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Most people who believe abortion to be wrong believe it to be wrong intrinsically. By contrast, those who do not believe abortion to be wrong make a utilitarian deduction: A child at the wrong time can be a bad thing. Therefore, ending its life can be a good thing. A right to abortion, they believe, increases human happiness.

This logic is almost never stated so explicitly. It exerts its power as an intuition, an instinctive empathy for women in distress. As such, it operates on a plane with which explicit and reasoned arguments rarely intersect. So let us set argumentation aside and test the utilitarian defense of abortion instead via a story of imagined parallel lives.

Spring 1975. Patricia is a junior at a prestigious university in the Northeast. She hopes to become the first lawyer in her family. Today she’s sitting on a curb on a quiet street in a New England town, a few miles from the quad. After days of worry and sleepless nights, she has just confirmed at a local Planned Parenthood the secret inside: She’s pregnant. Her boyfriend, a student at the same university, has gone with her to hear the news. Patricia sits immobile, tears washing her face as she thinks bleakly of her future, her parents, and what comes next. Something must be done.

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