Abortion and the EU

by Chris Bertram on November 15, 2005

I’ve been meaning to post on the issue of abortion and the European Union. Not to discuss the substantive merits of the case — I’m pro-choice, since you ask — but, rather, to get some reactions. The Portuguese constitutional court has now decided to “block a referendum”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4387406.stm to liberalize the law until September 2006. Naturally, I hope that the referendum, when it is eventually held, produces a majority in favour of reform. But I got to thinking about how outrageous it would be if the EU centrally, or the ECHR, decided what the law in Portugal should be rather than the Portuguese people themselves. It seems, though, that “not everyone agrees with me”: :

bq. Finding ways to force countries such as Ireland, Portugal and Malta to liberalise their abortion laws was the focus of a meeting of 17 members of the European Parliament and representatives of various NGOs who gathered in Brussels on 18 October, LifeSiteNews reported.

bq. At a conference entitled, Abortion – Making it a right for all women in the EU, attendees heard testimony from abortion advocates from countries with restrictive abortion laws.

bq. Held at the European Parliament building, participants strategised about ways to make a right to abortion mandatory for all member states of the European Union. They discussed ways of arguing that guaranteeing the right to abortion falls under the European Union’s mandate because it is a human rights and public health issue.

The EU isn’t structually similar to the US (despite what some commenters at CT appear to believe), but there are obvious parallels here to the Roe v. Wade issue. Personally, I think that the right of a demos to decide these things after intelligent public debate should not be sacrificed lightly in favour of empowering a bunch of (foreign) judges, just to get the substantive result one likes. I would also imagine that if the EU starts to impose a view then that will have very damaging effects on the cohesion of the Union. But I’d be interested to get the views of others.



Steve 11.15.05 at 2:54 pm

You are unquestionably, self-evidently correct. what I don’t understand is how that surprises you? Isn’t the EU by definition and by design essentially non-democratic? I mean, if the EU has any power at all, it has power that used to belong to individual State governments. If it doesn’t have that power, then it isn’t a particularly important organization. Whether regulating bananas or abortions, the organization that has the power to regulate denies that power to other organizations.
I suppose the way out is to say that the powerholders in the EU are (or will be in the future?) democratically elected (I honestly don’t know how EU power is determined).
My own uninformed sense is that the EU is essentially an aristocracy of technocrats. I may very well be wrong about the aristocracy part-they may be elected in some fashion. But in terms of your basic question: of course the EU is taking power away from State governments. That is the very essence of the organization.



derrida derider 11.15.05 at 2:54 pm

You are of course absolutely right. But what’s good for the goose is good for the gander – its no more outrageous than the attempt to put god into the EU constitution.


des von bladet 11.15.05 at 2:57 pm

I don’t know much about Portugal, but Polandland would very definitely go doubleplusapeshit if they somehow got away with this. (Thankfully they won’t, says me, and I’m pro-choice too, of course.)

Meanwhile, I’m pro-EU enough to qualify as a traitor by Daily Mail standards and this makes me cringe – the European Parliament would need an order of magnitude more perceived legitimacy to even consider stunts like this.


glyn morgan 11.15.05 at 3:10 pm

Surely, there are two separate issues here: One, the role of judges with respective to legislative bodies; and two, the role of different levels of legislative bodies in a federal system.

I take it that CB generally objects to federal judges trumping legislative bodies, which would mean that he objects to abortion being settled in the courts rather than in the legislature. I agree. There is no democratic justification for using the Courts in the US fashion. For this reason, I think that the European Courts ought to stay away from abortion.

I take it that CB also objects, however, to the European Parliament taking charge of abortion and other similar matters (euthanasia, for instance). I can see no democratic objection to this. In fact, I think in principle it’s a good idea. CB has provided us with no reason for thinking otherwise. (I am here ignoring the picky constitutional and purely pragmatic reasons why the EU parliament currently ought to stay away from abortion and other controversial topics.)


Richard Cownie 11.15.05 at 3:12 pm

This seems a dumb way to proceed, given the huge
religious/historical/cultural differences between
say Sweden and Poland, not to mention what happens
if/when Turkey joins. The smart thing to do would
be for the EU to get a clause guaranteeing the
rights of all EU citizens to travel freely to any
other EU country and not be punished in their own
country for actions which are legal in the other
country. That’s roughly how it works in practice:
I believe abortion is illegal in Eire, but travel
to England is easy.


sean 11.15.05 at 3:15 pm

so is it a legal issue or a cultural issue that distinguishes this issue and Roe? i imagine from your comment that you are pro-Roe, yet as you admit your argument is identical to the federalism critique of Roe.
does it have to do with SCOTUS having more legitimacy for whatever historical or constitutional reasons, or that the relative cohesion of the US relative to the EU makes the federalist case less persuasive?


J-K H 11.15.05 at 3:18 pm

Abortion is also illegal in Norn Iron, as far as I know. So just how the UK government would deal with this is a good question.


Aaron 11.15.05 at 3:19 pm

i guess what i would like to know is whether the right of a woman to choose whether to have an abortion is so fundamental that it shouldn’t be in the hands of portugese per se but rather in the hands of every european or just in the hands of a few european judges. perhaps there is/should be some sort of ‘fundamentalness’ index which allows for varying levels of centralisation in decision-making …
oh wait, europeans would have to have a constitution in order to make that kind of judgment and no such thing exists thanks to the french-imagination-of-the-polish-plumber


Chris Bertram 11.15.05 at 3:21 pm

You are quite correct to make that distinction Glyn. My reaction is to say two things (1) I’m sceptical about whether the values of democratic agency can be realized in a polity as large as the whole EU. So, because I think the provision of participation at an adequate level to individuals is important, I’m in favour of a high degree of subsidiarity. (2) So long as there is no pan-European political narrative for citizens to hook into there’s a futher obstacle to those agency values being realized on a Euro scale.

Since you’ve written a whole book arguing for a unitary European state, obviously you disagree with me on those points (or discount them heavily).


glyn morgan 11.15.05 at 3:32 pm

To CB: Given this argument about agency values and jurisdictional size, where, in your opinion, should abortion be settled in the US? At the County level, the State level, or the Federal level. Surely my agency values are at their greatest at the County or City Level and that may also be the level where the political narrative is most germane to my identity. “Subsidiarity” dictates a “checkerboard solution” organized at the County Level.


Chris Bertram 11.15.05 at 3:40 pm

Not so, because I didn’t advocate maximizing the realization of agency values, but merely that they be realized at an adequate level.


