Teaching abortion

By Ezio Di Nucci

Many thanks to Helen Watt for engaging with my piece on teaching abortion anno 2022. We might disagree on the ethics and politics of abortion itself, but we clearly agree on (the ethics and politics of) teaching it. As she says, ‘universities should extend, not curtail, students’ exposure to other views’ (and in fact I am happy to report that we did end up including abortion in all components of our ethics course at the medical school: lectures, seminars and even the exam).

Here I just want to clarify my view, since the original piece was written before SCOTUS’s decision: the overturning of Roe makes it more, rather than less, urgent that we engage with abortion (and women’s reproductive and sexual rights more in general – the patriarchy, basically) in the classroom. Additionally, SCOTUS has made it more urgent that we analyze abortion arguments in the classroom – particularly those against it (Marquis, say).

As the original comment argued, the whole problem with SCOTUS (and philosophy, actually – and in fact the Democrats too) is that we underestimated abortion, that we thought it was done. That same way of thinking about other big progressive idea(l)s (equality, basically) is – in very simple terms – why Trump won. But – and philosophers should know this better than most – big philosophical questions are never done. So we can forgive the democrats, maybe – but certainly not philosophers.

Now you might object that any argument that throws philosophers and the Democrats in the same sentence is not only invalid but outright incomprehensible. But the thin red line is easy to spot: if we don’t expose our students to other views (in Watt’s words), they will continue to underestimate other views, which will allow those views back in. What needs exposing, then, is not just students, but also bad arguments; that will be our safety mechanism against the next Trump.

This clearly isn’t as important as inflation when it comes to political outcomes; well, actually, this Marxist hypothesis will be tested in less than a month at the midterms, which is basically SCOTUS vs inflation or, for philosophers, Frankfurt school vs actual Marxism (and if you want my own personal prediction, Marxism will win in NV+GA+PA and the Senate gone); but it’s the one small contribution that pawns like us can try to make in the classroom – and it sure don’t help if colleagues are fired for being too demanding.

Summing up: abortion is never wrong, but forgodssake teach it – and teach especially arguments against it. I say to my students that a classroom is not a democracy, but democracy can sure die in the classroom if we shy away from engaging the other side.

Author: Ezio Di Nucci

Affiliation: University of Copenhagen

Competing interests: None

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