absent in other creatures. Today, the concepts of subjectivity and intersubjectivity, personhood, mind, and self have come to encompass a number of aspects of human being previously considered the domain of the "soul".[35][36] Thus, while the historical question has been: when does the soul enter the body, in modern terms, the question could be put instead: at what point does the developing individual develop personhood or selfhood.[37]

Since the zygote is genetically identical to the embryo, the fully formed fetus, and the baby, the notion of acquired personhood could lead to an instance of the Sorites paradox, also known as the paradox of the heap.[38]

Related issues attached to the question of the beginning of human personhood include the legal status, bodily integrity, and subjectivity of the pregnant woman[39] and the philosophical concept of "natality" (i.e. "the distinctively human capacity to initiate a new beginning", which a new human life embodies).[40]

In the 1973 US judgment Roe v Wade, the opinion of the justices included the following statement:

"We need not resolve the difficult question of when life begins. When those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man's knowledge, is not in a position to speculate as to the answer."[41]

Fetal pain[edit]

This section needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(December 2011)

Fetal pain, its existence, and its implications are part of a larger debate about abortion. A 2005 multidisciplinary systematic review in JAMA in the area of fetal development found that a fetus is unlikely to feel pain until after the sixth month of pregnancy.[42][43] Developmental neurobiologists suspect that the establishment of thalamocortical connections (at about 26 weeks) may be critical to fetal perception of pain.[44] However, legislation was proposed by anti-abortion advocates that would require abortion providers to tell a woman that the fetus may feel pain during an abortion procedure.[45]

The 2005 JAMA review concluded that data from dozens of medical reports and studies indicate that fetuses are unlikely to feel pain until the third trimester of pregnancy.[42] However a number of medical critics have since disputed these conclusions.[43][46] Other researchers such as Anand and Fisk have challenged the idea that pain cannot be felt before 26 weeks, positing instead that pain can be felt at around 20 weeks.[47] Anand's suggestion is disputed in a March 2010 report on Fetal Awareness published by a working party of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, citing a lack of evidence or rationale. Page 20 of the report definitively states that the fetus cannot feel pain prior to week 24. Because pain can involve sensory, emotional and cognitive factors, leaving it "impossible to know" when painful experiences are perceived, even if it is known when thalamocortical connections are established.[48]

Wendy Savage—press officer, Doctors for a Woman's Choice on Abortion—considers the question to be irrelevant. In a 1997 letter to the British Medical Journal, April 1997, she noted that the majority of surgical abortions in Britain were performed under general anesthesia which affects the fetus, and considers the discussion "to be unhelpful to women and to the scientific debate." Others caution against unnecessary use of fetal anesthetic during abortion, as it poses potential health risks to the pregnant woman.[42] David Mellor and colleagues have noted that the fetal brain is already awash in naturally occurring chemicals that keep it sedated and anesthetized until birth.[49] At least one anesthesia researcher has suggested the fetal pain legislation may make abortions harder to obtain because abortion clinics lack the equipment and expertise to supply fetal anesthesia. Anesthesia is administered directly to fetuses only while they are undergoing surgery.[47]

Fetal personhood[edit]

Main article: Beginning of human personhood

Although the two main sides of the abortion debate tend to agree that a human fetus is biologically and genetically human (that is, of the human species), they often differ in their view on whether or not a human fetus is, in any of various ways, a person. Pro-life supporters argue that abortion is morally wrong on the basis that a fetus is an innocent humanperson[50] or because a fetus is a potential life that will, in most cases, develop into a fully functional human being.[51] They believe that a fetus is a person upon conception. Others reject this position by drawing a distinction between human being and human person, arguing that while the fetus is innocent and biologically human, it is not a person with a right to life.[52] In support of this distinction, some propose a list of criteria as markers of personhood. For example, Mary Ann Warren suggests consciousness (at least the capacity to feel pain), reasoning, self-motivation, the ability to communicate, and self-awareness.[53] According to Warren, a being need not exhibit all of these criteria to qualify as a person with a right to life, but if a being exhibits none of them (or perhaps only one), then it is certainly not a person. Warren concludes that as the fetus satisfies only one criterion, consciousness (and this only after it becomes susceptible to pain),[54] the fetus is not a person and abortion is therefore morally permissible. Other philosophers apply similar criteria, concluding that a fetus lacks a right to life because it lacks brain waves or higher brain function,[55] self-consciousness,[56] rationality,[57] and autonomy.[58] These lists diverge over precisely which features confer a right to life,[59] but tend to propose various developed psychological or physiological features not found in fetuses.