Matt 11.15.05 at 3:41 pm

I’m sympathetic with this argument in many ways. Of course it’s good for decsions to be decided democratically, and it would be vastly preferable for Portugal to do things this way. It might well be a disaster for it to be forced by the EU or the ECHR, though I guess we don’t know. But, I wonder how far you’re willing to go to leave rights up to the democratic process. We in the US got many years of Jim Crow laws out of that. I don’t see how Brown v Board of Education doesn’t turn out to be a mistake on your view, for example. Can you explain? Would the UK still be better off if the ECHR hadn’t ruled that the military can’t keep out homosexuals on the grounds that the military is full of bigots that hate homosexuals? Which rights should not be up for democratic decision on your account? If the answer is none I don’t see how it can be right.


Erik 11.15.05 at 3:42 pm

As a legal matter, the activists will have a hard time. The ECHR has not found a right to abortion in the European Convention although it has ruled on matters related to abortion, most famously against an Irish law making it illegal to distribute information about the possibility of obtaining abortions in the UK. Similarly, I cannot see how the ECJ could find an inherent right to abortion in EU treaties.


soru 11.15.05 at 3:43 pm

I take it that CB also objects, however, to the European Parliament taking charge of abortion and other similar matters (euthanasia, for instance). I can see no democratic objection to this.

Democracy takes place in a specific arena, usually called a nation, where people read the same, or equivalent, newspapers or TV stations. This allows sharing the same set of basic assumptions and knowledge, identifying all the players and their motives. That, in turn, allows debate, discussion, conscensus, agreement to differ, compromise, coalition-building, and all the other things democracy is made of.

Bluntly put, Europe isn’t a nation, so can’t be a democracy. You can’t just do a head count of germans versus french people and use the result to decide anything.

Maybe in the future it will be. But perhaps a more interesting question is whether america is still one, as it was in the days of the national TV networks.



Chris W. 11.15.05 at 3:51 pm

I grew up in the state of Bavaria (which has a constitution and a legislative assembly) inside the Federal Republic of Germany (ditto) inside the EC, now EU. Is Bavaria a demos? Sure. Is Germany? As well. Is the EU? The answer seems to depend on where you are. If asked, I’d shake my head about the question and say “of course”, but listening to the BBC, you get an entirely different impression. I heard the EU being considered as optional no later than this morning (in the bit of the “Today” programme that is available as an mp3 download). I find this mind-boggling.

I’m sure some people in Bavaria grumbled about those “Prussians” in the German (federal) constitutional court when it forced the federal state to stop requiring the display of crosses in every Bavarian public school. But I don’t think there was any doubt that the court was _competent_ to decide this matter.

Neither the federal nor the state governments have any business telling the small town of Wrzlbrnft where to put up its traffic lights or where to build child care facilities. They may (and will) fix general principles that influence these local decisions, in particular the latter. The EU has certainly gotten involved in many, too many, administrative matters of this kind. But where I’d support pressure from supranational institutions is precisely in matters of human rights. This might be the universalist in me speaking.

(I find it regrettable, by the way, that you’re mixing up the ECHR with the EU. The former has jurisdiction over nearly twice as many nations than the latter has members.)

From my limited view, the ECHR’s influence on nation states has been a vast success. It’s an advantage that this court is removed from national lobbies and influences of national justice departments. The examples that spring to mind, an eclectic collection, include forcing France to allow EU citizens to become civil servants (teachers, university lecturers, medical personnel…), to allow transsexuals to change the sex and first name on their ID papers, to allow land owners to ban hunting on their land. Heck, I’m glad that this court system exists!

As for extra-judicial influence exercised by EU institution, the matter is certainly more touchy. But it seems to me that already too many exceptions are being made from the general human rights principles. Still, I cheer when the EU forces Cyprus to stop outlawing homosexuality by dangling the carrot of membership. Isn’t this sort of thing exactly what the EU is usually accused of not doing often enough?


Chris Bertram 11.15.05 at 3:52 pm

Matt, I think not. Democracy isn’t just about process but also needs the background conditions to be right so that all norminal citizens have the capability to function as actual citizens. Brown was a step towards realizing that goal and so was pro-democratic. You could argue a case for abortion rights on democratic inclusion groups but I doubt it would be a convincing one.


Chris Bertram 11.15.05 at 3:57 pm

I didn’t mean to confuse the EU with the EHCR, I intended to convey that it would be bad for either the EU or, for that matter, the EHCR to take such a position.


djw 11.15.05 at 4:02 pm

This may be where I get off the Waldron bus.


Matt 11.15.05 at 4:06 pm

Okay, I guess we are getting somewhere. But, now the question is just which rights are necessary for functioning as actual citizens. How is this decided? Also, to my mind the most persuasive arguments for abortion rights depend on the claim that reproductive autonomy is essential to full participation in society and for living an autonomous life. In fact, I find it a quite convincing argument. So, I suppose we’ll need some sort of adjudicator.


Chris Bertram 11.15.05 at 4:22 pm

Will be off the air in a moment. But I guess, Matt, that the somewhat unsatisfactory answer is that we iterate. We try to start with the conditions in place for a democratic conversation, but some things remain controversial, so, providing we can make a start at all and that the background conditions aren’t too outrageous, we put those remaining issues on the agenda.


nikolai 11.15.05 at 4:26 pm

Is democracy vs. judges really at the heart of this? This isn’t like the US, where power is federal and contrained by a constitution. The powers the EU and EHCR have are voluntarily given to them by democratic states deciding to become members.

Assuming abortion is overturned by the EU, surely it wouldn’t be judges over-ruling democracy but rather a democracy signing up to two different and mutually incompatable things. One of them has to give. Democratic states decided to join the EU, if abortion is incompatible with membership then they can either keep membership or keep abortion, but obviously not both. EU law only has power over EU states because the (democratic) states themselves choose to give it that power.

I may be being clueless, and I’m not a constitutional scholar, so correct me if I’m wrong. But something tells me that US courts overruling elected politicians is very different to EU courts overruling elected politicians. If only because EU politicians have a free choice over whether to be subject to EU rule.


abb1 11.15.05 at 4:37 pm

What Richard Cownie said. In the spirit of mutual cooperation they should assign the designated country-abortion provider, perhaps on a rotating basis.


Isabel 11.15.05 at 4:49 pm

Just to put this in perspective, the European Parliament has 732 members. 17 of them can very well meet with whatever NGOs they chose, even in the European Parliament building, but I don’t think it makes “news”. Eventually a pretext to discuss subsidiarity, for example, but I don’t think the sovereignity of the Portuguese people (funny, I had to check the current version of the Constitution, to see if the sovereignity resides in the nation or in the people!) is at risk with this meeting. Nor the right of Portuguese women to have an abortion without being prosecuted will be much advanced.


