The abortion debate: what are the true sides?

I’ve been thinking a bit about the abortion debate. It seems to me that the usual division of things into “pro-life” and “pro-choice” isn’t right.

I think that the real dividing line is whether you think that the rules that apply to an adult walking around on the street minding his business also apply in a straightforward fashion to a fetus. If someone thinks that they do, then abortion is murder, period, and the only time when it could even conceivably be an option is in situations in which the life of the mother is endangered. (i.e., a sort of “self defense” argument.)

The other side is categorized by their belief that abortion is permissible under some circumstances but not others. For example, some people want broadly defined choice. In the extreme, some would argue for abortion on demand during the full nine months of pregnancy. Others want it limited to the first six months, etc. The narrower end of the range is occupied by people who argue that abortion is only a permissible choice in cases of rape or incest, but in those cases, it’s up to the mother to choose.

And yet, these people who support a woman’s right to choose in limited cases are called “antiabortion” or “pro-life.” I would suggest calling them “limited choice.” They don’t feel that banning abortion completely is a good thing, and support a woman’s right to choose, but take a stronger line on limiting the range of situations in which that choice is permissible.

As far as I can tell, “pro-life” is the term they prefer. It’s not something the opposition clapped on them. “Anti-abortion” is a misleading term, but not because some of the people who use it support abortion under certain circumstances. It’s misleading because no one really likes abortion.

Problem is that the term is imprecise, and while in a sense it’s accurate, it muddies the debate. I think you’ve very wrong to characterize supporting abortion without condition (i.e. for the full nine months) as an extreme attitude. Likewise - and I know someone will contradict me shortly for this, but I’m gonna make the generalization anyway - I think the majority of people who profess to favor “limited choice” only support it as the first step toward eliminating abortion altogether. Witness the so-called ‘partial-birth abortion’ issue.

In other words, while there’s middle ground on any issue, abortion is an extremely controversial one - and there may be less of a middle ground on it than you think.

I think the great majority of people would fit comfortably into one of three camps on the issue:

*Abortion is wrong.
*Abortion is wrong except in cases of rape or incest.
*A woman should be able to have an abortion if she wants it.

My feeling is that the amount of people who make exceptions based on the duration of the pregnancy is quite small.

I’m sorry to keep coming back, my thoughts are just not coming in bunches right now. You ask “what are the true sides?” If you’re talking about sides, there’s got to be opposition, not shades. And there really is opposition here.

You say that for the most anti-abortion people, “the only time when it could even conceivably be an option is in situations in which the life of the mother is endangered.” In fact, there are people who don’t think it should be an option even then. It’s not a majority, but there are people who would argue it. There are also some people who oppose the ‘cases of rape and incest,’ exception, which I’d say most (or at least a big chunk of) abortion opponents are okay with.

If you want to argue that there aren’t two ‘sides,’ you could say the range of opinions is:

Abortion is not acceptable under any circumstances.
Abortion is allowable if the mother’s life is in danger.
Abortion is permissible in cases of rape or incest, or if the mother’s life is in danger.
Abortion is allowable in cases of rape or incest or if the mother’s life is in danger, up until a certain point in the pregnancy (usually given as the time the fetus could survive outside the womb).
Abortion is a woman’s right.

What generally happens is that options one through four are “pro-life,” and five is “pro-choice.” In a sense, yes, that’s limiting, but if you look at the rhetoric of the abortion debate, I think it’s accurate. The overriding value for people who call themselves “pro-life” is that abortion is wrong, and the major issue who for people who are “pro-choice” is that a woman has the right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term or not. In my opinion, it’s accurate to call choices one through four “pro-life,” because they DO reflect the idea that abortion is wrong - it’s just that in certain circumstances, some of them feel it’s okay to make a regrettable choice to save the mother’s life. The “pro-choice” camp says that either a woman can make the choice to have an abortion or she cannot: if you put restrictions on it, she no longer has free choice, her rights are abridged and she has choice under various constraints.

In my opinion, the stratification you’re complaining about hasn’t been imposed by outsiders, it’s how the lines have really developed.

My own opinion is that abortion is allowable in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, the fetus is horribly defective and wouldn’t be able to sustain life outside of the womb anyway, cases where abortion of one or more fetuses can increase the survival chance of other fetuses (generally when the mother is carrying a lot of babies at once), rape or incest. But I don’t think abortions should be performed after the second trimester. Having said that, I will say this: these are reasons I, personally, might consider abortion. I don’t feel like it’s anyone else’s right to tell me these reasons aren’t good enough. It’s no one else’s right to tell me that under certain conditions, I must have an abortion. Therefore, political conservative though I may be, I must stand pro-choice.