Critics of this typically argue that some of the proposed criteria for personhood would disqualify two classes of born human beings – reversibly comatose patients, and human infants – from having a right to life, since they, like fetuses, are not self-conscious, do not communicate, and so on.[60] Defenders of the proposed criteria may respond that the reversibly comatose do satisfy the relevant criteria because they "retain all their unconscious mental states".[61] or at least some higher brain function (brain waves). Warren concedes that infants are not "persons" by her proposed criteria,[62] and on that basis she and others, including the moral philosopher Peter Singer, conclude that infanticide could be morally acceptable under some circumstances (for example if the infant is severely disabled[63] or in order to save the lives of several other infants.[64]) Critics may see such concessions as an indication that the right to life cannot be adequately defined by reference to developed psychological featured.[citation needed]

An alternative approach is to base personhood or the right to life on a being's natural or inherent capacities. On this approach, a being essentially has a right to life if it has a natural capacity to develop the relevant psychological features; and, since human beings do have this natural capacity, they essentially have a right to life beginning at conception (or whenever they come into existence).[65] Critics of this position argue that mere genetic potential is not a plausible basis for respect (or for the right to life), and that basing a right to life on natural capacities would lead to the counterintuitive position that anencephalic infants, irreversibly comatose patients, and brain-dead patients kept alive on a medical ventilator, are all persons with a right to life.[66] Respondents to this criticism argue that the noted human cases in fact would not be classified as persons as they do not have a natural capacity to develop any psychological features.[67][68][69] Also, in a view that favors benefiting even unconceived but potential future persons, it has been argued as justified to abort an unintended pregnancy in favor for conceiving a new child later in better conditions.[70]

Philosophers such as Aquinas use the concept of individuation. They argue that abortion is not permissible from the point at which individual human identity is realized. Anthony Kenny argues that this can be derived from everyday beliefs and language and one can legitimately say "if my mother had had an abortion six months into her pregnancy, she would have killed me" then one can reasonably infer that at six months the "me" in question would have been an existing person with a valid claim to life. Since division of the zygote into twins through the process of monozygotic twinning can occur until the fourteenth day of pregnancy, Kenny argues that individual identity is obtained at this point and thus abortion is not permissible after two weeks.[71]

Arguments for abortion rights which do not depend on fetal non-personhood[edit]

Bodily rights[edit]

An argument first presented by Judith Jarvis Thomson states that even if the fetus is a person and has a right to life, abortion is morally permissible because a woman has a right to control her own body and its life-support functions. Thomson's variant of this argument draws an analogy between forcing a woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy and forcing a person to allow his body to be used to maintain blood homeostasis (as a dialysis machine is used) for another person suffering from kidney failure. It is argued that just as it would be permissible to "unplug" and thereby cause the death of the person who is using one's kidneys, so it is permissible to abort the fetus (who similarly, it is said, has no right to use one's body's life-support functions against one's will).[72]

Critics of this argument generally argue that there are morally relevant disanalogies between abortion and the kidney failure scenario. For example, it is argued that the fetus is the woman's child as opposed to a mere stranger;[73] that abortion kills the fetus rather than merely letting it die;[74] and that in the case of pregnancy arising from voluntary intercourse, the woman has either tacitly consented to the fetus using her body,[75] or has a duty to allow it to use her body since she herself is responsible for its need to use her body.[76] Some writers defend the analogy against these objections, arguing that the disanalogies are morally irrelevant or do not apply to abortion in the way critics have claimed.[77]