P ONeill 11.15.05 at 5:13 pm

The Republic of Ireland found out that one way to make abortion sort of legal is to have a bunch of pro-life nutters put a badly worded “right to life” amendment in the constitution, which by virtue of its reference to “due regard for the equal right to life of the mother” has been interpreted by the courts as creating grounds for abortion on the basis of the health, including the mental health, of the mother. But as earlier commenters have said, this right can be exercised only by travel to Britain, not Northern Ireland, where abortions are not available either (an opt-out from Britain’s 1967 law).

This also raises the broader point that it’s difficult to keep courts out of this area, because laws can’t cover every contingency and life is sufficiently complicated and messy to produce contingencies that the law won’t cover, whether it’s a permissible or restrictive abortion law.

Richard mentioned the possibility of an EU-wide right to travel. The Irish constitution also had to deal with this issue:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right. This subsection shall not limit freedom to travel between the State and another state. This subsection shall not limit freedom to obtain or make available, in the State, subject to such conditions as may be laid down by law, information relating to services lawfully available in another state.


Dan K 11.15.05 at 5:43 pm

Correct me if I am wrong, but I have the conception that every national parliament has to ratify EU regulations. The wiggle-room here is rather enormous. Take Sweden and the euro, for example. Sweden is normally no slouch in ratifying EU regulations but we still use krona over here, and will do that for the foreseeable future, since we apparently were competent to decide, through a referendum, to ignore that we already accepted to join the ERM and therefore to use the euro. So, let’s assume that the proper EU institution propose that abortion is an inalien right for all citizens in EU membership states. Let’s assume that Poland holds a referendum and the EU position is defeated. Now what? My money is on live and let live. See also France, EU constitution, and Denmark, Maastricht.


Peter Clay 11.15.05 at 5:48 pm

But I got to thinking about how outrageous it would be if the EU centrally, or the ECHR, decided what the law in Portugal should be rather than the Portuguese people themselves.

Why do you apply this consideration to abortion law and not any other law?


SamChevre 11.15.05 at 6:45 pm

Leaving out questions and arguments of the proper or actual legal relationship between US states and the US government, why wouldn’t the same argument hold in the US?

In other words, is there some guiding principle as to which level of subsidiarity is appropriate for abortion law?


Sebastian Holsclaw 11.15.05 at 6:52 pm

“if abortion is incompatible with membership then they can either keep membership or keep abortion…”

The question is of course what body can make a legitimate decision about whether or not abortion (or its lack) actually is incompatible with membership.


mpowell 11.15.05 at 7:03 pm

One interesting thing about this post and comments to me: CB seems much more sympathetic to federalist concerns than I would have expected. Unfortunately, he has announced that he is going offline, but I wonder to what extent CB feels that the US polity might be too large to admit a sufficient level of democratic agency for similar issues. It would be interesting if it marked a significant departure from typical liberal thinking on the issue of federalism in the US.


Max 11.15.05 at 9:06 pm


I don’t dispute what you wrote per se, but I will say that your post discounts, without any justification, the role of a public interest attorney focused on impact litigation.

In an adversarial system, it is emphatically the role of “cause” lawyers to pursue their cases as rigorously as possible.

You wrote, “Personally, I think that the right of a demos to decide these things after intelligent public debate should not be sacrificed lightly in favour of empowering a bunch of (foreign) judges, just to get the substantive result one likes.” This may be true; in fact, many abortion activists may believe it. But there is nothing wrong with the abortion activists nevertheless pushing their cause if they believe there is a valid legal claim to do so.

Just dropping in two American, adversarial pennies.


Chris Bertram 11.15.05 at 11:20 pm

Just to respond briefly to some comments…

I don’t have a view on what the legally correct interpretation of the US Constitution is or what suitable tactics for lawyers might be. But I do think that in a well-ordered democratic society it is better if the people decide the abortion issue rather than the courts. American liberals tend to think differently about this because the Warren court was such a vehicle for social progress and because in the light of that their most articulate representatives have constructed all kinds of principled rationalizations for the Supreme Court of that era. Of course, they may be in for a big shock if the court becomes a massively regressive social force in the next period. But in any case, the world is not America and there’s no reason to take one moment from one country’s history and turn it into a normative model for the rest of us.


Matt 11.15.05 at 11:44 pm

I’m not sure enough where our disagreements rest to know whether this is the sort of thing that can be discussed in comments. I’m not sure enough of what your positive position is (I’m not saying this as criticism, just noting it.) I suppose we disagree, and that the UK is largly the outsider here now, at least compared to not just the US but also Canada, Germany, the practices of the ECHR, the ECJ, etc. But, while re-reading Lawrence v Texas this evening in preperation for my lecture tomorrow I did find myself smiling to find you seeming to agree w/ Scalia when he says, “Social perceptions of sexual and other morality change over time, and every group has the right ot persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best. [but] it is the premis of our system that those judgments are to be made by the people, and not imposed by a governing caste that knows best.” Maybe the friends of democracy don’t have anything to fear from a Scalia-filled court after all!


Neil 11.16.05 at 2:03 am

If there is a right to abortion, then I don’t see how it is wrong to force people to respect it. Rights just are enforceable; they are not up for debate. At least that’s correct about paradigm cases (rights to life, to freedom from torture, etc). So Chris must either think that abortion is not a right at all, but has a lesser status, or that it is not a paradigm right (which boils down to more or less the same thing). It’s surely not crazy to disagree: to think that abortion is the same kind of thing as other rights.

Of course, this doesn’t entail that having the right enforced by way of a democratic process isn’t preferable. That seems to be true in all cases: we would prefer that countries abstain from say, genocide because that’s what the great majority of their citizens want. But if they make a different democratic choice, then it is permissible to stop them from carrying it out (assuming the costs of doing so are lower than the costs of not doing so).


Dan Simon 11.16.05 at 2:20 am

Maybe the friends of democracy don’t have anything to fear from a Scalia-filled court after all!

I’m less sanguine–judicial conservatives have of late discovered a Strange New Respect for running roughshod over democracy in the name of the Constitution. (Consider, for example, the evolution of “federalism jurisprudence”.) A cynic might conclude that their impending control of the US Supreme Court could conceivably have something to do with their change of heart.

