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  • BIOETHICS FORUM ESSAY

Bad Arguments for Good Causes: The Morning After Pill

The over-the-counter contraceptive, known as Plan B (or the morning-after pill), has of course been controversial. But there is one feature of the debate where the voice of ethicists should have been heard: whether opposition to use of the contraceptive is a wrong and unwarranted interference with good science. That has been a common complaint of those supportive of it, but it seems to me a kind of ideology-driven confusion.

I am in favor of the pill, which I think useful for women. Yet that is my ethical judgment, not a scientific judgment. The scientific evidence indicates the morning-after pill is highly, if not perfectly, effective in preventing pregnancy; it works. The ethical question then becomes: ought it to be made available over the counter? I say yes. Those opposed take a different ethical position, but it is not in any way an interference with science or a distortion of scientific evidence to take that position. It is the use of one moral view to object to another moral view, which is surely acceptable in our society.

I raise the issue because one of the hardest things to do in bioethics is to be publicly critical of bad arguments used to support positions we passionately favor – particularly when that criticism will be picked up by the other side and used against us. Yet if we believe that the process and integrity of public debate is important, and if we believe that politically effective arguments that are simply wrong should be rejected – whatever harm that may do to the success of our convictions – then we should speak out. And one of our important intellectual skills should be the ability to distinguish between scientific evidence and ethical positions; and one of our personal moral skills should be to have the nerve to say so.

– Daniel Callahan

Published on: September 22, 2006
Published in: Bioethics, Human Reproduction, Science and Society

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