Abortion, Ultrasound, and Moral Persuasion
Rini (Regina)
Source: Philosophers' Imprint, Vol. 18, No. 6, April 2018, pp. 1-20
Paper - Abstract

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Author's Introduction

  1. In times of angry, polarized public debate, it seems natural to call for greater mutual understanding. We should all just stop and listen to one another, shouldn’t we? We should be open-minded and willing to consider the sincere moral convictions of others. These aspirations can seem obvious, even trite. But what do they really amount to?
  2. This paper articulates a moral obligation to make ourselves open to moral persuasion. Making oneself open in this way, I will argue, is essential to respect for the moral agency of other persons. Yet this claim is not as easily agreeable as it might seem. To explore it fully, I apply the general obligation to disagreement about abortion, one of the most intense contemporary moral debates. The implications, I will show, are far from trite. I will argue that the obligation to be open to moral persuasion implies, at least sometimes, that a woman seeking abortion has a moral obligation to view ultrasound images of her fetus1 as a means of making herself open to moral persuasion.
  3. Some readers will find this conclusion repellent. So do I. This paper is not animated by moral opposition to abortion. Rather, I focus on the topic precisely because it is so morally and politically fraught, because it can seem so difficult to acknowledge that the “other” side has any point at all. Any worthwhile theory of moral persuasion needs to do more than issue agreeable generalities of comity and respect. It must still make sense even when the stakes are high, even when we do not want to be persuaded. Consider this paper a stress test for the value of moral persuasion. It will be relatively easy to agree with the general theory I sketch in the next section. If you can still accept it after I trace the less palatable implications in later sections, then you will know that the theory comes about its public-spiritedness honestly.
  4. Structurally, the paper has four parts.
    1. First, I will argue for the general obligation to be open to moral persuasion.
    2. Second, I will show that abortion decisions fall under the general obligation; I will address concerns about the particular features of abortion — including vulnerability and intimacy — that might seem to generate exception to the general obligation.
    3. Third, I will argue that the particular act of viewing a fetal ultrasound is one way of being open to moral persuasion.
    These premises together imply at most that a woman seeking an abortion ought to view fetal ultrasound images, and do so with an open mind. They do not imply that a woman then ought to reach any particular conclusion. Nor do they imply that recent laws compelling the viewing of ultrasound images are justified.
    1. In the final section, I will argue that such laws are incompatible with the grounds of moral persuasion.

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