When Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization leaked a few weeks ago, it signaled that Roe v. Wade appears likely to be overturned in a matter of weeks. If Roe falls, questions about the right to abortion will re-enter the realm of electoral politics in a way they haven’t for 50 years. States will be solely in charge of determining whether abortion is permitted, under what conditions it should be permitted, and what the appropriate thresholds are for making those decisions.
That means ordinary voters and their representatives will be forced to grapple with the moral — even metaphysical — quandaries at the heart of the abortion debate. What does it mean to belong to the human species, and when does that belonging begin? Is there a bright line at which an egg, a blastula, or a fetus attains the status of “person”? And how do we weigh the competing interests of mothers, families, and fetuses against one another? Those are the questions I wanted to place at the center of this conversation because they are the foundation on top of which everything else in this debate is built.
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Kate Greasley is a law professor at the University of Oxford in the U.K., where she studies, among other things, the legal and moral philosophy of abortion. She’s the author of “Arguments About Abortion: Personhood, Morality, and Law,” and co-author of “Abortion Rights: For and Against” alongside Christopher Kaczor, a philosopher who opposes abortion. While Greasley ultimately believes in the right to choose, she does a remarkably comprehensive job of carefully and fairly considering all the arguments, contradictions and nuances of this issue.
We discuss why both progressives and conservatives should be open to questioning their preconceptions about abortion, what the Bible does — and doesn’t — suggest about abortion, why the status of fetal life is the central question at the heart of abortion ethics, whether life begins at conception or emerges later in fetal development, how the complex, messy moral intuitions that most of us have around questions of life and death don’t lend themselves neatly to either an abortion rights or anti-abortion camp, why late-term abortions pose particularly challenging moral questions, how the pregnant person’s bodily autonomy weighs against the fetus’s and more.
You can listen to our whole conversation by following “The Ezra Klein Show” on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts. View a list of book recommendations from our guests here.
(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)
“The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma; fact-checking by Michelle Harris, Rollin Hu and Kate Sinclair; original music by Isaac Jones; mixing and engineering by Jeff Geld; audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Our executive producer is Irene Noguchi. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.