Alternative scenarios have been put forth as more accurate and realistic representations of the moral issues present in abortion. John Noonan proposes the scenario of a family who was found to be liable for frostbite finger loss suffered by a dinner guest whom they refused to allow to stay overnight, although it was very cold outside and the guest showed signs of being sick. It is argued that just as it would not be permissible to refuse temporary accommodation for the guest to protect him from physical harm, it would not be permissible to refuse temporary accommodation of a fetus.[78]

Other critics claim that there is a difference between artificial and extraordinary means of preservation, such as medical treatment, kidney dialysis, and blood transfusions, and normal and natural means of preservation, such as gestation, childbirth, and breastfeeding. They argue that if a baby was born into an environment in which there was no replacement available for her mother's breast milk, and the baby would either breastfeed or starve, the mother would have to allow the baby to breastfeed. But the mother would never have to give the baby a blood transfusion, no matter what the circumstances were. The difference between breastfeeding in that scenario and blood transfusions is the difference between using your body as a kidney dialysis machine, and gestation and childbirth.[79][80][81][82][83][84]

Sexual emancipation and equality[edit]

Margaret Sanger wrote: "No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother."[85] Denying the right to abortion can be construed from this perspective as a form of female oppression under a patriarchal system, perpetuating inequality between the sexes.

Arguments against the right to abortion[edit]

Discrimination[edit]

The book Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation presents the argument that abortion involves unjust discrimination against the unborn. According to this argument, those who deny that fetuses have a right to life do not value all human life, but instead select arbitrary characteristics (such as particular levels of physical or psychological development) as giving some human beings more value or rights than others.[86]

In contrast, philosophers who define the right to life by reference to particular levels of physical or psychological development typically maintain that such characteristics are morally relevant,[87] and reject the assumption that all human life necessarily has value (or that membership in the species Homo sapiens is in itself morally relevant).[88]

Deprivation[edit]

Further information: Philosophical aspects of the abortion debate § The deprivation argument

The argument of deprivation states that abortion is morally wrong because it deprives the fetus of a valuable future.[89] On this account, killing an adult human being is wrong because it deprives the victim of a future like ours—a future containing highly valuable or desirable experiences, activities, projects, and enjoyments.[90] If a being has such a future, then (according to the argument) killing that being would seriously harm it and hence would be seriously wrong.[91] But since a fetus does have such a future, the "overwhelming majority" of deliberate abortions are placed in the "same moral category" as killing an innocent adult human being.[92] Not all abortions are unjustified according to this argument: abortion would be justified if the same justification could be applied to killing an adult human.

Criticism of this line of reasoning follows several threads. Some reject the argument on grounds relating to personal identity, holding that the fetus is not the same entity as the adult into which it will develop, and thus that the fetus does not have a "future like ours" in the required sense.[93] Others grant that the fetus has a future like ours, but argue that being deprived of this future is not a significant harm or a significant wrong to the fetus, because there are relatively few psychological connections (continuations of memory, belief, desire and the like) between the fetus as it is now and the adult into which it will develop.[94] Another criticism is that the argument creates inequalities in the wrongness of killing:[95] as the futures of some people appear to be far more valuable or desirable than the futures of other people, the argument appears to entail that some killings are far more wrong than others, or that some people have a far stronger right to life than others—a conclusion that is taken to be counterintuitive or unacceptable.

Argument from uncertainty[edit]

Some pro-life supporters argue that if there is uncertainty as to whether the fetus has a right to life, then having an abortion is equivalent to consciously taking the risk of killing another. According to this argument, if it is not known for certain whether something (such as the fetus) has a right to life, then it is reckless, and morally wrong, to treat that thing as if it lacks a right to life (for example by killing it).[96] This would place abortion in the same moral category as manslaughter (if it turns out that the fetus has a right to life) or certain forms of criminal negligence (if it turns out that the fetus does not have a right to life).[97]

David Boonin replies that if this kind of argument were correct, then the killing of nonhuman animals and plants would also be morally wrong, because (Boonin contends) it is not known for certain that such beings lack a right to life.[98] Boonin also argues that arguments from uncertainty fail because the mere fact that one might be mistaken in finding certain arguments persuasive (for example, arguments for the claim that the fetus lacks a right to life) does not mean that one should act contrary to those arguments or assume them to be mistaken.[99]

