Abortion: Anything New to Be Said?

Frances Kissling

An upcoming conference on abortion was inspired by President Obama’s call for those on different sides of the issue not only to work together where we agree, but also to engage in "vigorous debate" with "open hearts, open minds, and fair minded words."

Registration just opened for a mostly academic conference on abortion to be held at Princeton University on October 15 and 16.  The conference was inspired by Obama’s  Notre Dame commencement speech in which he called on those who support and those oppose abortion to engage vigorous debate, find points of agreement and make the case for what they believe passionately  – but without making a caricature of those who disagree with them.  RH readers have more than a passing acquaintance with efforts to find new ways to talk about abortion.

Open Hearts, Open Minds and Fair Minded Words
A Conference on Life & Choice in the Abortion Debate
Princeton University – October 15 & 16, 2010
Inspired by President Obama’s call during his Notre Dame address for those on different sides of the abortion issue not only to work together where we agree, but also to engage in “vigorous debate” with “open hearts, open minds, and fair minded words.” More information, including speaker bios, here.

At the same time, if you’ve followed the abortion issue for longer than a year or two, you probably could finish the sentence of every leader – on either side of the issue. And you may discover that beyond reading Politico, HuffPo, Religion Dispatches and similar sites and newspapers, you’d never know there are scholars out there still thinking and writing about abortion. I just finished a brilliant piece in the International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics about being prochoice and having a miscarriage. The author uses her personal experience to think about personhood and pregnancy in a new way. Check it out.  

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The Open Hearts, Open Minds and Fair Minded Words conference aims to do the same thing. Some issues on the program are old hat: The Moral Status of the Fetus for one, A re-examination of the very old classic argument about “duties” to the fetus based on Judith Jarvis Thomson’s classic story of the woman who is kidnapped and wakes up attached by various tubes to a famous violinist who now will die if she refuses to provide life support to him.  Some issues are newly contentious ones, although with historic origins – should abortion be a matter for court or legislatures to decide. What to make of Roe in an age when new theories about democracy and about human rights have developed over the last decade. How do we reconcile our respect for the disabled people among us and for women with abortion decided when the fetus is a girl or disabled? What are the limits to the right of conscientious refusal to provide services?  Do we know when fetuses might feel pain, what would the significance of pain be and what, if anything should we do about it?

Are there new ways or even different ways to think about these issues?  Do we have anything to learn from people who disagree with us about abortion? What’s good in their arguments? Weak?  Are the  people who think abortion is simply one of those intractable issues where no one ever changes their mind cynics or realists?

Even as someone who has occasionally stepped over the orthodoxy line, I don’t know. I invite you to join a brilliant set of presenters at the Princeton conference and find out. And along the way I hope you’ll keep an open mind as well as speak you mind at the conference. Registration is a modest $75.00 and the hotel is only around $90.00 a night. And you’ll get to rub elbows with Dawn Johnsen, Art  Caplan, Maggie Little, David Garrow, Anita Allen, Lynn Paltrow, Ruth Macklin, Rebecca Cook, Vanessa Gamble on the choice side and perhaps even have an illuminated exchange with David Gushee, Helen Alvare, Father Joseph Tham, John Finnis,   Sidney Callahan and Kristen Day – and me.

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