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The US Supreme Court’s overturning of a federal ruling of 1973 that upheld the right to abortion will push this service out of reach for women in America’s conservative states and endanger the lives of those who try non-medical alternatives. That this should happen in an avowedly secular country is particularly alarming. In general, religious precepts must not shape policy or override scientific sense. Whatever the stated motive, there are numerous examples of unintended consequences. By one reading of Indian history, an attempt by Aurangzeb to ban usury put banks out of business, squeezed trade credit, dealt a blow to Surat as a busy port and made it hard for the once-thriving Mughal economy to recover.

Policies should be guided by our state of modern knowledge, with sufficient space for revision as we ascend the learning curve. Progress is vital. Conservatism broadly argues that views held by our ancestors down the ages can’t be pushed aside by novel ideas, as change that lacks the endorsement of past thinking is risky. But this assumes that we have nothing new to learn, which is patently false. The US judiciary has set a poor example for the world.

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