Justice and the Fetus: Rawls, Children and Abortion

In a footnote to the first edition of Political Liberalism, John Rawls introduced an example of how public reason could deal with controversial issues. He intended this example to show that his system of political liberalism could deal with such problems by considering only political values, without the introduction of comprehensive moral doctrines. Unfortunately, Rawls chose “the troubled question of abortion” as the issue that would illustrate this. In the case of abortion, Rawls argued, “the equality of women as equal citizens” overrides both “the ordered reproduction of political society over time” and also “the due respect for human life”. It seems fair to say that this was not the best choice of example, and also that Rawls did not argue for his example particularly well: a whole subset of the Rawlsian literature concerns this question alone. Rawls went on to clarify his views on abortion and public reason, but he continued to maintain that a society’s policy on abortion could be decided without introducing comprehensive moral doctrines concerning the moral status of the fetus. The three aims of this paper are to argue: (i) that a society cannot legitimately decide on its abortion policy using purely political values; (ii) that Rawls’ stances on abortion in his two major works are incompatible; and (iii) that neither of Rawls’ conceptions of justice could permit abortion.
Keywords John Rawls  Abortion  Justice  Children  Political liberalism  Original position
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DOI 10.1017/S0963180110000654
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References found in this work BETA
John Rawls (1999). The Law of Peoples. Harvard University Press.
John Rawls (1993). Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.
John Rawls (2009). A Theory of Justice. In Steven M. Cahn (ed.), Philosophy and Rhetoric. Oxford University Press 133-135.
J. Rawls (1995). Political Liberalism. Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.
Melissa Lane & Ronald Dworkin (1994). Life's Dominion. Philosophical Quarterly 44 (176):413.

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