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Ethics Expert Available on Abortion Debate as 31st Anniversary of Roe v. Wade Approaches

As the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade approaches, on January 22, ethicist N. Ann Davis, a professor of philosophy and the McConnell professor of Human Relations at Pomona College, is available to discuss today’s biggest challenges to the landmark court decision as well as the on-going battle on restrictions.

Davis focuses her research on bioethics, ethics, morality and the abortion debate. Her most recent publications include:

  • "Moral Dilemmas," in A Companion to Applied Ethics (Blackwell's, 2003);
  • "Fiddling Second" (a discussion of Judith Jarvis Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion" ) in Fact and Value (MIT Press, 2003);
  • "Abortion" in The Encyclopedia of Ethics (Garland Publishing, 2 ed., 2001); and
  • "Not Drowning but Waving: Reflections on Swimming Through the Shark-Infested Waters of the Abortion Debate," in Advances in Bioethics, Vol. 2 (JAI Press, 1997).

Following are her thoughts on the status of the Roe v. Wade decision and abortion politics today:

“The biggest challenge to Roe right now comes from two areas: the enactment of the 'partial-birth' abortion ban, and the public's general failure to appreciate how much of a difference it makes to a society to have abortion safe and legal. So many women have grown up in an environment in which abortion, however it may be stigmatized, has been legal, that it is tnot surprising that there is not a more lively awareness of what it would mean to dramatically restrict women's abortion rights.

“Banning 'partial-birth' abortion, a non-scientific and obviously polemical term, amounts to an attempt to win politically what the Court will not grant legislatively. And it is politics of the basest sort: engage people viscerally, and they react in disgust. They do not think.

“The reality is that there is no significant moral difference between post-first-trimester abortions (PFT abortions) performed by D&X (the medical term that refers to the procedure identified as 'partial birth' abortion) and those performed by other methods. The choice of method is a medical choice, one influenced by the specific details of each case.

“What 'partial-birth' abortion opponents do NOT tell people is that D&X is often chosen when the size of the fetal head is so great that it could NOT pass through the birth canal--in which case there is often no possibility of meaningful life for the fetus, even if it were NOT aborted. It makes no sense, morally or medically, to ban D&X while allowing other PFT abortion techniques. Like many surgical procedures, PTF abortion is not pretty, but the prettiness of the surgical technique is not important. What matters is the good being served. Anyone who has witnessed a heart bypass procedure can tell you how grisly that procedure is. But because it saves lives (or restores health), the seeming barbarity does not matter to us.

“Critics of the ban on 'partial birth' abortion charge that banning that technique is the first step down the path to banning ALL PFT abortions, and ultimately overturning Roe. One does not have to be an enthusiastic supporter of the Roe decision to realize how pernicious this would be. Returning abortion issues to the states--probably the best case scenario one could hope for from the current Supreme Court--would result in a severe truncation of women's reproductive freedom.”

Prof. Davis can be reached at her office (909) 607-1695 or by email at Or read her Faculty Profile.