Abortion involves ALL the unanswerable questions in Philosophy.
I am passionately pro-choice, but not because I think the anti-choice advocates are all liars and fools. There are people on both sides of this issue that think the answer is obvious, and can be found by consulting common sense and/or scientific fact. For several years, I taught a course on abortion that was designed to destroy this self-confidence, by showing how confusing this topic is when you think clearly about it. That is the strongest argument for why this is really a religious question, and why the state has no business making this decision for anyone else. My uncertainty does not weaken my commitment to the pro-choice position. On the contrary, it is because the issues can’t be easily resolved either way that having an abortion must remain a matter of personal choice: Not because the question is simple but because it is too complicated for anyone to be sure what the right answer is.
That was the conclusion of Roe v. Wade and the cases that built on that precedent: The science cannot settle the issue, because it is a religious not a scientific question. Therefore, if the government outlaws abortion, it violates the separation of Church and State. In the majority argument for Roe v. Wade, Justice Blackmun wrote:
We did not resolve the difficult issue when human life begins. With those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology or unable to arrive there any consensus, the judiciary, at this point in the development of man’s knowledge, is not a position to speculate as to an answer.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Justices O’Connor, Kennedy, and Souter wrote:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of the meaning of the universe, human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under the compulsion of the state.
This series of linked essays is based on the texts from my abortion course, and the discussions we had in class. My goal is to enable the reader to experience first hand just how difficult these questions are. At the end of that course, most of my students concluded that they were anti-abortion and pro-choice. The anti-choice students began to doubt their belief that human life began at conception. Conversely, many of my students who thought the…