You're Viewing the Archives
Return to IVN's Frontpage

OPINION: Why We Continuously Miss The Mark in the Abortion Debate (Part 1)

by Craig Berlin, published

No matter how bad the economy is or what’s going on in the rest of the world, Americans seem to have an insatiable need to focus on abortion. When the landmark Roe v. Wade passed through the Supreme Court in 1973, who imagined we’d be incessantly arguing about it over forty years later?

For those who consider abortion the taking of an innocent life, terminating a pregnancy continues to be a source of contentious debate. Advocates for choice see scrutiny as part of an effort to limit a woman’s options in health care and choices about her own body.

The number of Americans identifying as “pro choice” was at a record low in May 2012, but in 2015, pro-choicers outnumber pro-lifers for the first time in 7 years.

Regardless, views are not evolving on this issue: while support for gay marriage has increased at an unprecedented rate in the last 20 years, views on abortion have remained much the same. Many people who identify as pro-life still favor abortion rights in some cases – 52% in the 2012 Gallup poll.

During his presidency, Bill Clinton stated clearly that he felt abortion was a “tragedy,” but nonetheless it should be “safe, legal and rare.” While pro-lifers continue to oppose abortion in most instances, pro-choicers have fought hard to make sure it remains safe and legal but seem less concerned with rarity. What many pro-lifers don’t realize is that their efforts often aren’t helping matters.

Who would have thought that the left and right could actually unknowingly conspire to keep the abortion rate from dropping even further. While abortion rates have been on the decline and 2012 saw teen pregnancies hit a 40-year low, one would think this is still an option chosen more often than most people would be comfortable with.

The Guttmacher Institute reported in 2011 that the abortion rate reached its lowest level since 1973. Still, 21 percent of all pregnancies end in abortion and in 2011 alone, 1.06 million abortions were performed. From 1973 through 2011, nearly 53 million legal abortions occurred.

One might assume the majority of Americans feel that abortion is a necessary evil or at least an understandable, if undesirable choice. This seems to be a sentiment that would support policies helping to reduce the occurrence.

However, that’s not where we are. Perhaps part of it is as former Obama supporter and recent GOP convert Artur Davis mentioned, “this is not Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party.”

As Dennis Miller observed, “the left wants to cover you from cradle to grave. It’s getting to the cradle that’s the tricky part.”

Is a Democratic Party once led by Clinton and a Republican opposed to abortion in most cases effectively addressing the millions of abortions going on in any sort of meaningful, effective, and pragmatic way?

In recent conversations with women about the issue of choice, I have been told that there are no unborn children, only fetuses, also referred to as an unwanted invader, hitchhiker, fetal matter (a combination of blood, mucous and tissue), parasite and other terms which, although technically correct in some instances, seemed dehumanizing.

In some cases, “zygote” was the most generous description offered. Was it so long ago that a pregnant woman was referred to as “with child” and “eating for two?”

One woman reminisced about how when abortion first became legal it inexplicably became a source of anxiety when it shouldn’t be any different than excising a mole. She admitted her views are “left of Cuba,” but she’s also a mother of two children.

She went on to say that she loves her kids, but when she was pregnant she felt much differently. And of course I was told as a man I had no right to judge. Another woman dubbed me a “pre-lifer” in spite of the fact that I never stated I felt abortion should be outlawed.

I would agree that a man is in no position to identify with what goes through a woman’s mind and body during pregnancy and I never made any such judgments; I simply found some of the characterizations of the unborn a little…sterile.

I do not mean to represent this line of reasoning as universal; however, it goes a long way to explain why more isn’t being done to make abortion rare in addition to safe. If you view a fetus as nothing more than tissue, why worry? And while many view viability as a benchmark, others want no restrictions whatsoever.

Henry Blodget, writing for Business Insider, echoed the familiar “the tadpole is not a frog” sentiment when he said, “although I believe that life begins at conception, I understand that some people don’t believe that and/or that some people might, given certain circumstances, choose to terminate that early life at a point when it is not even remotely human.”

Actually, it doesn’t look human, but the DNA is identical and anyone who doesn’t concur is often portrayed as a right-wing extremist.

After former U.S. Representative Todd Akin’s infamous statement that the victim of a “legitimate” (presumably forcible) rape has the benefit of some natural protection against pregnancy, virtually every notable Republican made it clear they found his remarks grossly inaccurate at best and extremely offensive at worst. Most asked him to exit his Senate race.

Still, in an effort to further ostracize pro-life Republicans, many Democrats and much of media went on the attack.

In an interview, vice presidential candidate and practicing Catholic Paul Ryan stated that he personally has never felt that the method of conception changes the meaning of life but regardless, he and Mitt Romney were running on a platform that included allowing abortion for rape, incest, and health concerns for the mother.

The Raw Story then ran the headline, “Ryan believes rape is ‘just another method of conception.’

Is there a spin-doctor in the house?

Why the exaggeration? There is a legitimate debate over when life matters and where the rights of a mother end and those of the unborn begin. Ryan was willing to compromise, yet he was attacked nonetheless.

But the right to choose isn’t the only argument. Sometime abortion is justified in other ways.

Often we hear objections to legislating based on religious views rather than science, which is a legitimate critique. But often we hear that the idea that life begins at conception has nothing to do with science; rather, it’s religion.

Actually, the medical and scientific definition of conception is the creation of a new organism. When we're not talking about abortion, we can discover a single cell on another planet and call it life, but not a fertilized human egg.

We don’t really know when all the pieces that make us fully human are in place. There are some things about humanity, such as sentience, consciousness or a “soul” that we don’t fully understand.

Science doesn’t provide these answers, but it is undeniable that once an egg is fertilized, the DNA is set and after implantation in the womb, if nothing natural or unnatural interferes, you end up with a baby.

Sometimes we hear God is the biggest abortifacient, so why the concern? By the same logic then, saving lives is superfluous because we all eventually die.

Aside from the word "conception" itself, the admission that the process of fertilization creates a human being is not in dispute.

Here we can find a position that is at least more intellectually honest; without the denial that we are taking a life, the determination becomes not when life begins but rather, when it matters. That’s a subjective determination and it would seem, from an ethical standpoint, that we should err on the side of caution.

We also hear that no baby who isn’t wanted should be brought into the world. Without discounting the difficulty of carrying a baby to term, when you consider all the childless couples who are willing to adopt, perhaps there is a misrepresentation of what unwanted is. And we have the opposite of Dennis Miller's quip:  to quote one individual, those who are pro-life are only so “right up to the moment of birth, when they drop them like they are hot rocks…no education, no medical care, no food, no shelter…you’re on your own little one.”

The pro-choice crowd bristles when accused of being “pro-abortion,” but neither side is concerned enough to focus on minimizing them under the laws we have. To the contrary, for abortion advocates, the vast majority of the effort seems to be protecting abortion rights along with making sure that pro-lifers are portrayed as anti-woman zealots who stop caring about children once they are born.

Reasonable discussion on when the rights of the mother intersect the rights of the unborn? For too many people, it’s never.

So most reading this are either thinking “preach it” or angry at another misogynistic, anti-woman, pre-life blogger. The second installment might flip the switch.

Author's note: This is a two-part series examining how the mentality and efforts of both abortion rights advocates and opponents are affecting the number of procedures. There is an examination of both sides, but the first covers the former and the second the latter. A full unabridged version of the original post can be found here.

About the Author