The abortion debate: can we comprimise?

I was thinking about the way abortion debates tend to go. Usually, problems arise when pro-lifers are asked to justify their views on zygotes and blastocysts. Similarly, problems arise when pro-choicers are asked to justify their positions on 8-month old fetuses.

Is a comprimise possible? Can we point to a date after conception or a structure being developed and state that after this, we are dealing with a human individual, as opposed to a clump of cells or a tumor-analogue?

If you’re looking for a consensus that most people can agree on according to polls, then the US population as a whole seems to be willing to accept abortion thru the 1st trimester.

Of course, this would be completely unacceptable to both the pro-life and pro-choice movementa in general, and they’re the ones who grab the most headlines.

Abortion polling is a bit tricky. Some of the core “feelings” of thos epolled often seem at odds with legislation that would support.

See Gallup’s latest polling here.

In the philosophical sense, 58% of Americans say they want to either maintain status quo or loosen abortion restrictions.


Note too that phrasing of abortion related questions seems to make a huge difference in poll responses.

[soapbox mode]
In general the abortion issue is often (if not usually) framed (especially by the media) as focused on “women’s reproductive rights” or “woman’s right to choose”. If I ask a polling question about whether you favor reducing/removing someone’s rights, no matter what the issue is, the public will have a negative response to that idea…even if, as in the abortion case, they really do favor activities that do just that.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist David Shaw did an extensive analysis of abortion coverage by the media back in 1990. He published a several part story in the L.A. Times that concluded that, among other things,

See full story here.

I think both liberals and conservatives would agree that the way an issue is covered by the media will influence, to a large degree, public opinion polling. (Witness complaints about media coverage since 9/11…liberals complaining about uber patriotic media spin at the expense of civil rights)

Also, In the same way that PETA receives too much attention as a “representative viewpoint” of vegetarians or animals rights folks, abortion clinic bombers…or right wing extremists receive too much attention as representative of the pro life movement.

If Joe or Jill SixPack is asked an abortion related question, the tendancy to not be affiliated with “those pro life zealots” would be a strong tendancy…regardless of their actual beliefs.
More here about pro life stereotypes.

Gotcha, BeagleDave. We learned in Psych class that given any issue, all you need is a clever framing of a question, and you’ll get the poll result you want.

But as for me, I think that once a fetus has even a hint of sentience, you should think twice about aborting it. I.E., you insert one of the vacuums into a woman’s vagina while looking at an ultrasound - if you look, you can see the baby actually moving away from it.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that a woman should have that right. But I feel terrible for an infant that can at least have rudimentary thought, and has it taken away.

Going back to the OP, is a compromise possible? Certainly not one that will appease everyone, or, IMO, most people. On the pro-life side, you have a large group of people who believe that life begins at conception, and this abortion at any time is murder. They’re not going to say, “Well, okay, I guess you can murder an innocent child, as long as it’s before X weeks.” On the pro-choice side, you have a large group of people who believe that unless a woman can waltz into a hospital at 8 months, 3 weeks, and get an abortion, then her rights are being infringed by an oppressive patriarchal regime. These people aren’t going to be made happy by any sort of compromise.

Then you have the pro-life-lite side, who maybe would be okay with abortion up to about 2-3 months, albeit squeamishly, but anything after that is wrong (for the record, I’m kind of in here). These people will be okay with first-trimester-only abortions, likely. On the pro-choice-lite side, you’ve got those who are okay banning partial-birth and late-term abortions, but think the woman should be able to do whatever she pleases for the first 6 months. I would say that the majority of Americans who have any opinion on the matter fall into one of these two categories.

So where does that leave us? If we cut off abortions at the first trimester, we’re going to anger roughly 50% of the population. If we cut off abortions at the second trimester, we’re going to anger the other half. Cut them off somewhere in the middle, and you’ll just piss off everyone - pro-lifers will think it’s too late, pro-choicer will think it’s too soon.

We currently stand pretty much on the extreme pro-choice side, right now. A woman can pretty much get abortion-on-demand as late as she wishes, and the pro-life side is predictably irate. However, it appears that public sentiment is gradually shifting to to the pro-life side, such that we’ll probably see some kind of restrictions on abortion within the next decade or so. I think they’ll probably be minor, though - outlawing live-birth and partial-birth abortions, maybe something outlawing all abortions past 2nd trimester, and perhaps stricter laws on parental consent (which, in many areas is fairly lax, from what I’ve heard).

In general, I think the pro-choice side will maintain control of the issue in the forseeable future, but long term, who knows?

One problem is that the other side’s extremists make your side wary of any compromise, because today’s reasonable compromise will be seen as tomorrow’s starting point for new demands.

From the pro-choice point of view, we can see that there is a vocal group of people out there who believe that zygotes should be regarded as full persons from the moment of conception. Personally, I don’t have any problems with very severe restrictions on late-term abortions. Basically, I think the only time a third-trimester abortion should be allowed is if the child is doomed anyway by some lethal birth defect or by some medical condition which will kill both child and mother.

