In September 1995 three pro-choice activists in Boston sat down with three pro-life activists. They were answering a call from civic leaders, the state Governor and the local Catholic bishop, for talks between the representatives of ‘choice’ and of ‘life’ after a man had shot dead two receptionists at clinics in the area. After more than 150 hours of conversations over the next five and a half years these six activists decided to reveal to the world at large what they had achieved. And what was that? On the substance of their disagreement: nothing. ‘Since that first fear-filled meeting, we have experienced a paradox. While learning to treat each other with dignity and respect, we have all become firmer in our views about abortion.’1


Pregnant Woman Human Individual Hostile Takeover Termination Ofpregnancy York Review 
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  1. 1.
    Anne Fowler, Nicki Nichols Gamble, Frances X. Hogan, Melissa Kogut, Madeline McComish and Barbara Thorp, Boston Globe, 28 January 2001.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    Perhaps I should add the obvious point that there is no reason to suppose that all women who want an abortion are desperate and consider themselves in difficulties which drive them to abortion: the feminist writer Naomi Wolf has suggested not, and she is in a better position to know this sort of thing than an academic philosopher. Much of her article is devoted to the vigorous unmasking of various pro-choice pretences (Naomi Wolf, ‘Our Bodies, Our Souls’, New Republic, 16 October 1995, reprinted in the UK, New Statesman and Society, 20 October 1995).Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    A plea of just this kind was recently made by a Colorado doctor, one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit against anti-abortion activists, and the director of the Boulder Abortion Clinic. ‘My medical colleagues and I went into medicine to help people, and we do.’ See Warren M. Hern, ‘Free Speech that Threatens My Life’, New York Times, 31 March 2001. An ad for the film Vera Drake reads: ‘Vera sees herself as simply helping women in need, and always does so with a smile and kind words of encouragement.’ I think we are supposed to say: so that’s all right then.Google Scholar
  4. 10.
    Phillips, J, in de Martell v. Merton and Sutton Health Authority, [1992] 3 All ER 820, at 831, talks here of ‘the fiction … which denies the living creature which became the plaintiff a persona in the period prior to birth’, a fiction which the law in this case had to find a way around.Google Scholar
  5. 11.
    Deborah L. Davis, Empty Cradle, Broken Heart: Surviving the Death of Your Baby, Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 1991, p. 71.Google Scholar
  6. 16.
    Liberty and Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade, New York: Macmillan, 1994. Just over a third of this book is devoted to controversies over contraception. It is of course possible to think of abortion as a form of ‘birth control’, and indeed to think of infanticide in this way, as controlling a certain consequence of birth — as in Linda Gordon’s Women’s Body, Woman’s Right: A Social History of Birth Control in America, Harmonds worth: Penguin, 1977; for example, p. 28. In regard to infanticide ‘Birth Correction’ would be the better term. Much homicide might be seen as birth correction, I suppose.Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    In this respect I am unlike Mill, who quaintly wrote: ‘The great occupation of woman should be to beautify life’ (‘On Marriage’, in J. M. Robson, ed., Essays on Equality, Law, and Education: The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. XXI, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984, p. 44).Google Scholar
  8. 24.
