It is easy to conclude that people cannot have a productive conversation about abortion. We live in a society where barking and simplistic sloganeering often substitutes for serious debate. In that environment, one can hardly be blamed for believing that discussions over issues as contentious as abortion are simply pointless.
But, on reflection, it is my sincere hope that this is not the case. I am a fervent believer that Roe and Casey should be overruled, and that the issue of what abortion regulations are permissible should be returned to the states. I believe this primarily because I think that such a contentious and divisive moral issue deserves to be debated amongst the people, rather than dictated by the courts. If I believe this, then I have to believe in the polity’s capacity to discuss this issue in rational terms.
I recognize that the American people are deeply divided over what abortion restrictions should be allowed. And yes, there will always be fringe elements who try to shape the debate entirely towards their own ends. But it seems to me that Americans of good will ought to be able to reach some consensus on how to treat this issue that is satisfactory to decent people of common sense — if the courts would only allow it.
It is in this spirit that I’d like to begin a multi-day discussion of the issue, guided by some questions suggested to me by a James Q. Wilson abortion essay, which I first read years ago, and which I just finished re-reading moments ago. I can find no link to the essay on the Web — which is a shame, because the essay was decisive in helping me form my opinions about this controversial issue. [UPDATE: Here it is. Thanks to commenter Steve.]
Rather than set forth the thesis of the essay all at once, I’d like to throw open some questions, one or two at a time, and give you commenters room to discuss them. I’ll probably jump in myself to the extent I have time. It’s best if you don’t try to guess “where I’m going with this,” but rather just try to answer the questions honestly.
I’m genuinely interested in reactions from people from across the political spectrum, and I’d like to invite people who rarely comment to fully participate. At the same time, I’d like to invite the firebreathers on both sides to either refrain from commenting, or try to tone down your responses. I’d like to get a real discussion going here without resort to tired sloganeering.
Here are the first questions I would like to throw open for discussion:
1) For you, is abortion in any sense a moral question, or is it purely a question of individual rights?
2) What, for you, defines when a fetus is entitled to moral respect?
I have many more questions over the coming days, but let’s start there.
UPDATE: I have some commenters asking: what does it mean to say a fetus is entitled to moral respect? Some clarifications are in the extended entry.