But, we’ve got even mainstream pro-life organizations defining the issue as “human life begins at conception”. So, if we compromise a little, and restrict or even outlaw abortions after the second trimeseter or after fetal viability or after fetal brain development has advanced to some particular stage, it’s not like they’re going to be satisfied. Clearly, there is an important segment of the pro-life movement(s) which will not stop arguing and advocating until all abortions are outlawed from the moment of conception, including many things which most people regard more as birth control than as abortion. So pro-choicers are wary of “Trojan horses” and the “thin end of the wedge” and so on.

To answer the OP — robertliguori, I think there is room for compromise, but probably not in the space where you are seeking it (at least as far as I’m concerned; I may not be representative of prochoice folks in general and your mileage may vary on other highways).

You folks (am I correct in believing that you are pro-life?) would mainly like to see a reduction in the number of abortions performed. We who are pro-choice are mainly interested in maximizing women’s control of their reproductive processes (i.e., that one is pregnant when and only when one specifically wishes to be pregnant, and not as an unintended byproduct of getting laid), and it would be a very unusual pro-choice person who would select abortion as the best all-around mechanism for attaining that (even if some of us believe that it will always be necessary to have access to abortion as a fall-back).

The areas of compromise, then, as I see it, would be working together in those areas that pertain to increasing reproductive control prior to conception. Better biotechnology. Less intrusive birth control. More user-friendly methods. Safer procedures. More research into all of this. And, certainly, more and better education.

Right now, much of the budgets of groups arrayed on either side of the debate goes towards neutralizing the effects of the budgets of the groups on the other side, playing tug-of-war on abortion rights, abortion access, restriction on abortion, insurance coverage, physician training, etc etc. It would be to the advantage of the goals of both factions to pledge matching funds towards education and research aimed at reducing the situations under which women would end up seeking abortions in the first place, yes?

It’s not just about when abortion should be legal.

The current legislative and court battles are being waged over the conditions of the abortion. That’s why I referenced the Gallup polling.

a) Parental consent. If Gallup is to be believed, most pro choice folks that I have seen post on this topic would be at odds with the populace. (86% favor parental notification)

b) “Informed consent” procedures
“Gallup’s 1996 survey on abortion regulations found 86% of Americans in favor of laws “requiring doctors to inform patients about alternatives to abortion before performing the procedure.” Only 11% were opposed.”
c) Spousal notification requirement (70 % favor

d) Funding of abortions, but internally and externally (Mexico City Policy) "A Newsweek poll conducted in February 2001 found a slim plurality of Americans (50% to 42%) in favor of President Bush’s recent executive order blocking all U.S. funding to overseas family planning groups that offer abortion counseling. "

e) waiting periods (75-80% favor a 24 hour waiting period)

f) use of RU-486 (divided polling “But Americans are closely divided about the matter, with support for making it legal ranging from 39% to 50%, depending on the specific question, and opposition ranging from 36% to 47%.”)

It surprises me how often people overlook how much agreement there is between pro-choice and pro-life people regarding this issue.

Both sides want the number of unwanted pregancies reduced. Both sides have the ideal of every child being a wanted, loved, well-cared for child. Both sides are comprised largely of people who are horrified by extremist actions being taken in justification of either position. Both sides include people who believe their position on the debate is relevant only in terms of themselves and should not be enforced on others.

Compromise might not be possible on all of the issues which comprise the abortion debate, but it’s certainly possible to find common ground on many of them if you wish to.

I am a man. Please don’t dismiss what I’m going to say, but also understand that I don’t and never will understand what it’s like to be a woman.

In another discussion about abortion, it was pointed out that it was the baby’s life at stake, and the mother really shouldn’t have the choice of life and death over her baby. But, a woman chimed in and said that sometimes the woman can be injured or die during childbirth. This had me stumped. Then, later, I read a book (totally unrelated to abortion, it was about gangsters) that had a woman going to a doctor to get permission (this is the best word I could come up with, I know it has an awful ring to it) for an abortion. So, here’s my compromise; If the doctor determines that the mother will be seriously injured or killed by having the baby, then she may choose whether or not to have the baby.

Now, certainly, this is assuming the baby was created between a consenting couple. My opinions are unresolved in the rape area.

The above compromise still counts when the baby is an accident. They may have used birth control, but, if Friends has taught us everything, it’s not always effective, and they should be ready for when it’s not. Of course, I don’t want a baby to be brought up by a mother who doesn’t want him, but there are foster parents out there to take care of him.

If the baby’s deformed, have him anyway. Teach your kid how to live without arms so he can go on to host Telemiracle.

I am also a man. I think Roe v. Wade is a compromise. I’d rather that women had the right, rather than the physician, and I’d like it to be a right that ends only when she (not the doctor) officially declares the baby to be alive after birth, rather than being gradually restricted as the pregnancy progresses, but for most real-life situations Roe is probably sufficient. (There are access problems that have nothing to do with rights so much as availability, convenience, and affordability, though).

If you don’t think women should have abortions, you have the right to express your opinions in hope that they will listen (although they have the right to tune you out), but you do not have the right to substitute your judgment for theirs.

