Ethics Villain: University Of California Prof. Michele Goodwin


Why does Ethics Alarms rate Professor Goodwin an Ethics Villain rather than the more common, and usually forgivable, status of Ethics Dunce? It is because in her op-ed for the New York Times, “I Was Raped by My Father. An Abortion Saved My Life,” she deliberately misrepresents the law and ethics of the abortion issue while using her status as a law professor to mislead readers. She also presents an argument that is purely an appeal to emotion, though as a scholar and teacher she is professionally obligated not to advance a position without basing it in reason and fact.

There is nothing unethical or inappropriate about Goodwin advancing a pro-abortion position if she does so honestly. She is obviously committed on the issue as the founding director of the U.C.I. Law Center for Biotechnology and Global Health Policy and its Reproductive Justice Initiative, and the author of “Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood.” Terrific: make your case, Professor! I have an open mind; I look forward to reading it. You obviously have the skill, background, experience and erudition to be enlightening and persuasive on the topic.

But Goodwin doesn’t make a legal case, an ethical case, a moral case or even a logical one in her op-ed. Doing any of those require acknowledging counter arguments and rebutting them with facts and analysis. Instead, her essay goes straight for the heartstrings and viscera, bypassing the brain entirely.

Goodwin was raped by her father when she was 12, you see. How horrible. She courts our sympathy, and, not inappropriately, receives it. However, she never makes the case that a young woman’s (or girl’s) misfortunes, however severe, justify taking the life of another human being.

Maybe it does. That’s a very tough ethical assertion to make, but hey, I’m listening. The professor, however never tries to make that case, raising the rebuttable presumption that she knows that in a fair balancing of rights and interests, her position is untenable no matter how horrible the plight of incest victims are.

It is a particularly bad portent of things to come when the title of a law professor’s screed itself is a lie. Goodwin never says that getting an abortion when she was 12 actually “saved her life.” It allowed her to build the career path and life she eventually had, no question about that. Stipulated! However, stating that the abortion (which must be acknowledged as the taking of a human life, at some level) “saved her life” places the act of taking another’s life in a literal self-defense context. Again: she’s a law professor. She knows that rhetorical cheat is unethical. She used it anyway.

She did so,obviously I think, because she has chosen to join the forces desperately trying to influence the Supreme Court’s ruling in a case that might redefine or (though I doubt it) even result in its overturning. Those forces, it is clear, view the guaranteed right to abortions so crucial to their world view that they are willing to employ any tactics, claims, distortions, rationalizations, threats or incitements in order to achieve a desired end: a clear path to sacrificing the unborn for “the greater good.”

But SHHHHHHHH! Make sure that it is never described that way….might make people on the fence think.

As a law professor, Goodwin is supposed to be better than that. She has the knowledge, critical thinking skills and training to guide society to the right place in this complex ethics conflict, and people who are not lawyers nor academics trust her and others in her profession to clarify the truth, or at least her measured and honest assessment of it. That is why her op-ed is so despicable. It is a betrayal of trust, and she weaponizes her betrayal with unrestrained demagoguery, writing in one section,

With those laws, the state has in effect forced girls to carry the burden of its desires, forcing many of them to risk their health — and even risk death — by remaining pregnant. Like a military draft, the state has coercively conscripted rape and incest survivors to endure one more tremendous burden. To take another devastating physical and mental hit. To tie their lives to those of their rapists. This time it is state lawmakers who strong-arm their bodies into service.

OK, Professor, now explain why these burdens justify taking the lives of even more vulnerable human beings in order to mitigate them. That follow-up is mandatory, because it is the difficult issue at hand. Abused wives also face risks to their health “and even risk death”–should the law give such spouses the right to murder their husbands? Should Americans who can make a strong case that another individual poses a serious enough threat to their lives, health or future that their killing by the persons they afflict should be treated as a right?

Not only do those who depend on experts and scholars to address society’s toughest questions look to people like the professor for their honest, learned analyses of such questions, they need them. Society needs them too. For Professor Goodwin to instead play unprincipled advocate, throwing up fog and smoke to obscure exactly what makes the abortion problem so difficult is professional malpractice.

Since she embraces every other form of dishonest debate, Goodwin throws a straw man into the mix too, writing,

“Rather than provide aid and care, states often punish girls who have run away from home after experiencing sexual violence. More than 80 percent of the girls in juvenile justice systems in some states are victims of sexual or physical violence. For so many of these girls, their pipelines are not from youth to college and graduate school but to juvenile detention and possibly prison. Their lives are treated as expendable and not worth saving.”

Anything for an “Awww!,” eh, Professor? The abortion dispute is not about society’s inadequate care for runaways or preventing sexual violence. The law does not allow punishment, and certainly does not condone ending, the lives of innocent third parties because of the crimes of someone else are so devastating except in the case of abortion after rape and incest. Explain why the exception is moral, ethical and consistent with basic legal principles, please. It’s your job.

