Those at the fringes of the abortion argument wish to make it simple. At the foundation of the ideological debate lies the civil rights of the unborn child versus the civil rights of the woman. Protect the life of the unborn (is it life?), or sacrifice the child’s life in hopes of a better life for the mother. The current data shows approximately 10 percent of Americans support abortion under all circumstances and approximately 10 percent of Americans oppose abortion under all circumstances.
Most Americans hold a more nuanced view, balanced by the obvious conundrums imposed by abortion. Most Americans don’t want to make a personal decision for another American, but most Americans also don’t like the idea that a helpless victim gets killed due to irresponsibility. (That is, choosing to abort a baby for convenience — or even worse, for gender — makes people uncomfortable. In the latter case, it’s nearly universally reviled — 90 percent of Americans are against aborting to select for gender.)
So even pro-choice folks will blanch at the implications of gender selection. But why is that any more offensive than aborting the healthy result of a rape or the genetically undesired child? Matt Lewis writes about this logical gap:
If one believes abortion is murder, they should not take solace in merely seeing to it that abortions are rare or infrequent — but that they are outlawed. Conversely, if one believes that abortion is not murder, why not celebrate it as a way to avoid unwanted pregnancies and control population? The most intellectually dishonest position one can take — regardless of where one comes down on the abortion debate — is that abortion should be legal but rare.
It does seem that the pro-choice folks, or those who are primarily pro-choice but who find abortion repugnant when used to select a gender, are being self-deceptive. Abortion is either taking a life or it is not. And if it is not taking a life, then it should never be offensive. In fact, abortion can really only be seen as a positive, life-affirming thing if no life is lost in the process.
Kathleen McKinley takes aim at the “common ground” argument that President Obama made:
Once again a pro-choicer asks for us to find common ground on abortion. I wonder if Obama would have wanted the segregationists to find common ground with those who wished to integrate. I imagine a speech Obama might have made when slavery was legal. He would have wanted slave owners to find common ground with the slaves. I mean, we couldn’t make slavery illegal because that would effect the economy, and the Supreme Court has declared that blacks are not fully human, so we should just find common ground to compromise. Allow slavery, but find ways to make slavery less necessary. We should come together to change hearts about slavery.
The pro-abortion opinion that life begins when a child gasps his first breath is patently ridiculous. Babies are being born and kept alive in less than ideal circumstances now as early as 20 weeks gestation. Often by the time a woman finds out she’s pregnant, the baby has a heartbeat. That means that blood, circulating nutrients to the body, is being pumped by the heart. The brain and brain stem are developing.
Scientific discoveries make dehumanizing embryos and fetuses more and more difficult. Here is a picture and 3D ultrasound of a 10 week gestation fetus. When at five or six weeks a woman hears the heartbeat, or sees the baby via ultrasound, it’s real. People can argue semantics about embryo and fetus. It’s a baby.
And when people think about the moral ramifications of this too much, it gets uncomfortable. So people don’t think much about it.
Meanwhile, doctors have inane discussions about when a fetus feels pain. Some argue that fetuses don’t feel pain until the 28th week. But this, too, is patently absurd. My own sons were born at 24 weeks gestation and I saw them scream — yes, scream — in pain during every heel stick they received. Further research bore out my observations. Heel sticks are one of the most painful procedures a baby endures — even severely premature babies who supposedly don’t feel pain. (They used to not use anesthesia on these preemies during surgery, too. Oops!) And as anyone who has spent time in a neonatal intensive care unit knows, premature babies receive heel sticks sometimes hourly when first born.
And so arguments descend into feeling versus expressing pain, as if it makes a difference regarding the ethics of whether or not he should live.
But truly, most people honestly admit that abortion is ending a life. They just feel it is a lesser of two evils. A man or woman imagines how often they’ve potentially been in the unintended baby jam, and they want the option of killing — yes, killing — a baby to protect their own life.
So abortion is okay, but not preferred, as long as it’s before 12 weeks and the baby still looks somewhat like a kidney bean. If it’s after 12 weeks, the mom should be sick or a rape victim, or the baby should have some problem. Yes, this is morally problematic. No, we Americans don’t want to really think about it.
Americans end up making logically incoherent leaps. If a couple has an “oops” night, morning-after pills should be available. This seems sensible, right? Americans know that the majority of abortions happen with economically disadvantaged and minority people. People don’t like to say it out loud, but is that really a bad thing? Abortions might prevent future crime.
This sure feels like it slides towards eugenics, maybe because it is eugenics.
The president of the United States, then, gets up in front of a Catholic university, which causes all sorts of controversy. But really, President Obama’s mixed messages on abortion mirrors that of America’s. People want the “procedure” to stay legal. They don’t want other people having abortions for convenience or for gender selection, but they do want it available for themselves. And it’s wrong. And people admit it’s wrong; they just don’t want it to change all that much.
As science advances, and the ways to measure a baby’s vitality become more precise, people will argue for narrowing the parameters for abortion. It will be a scientific and pragmatic argument. If the abortion decision was based purely on morality and ethics, abortion would still be illegal — except for the extraordinarily rare cases to save a woman’s life.
The truth? Keeping abortion legal, if progressively restricted, is a utilitarian argument that Americans are comfortably uncomfortable with and the law is unlikely to dramatically change any time soon.