Sadly, the problem runs deeper than any ideology. Americans of all stripes are deeply distrustful of democracy, and generally enthusiastic about any system or process that “limits” (i.e., undermines) it. It’s frankly a wonder that the country manages to retain any semblance of democratic government at all.


fjm 11.16.05 at 4:09 am

My problem with the whole debate is that whichever way you cut it, men are being allowed to vote on an issue that affects women’s bodies. I can’t see why I should support Portugese authority or EU authority one way or the other on this one.


a 11.16.05 at 5:47 am

fjm: Would you support older women (too old to become pregnant) having a vote? Or women who do plan to have children?


Tim Worstall 11.16.05 at 5:56 am

From memory the EU Constitution, that thing now in abeyance, did make reference to a “right to abortion”. As well as a “right to life”.


Ginger Yellow 11.16.05 at 6:05 am

What Peter Clay said. The ECHR has been overriding national governments on crucial and divisive issues for a long time. What’s so special about abortion?


rjw 11.16.05 at 6:31 am

The relevant EU legislation in force – articles 6 and 7 of the EU Nice Treaty, can be found here:



Brett Bellmore 11.16.05 at 6:42 am

Some interesting arguments. Have you considered their implications for the legitimacy of our federal government, if we don’t make a bit more effort to maintain a common language? Two languages, two polities, too bad for biligualism…


Matt 11.16.05 at 7:28 am

In case it wasn’t clear the remark about democrats (both small and large ‘d’) not having anything to fear from a court filled w/ Scalia clones was meant as a joke. Of course I find the idea that the majority should be able to decide that homosexuals should go to prison for having sex absurd. (Thankfully for homosexuals in Europe the ECHR agrees with me, and the parties to the convention have backed down in the face of it.) But, I don’t see how this is going to be a right that is “necessary for democracy” in Chris’s seens, which makes me doubt it’s a viable position for a pluralist democracy. Surely it’s not one acceptable from behind the veil of ignorance.


nikolai 11.16.05 at 7:38 am

The EU can’t decide Portugal’s abortion policy as Portugal is only subject to EU rulings because it wishes to be. They could always leave. If the ban on abortion is overturned the only reason this decision would have force is because the Portuguese people themselves decided to (1) have abortion and stay in the EU, rather than (2) ban abortion and leave the EU. This isn’t courts vs. demos, this is about the demos having to choose between how much it values two different things.

I think people are inappropriately generalising from the US situation. The US government has to accept judges decisions, governments of member states of the EU don’t. You may think it is the right of a demos to decide abortion policy after intelligent public debate, but by joining the EU the demos has also decided to respect the principles of the Union and the values of other European peoples. It can’t have both – and has to choose between them. If local law is overturned by the EU this isn’t because of undemocratic judges not respecting the choices of a demos, it’s because a democracy has voluntarily decided that it places more value on membership of the Union than on a particular law.

The are people (such as J.H.H. Weiler) who think that sort of thing is at the heart of the EU. A demos voluntarily compromises their ability to make decisions in order to listen to the voices of others.


Matt 11.16.05 at 7:53 am

My understanding is that there is no provision in the treaty for member-states to withdraw from the EU. I don’t mean that there would be war if they did so, but it would be hugely hard, especially w/ the Euro. It’s not something they could very easily decide to do. It would wreck their economy for one thing. So, while there’s certainly a sense in which Portugal could withdraw from the EU, it’s mostly a formal sense now (and not even formal in the sense that there’s a formal way to do it, since there isn’t.)


rjw 11.16.05 at 8:05 am

This was text included in the draft EU constitution:

“Nothing in the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe or in the Treaties and Acts modifying or supplementing it shall affect the application in the territory of Malta of national legislation relating to abortion.”

An interesting pointer. The Maltese presumably asked for this specifically, though I’m not sure what is special about the Maltese position on abortion that led to this.

As for withdrawing from the EU, there is nothing in the current treaties on provision for this – as the idea was never explicitly consideered I guess. But the draft constitution had explicit provisions on withdrawal.


Chris Bertram 11.16.05 at 8:49 am

Just because Scalia says something doesn’t make it wrong ….

Seriously, though, — and I’m thinking aloud here rather than enunciating a considered position — I think that a law that stigmatizes a group of citizens (as anti-gay laws do) is seriously detrimental to political equality and so to democracy.

It isn’t clear to me that abortion rights, though, to reiterate, I support them, are in the same “constitutive” category. That’s to say that I don’t think a restrictive abortion law is disrespectful to women, as such, in the same way or to the same degree as a law banning gay sex is disrespectful to gays. There’s also the question of the precise shape a law should take. So even if “we the people” were to decide that some reproductive rights should be enshrined at a constitutional level, I still think that the details of what that entails should be up for debate and decision. My guess is that most European laws on abortion would be unconstitutional under R v W (because of the term limits or the consent procedures they impose) but I don’t think those laws outrageous.


Isabel 11.16.05 at 9:30 am

rjw: Catholicism is the official religion of Malta as enshrined in their Constitution, which is not the case in Portugal, Ireland or Poland (although the Polish Constitution mentions the special relationship of the Government with the Catholic Church). The Maltese exception in the European Constitution reflects that.

It’s probably off subject, but in Portugal the laws and their modifications are made by the Parliament, not judges. Referendums (referenda???) are exceedingly rare and definitely not in the Portuguese tradition, therefore many people (including the Socialist President that is at the end of his second mandate) think that the parties (namely the Socialist Party) should have the cojones of tabling the depenalisation (or whatever it’s called) and defend the change of law in the Parliament and get done with it, as is the normal practice.


Alison 11.16.05 at 9:44 am

Fjm said ‘My problem with the whole debate is that whichever way you cut it, men are being allowed to vote on an issue that affects women’s bodies.’

A responded ‘Would you support older women (too old to become pregnant) having a vote? Or women who do plan to have children?’

This puts up a false dichotomy (women who plan to have children/women who wish to be free to have abortions) but I think it misses the point more significantly. I take fjm to be saying that it is inappropriate for any group of people to impose their will on other person’s intimate selfhood. The issue is not ‘which group of interested parties should have rights over my uterus’, but ‘nobody should’.


anon 11.16.05 at 5:11 pm

“It isn’t clear to me that abortion rights, though, to reiterate, I support them, are in the same “constitutive” category. That’s to say that I don’t think a restrictive abortion law is disrespectful to women, as such, in the same way or to the same degree as a law banning gay sex is disrespectful to gays.”

How lucky that you will never face the decision as to whether you will spend many months ill or at risk in various ways while gestating a fetus or 20 years caring for and financially supporting a child you do not choose to bear and rear. Perhaps you might then consider such a law disrespectful of your rights.