Religious beliefs[edit]

Main article: Religion and abortion

Each religion has many varying views on the moral implications of abortion. These views can often be in direct opposition to each other.[100] Muslims regard abortion as haram meaning forbidden. Muslims typically cite the Quranic verse 17:31 which states that a fetus shouldn't be aborted out of fear of poverty.[101] Pro-life Christians support their views with Scripture references such as that of Luke 1:15; Jeremiah 1:4–5; Genesis 25:21–23; Matthew 1:18; and Psalm 139:13–16. The Catholic Church believes that human life begins at conception as does the right to life; thus, abortion is considered immoral.[102] The Church of England also considers abortion to be morally wrong, though their position admits abortion when "the continuance of a pregnancy threatens the life of the mother".[103]

Other factors[edit]

Mexico City policy[edit]

Main article: Mexico City policy

The Mexico City policy—also known as the "global gag rule"—required any non-governmental organization receiving U.S. government funding to refrain from performing or promoting abortion services in other countries. This had a significant effect on the health policies of many nations across the globe. The Mexico City policy was instituted under President Reagan, suspended under President Clinton, reinstated by President George W. Bush,[104] and suspended again by President Barack Obama on 24 January 2009[105] and re-instated once again by President Donald J. Trump on 23 January 2017.[citation needed]

Public opinion[edit]

Main article: Societal attitudes towards abortion

A number of opinion polls around the world have explored public opinion regarding the issue of abortion. Results have varied from poll to poll, country to country, and region to region, while varying with regard to different aspects of the issue.

A May 2005 survey examined attitudes toward abortion in 10 European countries, asking respondents whether they agreed with the statement, "If a woman doesn't want children, she should be allowed to have an abortion". The highest level of approval was 81% (in the Czech Republic); the lowest was 47% (in Poland).[106]

In North America, a December 2001 poll surveyed Canadian opinion on abortion, asking in what circumstances they believe abortion should be permitted; 32% responded that they believe abortion should be legal in all circumstances, 52% that it should be legal in certain circumstances, and 14% that it should be legal in no circumstances. A similar poll in April 2009 surveyed people in the United States about U.S. opinion on abortion; 18% said that abortion should be "legal in all cases", 28% said that abortion should be "legal in most cases", 28% said abortion should be "illegal in most cases" and 16% said abortion should be "illegal in all cases".[107] A November 2005 poll in Mexico found that 73.4% think abortion should not be legalized while 11.2% think it should.[108]

Of attitudes in South America, a December 2003 survey found that 30% of Argentines thought that abortion in Argentina should be allowed "regardless of situation", 47% that it should be allowed "under some circumstances", and 23% that it should not be allowed "regardless of situation".[109] A more recent poll now suggest that 45% of Argentineans are in favor of abortion for any reason in the first twelve weeks. This same poll conducted in September 2011 also suggests that most Argentineans favor abortion being legal when a woman's health or life is at risk (81%), when the pregnancy is a result of rape (80%) or the fetus has severe abnormalities (68%).[110] A March 2007 poll regarding the abortion law in Brazil found that 65% of Brazilians believe that it "should not be modified", 16% that it should be expanded "to allow abortion in other cases", 10% that abortion should be "decriminalized", and 5% were "not sure".[111] A July 2005 poll in Colombia found that 65.6% said they thought that abortion should remain illegal, 26.9% that it should be made legal, and 7.5% that they were unsure.[112]

Effect upon crime rate[edit]

Main article: Legalized abortion and crime effect

A theory attempts to draw a correlation between the United States' unprecedented nationwide decline of the overall crime rate during the 1990s and the decriminalization of abortion 20 years prior.

