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Regulating Abortion

Part I of this book argued that whether or not the fetus is rightly considered a person is central to the moral and legal appraisal of abortion. Part II embarked on a sustained analysis of a number of arguments about the threshold of moral personhood and the constitutive properties of a person. I concluded that although the concept of a person has at its core the kinds of higher psychological and emotional capabilities typical of mature human beings, our practices and intuitions tend to attribute some moral meaning to the possession of human embodiment. In the context of abortion, this could explain why abortion is correctly considered a more morally sobering affair the later in gestation it occurs—a common view among liberals and conservatives alike.

I also argued that there are strong moral interests driving the treatment of personhood as a ‘range property’. In short, there is a moral necessity in treating person- hood, especially according to law, as all or nothing within a specified range. I finally argued that there are good reasons to stipulate birth as the threshold for fully realized personhood. Whilst acknowledging that the emergence of personhood is, in truth, a continuum admitting of no sharp borderline, I drew attention to a number of ways in which birth can be considered a meaningful event in the life of the early human being, and an apt threshold with which to identify the attainment of full personhood status, given that such a threshold must be stipulated.

What does all this mean for the legal regulation of abortion? The answer to this question, which is not immediately apparent, is the focus of this chapter. Let me state at the outset that it is unlikely any detailed schema of abortion regulation follows directly from my conclusions in Parts I and II. Instead, I want to suggest a few ways in which those conclusions might inform a good law of abortion or answer common arguments made in the realm of abortion regulation. I begin by surveying the various forms of abortion regulation that are on the table.

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