Chris Bertram 11.16.05 at 7:33 pm

Anon, if you think that writing that last post assists serious debate on the issue, well…

The fact is that the UK has managed to legalise gay sex, abortion and abolish the death penalty by legislative action over the past 40 years.

Given that, why should I be so impressed at people who make a big noise about the constitutional enshrinement of basic rights. In terms of what matters — the rights people actually get to have — the UK seems to have done at least as well as the US without sacrificing democractic accountability.


Tracy W 11.16.05 at 8:53 pm

My thinking on the issue of when a country should be forced to provide what others consider a basic human right is that we should make a distinction between rights that allow people to participate in changing their legal and cultural systems and other rights.

My starting point was can we distinguish between invading a country to stop its government from killing large numbers of its inhabitants and invading a country to require its government to provide free prostrate checks for all men under 65, since the country would otherwise be violating its inhabitants’ right to healthcare.

So freedom of speech and voting allow people to try to non-violently change the government. Including trying to persuade the government to introduce free prostrate checks for all men under 65 if that’s what they consider important. If a government is killing large numbers of its citizens then that’s one way to stop them participating in changing government, so they’re definitely violating human rights and other people would be justified in using force to stop them. However if a government is not providing free prostrate checks, but also is not stopping any of its citizens from advocating free prostrate checks, voting for candidates that promise free prostrate checks, etc, then outsiders are not justified in using force to stop them. (This covers the Nazis too. Even though the Nazis may have been democratically elected (I am not an expert on 1930s German constitutional law so can’t say for sure), they were definitely stopping a large number of Germans from participating in government – by shooting them or throwing them in concentration camps or etc. There is nothing in my thinking that turns on whether a government started off democratic.)

So, in this case, I think the proper concern of the EU or the ECHR should be “do the inhabitants of the relevant countries have the right to try to persaude their fellow citizens/government to change the law relating to abortion?”

There’s fuzziness around the edges of my thinking here, e.g. how is “citizen” defined? How much trouble can it be for citizens to try to influence a position before governments are violating their rights to participate in conversation? (E.g. does a charge of $5 for standing for parliament violate? Does a $500 million charge violate?)

As a side effect, I think this position implies that those US states who prevent ex-felons from voting could be morally violently resisted as preventing some of their citizens from participating in government. Although morally I don’t think it would be justified yet as peaceful means of persuasion haven’t been exhausted.

Incidentally – Anon – I’m female, so I do risk facing some choices about pregancy and abortion in the future. And I am pro-choice. I just don’t think that because someone asserts that x is a “human right” that therefore it is necessarily due government enforcement. And therefore to be consistent I must not count abortion as a fundamental human right.


a 11.17.05 at 4:12 am

“I take fjm to be saying that it is inappropriate for any group of people to impose their will on other person’s intimate selfhood.” I’m glad you take it that way, but funny how that isn’t what fjm said.


Alison 11.17.05 at 4:34 am

a, I don’t believe you seriously misunderstood her before, and I think you are being disingenuous now.


Alison 11.17.05 at 4:46 am

I don’t think a restrictive abortion law is disrespectful to women, as such, in the same way or to the same degree as a law banning gay sex is disrespectful to gays.

I think this statement elides too many issues. ‘Restrictive abortion law’ covers a lot of ground. A law restricting abortion past 20 weeks (say) is clearly not as oppressive or disrespectful of women as imprisoning gay people for having sex. The comparison is laughable.

On the other hand a law that makes abortion completely illegal, backed up by harsh penalities, has a devastating life-destroying impact on women. I don’t think anon’s comment overstated this. It is literally a matter of life and death to us.

Of course, like the little prince, one has to choose one’s battles. One has to think what method is best to achieve this level of physical safety for all women in Europe. I think one would end up at the same conclusion – centralised imposition will not work for the EU at this time. However that is not the same as belittling the seriousness of the problem.


fjm 11.17.05 at 6:35 am

A, for the record, I’m perfectly happy with Alison’s interpretation of my statement. Historically, abortion became a legal issue relatively late. I don’t think it should be an issue at all. Hence no, other women shouldn’t have a say in it either (I have a nightmare vision of women insisting their daughters continue with an unwanted pregancy because they want grandchildren).

There is to my knowledge no legislative equivalent that affects men only: forced sterilisation orders have to go before the courts even in the most eugenicist states and is dealt with invidividual by individual. A man can not be forced *by law* (social relations are something else) to donate sperm or to become a father.


Andrew 11.17.05 at 9:08 am

As usual an EU question prompts a lot of debate alongside some substantial misunderstandings over how the EU functions. Malta’s accession treaty with the EU contains a protocol agreement that states:
“Nothing in the Treaty on European Union, or in the Treaties establishing the European Communities, or in the Treaties or Acts modifying or supplementing those Treaties, shall affect the application in the territory of Malta of national legislation relating to abortion”.
Thus as far as Malta is concerned, putative EU abortion legislation is a non-issue.


john m. 11.17.05 at 10:34 am

Firstly, in respect of Ireland it is important to understand that the last twenty years or so of referendums were to attempt to make abortion unconstitutional – it was already illegal in any event. The idea was to prevent anybody (EU or otherwise) from making it legal without requiring a referendum. For various reasons this was, and indeed is, a total mess.

Secondly, as pointed out not enough in this thread, a group of people (including 17 MEPs) met to discuss how to make it mandatory to be legal throughout the EU. This is most emphatically not the same thing as the EU trying to do this. Anyone who has followed abortion rights history throughout Europe would quickly draw the conclusion that most MEPs would rather disembowel themselves than be so foolish as to genuinely try such a thing.

Thirdly, on abortion rights themselves. The anti-abortion people have the advantage of absolute moral clarity, generally (but not always) based on religious certainty. For them, human life begins at the moment of conception so abortion (for any reason) is murder. End of story. Quite how so many of these people can be so fervently in favour of wars is beyond me but they seem to manage it without their heads actually exploding. Apparently it’s ok to kill people once they leave the womb or something.

The pro-choice lot, on the other hand, are basically stuck with saying that it’s only a meaningless blob until point x. All the other arguments are eseentially irrelevant (womens bodies etc.). Either it is a human or it isn’t. Point x can be frighteningly late for many of these people.

I’ve been listening to both sides ripping themselves apart for twenty plus years now and if any of you can reconcile the two points of view above, could you please pop over to Ireland here and sort it all out.


anon 11.17.05 at 12:54 pm

Chris — I don’t see that your angry response to my post answers the issue I have raised, namely that you minimize the seriousness of women’s reproductive rights to women by your statement that I quoted. I did not address the relative merits of constitutional versus legislative means for ensuring reproductive rights, but rather the relative seriousness of certain rights. The clear implication of your statement is that, while important rights justify protection in the EU irrespective of national choices, unimportant rights like women’s reproductive choice do not.

