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Most of the debate on repealing the eighth amendment accepts the pro-life position. The difference between the two sides is this:

Pro-life – There is a person present from conception with a person’s right to life for however long that might be and regardless of the circumstances of conception, i.e. there are no exceptions.

Repeal – The circumstances of rape and fatal foetal abnormality are exceptional.

The two positions are engaged in debate over exceptions and are not essentially different. This is because the repeal side refuses to engage with the core pro-life argument, that a person is present from conception, and the media on whom public discourse depends are content to let this happen.

The pro-life argument is meta-physical but shouldn’t be dismissed for that. It is easily dealt with because it is a poor argument. Now, at least some of those who make the argument are used to being treated with an inordinate amount of respect because it is assumed that arguing metaphysics requires great expertise and is hard work. This is a carefully cultivated impression. It is also uniquely accepted, while every other branch of philosophy is expected when necessary to engage with citizens who have no particular expertise.

Once we address and consider the argument that a person is present from conception, and assuming we find it implausible (There won’t be universal agreement that it is.) we can begin to examine abortion from a moral perspective.

Here are two facts:

i) No one wants to permit abortion right up to birth.

ii) No one strives officiously to find and protect the lives of all fertilised human eggs (zygots).

The moral decision lies between i and ii. It involves both banning and allowing abortion in the public interest. It is a hard decision because it necessarily means a time limit. It is a debate that can and should go on and on as we struggle to do right, to fix a time limit that, all things considered, is moral.

There is no escaping this awful decision; it is part of the human condition. Well, there is one way of escaping: accept the pro-life argument. This is not to say that those who accept the argument are evading responsibility but it is to say that acceptance rules out having to consider what should be done about unwanted pregnancies.

Addressing the pro-life (ensoulment) argument moves pregnancy by rape and viability down the public agenda. It removes much of the heat from public discourse, and there are many – not all of them working in the media – who thrive on heat.

If activists and media are unwilling or if they feel themselves incompetent to debate metaphysics, let us hope that those who will make up the forthcoming citizen assembly are treated as thinking adults capable of going to the core of the issue.


One Comment

  1. You’ve made a lot of assumptions in this piece that I don’t really agree with.
    Your assumption that nobody wants to permit “abortion right up to birth”. I find this a fallacy. I am a medical student and I am pro-choice and very much in favour of full decriminalisation of abortion. I think having criminal law surrounding this medical procedure is difficult because it restricts doctors in how they can help the women who need this procedure. Abortion should be a discussion between a trained medical professional and a woman, after she has made this decision in accordance with her personal beliefs and perhaps even her religion.
    I subscribe to the attitude of “as early as possible but as late as necessary”. When people bring up abortions at 40 weeks it’s actually easy to explain that that simply doesn’t happen, only around 90% of abortions happen in the first 13 weeks.
    I also acknowledge that a foetus is a human life but that life is not possible without the pregnant woman and therefore any moral decisions to be made concerning that pregnancy must be made by her. A foetus isn’t what most people think of, a fully formed miniature baby floating in space, it’s attached and living from a woman who is already there and has a life. Her rights and bodily autonomy is just as important to uphold as a woman who isn’t pregnant, and that is why I believe in abortion in all cases.

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