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The Ethics of Abortion

  • May 20, 2022

When Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization leaked a few weeks ago, it signaled that Roe v. Wade appears likely to be overturned in a matter of weeks. If Roe falls, questions about the right to abortion will re-enter the realm of electoral politics in a way they haven’t for 50 years. States will be solely in charge of determining whether abortion is permitted, under what conditions it should be permitted, and what the appropriate thresholds are for making those decisions.

That means ordinary voters and their representatives will be forced to grapple with the moral — even metaphysical — quandaries at the heart of the abortion debate. What does it mean to belong to the human species, and when does that belonging begin? Is there a bright line at which an egg, a blastula, or a fetus attains the status of “person”? And how do we weigh the competing interests of mothers, families, and fetuses against one another? Those questions are the foundation on top of which abortion law and policy is built.

[You can listen to this episode of “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

Kate Greasley is a law professor at the University of Oxford in the U.K., where she studies, among other things, the legal and moral philosophy of abortion. She’s the author of “Arguments About Abortion: Personhood, Morality, and Law,” and co-author of “Abortion Rights: For and Against” alongside Christopher Kaczor, a philosopher who opposes abortion. While Greasley ultimately believes in the right to choose, she does a remarkably comprehensive job of carefully and fairly considering all the arguments, contradictions and nuances of this issue.

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