Why not? Our legal system does this all the time. Our legal system routinely overturns the judgment of mere individuals, even when the lives of these individuals are adversely affected.

Remember, the pro-life contention is that abortion ends an innocent human life. It would be most bizarre for someone to say, “Well, I don’t personally think you should kill an innocent life, but my judgment is no more correct than yours.”

This is precisely my grounds for why things like child support and welfare should be optional rather than government enforced, but few people agree. The government commonly makes judgment calls for us (e.g. drug use) without anyone complaining. If only abortion were the norm rather than the exception.

So people can object to abortion, but they shouldn’t make it legally wrong? Only the mother is qualified to make the final judgment? Why?

Suppose that a mother decides to kill her one-month-old child. Is the mother the only person qualified to make this judgment? Is her judgment somehow more objective than that of a disinterested neutral party?

Because what is right and what is wrong are opinions. Our opinions are formed from our knowledge and life experiences. Only any omnipotent being can make an objective opinion. Since there are no omnipotent beings we can ask, we have no way of know which of our opinions are “right” and which are “wrong”. For that reason, if we cannot come up with grounds for a law other than the fact that it is “morally wrong”, there should be no law. Individuals can set their own moral code.

Suppose that a mother decides to kill her one-month-old child. Is the mother the only person qualified to make this judgment? Is her judgment somehow more objective than that of a disinterested neutral party?

The mother is not the most objective, but she is the most involved and thus the most suited to making such a choice. She has the right to make the choice because she is responsible for the child. In order for someone to make the choice for her, they must assume responsibility for the child (i.e. adopt it).

—Remember, the pro-life contention is that abortion ends an innocent human life. It would be most bizarre for someone to say, “Well, I don’t personally think you should kill an innocent life, but my judgment is no more correct than yours.”—

Agreed, this issue cannot be dodged in the proposed manner. When we talk about abortion in regards to the law, what we are concerned with is not anyone’s personal convictions being respected while others do as they will, but instead whether the state has an interest (be it reasonable or compelling, you tell me) in acting. If the fetus is regarded as a full human being, then the state has every reason to interevene. If it is not, it doesn’t. So the issue really unavoidably comes down to whether or not fetuses should be considered full human beings in a legal sense that the state has an interest in acting to protect.

—For that reason, if we cannot come up with grounds for a law other than the fact that it is “morally wrong”, there should be no law.—

Nonsense. That’s simply not how it works: morals can and do matter to legislation in a very real sense. Courts and legislators cannot avoid making decisions based upon whether various things are right and wrong.

—She has the right to make the choice because she is responsible for the child.—

But this again dodges the central issue! If it were a child in the ordinary sense, then the mother would have no more right to abort than to kill an infant. The state has legitimate interests in acting to protect children from the decisions of their parents.

—In order for someone to make the choice for her, they must assume responsibility for the child (i.e. adopt it).—

Likewise ridiculous. This is like saying that if a law prevents someone from stealing, then the frustrated theif must be given due compensation.

Like it or not, the issue in the case of abortion comes down to what we believe is the proper legal manner to regard the unborn. We cannot avoid taking a position on this issue, even as complex and controversial as it is.

Personally, I think it really goes to the core of the conflict between traditionally defined essentialisms and empirical judgement calls. The common pro-life position wants to define fetuses as “human” and pretend that that simply answers the question for good. But that way of thinking doesn’t hold much water with people who see very real moral differences in different sorts of beings with very different characteristics, and for whom all the connotations of “human” in the legal sense doesn’t really answer at all the questions raised by the situation of fetuses.

all righty i got a compromise.

people who want abortions should be able to have them, people who don’t want them, don’t have to have them.

and medical staff should follow their consciences.

i don’t think that whether something is “alive” or a “person” really changes the motivation for a person making the decision to terminate their pregnancy.

sometimes you have to let people get on with their own lives.

personally i don’t want to perform abortions, but if a woman was suicidal or her life was in danger i would certainly do so.

i would also try to help her with her choice by referring her as quickly as possible to someone who is willing to perform the procedure.

i don’t think it’s up to us to dictate to other people what they can and can’t do with their bodies, their lives and their consciences.

—people who want abortions should be able to have them, people who don’t want them, don’t have to have them.—

Again, for the pro-life persuasion, this is not a comprimise at all. People that don’t want abortions ALREADY don’t have them. The issue in contention IS whether abortion should be permissible or not.

You’d think so, wouldn’t you? However, I’ve found the occasional woman who says that she’s pro-life getting an abortion. I used to be an abortion clinic escort, and I helped women obtain interest free loans for abortions. There’s not too many of these folks (some men will be against abortions in principle, but when THEIR sister/girlfriend/whatever gets knocked up…), but they are out there.

I really don’t know how these people rationalize their actions. But it does bother me that they will take advantage of safe, legal abortions for themselves, and then try to deny the same thing for other people.

This post of mine in the other thread discusses another one of those “how do they rationalise it to themselves” situations Lynn. I assume similar arrangements are made in the US, too.