    Bernard Nathanson, who had once been in charge of a large abortion clinic, wants vehemently to insist in his anti-abortion book that abortion is not killing. ‘Medically speaking, abortion is not the killing of the foetus, never has been, and (I trust) never will be. I repeat. Abortion is not the killing of the foetus. Rather abortion is the separation of the foetus from the mother. The fundamental misunderstanding here corrupts the entire debate. Though in practice death has become the aim as well as the result of separating the foetus, the medical term does not imply any intent to destroy it. From Alan Guttmacher’s essay in the first medical anthology on abortion (1954) through recent statements of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the point is made that the foetus is not the doctor’s target, and that its death is a by-product of its removal’ (Aborting America, New York: Doubleday, 1979, p. 177, italics in text). Indeed, Dr Nathanson, following an older usage, does not want to call what happens after viability abortions at all. By contrast, Leonora Lloyd of the National Abortion Campaign says rather plainly and clearly that ‘it is important to remember that the desired outcome, even in a later abortion, is a dead foetus’ (R. Gillon, ed., Principles of Health Care Ethics, Chichester: Wiley, 1994, pp. 573–4).Google Scholar
  9. Charles Rodeck and Susan Bewley (in S. Bewley and R. Humphrey Ward, eds, Ethics in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, London: RCOG Press, 1994) reasonably contrast mere termination of pregnancy, which might, as they point out, be undertaken to save the life of the foetus, with abortion ‘with the aim that the foetus does not survive’ (p. 262). And they point out, for example, that ‘extra-amniotic infusion is now less used because it has a higher failure and infection rate, and also may result in a live baby’ (p. 263, italics added). The authors regard foetal survival as an ‘appalling complication’ (p. 263). 25 Implantation is described by Miriam Stoppard as ‘the first step in the embryo’s hostile takeover of the innocent mother and a sign of the uncompromising savagery to come’. The ‘vandalizing’ embryo, she says, acts Tike a malignant cancer’, the mother’s uterus having to ‘absorb the ferocity of the baby’s attack’. ‘You thought you were having a baby?’ Think again, ‘your baby is having you’ (‘Forced Labour? Birth is More a Hostile Takeover’, Times Higher Education Supplement, 26 January 2001.) This would all be just amusing chatter in the ante-natal clinic if it were not for what ethicists tend earnestly to say about self-defence, enslavement and property rights. L. W. Sumner expresses himself more soberly, but in the same vein. ‘Not only does pregnancy violate a woman’s physical integrity …’ (Abortion and Moral Theory, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981, p. 8.) Would having an aged parent to look after violate one’s social integrity?Google Scholar
  10. 27.
    F. Gary Cunningham et al., eds, Williams Obstetrics, 20th edn, London: Prentice-Hall International, 1997, p. 240.Google Scholar
  11. 32.
    ‘You Can Have Sex Without Children’, Collected Philosophical Papers, Vol. 3, Oxford: Blackwell, 1981, first quote p. 82, second p. 83. And there is no reason to suppose that in admitting that begetting can be reckless and callous she would have gone as far as the illiberal Mill. Mill claimed, in On Liberty of all places, that the state was entitled to prevent poor people from marrying, people who could not show that they had the means of supporting a family. ‘On Liberty’, Chapter 5, para. 15, in J. M. Robson, ed., Essays on Politics and Society: The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. XVIII, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977, p. 304.Google Scholar
  12. 34.
    Arguments of the kind ‘you cannot honestly believe it is a baby because you do not shed tears as you would have to if you really thought …’ spread about like the common cold. Or the argument, on similar grounds, might be that you cannot believe it is really a ‘person’ (whatever that is). For an example here see Simon Blackburn, Being Good, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, pp. 64–5. Simon Blackburn is Professor of Philosophy in the University of Cambridge.Google Scholar
  13. See also Margaret Olivia Little, ‘The Moral Permissibility of Abortion’, in Andrew I. Cohen and Christopher Heath Wellman, eds, Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 2005, p. 28.Google Scholar
  14. 35.
    ‘… the conservative, whose aim is the preservation of foetal life’. Christine Overall, Ethics and Human Reproduction: A Feminist Prespective, Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1987, p. 79.Google Scholar
  15. 36.
    Janet Radcliffe Richards, The Sceptical Feminist, London: Routledge, 1980, p. 217. See also p. 283 below. I prefer Bill Shankley: ‘Football is not a matter of life and death. It’s much more important than that.’Google Scholar
  16. 37.
