December 6, 2022

Medical students need to hear both sides of the abortion debate, says pro-abortion bioethicist

Something odd seems to be going on in the abortion debate in universities. In many places there isn’t one, complains Ezio Di Nucci, of the University of Copenhagen, in the Journal of Medical Ethics blog.

He was alarmed when he proposed that his students engage with a case study about abortion in the wake of the Dobbs ruling from the US Supreme Court. To his surprise, people objected. Reactions “ranged from the consideration that teaching abortion could be harmful to the young women who make up most of the aspiring doctors at our local med school to the claim that we can only teach abortion if we start from the indisputable assumption of women’s bodily autonomy, which is non-negotiable. There was, in short, something of a consensus that abortion better be left alone, today.”

Di Nucci understands the issue. He also took it for granted that abortion no longer needed to be debated. He has just edited a fat (34 chapters) handbook on bioethics published by Rowman & Littlefield which fails to include a discussion of abortion. But this could end in disaster for the pro-abortion side, he muses: “if we are scared of the abortion debate, Trump wins. And how can we teach our students women’s rights if we don’t teach them the abortion debate?”

Helen Watt, a scholar at the pro-life-oriented Bios Centre in London, agreed, with a few caveats. “Acclimatisation to dissent is especially a need of those whose views are firmly in accord with those of their circle, and who rarely hear them challenged. Universities should ’build’ students for life outside cyberspace, and extend, not curtail, their exposure to other views.”

And Di Nucci concluded with some advice for philosophers teaching university students: “Summing up: abortion is never wrong, but forgodssake teach it – and teach especially arguments against it. I say to my students that a classroom is not a democracy, but democracy can sure die in the classroom if we shy away from engaging the other side.”