The suggestion was brought to widespread attention by a 1999 academic paper, The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime, authored by the economists Steven D. Levitt and John Donohue. They attributed the drop in crime to a reduction in individuals said to have a higher statistical probability of committing crimes: unwanted children, especially those born to mothers who are African American, impoverished, adolescent, uneducated, and single. The change coincided with what would have been the adolescence, or peak years of potential criminality, of those who had not been born as a result of Roe v. Wade and similar cases. Donohue and Levitt's study also noted that states which legalized abortion before the rest of the nation experienced the lowering crime rate pattern earlier, and those with higher abortion rates had more pronounced reductions.[113]

Fellow economists Christopher Foote and Christopher Goetz criticized the methodology in the Donohue-Levitt study, noting a lack of accommodation for statewide yearly variations such as cocaine use, and recalculating based on incidence of crime per capita; they found no statistically significant results.[114] Levitt and Donohue responded to this by presenting an adjusted data set which took into account these concerns and reported that the data maintained the statistical significance of their initial paper.[115]

Such research has been criticized by some as being utilitarian, discriminatory as to race and socioeconomic class, and as promoting eugenics as a solution to crime.[116][117] Levitt states in his book Freakonomics that they are neither promoting nor negating any course of action—merely reporting data as economists.

Breast cancer hypothesis[edit]

Main article: Abortion–breast cancer hypothesis

The abortion–breast cancer hypothesis posits that induced abortion increases the risk of developing breast cancer.[118] This position contrasts with the scientific consensus that abortion does not cause breast cancer.[119][120][121][122]

In early pregnancy, levels of estrogen increase, leading to breast growth in preparation for lactation. The hypothesis proposes that if this process is interrupted by an abortion – before full maturity in the third trimester – then more relatively vulnerable immature cells could be left than there were prior to the pregnancy, resulting in a greater potential risk of breast cancer. The hypothesis mechanism was first proposed and explored in rat studies conducted in the 1980s.[123][124][125]

Minors[edit]

Main article: Minors and abortion

Many states require some form of parental consent before the abortion is set to happen. In the United States, 37 states require the parent to have knowledge while only 21 of those states need one parent to consent.[126] Certain states have an alternative answer to the involvement of the parent by getting the judicial system involved with a judicial bypass. In those states, minors can get permission from the judge if parents are not willing to do so or if they are absent from their lives. [126]

These laws are known as parental involvement laws.

There are different guidelines to minors and abortions in every country.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^Groome, Thomas. "To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party."New York Times. 27 March 2017. 27 March 2017.
  2. ^For example: "Wall Street Journal style guide: Vol. 23, No. 1". Wall Street Journal. 31 January 2010. Retrieved 4 November 2011. 
  3. ^See generally, "The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance", John Boswell ISBN 978-0-226-06712-4 Nov 1998, Intro.
  4. ^See generally Spivack, Carla, To Bring Down the Flowers: The Cultural Context of Abortion Law in Early Modern England. Available at SSRN: [1] Introduction
  5. ^Rodham, Hillary (1973). "Children under the law". Harvard Educational Review. 43 (4): 487–514. doi:10.17763/haer.43.4.e14676283875773k. 
  6. ^"The law and ethics of abortion"(PDF). BMA Views, Ethics Department. British Medical Association. 2014. 
  7. ^State v Loce September 6, 1991
  8. ^"Sister Margaret's Choice" 27 May 2010
  9. ^Christine Ammer; JoAnn E. Manson (February 2009). The Encyclopedia of Women's Health. Infobase Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-8160-7407-5. Retrieved 24 February 2012. 
  10. ^Holstein and Gubrium (2008). Handbook of Constructionist Research. Guilford Press. 
  11. ^"Committed to Availability, Conflicted about Morality: What the Millennial Generation Tells Us about the Future of the Abortion Debate and the Culture Wars". Public Religion Research Institute. 9 June 2011. 
  12. ^Andrea Grimes (11 April 2014). "Portrait of an Anti-Abortion 'Abolitionist'". Retrieved 26 May 2015.  
  13. ^Irin Carmon (8 March 2014). "Meet the rebels of the anti-abortion movement". Retrieved 26 May 2015.  
  14. ^Brennan 'Dehumanizing the vulnerable' 2000
  15. ^Getek, Kathryn; Cunningham, Mark (February 1996). "A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing – Language and the Abortion Debate". Princeton Progressive Review. 
  16. ^"Abortion". Positions. British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. Retrieved 24 May 2007.  
  17. ^

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