    More unusual, however, is the appeal to the textbook of embryology to establish, in support of ‘choice’, that doctors who have consulted such a volume, even if they recall little of it, will somehow know that abortion is not murder: ‘Some doctors are opposed to abortion, strongly upholding the right of the embryo. But the major issue that confuses them is not that they think abortion is murder they usually vaguely remember sufficient embryology to ensure that this is not the case …’ (Malcolm Potts, Peter Diggory and John Peel, Abortion, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977, p. 533).Google Scholar
  17. 42.
    The latest example to come my way. Margaret Olivia Little talks about ‘Extreme conservatives’ who claim ‘abortion to be the moral equivalent of murder’. Those who say that it is a form of murder must presumably be entirely off the Richter scale (‘Abortion’, in R. G. Frey and Christopher Heath Wellman, eds, A Companion to Applied Ethics, Oxford: Blackwell, 2003, p. 313).Google Scholar
  18. 47.
    ‘It would … chime in with our feelings of fitness, that acts which we deem unjust should be punished, though we do not always think it expedient that this should be done by the tribunals … We should be glad to see … injustice repressed, even in the minutest details, if we were not, with reason, afraid of trusting the magistrate with so unlimited an amount of power over individuals … The idea of penal sanction, which is the essence of law, enters not only into the conception of justice, but into that of any kind of wrong.’ ‘Utilitarianism’, Chapter 5, para. 13, in J. M. Robson, ed., Essays on Ethics, Religion and Society: The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Vol. X, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969, p. 245.Google Scholar
  19. 52.
    Some further appreciations for the record: Susan Sontag proclaimed Life’s Dominion as Ronald Dworkin’s ‘most seasoned, most necessary book’, that the argument it contains is ‘fresh, agile and improving’. Its author was complimented by Baroness Helena Kennedy, chair of the UK Human Genetics Commission, on his ‘great clarity and wisdom’. T. M. Scanlon of Harvard, writing in the New York Review of Books (15 July 1993), was singularly impressed. Ronald Dworkin, he said, is ‘our leading public philosopher’; in this work he shows a ‘characteristic brilliance and subtlety to the values at stake’, a brilliance which has given us ‘an exciting, thought provoking and potentially very constructive book’. Professor Tribe, the leading constitutional lawyer, also of Harvard, referred to it as a ‘wonderfully rich and evocative investigation’, ‘a feast for the mind and balm for the soul’; adding for good measure that it was ‘Dworkin’s masterpiece’, in which he displayed ‘enormous ingenuity and insight’ (New York Times, 16 May 1993). Dame Mary Warnock said (Spectator, 29 May 1993): ‘it is of immense value to have so intelligible and sympathetic a discussion of the moral issues’. The philosopher A.C. Grayling, referring to Professor Dworkin as ‘the world’s leading philosopher of law’, tolds us that ‘in this book he shows that complicated questions can be discussed with originality, profound insight and utter clarity’. Indeed nothing, it seems, would ever be the same again: ‘From now on’, he wrote, ‘there can be no discussion of abortion and euthanasia that does not start from here’ (Financial Times, 12 June 1993). ‘It is a work of considerable humanity’, said Christopher Belshaw of the Open University in Mind (July 1995). The book was ‘timely, generous, and above all sane’. Jeremy Waldron, Professor of Law at Columbia University, said: ‘Life’s Dominion gives us a deeper account than any we have yet had of what is at stake in these life-and-death controversies, and is clearer, more sensitive in its arguments than anything that I have read’ (London Review of Books, 12 May 1994). Eric Rakowski, Professor of Law at Berkeley, said that we were offered ‘a remarkably coherent argument’ from ‘our most thoughtful and influential legal philosopher’ (Yale Law Journal, 1994). According to Stephen L. Carter, Professor of Law at Yale, writing in the New Yorker (9 August 1993), Professor Dworkin is ‘as thoughtful and creative a legal scholar as the American academy currently possesses’ and his new book ‘is as thoughtful and creative a scholarly treatment as the subject is likely to receive’. ‘As a new and stronger case for a woman’s right to choose … one would have to pronounce it a resounding success.’ John A. Robertson, Professor of Law at the University of Texas, talked about ‘the richness and subtlety of his highly accessible and compelling account of why society should defer to individual choice about abortion …’ (‘Autonomy’s Dominion’, Law and Social Enquiry, Journal of the American Bar Foundation, 1994, p. 458). Professor Robinson was specially impressed with the book’s more cosmic insights: few thinkers, he says, ‘have confronted as forthrightly as Life’s Dominion does the religious or spiritual nature of these dilemmas’ (p. 457).Google Scholar