She even has the gall to write,

Abortion bans represent more than isolated state lawmaking or states’ rights — they represent an attack on the fundamental principles of liberty, freedom and autonomy.

Did she sneak that one by you? Which fundamental principle from our founding documents embodied in the bedrock words that the Supreme Court is charged with protecting did she leave out? Life! The “Unalienable”right to live.

It was no accident. The law professor deliberately left it out because even mentioning “life” (the word, along with “unborn,” “fetus,” “embryo,” and “baby” never appears in the essay) might illuminate the issue a little bit too much, and spark readers’ interest in the other human being in the legal and ethical equation…the interested party which the “pro-choice” forces want to keep invisible.

9 thoughts on “Ethics Villain: University Of California Prof. Michele Goodwin

  1. Sorry, pet peeve of mine:

    Stop saying “rape and incest”!

    It’s just rape.

    Including incest just muddies the issue.

    If incest is consensual, why should that be a basis for terminating a life?

    If incest is not consensual, it’s rape.


    Rape is all you need

    Wait, that came out wrong….


  2. There’s no life saving. She could have given the kid up for adoption. The only issue would be if her body was too young to handle the marriage.

    I am so tired of these appeals to emotions masquerading as actual arguments. Some ethical decisions are hard and require sacrifice. No one is blaming the victim, but life sometimes puts us in situations where we have to make the hard decision.

    Having a child would not have ruined her life.

  3. Jack wrote,

    “You obviously have the skill, background, experience and erudition to be enlightening and persuasive on the topic.”

    Why do you assume that? Your evisceration of her piece would indicate otherwise.


    “Again: she’s a law professor. She knows that rhetorical cheat is unethical. She used it anyway.”

    Why do you assume she know that what she is proposi0ng is a rhetorical cheat? Chris Cuomo is a lawyer who is incapable of making a coherent argue on anything including, but not limited to breakfast meals. My wife is of the opinion that I am incapable making a cogent argument to save what is left my unworthy soul even though I am a lawyer.

    To the “hands off my womb” and rabid pro-choice brigades, there is no acknowledgement that there is another life at stake. It is simply the woman’s will/desire that controls, the rest be damned. Whoopi Goldberg said beautifully yesterday when she declared that there is no place on this planet for an opinion on abortion nless one is a natural born XX chromosomal unit.


    • John, I think there’s a deep down but strong and almost physical streak of savagery on the distaff side when it comes to this issue.

  4. Jack, Jack, Jack. This is the lived experience of a woman of color. Who knows, she may even be non-hetero-normative. As a cis gendered white male, you have no right whatsoever to criticize her or her statement in any way, shape or form. Logic and argumentation are white supremacist constructs.

  5. The argument that victims of incest are saved from further abuse by not being forced to go through with a pregnancy makes me wonder how many abusers manage to escape timely detection of their crimes by making sure their victim has an abortion. It has to be easier to convince a child to keep the secret during a short period of time, with a few conversations with doctors or nurses than it would be to keep the secret over months and months of a pregnancy.

  6. Hooray for paywall.

    There are so many things to say, and have been said, about situations like this. It is a tragedy and a crime that a father would molest his daughter in such a fashion. Yet the child conceived is innocent. My wife reminds everyone she can that when her mother was pregnant, she didn’t know if the child was her lover’s, or her father’s. See, her father had been forcing himself on her for years. Unbeknownst to my mother-in-law, he’d had a vasectomy and likely could not father any children, but when she became pregnant, she didn’t know if it was from her father or from her lover. Someday, maybe we’ll conduct a genetic test to find out for certain. But what difference does it make? My wife is the wonderful person she is now. I love her dearly. If she actually is the creation of incest, so what? It isn’t her fault, and her very existence dragged me out of the darkness of depression and self-loathing. Not only is she innocent of her grandfather’s crime, but her very life has improved the lives of those around her.

    I cannot discount the pain and life-altering situation that such a pregnancy entails. The violation of trust between father and daughter is enraging. A father is supposed to protect and defend his daughter, not exploit her. Yet, as tragic as conception from such actions is, the recourse to abortion merely exacerbates the situation. The guilty party skates scot-free. The raped lives not only with the desecration, but the knowledge that she ended the life of an innocent party. The guilt persists for decades.

    The real conversation should not focus on a women’s right to choose, but how the allowance of abortion allows so many crimes to proceed undetected. Abortion spares women the consequences of unrestrained sexual activity, but allows men unbridled access to consequence-free sexual exploitation. Women would be better served to insist on fidelity and self-restraint, instead of surrendering to the second-best recourse of mopping up the consequences of rape, incest, one-night stands, and casual relations with no expectations of life-long commitments.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.