Response by Quinn R.
In today’s blog post, I want to respond to a common opinion concerning abortion. Whether in the public sphere or private conversation, it is very common to hear statements such as, “I personally think abortion is wrong, but I don’t want to force my morality on others,” or “I wouldn’t choose to have an abortion but I wouldn’t restrict a woman’s choice.”
Generally speaking, people who express this sort of opinion tolerate abortion, and while they personally don’t like abortion, they believe that other people should be able to choose it. The popularity of this view stems from the fact that it is perceived as “middle ground”; it seems to neither support or condemn abortion, being fair to both pro-lifers and pro-choicers.
Before we analyze this sort of stance towards abortion, we must discuss what it means to tolerate something. We tolerate things we may dislike or find distasteful, such as a crying baby or milk spilled on a shirt. However, we cannot tolerate gravely immoral actions, such as murder or exploitation.
This is why the “tolerance” view misses the point in the abortion debate. Pro-life advocates want to legislate against abortion because they believe that the lives of the unborn are as valuable as the lives any other human person, and therefore to kill them is gravely immoral. To a pro-life advocate that holds this belief, the statement, “I personally think abortion is wrong, but I don’t want to force my morality on others” is equivalent to saying, “I personally think killing an innocent human person is wrong, but I don’t want to force my morality on others.” To say the latter, of course, would be completely absurd.
Let’s examine some of the reasons why someone may hold a “tolerance” view towards abortion, starting with moral relativism. A moral relativist, or someone who rejects the existence of an objective moral code, might reject the idea of legislating against abortion because doing so would force a single moral view on everybody. For them, what is moral is whatever they think is moral. The problem with this view is that the relativist can only say that legislating against abortion is wrong in their view, since morality is particular to the individual. However, there is no reason that a pro-life advocate needs to let the relativist’s own moral viewpoint dictate their behavior.
The second reason a person might hold a “tolerance” view towards abortion is that they believe that the Supreme Court has already “settled” the issue by law. However, this sort of person ends up conflating law with morality. The problem with this is that laws are often imperfect and even unjust, even when it comes to law interpreted by the Supreme Court. Consider the cases where the Supreme Court has overturned past rulings: Brown v. Board of Education (1954) overturned the Court’s 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson case which supported racial segregation, and declared laws supporting this practice to be unconstitutional. This example shows us that just because a law has been passed does not mean that it cannot, or should not, be challenged.
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