I’ll contradict you on this. I’m in the camp that says abortion should be allowed up until some point in pregnancy (something like 5 months), but am not using that as a way to put even more restrictions on abortion. And I think you would find the vast majority of Americans would not want the law to allow abortions on an 8 3/4 month pregancy. I know a few on this board support that, but I believe they are in the minority.

While it may be true that the hard core pro-lifers are using the partial birth abortion issue as a way to start the process of banning all abortions, that is a very narrow case and grossly oversimplifies the debate.
[Fixed quote tag. – MEB]

I may well be in some small, weird minority on this–it wouldn’t be the first time–but to me the duration of the pregnancy is definitely the key factor. I have no ethical qualms about “emergency contraception” or “morning after pills”. In the early stages of the pregnancy, I think abortion should be the woman’s choice. (87% of legal abortions in the U.S. occur within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Over 97% are performed within the first 20 weeks.) In the later stages of pregnancy, I would move towards a “life or health of the mother” or “extreme fetal defect” as the only justifications. (If we’re talking real late-term abortions, “extreme” would have to be something considerely more extreme than Down’s syndrome or cleft palate.) As far as “rape or incest”, if an abortion eight months along is wrong–if it’s basically killing a baby–then I don’t see the sins of the father would make it right. And abortion early on I already think should be entirely up to the woman; if she’s having an abortion because she was a rape victim, that’s fine, but she shouldn’t have to claim that in order to “justify” her decision to have an abortion at week 8 of the pregnancy.

Ok. I admitted it was a generalization; I didn’t say no one felt as you do. (Ditto for MEBuckner.)

Hard to say, I guess. And I think MEBuckner’s stats show that it’s an issue so rarely that opposing them doesn’s strike me as much of an issue. Likewise, while I can see how the rape/incest exemption could be a non-issue at eight months, I would guess the small percentage of abortions done at that late date are mostly for medical reasons as opposed to ‘elective’ ones.

that’s what I always thought. However, abortion is one of the few and controversial issues that I believe has NO middle ground. You’re either for or against it.

So, you can’t have two different opinions about whether a woman should be able to take “emergency contraception” after unprotected sex, and whether a woman should be able to walk into the hospital two weeks before she’s due and say “I’ve changed my mind; plus I want to go skiing in Switzerland this weekend”? There’s obviously a lot of territory in between those two scenarios.

yes there is, especially with the second senario, but how likely is that to happen?

I can prove you wrong based solely on the fact that I am all for abortion (for any reason whatsoever) before the fetus exhibits brain activity, but against abortions (except in very extreme cases) after that time frame.

I am not totally for abortion, nor am I totally against it. Therefore, your statement (“You’re either for or against it.”) is incorrect.

Peacefulprotester, how can you say that there’s no middle ground? Clearly the limited choice crowd is inbetween the “no abortions ever, for any reason” pro-lifers and the extreme pro-choice “abortion any time, anywhere, for any reason, without parental consent” crowd.

I would think I’m in between.

Keep it legal for the first trimester, after that only in cases of fetal abnormalities or threat to the physical health of the mother.

Yeah, wait a minute there, peacefulprotester. I’ll stand by what I wrote as a generalization, but saying there’s no middle ground is oversimplifying. I listed three basic positions, the second one is definitely a middle ground.


Really? Speaking as one of the pro-choice “extremists” who would not make any exceptions in legality for late-term abortions up until the moment of birth, I’ve found many many people who are fine with the law more or less the way it is (no restrictions early on, more restrictions as pregnancy progresses), and many folks express sentiment in the range between uneasy and appalled when I say there should be no exceptions or qualifiers.

I think I’ve said this before on the SDMB, but it’s easier to say it again than look for whatever thread I may have said it in.

I think their are four basic stances.

> The strongly anti position: Abortion is so bad and wrong that it should never be allowed. It should be completely illegal.

> The strongly pro position: No woman or girl should have to bear an unwanted child. Any woman or girl who wants an abortion should be able to get one, without having to justify herself to anyone. Some would say, no legal constraints at all; some would say, no legal constraints at all,during the first and second trimesters; during the 3rd trimester, the woman has to have a good reason.

In between, you have two other groups.

> The medium to mild anti position: Abortion is should be illegal, but with exceptions – a woman should be able to get one if she has a good reason.

> The medium to mild pro position: Abortion should be legal, providing the woman has a good reason.

