How influential is liberalism? Take the issue of abortion. This issue is under discussion again for two reasons. First, doctors can now keep alive some prematurely born babies after 22 weeks of pregnancy. Second, newly released pictures of the unborn in the womb show a resemblance to babies, rather than to inert cells.
In Britain David Steel, architect of the 1967 Abortion Act, has called for changes to the abortion law. He wants to forbid "on request" abortions after 22 weeks, rather than 24 weeks of pregnancy.
A very cautious reform, you might think. But it drew a very predictable response from Ellie Lee, in the "enlightenment" liberal magazine Spiked-Online.
Ellie Lee asks herself the question, how can a doctor be asked to save the life of a baby born prematurely after 22 weeks pregnancy in one ward of a hospital, but then abort a baby after a 22 week pregnancy in another ward.
Her answer is that this "dilemma" can be resolved "if the aim, in both cases, is to assist the woman to achieve what she wants".
This may seem bluntly selfish. But from a liberal point of view it is principled. Liberals believe as a first principle that we should be free to act according to our individual will and reason. This principle is a long established orthodoxy in Western countries.
Ellie Lee is therefore only following through with an established liberal principle when she asserts that it is the right to choose in any direction which makes a decision on abortion moral or otherwise.
It should be noted that the liberal position is not an easy one to keep. American feminist Naomi Wolf, for instance, has expressed her disquiet about late term abortions because of the emotions she felt toward her own unborn child and because of ultrasound images showing how much her unborn looked like a baby. Ms Wolf has suggested that women not wanting to keep their children should be given support in having them adopted.
The complaint of Ellie Lee in her article, that most doctors are unwilling to perform late term abortions, also shows the reluctance of many people to follow through with the liberal "right to choose" principle when it comes to abortion.
At times, in fact, Ellie Lee sounds a bit desperate in her attempt to keep the liberal flag flying. For instance, her response to Ms Wolf is to criticise her for being overly "subjective" in examining the issue on the basis of her feelings and experience. Ms Lee, one imagines, has steeled herself to follow an abstract, intellectual principle and expects others to do the same.
What all this goes to show is that moral issues aren't discussed in the West in some impartial manner, but within the framework of a particular philosophy, namely liberalism. On a moral issue like abortion, therefore, we're unlikely to see any major change in policy, despite the fact that science is beginning to unsettle the liberal view of the unborn, and despite the fact that even many liberals feel themselves "conflicted" in their attitude to the issue, because of their own experience and emotional response to pregnancy and motherhood.