Roe v. Wade was a compromise
It established a right—a limited one—to make your own decisions in a complex ethical area.
The Century editors see eye to eye on many subjects. The ethics of abortion is not one of them. Some of us see abortion as a moral good; others very much do not. Some of us find it morally troubling but maintain that there are instances in which it is the least bad option.
We agree, however, about Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision the US Supreme Court overturned today. It was a crucial legal protection that empowered people to make such ethical determinations for themselves—and to act on them without fear of legal sanction. Now that protection is gone.
To be sure, ethical issues are often legislated and litigated in our society, even at the expense of individual choice. But abortion is especially complex, because it involves ethical claims about competing rights—claims that cannot be tidily resolved. What exactly is the moral status of a fetus, and how should the rights of that fetus be weighed against the bodily autonomy of women and pregnant people? This question cannot be answered definitively by appeals to empiricism or even to a standard ethical concept like human dignity. Ultimately it is a philosophical question—one that the people closest to it should answer for themselves, rather than being bound by the views of experts and authorities.