Ironically, there is probably at least some overlap between the last two groups listed. That is, some who count themselves as anti-abortion would actually allow abortions under more circumstances than would some who count themselves as pro-choice.

IMO, we would face major problems if we ever decided to allow abortion only when the woman had a good reason. What constitutes a good reason? Who decides which reasons are good enough? How do we determine if a woman is or is not telling the truth about her reason? Do we set up abortion courts to judge each woman’s reasons, and issue aprovals and denials? What if, while the woman is applying and the court is deciding, the rather short window of opportunity for a first trimester abortion passes?

I think a great many Americans would agree that the really good reasons for abortion are to save the life of the woman, to save the health of the woman, in cases of severe fetal abnormality, and in cases of rape and incest. But these reasons account for a small portion of abortions. Would it really be a good idea to forbid all other abortions on the grounds that no other reason is good enough?

With most of the other, “less good” reasons, it would be pretty difficult to set a standard. If a girl gives “I’m too young” as a reason, how young does she have to be? Under 14? Under 18? When is “I don’t want to have to quit school” a good reason? When the girl is in 6th grade? 9th? 12th? What about college students? Grad students? Is it only a good reason if the girl is getting good grades?

A woman might say, “the man ran out on me, and I don’t want to have a child without a husband or boyfriend to help support and raise the child.” Is this always a good reason, or only when the woman is poor?

Even the traditional “good reasons” could be questioned. As in, "alright, doctor, you say this woman’s life is in danger (or that there is something very wrong with the fetus), but how do we know you’re telling the truth? Maybe you’re a lying to help her out?

I, as you may have guessed, am in the strongly pro camp: I say, no woman or girl should have to bear an unwanted child. Any woman or girl who wants an abortion should be able to get one, without having to justify herself to anyone. I say, no legal constraints at all during the first and second trimesters; during the 3rd trimester, the woman has to have a good reason.

I’ve thought about the abortion debate quite a bit too. It seems to me that you just can’t encapsulate the whole thing simply, because too many people come at the problem from too many different places. There is several general groups, but within those groups there’s enormous shades of thought. You just can’t simplify or break it down, IMO.

See, this is what I mean. When talking about this issue, people come at it from their own frame of reference, not considering that in their logicality, A leads to B, but in someone else’s, A leads to Z or 7 or pi. For example, I agree with you that I believe the rules apply to a fetus similarly as they apply to an adult (or a two year old, as I don’t think fetii should be able to drink alcohol, drive or vote). So, I should think that abortion is murder, right ? But I don’t. The key difference to your above scenario (for me), is that the adult is walking around on the street. The fetus isn’t walking around on the street, it is attached to an adult, requiring many things from that adult. If it was able to walk around on the street on its own (or even get the things it requires from volunteers / donations) the whole abortion debate would disappear.

A = B. A fetus is a human being -> abortion is murder.
That’s one way of looking at it. The ‘humanity’ of the fetus is the crux of the argument.
A = Z. A fetus is a human being -> And as such it can’t require another human being to host it / donate its body parts, nourish it against their will. Another way of looking at it, with the self-determination being the crux of the argument.

That’s without even exploring B = Q, the fetus isn’t a person, 8 = #, women can abort if they’re pregnant against their will (the incest and rape clause), P = S, the fetus doesn’t warrant protection until brainwaves appear and R = @ it’s better for society to only have wanted children born.

There’s just too many different ways of looking at abortion, to just say here’s A, B and C.

well, you guys may have a point there about me oversimpifying the debate. it’s just that a lot of peole that I have met were only either for or against abortion, with no middle ground, and that’s how I came to that conclusion.

No, but you did say that the majority of people who wanted to limit abortion in some form, were actually trying to eliminate it completely. I think this is simply incorrect, as I don’t believe there are many Americans who favor complete, unrestriced access to abortion (eg, up to the day before birth). And yet the majority of Americans do not want to outlaw abortion altogether.

It may be true that those campaigning to eliminate partial birth abortions typically want to outlaw abortion, but there are many other restrictions on abortion (other than PBA) that have wide appeal even to those who are generally pro-choice (parental notification, late term abortion).

We’re not talking about what actually happens; we’re talking about what people believe the law should be. And I maintain that it is only a minority who would want abortion to be legal at any time up until the birth of the baby.

But I do agree that the rape/incest deal should be irrelevant. If abortion is murder, the details of the conception does not change that fact. If it is not, then the woman should be able to choose w/o regard to who the father is.