Volume 83, 2009
Reason in Context
David B. Hershenov, Rose Hershenov
The ‘I’m Personally Opposed to Abortion But . . .’ Argument
One often hears Catholic and non-Catholic politicians and private citizens claim “I am personally opposed to abortion . . . ” but add that it is morally permissible for others to accept abortion. We consider a Rawlsian defense of this position based on the recognition that one’s opposition to abortion stems from a
comprehensive doctrine which is incompatible with Public Reason. We examine a second defense of this position based upon respecting the autonomy of others and a third grounded in the harm to the unwilling mother overriding that to the aborted fetus. We look at a fourth and fifth defense based upon our epistemic ignorance regarding the burdens on others of unwanted pregnancies and the ontological and moral status of embryo. We find most versions of these defenses to be wanting and conclude that only if the proponents of the position are subjectivist about morals, which few are, can they offer a coherent defense.