UCL Faculty of Laws


Prenatal Personhood and Life’s Intrinsic Value: Reappraising Dworkin on Abortion

Kate Greasley

1 March 2017


What is at the heart of conflict over abortion? In his celebrated contribution to the topic, Ronald Dworkin argued that disputants in the abortion debate are in fact deeply mistaken about the true terms of their disagreement. Rather than turning on the perennial question of whether or not the fetus is a person, Dworkin claimed that abortion argument is, at bottom, an argument about the intrinsic value of all human life and how it is best respected. More than twenty years after Dworkin put forward his novel thesis, this article reassesses his key claims about the nub of abortion argument, partly in light of subsequent developments in the public abortion conflict. Against Dworkin’s revisionist account of the abortion problem, I set out to show that his arguments did not successfully displace the primacy of the personhood question in moral and legal constitutional reasoning about abortion. Nor do they convincingly establish that prenatal personhood is not what contestants in the abortion debate are really arguing about.

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