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Thirty-five years and 50 million abortions later, Roe v. Wade stands as a nearly sacred text for the sexual revolution. Just as Christianity has its apologists, so does Roe. Philosophers and ethicists such as David Boonin, Eileen McDonagh, and Judith Thomson either defend associate justice Harry Blackmun's reasoning in Roe or build further justifications for what Roe established. Francis Beckwith, associate professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University, spends much of Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge) taking on these abortion-rights apologists.

This is important work. If the Supreme Court ever seriously curtails the laissez-faire abortion environment established by Roe, abortion-rights arguments will shape the movement that surely will persist. Beckwith, who last year reconverted to Catholicism, builds his argument without appealing to Christian revelation. Thus, he challenges the notion that restricting abortion would be tantamount to imposing Christian dogma on American law.

Defending Life is not the sort of book that a crisis pregnancy center can hand out to its younger clients in hopes of saving a life. It is a heavily technical debate with other specialists. Beckwith does, however, lighten the load with an occasional pop-culture reference. In the context of a discussion about the scope of the human community, here is one of his wittiest turns: "After all, if Christopher Reeve was identical to his embryonic self, then we were no more justified in killing an embryo to acquire its stem cells so that Mr. Reeve might walk again than we would be in stealing Mr. Reeve's eyes so that Stevie Wonder might see again."

Beckwith performs a most effective demolition job ...

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February 2008

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