The state of law in the UK that you summarize in your post and apparently find exemplary merely confirms this implication. It seems that waiting 40 years for the Portuguese to enable reproductive rights legislatively doesn’t seriously affect the many thousands of women deprived of their rights in the interim. Too bad for them, I guess. This is the problem I was raising, and which you do not address in your reply.

You might note that the lack of clarity regarding women’s reproductive rights in the US, where the constitutional protection is not clearcut and states may impose restrictions, leads to situations such as that in states like Mississippi. There, poor women effectively have no access to abortion because of restrictions that may be irrelevant to persons of means. This is analogous to a situation in the EU in which it may be argued that “oh, well, women can just go elsewhere to get their abortion”.


a 11.17.05 at 1:03 pm

“A, for the record, I’m perfectly happy with Alison’s interpretation of my statement.”

Great, but that isn’t what you said.

“A man can not be forced by law (social relations are something else) to donate sperm or to become a father.”

No, but he can be forced to bear financial responsibility for his children.


matt 11.17.05 at 1:31 pm

John M. said, “The anti-abortion people have the advantage of absolute moral clarity, generally (but not always) based on religious certainty. For them, human life begins at the moment of conception so abortion (for any reason) is murder. End of story.”

But I dont’ think this is in fact true. If most people really thought that abortion was murder they’d act differently than they do- you’d see more people acting like the nut bomber of abortion clinics recently caught in the US. And, if the Irish really thought abortion was murder surely they’d not allow people to go to the UK to have an abortion. (Dworkin made this argument quite nicely in his Life’s Dominion- I’m not sure I buy everything in that book, but this part seems almost totally right.) If abortion was murder, then allowing people go to the UK to have an abortion would be like allowing your citizens to go to a country where it was legal to kill children and to do so there. Any country would make it illegal for its citizens to take their children to this country to be killed despite the legality, and would still punish its citizens who did so do. But, most countries do no such thing with abortion. This, among other things, strongly indicates that most people do not in fact think abortion is murder, and that they are either confused or just mouthing slogans when they say otherwise.


anon 11.17.05 at 2:10 pm

Re 58: A man can only be forced to support his child if he can be identified to the satisfaction of the legal system, found, and if the mother has the financial resources or societal support to implement whatever legal process forces him to undertake the support. If he ceases complying with his obligations the woman is again obliged to expend resources to make him comply. This has lead to a compliance rate of about half in the US, and that is based on persons of both sexes for whom the legal process has established such a duty, which I would assume is largely through divorce procedings rather than paternity suits.


john m. 11.17.05 at 2:30 pm

#59 Matt, ironically (and in truth very tragically) this is exactly (and I mean exactly) what happened here a few years back. The state prevented a 14 year old girl from travelling to the UK (known as the x case) on this very basis. It was overturned on the constitutional right to travel. In fact (as it turns out) you cannot bar a citizen leaving the country on the suspicion that they may commit a crime elsewhere. The attorney general had to resign over the scandal. Catholic teaching on this point is absolutely clear that abortion at any point is equivocal to murder and the pro-life groups here (and indeed elsewhere) make no secret of this belief. Your post merely (and this is not a criticism) puts in the second camp. If it not a human life then why object to abortion in the first place? Out of curiosity where is your point x?


Matt 11.17.05 at 2:37 pm

John m-
I’m in a rush and can’t really discuss this in great detail. But, I know the case you mean. I don’t think it supports the case- I think it rather clearly shows that people don’t really think abortion is murder. (If it did, the girl could be prosecuted on her return) The catholic teaching on the issue has also varried over time. this is all discussed in great length in Dworkin’s book, which I recommend. To my mind it’s a serious mistake to say “is this a human life”? Of course it is- that’s a question about biology. But, before a certain point a fetus certainly has no interests, since it’s brain is such that it can’t possibly have them. The line might be drawn fairly conservetivly at around 24 weeks. I think that’s much too early (I have sympathy for Micheal Tooley’s famous argument) but that would do. This is too quick, but I suggest reading Dworkin. Most of the discussion here is hopelessly confused, and what people say doesn’t fit with their beliefs. (This goes for Catholics, too, who are in fact slightly more likely to have abortions than protestants- again hard to square with the idea that they think its murder.)


a 11.17.05 at 2:40 pm

anon: Well that’s a bit like saying, a man can only be held responsible for murder if the dead body is found, if the police figure out he was the one to do it, and if the judicial system manages to convict him.


anon 11.17.05 at 2:43 pm

63: Where I come from, the victim’s estate doesn’t have to institute and pay for a wrongful death suit to get a murder investigation going. So “like murder” … not so much.


a 11.17.05 at 3:33 pm

anon: Society tries to enshrine its moral values in laws (for murder, for holding fathers responsible for their children). The difficulty of having the law obeyed does not undermine the relevance of the moral value or the reasoning used to determine that is the way things should be. Men are held financially responsible because society thinks they *should* be. Murder is outlawed because society thinks it *should* be.


john m. 11.17.05 at 4:55 pm

Matt, I can’t really follow your reasoning, such as it is. You wrote “if the Irish really thought abortion was murder surely they’d not allow people to go to the UK to have an abortion.” Also “I know the case you mean. I don’t think it supports the case” The x case was explicitly about the issue I described. The abortion took place elsewhere i.e. outside the jursidiction of Ireland therefore it is impossible to prosecute any women here as the crime (if it is one) was not committed here. Never mind murder – abortion is illegal here anyway. Catholic teaching has varied on this? Really? Can you cite any – and I mean any – instance of offical Catholic teaching that does not consider abortion a human killing? 24 weeks in your opinion is too early – I repeat my question out of curiosity: how long would you allow?


Chris Bertram 11.17.05 at 5:33 pm

Chris—I don’t see that your angry response to my post answers the issue I have raised, namely that you minimize the seriousness of women’s reproductive rights to women by your statement that I quoted.

Except that I didn’t minimize the _seriousness_ of women’s reproductive rights, I questioned their _relevance_ to the possibility of women standing in a relation of political equality to their fellow citizens. You may disagree about that (but let’s hear the argument). It isn’t obvious to me that people who (mistakenly in my view) oppose abortion thereby necessarily express contempt for women or put in question their capacity for equal legal and political standing. By contrast, which was the point at issue, laws that stigmatize gays as such, do have that effect.


