How to Talk About Abortion

How to Talk About Abortion

Laurie Shrage

When moral philosophers and others take up an issue that is at the center of public debate, we tend to frame it as a matter of individual ethics. Is it morally permissible to eat meat? To offer money for sex? To have an abortion? Yet, such questions often fail to focus on the issues that are important and relevant for public policy and, as a result, can derail productive public debate.

The problem is that questions like these oversimplify the issues. Consider, for instance, that “abortion” is really an umbrella term for a number of different medical procedures — appropriate for different stages of pregnancy — each with significantly different health risks. Abortion is first and foremost a medical service or procedure, not an individual action, and thus a more important and relevant question for public policy is, Under what circumstances, or for what reasons, should a government prohibit properly trained medical professionals from performing an abortion? This is a question that fellow citizens can productively debate, and that may lead to a consensus.


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