Moral Clarity and Personhood

In this morning’s Baltimore Sun, Leonard Pitts assesses the recent defeat of Mississippi’s “Personhood” amendment ballot initiative:

Moral clarity is inherently more compelling than moral irresolution, the starkness of black and white preferable to the foggy opacity of the grays. Unfortunately for them, it is precisely in the grays where those who support a woman’s right to choose are required to make their stand. Nobody “likes” abortion. Nobody, not even the most ardent defender of choice, disputes the sacredness of human life.

But we balance that against the conviction that there is something totalitarian in the idea that the state can force a woman to bear a child that she, for whatever reason—incest, rape, illness, deformity or grinding poverty —does not wish to bear.

Most of us will never have to make that call, for which most of us should be thankful. And many of us believe the best thing we can do is leave it at that, leave the decision in the hands of the women it impacts and wish them Godspeed.

But some would arrogate that decision unto the state under the guise of moral clarity. The Mississippi vote, then, is instructive. It finds the nation’s most conservative state essentially conceding that moral clarity is sometimes as false as it is seductive — and that there are some calls the state cannot and should not make.

There’s a term for that belief: pro-choice.

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