Pithlord 11.17.05 at 6:29 pm

Re 67:

Is the distinction between an anti-sodomy law and an anti-abortion one that gays are a small minority and women are a slight majority of the electorate?

Both laws go to fundamental issues of personal autonomy. Neither interfere with political particpation.


Matt 11.17.05 at 8:56 pm

John m.
I’m not an expert on the history of catholic teaching on abortion. But, apparently the modern view (that abortion is murder) dates from the end of the 19th century. Aquinas, apparently, didn’t think that a fetus had a soul at the early stages and so an abortion before that time could not be murder. It was still wrong, but for other reasons. I direct you again to Dworkin’s book, which discusses the issue in more detail than I can get in to here, and has the citations you’d like. Again, though- suppose there were a country that allowed the killing of children. In the US there is also a “right to travel”. Do you suppose that this would allow parents to tavel to that place, kill there children, and return w/o being prosecuted? The answer seems to be no- both that this could be stopped, and that they could be prosecuted. One can think abortion is wrong w/o thinking it’s wrong becuase it’s murder. (In fact I don’t think it’s wrong at all, for the reasons given by Michael Tooley in his famous article which I also direct you to.)


anon 11.17.05 at 9:49 pm

Re 67:
I’m curious which of, for example, the ECHR guarantees you do not consider “relevant to the possibility of [a person’s] standing in a relation of political equality to their fellow citizens”. It seems that abridging a woman’s reproductive rights violates several of these guarantees, in the sections on dignity, freedom, and equality. So you must consider some of these guarantees of lesser standing than the others. Or perhaps you discount the ECHR altogether because it is “constitutive” and not “legislative”, or that rights contrbuting to dignity and freedom do not contribute to “political equality”. But wait, there’s the sodomy thing. I just do not understand the distinction you are making.


john m. 11.18.05 at 3:52 am

Matt, you’re not bad on this. I invite you to come over and debate this with the pro-life groups here. The reason I say this is that the only flaw in your argument is that they disagree with you completely and volubly in every respect. You seem to be trying to convince me of the rights or wrongs of abortion rather than engaging with my post which was to outline the fundamental difference between the two sides and why it can never be closed. One side has passionately held, generally religious beliefs, that abortion is tantamount to murder. As you persist in telling me that they don’t really think this (despite me having to listen endlessly to this being said for the last twenty years or so) perhaps you’d like to get along here: Youth Defence one of the major pro-life groups in Ireland. Read their who we are. Key quote if you can’t be bothered (and I wouldn’t blame you): “The time to act is now, before Ireland joins the rest of the world in the slaughter of innocent children.”

Now, to my eyes this is a pretty clear description of abortion as murder but feel free to tell me otherwise. You simply fall into the second camp (of largely rational secularism) where it becomes a matter of determining at which point after conception a human life is formed. I have sought to reduce the debate to its key points – one side says its murder (simple, clear). The other side (that’s you) creates endless debate and argument which all effectively centres on saying otherwise until point x has been reached. Of course, as soon as you nominate point x (which you personally have not done) you fall into the trap of having to defend point x + y e.g. 12 weeks? What about 12.5 weeks? What’s the difference? This is because pregnancy is a contiguous process which in each case progresses at a varied rate. In short, nothing you have said helps reconcile the positions I’ve outlined. Which is what I was after.

Finally, you may note that I have not ever outlined my personal position on the subject.


john m. 11.18.05 at 3:56 am

Sorry, screwed up the link. It’s http://www.youthdefence.ie . Hypertext drives me nuts.


Alison 11.18.05 at 5:03 am

I didn’t minimize the seriousness of women’s reproductive rights, I questioned their relevance to the possibility of women standing in a relation of political equality to their fellow citizens. You may disagree about that (but let’s hear the argument)

I don’t think you have done more than to assert that reproductive rights are not relevant to political equality. The arguments made by women to the contrary have been many and various over many decades, if not centuries, and I am sure you have heard them. You may disagree with them, but you have heard them.


Kevin Donoghue 11.18.05 at 8:41 am

The [Irish] state prevented a 14 year old girl from travelling to the UK (known as the X Case) on this very basis. It was overturned on the constitutional right to travel.

Not so. It was overturned on the grounds that there was a risk that she would commit suicide. The Irish Supreme Court did not uphold a right to travel. Such a right was established subsequently, by referendum.


john m. 11.18.05 at 8:45 am

My bad. Same difference as the purpose was to stop her having an abortion. It gets confusing…


Karl-Friedrich Lenz 11.18.05 at 9:57 am

The 1991 ECJ Grogan case



“19 SPUC, however, maintains that the provision of abortion cannot be regarded as being a service, on the grounds that it is grossly immoral and involves the destruction of the life of a human being, namely the unborn child.

20 Whatever the merits of those arguments on the moral plane, they cannot influence the answer to the national court’ s first question. It is not for the Court to substitute its assessment for that of the legislature in those Member States where the activities in question are practised legally.”

The EC (EU treaty was not in force in 1991) has no competence to decide about penal law of the Member States. Therefore, the Court can not decide that abortion is illegal in Great Britain, where the Member State has decided that it is not. The revers e would also be true. The EU can’t go ahead and say that abortion is legal if a Member State legislates otherwise.

Therefore, the participants of that conference seem to be out of luck. There is no way the EU could legislate on the question under current rules.

I would also strongly oppose any proposals to change these rules. The EU already has enough legislative competences. There must be substantial rights of legislation left to Member States. And penal law is certainly one area that is strongly influenced by different cultural and religious backgrounds.


Matt 11.18.05 at 10:13 am

The point made by Kevin shows, I think, exactly why it _can’t_ be the case that most people in Irland really think abortion is murder- the referendum passed was done _knowing_ it would lead to people going to have abortions. They could have voted the other way. Would they do that to allow the (undisputable) murder of, say, toddlers? Surely not. So why the difference? Becuase, despite what they say, they don’t really think it’s murder. People very often misreport their own beliefs. Many people who say they think aboriton is murder go ahead and have them, all the time, in fact, because it would cause them some serious difficulties if they didn’t do this, they think. But, people don’t murder in that way, even if they think they can get away from it. I don’t doubt that people use this rhetoric, but it doesn’t fit with their actions. If it did there would be a good reason for them to consider, say, a humanitarian intervention against, say, Belarus, since there are surely more abortions there every year than people killed by Sadam Hussain. When people’s actions don’t fit with what they say, trust their actions as the true report of their beliefs.


