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John Rawls on Abortion - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 97
Abortion/Rawls/Waldron: Waldron: A theory of justice (...) is not just some set of esoteric formulas; it is supposed to be something public, something shared among the citizens as a common point of reference for their debates about the allocation of rights and responsibilities. Interestingly some of the discussion in Political Liberalism of the abortion example showed how difficult it is to apply this stricture in practice. In a footnote to the original edition Rawls inferred, from the fact that anti-abortion laws usually rest on controversial religious grounds, that liberty in this regard was required (1993(1): 243n).
WaldronVsRawls: But he quickly had to concede that that was a mistake (1996(2): lv), for three reasons.
1) (...) we are not entitled to assume liberty in such an area as the default position, any more than we are entitled to conclude that foetuses do not have souls from the fact that political liberalism is unable to countenance religious arguments to the effect that they do.
2) (...) although there might be good neutral arguments for a right to choose abortion in the first trimester, we must not assume that there are no contrary arguments or no way of opposing abortion rights that does not run foul of the strictures of political liberalism. Many opponents of abortion will insist that their arguments for protecting human foetuses are continuous with arguments (that they insist any theory of justice must acknowledge) for protecting all human life, particularly in its most vulnerable forms.
3) (...) the fact that a religious doctrine may not be appealed to in order to justify restrictions on abortion doesn’t mean that such doctrines are altogether beyond the pale.


1. Rawls, John (1993) Political Liberalism. New York: Columbia University Press.
2. Rawls, John (1996) Political Liberalism, new edn. New York: Columbia University Press.

Waldron, Jeremy 2004. „Liberalism, Political and Comprehensive“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.

Rawl I
J. Rawls
A Theory of Justice: Original Edition Oxford 2005

Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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