Matthew Franck offers two criticisms of my commentary on the Gosnell scandal by way of “mild dissent.” Matt’s criticisms are important and point to larger questions that deserve reflection by all pro-lifers.

First, Matt observes that “the most up-to-the-minute philosophers in bioethics are dispensing with any ‘sharp distinction,’ as Jon puts it, between the unborn child and the one who has been born.” In Matt’s view, Peter Singer and Michael Tooley have won over more philosophers’ hearts and minds than have the likes of Judith Jarvis Thomson or David Boonin.

I think Matt may be suggesting a philosophical consensus that doesn’t exist. But if Matt is correct, it doesn’t tell us much about what philosophical school of thought the broader pro-choice movement embraces. Thus, Matt points us to a really interesting truth, which has been long obscured. The truth is simply this: The organized pro-choice movement has never offered a serious, philosophical defense of late-term abortion. We simply don’t know if the views of NARAL or NOW are shaped by Singer’s or Thomson’s principles. My guess is that such groups haven’t thought very deeply about such foundational, philosophical questions. Perhaps it’s time for the pro-choice movement to do something the Supreme Court never did—offer us a coherent and principled defense of the expansive right to abortion established by Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton . This is an issue I intend to reflect on more deeply soon, and I thank Matt for nudging me further in that direction.

Second, Matt makes an important correction to my account of Pennsylvania’s abortion laws in the Weekly Standard . In particular, Matt points out that Pennsylvania grants a rather narrow health exception for late-term abortion. But, as Matt suggests, this state law seems to be flagrantly at odds with Doe , which explicitly grants a wide health exception.

So, again, I would ask whether Dr. Gosnell should be put to his death for disobeying a law that seems unconstitutional on its face and one that the state of Pennsylvania refused to enforce.

Articles by Jon A. Shields

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