Kevin Donoghue 11.18.05 at 12:12 pm

I think it’s fair to deduce from that referendum result that most people in Ireland do not equate abortion with murder. However if we are talking about anti-abortion campaigners it is pretty strong evidence that a good many actually do see it that way. I don’t recall how many voted to restrict travel but it wasn’t a tiny minority. Considering the historical context (the X Case was about a 14-year-old rape victim) that group clearly sees very little room for compromise.

I assume that many campaigners in other countries feel equally strongly, but they limit their demands to whatever looks attainable.


Chris Bertram 11.18.05 at 2:02 pm

Alison, all a right is here is a power or an immunity in legal or moral space. Let’s conduct an thought experiment. Suppose, for purely natural reasons, abortion was impossible and that any pregnancy would have to eventuate in a live birth. Would you say that in such a world, women would be unable to stand as political equals with men, to function as citizens of democratic society? I think that would be an extraordinary thing to believe.

On the other hand, any group deliberately stigmatized (such as gays or racial groups in some societies) is clearly disbarred from political equality by such discrimination.

Let me reiterate that I am a supporter of choice. That doesn’t stop me from being astonished by the way in which many on our side conduct their arguments. In particular, in claiming that abortion opponents by the mere fact of their opposition necessarily disrespect women as such or deny their equal status, some pro-choice advocates simply wave away the moral complexities, the deep convictions of their fellow citizens, etc. Whatever else they do, someone who believes that some right-to-life considerations outweigh some reproductive rights is not, by the mere fact of taking that view, showing disrespect for their female fellow citizens. To misrepresent their view as doing that shows a lack of commitment to engage in reasonable dialogue with one’s fellows.


anon 11.18.05 at 3:25 pm

In 79 you state “On the other hand, any group deliberately stigmatized (such as gays or racial groups in some societies) is clearly disbarred from political equality by such discrimination.” I am trying to understand what you are describing here. I don’t know of laws preventing or enforcing “stigmatizing”. I know of laws requiring equal access to the ballot, to jobs, to housing and to public accommodations. Individuals can continue to rant against homosexuals and racial minorities and treat them badly in their individual relationships (aka stigmatize them). Obtaining reproductive freedom is quite analogous to laws ensuring equal access to jobs, housing and public accomodations because it entails individual access according to the individual’s own choice to safe and effective medical care.

Your example of a world in which no abortion is possible is not a good one, because then nothing would be withheld for women in an invidious way. Lets try a different example. Suppose a cure were found for AIDS. Then suppose we passed a law restricting this cure to men only (or to heterosexuals, or to persons who were infected after being raped). So women (or gays, or non-rape victims) having AIDS could continue the burdensome treatments now available but men (etc.) could immediately be free of the disease forever. Perhaps this law would be passed because the citizens in the majority felt that the women with AIDS should be punished for their sexual activity (not too dissimilar from the effort by some to restrict the administration of the newly proven vaccine against the human papilloma virus). Obviously these afflicted persons would still be able to vote, to advocate politically. But would you assert that such a law preserved the human rights and dignity of those affected?

Bearing an unwanted child IS a form of stigmatization, especially in societies and social strata where unmarried sex is seen as a heinous sin. Surely you are aware of the issue of honor killings in Turkey and elsewhere.


Alison 11.19.05 at 3:23 am

Suppose, for purely natural reasons, abortion was impossible and that any pregnancy would have to eventuate in a live birth. Would you say that in such a world, women would be unable to stand as political equals with men, to function as citizens of democratic society?

That would be an interesting species, but it would not be our species. As a counter-example, let us imagine that it was impossible to relieve childbirth with anaesthesia in any way. A woman in such a society could nevertheless be politically equal to a man, although she would risk painful death in the most terrible circumstances as a matter of routine. I personally would be dead in such a world.

But given that anaesthesia is available, to deny it for religious reasons, such that women experience a level of unneccessary suffering which no man has ever to confront, is a matter of political rights limitation. And it’s sexist. To say ‘men are banned from using anaesthessia in childbirth’ is meaningless. This is medicine that only women need.

Similarly in a world where abortion is possible, to ban it for religious reasons would cause unnecessary pain, death, and lifelong suffering – of a sort that no man ever has to face. Or it would require lifelong celibacy from all women – because nobody knows if a particular pregnancy will kill them.

A gay man forced to be celibate by law would be horribly oppressed, and I believe would be excluded from full respect and political involvement, because sexuality is part of one’s intimate selfhood. Similarly a woman barred from medical treatment which exists and is needed for reproductive health is denigrated, excluded, and suffers and/or dies.


john m. 11.19.05 at 4:16 am

Matt, I don’t mean this to be patronising in any way but you are not paying attention to what I’m interested in. I personally do not need my opinion changed on the subject but as Kevin says, the anti-abortion crew here consider abortion to be murder and genuinely believe this. The right to travel referendum created an attempt to associate this right with abortion by the pro-life groups which failed on the grounds that it is impossible to start making laws like that without creating fundamental violations of human rights. It proves nothing in respect of abortion belief and humans specialise in holding contradictory beliefs in any event – as I pointed out in my original comment many anti-abortion people are pro-war. I believe it is religious belief that allows them hold contradictory views. As for Kevin suggesting most people in Ireland do not equate abortion with murder, I suspect he would be loath to suggest that a referendum to legalise it would pass here – somewhat undermining the point he makes. If it is not murder, why object to it? You can persist believing otherwise but nothing changes the fact that most anti-abortion campaigners consider abortion to be directly equivocal with murder – which is where I came in. That this is inconsistent with other views is not news to me but proves nothing.


Matt 11.19.05 at 10:34 am

John M-
I think that we are just talking past each other now so this will be the last thing I’ll post- I’m not, quite obviously, trying to change _your_ beliefs about abortion- they don’t interest me at all. I’ve been suggesting works that discuss the issue at question between us- whether most anti-abortion proponants believe abortion is murder, and reasons to think they do not. Dworkin’s book, which I’ve mentioned a few times, directly discusses why one might be opposed to abortion, even very strongly, but not believe it’s murder. I won’t bother to try to summarize it but will merely once again recommend it. I don’t agree with all of it but it has an extremely clear and sensitive discussion of all of these issues, including the case in Ireland, and is widely avaliable. I think you’d find it worth your time.


soru 11.20.05 at 8:48 am

On the other hand, any group deliberately stigmatized (such as gays or racial groups in some societies) is clearly disbarred from political equality by such discrimination.

Surely ‘women who want heterosexual sex but don’t want a baby’ is as definable a group as ‘gays’? There are people who are definitely members, people who are definitely not, and some in the fuzzy edges.

Treating the two groups so differently looks difficult to justify from first principles.


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