October 4, 2022

After Dobbs, abortion needs ethicists, not Twitter heroes

After the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, abortion is the hottest issue in town. One bioethicist writing in the American Journal of Bioethics has responded: “this is the moment for all bioethicists to strengthen our teaching, thinking, and writing in abortion ethics”.

However, a colleague from Morehouse College, Nathan Nobis, has glumly declared in the same journal that nobody cares what bioethicists think or say: “few people, especially pro-choice people—including their leaders and organizations—seem to care about or have any interest in what ethicists have to say about abortion”.

Dr Nobis has some experience in this. He wrote a simple, easy-to-read book with another philosopher, Kristina Grob, Thinking Critically About Abortion. It analyses the most common arguments for and against abortion and points out their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, the pro-choice crowd are not interested in thinking about the morality of abortion. For them, it is simply a legal issue:

“I have, however, gotten a lot of negative reactions, including from pro-choice people, which leads me to my observation that most vocal pro-choice people do not care about engaging abortion ethics: they believe that abortion is obviously not wrong and that anyone who thinks otherwise is ignorant, ill-motivated, or evil. Some pro-choicers argue it’s offensive to engage people who disagree, claiming that’s like arguing with slaveholders, but forgetting that arguments were given against slavery, which contributed to positive change.

“Abortion-advocacy organizations also appear to have zero interest in engaging in anything about ethics: indeed, they actively avoid the issues.”

He observes that pro-choice advocates were unprepared for Dobbs. For decades they were promoting a legal right to abortion. Now that the right has been removed in some states, they will have to make ethical arguments – and they don’t know how.

“In sum, the basic questions are these: what do pro-choice efforts have to lose in engaging ethics, with ethicists? Nothing. What do they, we, have to gain? Potentially a lot, and so ethics demands engaging ethics, with ethicists.”