  20. A philosopher at Cambridge, David Mitchell, said in the Times Higher Education Supplement (16 July 1993), that the writing is of ‘an exemplary lucidity and sensitivity’, and claims that the work is ‘rich in original argument’, ‘marks a major advance’ and ‘sets a new standard’. Karen Armstrong, author of many books on Christianity, etc., is full of admiration: ‘Dworkin refuses to simplify these immensly difficult issues: he leads the reader through the moral and legal maze with mastery and humility. His book is learned, passionate, careful, eloquent and highly readable’ (Sunday Times, 13 June 1993). Conor Gearty, now Professor of Human Rights Law in the University of London, wrote in the the Independent (12 June 1993) that the book is ‘brilliantly argued and utterly convincing’, adding that it should be ‘required reading for every member of every legislature that has to address the abortion issue’. The reputed ethicist James Rachels says of Ronald Dworkin: ‘Readers of his earlier books will have high expectations, and they will not be disappointed … It is a tour de force that could have been written only by an accomplished philosopher who has thought long and hard about a great many matters’ (Bioethics, 1994, p. 268). Frances Kamm, of Harvard University, herself a well known writer on these topics, said that the book ‘does a superb job of providing … an account with complex and subtle philosophical reasoning, always aimed at elevating the nature of the public debate’ (‘Abortion and the Value of Life: A Discussion of Life’s Dominion’, Columbia Law Review, 1995, p. 160. I shall return to Professor Kamm’s essay several times in what follows).Google Scholar
  21. Eileen L. McDonagh in her admired book Breaking the Abortion Deadlock (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 199) said of Life’s Dominion that it offered ‘perhaps the most philosophically complex and persuasive denial that a foetus is a person’ (we discuss this curious aspect in Chapter 3.2 below). Frances Olsen, Professor of Law at UCLA, said of two articles in the New York Review of Books published as a sort of preliminary to Life’s Dominion: ‘Ronald Dworkin recently presented the conventional liberal argument in support of Roe v. Wade in what is perhaps its most elegant form to date’ (‘Unraveling Compromise’, Harvard Law Review, 1989, p. 109). It perhaps should be noted that Conor Gearty and Helena Kennedy are both eminent Roman Catholics. I do not, of course, wish to suggest that these reviewers had no critical comments to make. Eric Rakowski’s review in the Yale Law Journal, for example, is 70 pages long, and could hardly consist entirely of praise and exposition. And not every reviewer liked Life’s Dominion. Jenny Teichman made some good critical points in ‘What is Sacred? Ronald Dworkin and His Answers’, (Polemical Essays, Aldershot: Ashgate 1997). And Peter Singer in the British Medical Journal (23 October, 1993, pp. 1077–8) complained that Professor Dworkin did not engage with other writers: Glover, Hare, Kuhse, Parfit, Rachels, Tooley or Warren. (This last is odd: Ronald Dworkin was actually helped by Derek Parfit — who offered ‘long, generous and searching comments’ (LD, p. 261), — and the book refers to Rachels (p. 248) and Tooley (p. 245). It does not, however, refer to Peter Singer as Professor Singer was too modest to mention.)Google Scholar
  22. 53.
    Academics who argue in favour of abortion, but with a slightly furrowed brow, are certainly not in any danger from their colleagues who just love to hear this sort of thing put across in this sort of way. It is curious that Amy Gutmann can admiringly say of Judith Jarvis Thomson that ‘she has dared to defend the morality of abortion’ (Introduction by Professor Gutmann to Judith Jarvis Thomson’s Goodness and Advice, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001, p. viii, italics added). The morality of abortion is continually defended on university campuses by legions of the timid, and Judith Thomson’s well known ‘Defence of Abortion’Google Scholar
  23. 62.
