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Justice and the Fetus: Rawls, Children, and Abortion

Abstract

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.

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1. Rawls J. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press; 1993:243, fn. 32.

2. See note 1, Rawls 1993:243, fn. 32.

3. See note 1, Rawls 1993:243.

4. See note 1, Rawls 1993:243, fn. 32.

5. George R. Public reason and public conflict: Abortion and homosexuality. Yale Law Journal 1997;106:2475–504, at p. 2488.

6. Freeman S. John Rawls—An overview. In: Freeman S, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Rawls. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press; 2002:1–61, at p. 42.

7. See note 5, Freeman 2002:40.

8. See note 1, Rawls 1993:243, fn. 32.

9. Reiman J. Abortion, natural law, and liberal discourse: A response to John Finnis. In: George R, Wolfe C, eds. Natural Law and Public Reason. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press; 2000:107–24, at p. 112.

10. Macedo S. In defense of liberal public reason: Are slavery and abortion hard cases? In: George R, Wolfe C, eds. Natural Law and Public Reason. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press; 2000:11–49, at pp. 32–3.

11. Rawls J. Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press; 1995:lvi–lvii.

12. Dworkin R. Life’s Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom. New York: Vintage; 1994:46.

13. See note 6, Freeman 2002:35.

14. Evers W. Rawls and children. Journal of Libertarian Studies 1978;2:109–14, at p. 110.

15. See note 14, Evers 1978:111.

16. Rawls J. A Theory of Justice. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1972:509.

17. Rawls J, quoted by Evers; see note 14, Evers 1978:111.

18. Finnis J. Abortion, natural law, and public reason. In: George R, Wolfe C, eds. Natural Law and Public Reason. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press; 2000:75–105, at p. 99, fn. 37.

19. See note 16, Rawls 1972:509.

20. See note 16, Rawls 1972:249.

21. See note 16, Rawls 1972:75.

22. See note 16, Rawls 1972:209.

23. Nuffield Council on Bioethics. Critical care decisions in fetal and neonatal medicine: Ethical issues. London: Nuffield Council on Bioethics; 2006:55; available at http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/fileLibrary/pdf/CCD_web_version_8_November.pdf

24. See note 16, Rawls 1972:509.

25. Rawls J. The idea of public reason revisited. In: Rawls J. The Law of Peoples. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press; 1999:129–80, at p. 161.

26. See note 18, Finnis 2000:86.

27. See note 18, Finnis 2000:94, fn. 4.

28. Butler S. Abortion by assault: Violence against pregnant women in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England. Journal of Women’s History 2005;17:9-31, at p. 9; available at http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/journal_of_womens_history/v017/17.4butler.html

29. See note 11, Rawls 1995:xliii.

30. Rawls, quoted by Finnis; see note 18, Finnis 2000:85.

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Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics
  • ISSN: 0963-1801
  • EISSN: 1469-2147
  • URL: /core/journals/cambridge-quarterly-of-healthcare-ethics
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