Public Reason: Vol. 2, No. 1, June 2010
Abortion and the Limits of Political Liberalism
Henrik Friberg-Fernros

In this article, I argue that laws permitting abortion are incompatible with political liberalism since such laws necessarily are dependent on beliefs or doctrines incompatible with other reasonable comprehensive doctrines. To demonstrate this I argue against two lines of defense for the compatibility between abortion and political liberalism. These two lines of defense are: (a) the agnostic position, according to which abortion are justified by reference to the uncertainty about on the status of the fetus and (b) the irrelevance position, according to which the rights of the woman to terminate the pregnancy override the rights of the fetus no matter whether or not the moral status of the fetus is considered as strong as the status of the woman. My conclusion is that both of these two lines of argument rest on beliefs or doctrines in conflict with other reasonable comprehensive doctrines. They are therefore in conflict with political liberalism. I finally discuss the implications for political liberalism given that my argument is sound. I conclude by arguing for a transformation of the duty to avoid conflicts with reasonable comprehensive doctrines to a mere ambition to avoid disputiveness as such.

Key words: political liberalism, abortion laws, John Rawls, comprehensive doctrines.


Henrik, Friberg-Fernros. 2010. Abortion and the Limits of Political Liberalism. Public Reason 2 (1): 27-42.