    Ronald Dworkin, ed., The Philosophy of Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977, p. 13.Google Scholar
  24. 63.
    Wendy Simonds, Abortion at Work: Ideology and Practice in a Feminist Clinic, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1996. Women working at the Center ‘developed strategies’ that ‘enabled them to desensitise themselves’. They would, for example, make sure that the parts did not become arranged in order, in ‘the “broken doll” configuration’. Or they would ‘never look at the face’ when ‘processing tissue’ (pp. 86–7). ‘Many realised they had the power to recontextualise their work; they could deliberately see late abortion as interesting rather than disgusting’ (p. 71).Google Scholar
  25. 69.
    J. Warner, ‘Mixed Messages: Where is Pamela Maraldo Taking Planned Parenthood?’, Ms, November–December 1993 Vol. 4, No. 3, p. 25.Google Scholar
  26. 72.
    Naomi Wolfs ‘Our Bodies. Our Souls’ (see note 4, this Part) takes very much this line, and indeed mentions Professor Dworkin. ‘Ain’t it a shame!’ is the message here too. One has to be honest, she says, and admit just what one is doing. One must be serious about the whole business, promising in advance to repent and make amends — to prepent, one might say — while waving a fond goodbye to the individual one is about to wrong. ‘Ain’t it a shame!’ also seems to be the attitude of Whoopi Goldberg: ‘But, yeah, we wept … we wept going for those abortions, we wept coming back … because both times this was something made from love.’ (Angela Bonavoglia, The Choices We Made, New York, Random House, updated edn, 1992, p. 119, ellipses in text.)Google Scholar
  27. 76.
    Virginia Woolf on an uncomfortable incident, writing in her diary, 1915: ‘On the towpath we met and had to pass a long line of imbeciles. The first was a very tall young man, just queer enough to look twice at, but no more; the second shuffled, and looked aside; and then one realised that every one in that long line was a miserable ineffective shuffling idiotic creature, with no forehead, or no chin, and an imbecile grin, or a wild suspicious stare. It was perfectly horrible. They should certainly be killed. We found a market going on at Kingston, as if it were Marlborough.Google Scholar
  28. We bought a pinapple for 9d …’ (Anne Olivier Bell, ed., The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 1, London: Hogarth Press, 1977, p. 13).Google Scholar
  29. It should not be thought that such an opinion was particularly unusual among intellectu als. For more, see Donald J. Childs, Modernism and Eugenics: Woolf, Eliot, Yeats and the Culture of Degeneration, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. I am indebted to Professor Childs’s book for putting me on the track of this particular quotation.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. 77.
    ‘pretty uncontroversially involves the killing of human beings’. For a philosopher who thinks that human beings, along with cats, horses, are not animals — are not, to put the matter pedantically, organisms belonging to the animal kingdom — and that a human foetus in mid-term is only an animal and not a human being, see Jeff McMahan, The Ethics of Killing, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, and my discussion of it in ‘Death Sentences’ (Philosophy, forthcoming).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. 79.
    Catharine MacKinnon: ‘Many women have abortions as a desperate act of love for their unborn children.’ Ach! So! It gives a wholly unexpected meaning to ‘She loved him to bits’ (see her ‘Reflections on Sex Equality under Law’, Yale Law Journal, 1991, p. 1318). I originally came across this reference in Janet Hadley’s Abortion: Between Freedom and Necessity, London: Virago 1996, p. 85. She adds that it finds Catharine MacKinnon in an ‘uncharacteristically delicate moment’. An indispensible source on this matter is of course Naomi Wolf’s ‘Our Bodies, Our Souls’ (see note 4, this Part).Google Scholar

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© Christopher Miles Coope 2006

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