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Back around the turn of the century, the head of the United States Patent Office suggested that the time might have come to close his bureau down. His reason was simple: there would be no more useful patents, because all the inventions had been made.

The literature on abortion is like that too: one longs for something new, an idea that will shake things up, but as each new article or book comes out, one is left with the dreadful and yet unavoidable sense that everything has been said. Not only that, but most of it was said ten years ago. Whatever arguments for free choice Justice Blackmun might have omitted in his comprehensive but unsatisfying majority opinion in Roe v. Wade have long since been filled in, and the basic pro-life argument, that the fetus should be protected for its real or potential personhood, is restated in lots of clever ways but is still only restated. As eyes glaze over, it often has seemed during the past two decades that only the names of the authors who offer the arguments have changed.

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