The Battle over Abortion

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Colo., abortion clinic.

Moral crusades, like hard cases, tend to make bad law, and abortion is an example of both. Above all, abortion is a question of conscience—inherently a personal matter. Should those who deeply oppose abortion simply ignore what they believe is the spread of an intolerable evil? No, there is always a place for moral debate in society. Can morality be legislated? Yes, it can and often is, enforcing codes of conduct that society values. But morality cannot, and should not, be legislated where no consensus exists—and that is surely the case with abortion. Americans fashioned a more perfect union specifically to allow conflicts of conscience to coexist within a framework of individual rights. In cases where there is no agreement, it allows for an equation where there is an agreement to disagree. For that reason, the pro-choice advocates, who are willing to leave abortion decisions to individuals, are more in tune with the spirit of a pluralistic society than the pro-life coalition, which seeks to impose by law a morality that is not commonly shared.

—By Walter Isaacson.

Reported by D.L. Coutu/Los Angeles and Jeanne Saddler/Washington, with other U.S. bureaus

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