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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