Liberalism and the pro-choice movement.

I just caught up with Douthat’s Sunday column on liberalism, feminism and abortion. For once, I find myself strongly agreeing with him. Not on the substantive position we should take on the issue of abortion, of course. But it has always struck me how odd it is that liberalism is taken to entail being pro-choice. I find it perfectly coherent in principle for someone to do their politics on the left insofar as they are committed to sexual equality and various other active drives for social improvement, whilst also believing that a foetus has a moral status sufficient to render abortion wrong and the ‘right’ or ‘freedom’ to do it null and void because the act is an instance of murder. There’s reasonable room for disagreement about the status of a foetus to such an extent that we simply must allow for this. And there’s no useful sense in which that claim can be labelled illiberal or anti-feminist. Conservatives don’t have a monopoly on the immorality of murder, and liberals aren’t wedded to any particular metaphysic.

This is, incidentally, in the ball park of what I want to write about over the next vacation. I’m considering submitting a political philosophy essay on the question of liberal neutrality and abortion. We often here politicians (including my beloved Biden, I believe) say that they personally believe abortion is wrong, but in a liberal society we have to tolerate the choice. We have to tolerate murder? Liberal neutrality is supposed to mean the government doesn’t discriminate between the different good or bad ways to live. It can still enforce the stricter duties of morality, like the prohibitions on rape and theft and murder. So if you think abortion is murder, how can you think we should tolerate it? Given how widespread this logic is, though, I think it’s worth pondering whether there is anything good to be said for the idea of ‘neutrality about the Right’, rather than the Good.


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