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Abortion: Is A Middle Ground Achievable?

May 22nd, 2007 | by Daniel DiRito |

Those opposed to abortion were heartened by the recent Supreme Court decision supporting limitations on partial birth abortions. In particular, pro-life groups were encouraged by Justice Kennedy’s reference to the work of an anti-abortion group, The Justice Foundation. The foundation’s work suggests that having an abortion may be detrimental to women and cites a number of testimonials by those who have had abortions. Their documentation argues that “abortion hurts women and endangers their physical, emotional and psychological health.”

Personally, I think the choice to have an abortion ought to be a decision left to a woman and those she seeks to include in making that determination. Nonetheless, I have argued that imposing some time limitation on when that decision needs to be made is an acceptable compromise. In other words, some restrictions on late term abortions seem reasonable…so long as it preserves the commonly discussed exceptions. It gives a woman an opportunity to terminate a pregnancy but it compels her to do so in a reasonable amount of time…prior to the advancing viability of the fetus.

I came to my conclusion more as a matter of fleshing out the real positions of those on both sides of the abortion issue rather than as a result of my own particular beliefs. Abortion isn’t a good thing…but it is an inevitable reality of our human frailty. Frankly, I think we ought to pay more attention to the well being of birthed children and the uninsured…but I accept the fact that the unborn entity has become the moral focal point.

I’ve concluded that both sides are locked in an all or nothing mentality…something that doesn’t fit well with the realities of the human condition and that simply leads to anger, intransigence, and the vilification of the opposition. I’m an advocate of finding some middle ground…but that isn’t likely to be achieved in the current environment.

As such, the shifting strategies with regard to abortion are discussed in an article in today’s New York Times.

But last month’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act marked a milestone for a different argument advanced by anti-abortion leaders, one they are increasingly making in state legislatures around the country. They say that abortion, as a rule, is not in the best interest of the woman; that women are often misled or ill-informed about its risks to their own physical or emotional health; and that the interests of the pregnant woman and the fetus are, in fact, the same.

“We think of ourselves as very pro-woman,” said Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life Committee. “We believe that when you help the woman, you help the baby.”

It is embodied in much of the imagery and advertising of the anti-abortion movement in recent years, especially the “Women Deserve Better Than Abortion” campaign by Feminists for Life, the group that counts Jane Sullivan Roberts, the wife of the chief justice, among its most prominent supporters.

It is also at the heart of an effort — expected to escalate in next year’s state legislative sessions — to enact new “informed consent” and mandatory counseling laws that critics assert often amount to a not-so-subtle pitch against abortion. Abortion-rights advocates, still reeling from last month’s decision, argue that this effort is motivated by ideology, not women’s health.

“Informed consent is really a misleading way to characterize it,” said Roger Evans, senior director of public policy litigation and law for Planned Parenthood. “To me, what we’ll see is an increasing attempt to push a state’s ideology into a doctor-patient relationship, to force doctors to communicate more and more of the state’s viewpoint.”

Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, said, “It’s motivated by politics, not by science, not by medical care, and not for the purposes of compassion.”

In an attempt to cut to the chase, I accept the fact that true pro-life advocates actually oppose virtually any and all abortions. On the other side, true pro-choice advocates support something approximating abortion on demand. Both positions are blinded by absolutist rhetoric intent on winning the perceived war…often completely removed from the real life considerations confronting a pregnant woman. Such disconnects have, in my opinion, the same significance as the topic in question and have only served to limit reasoned debate.

Let’s take the argument that abortions are detrimental to the physical, emotional, and psychological well being of women. That possibility exists with virtually every choice we make. Drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, driving a car, and being overweight are choices that can have all of these detrimental effects…yet we still, for the most part, leave these decisions to the individual. These choices are made despite abundant information documenting the risks…risks that I would argue are far better delineated than those advanced as being associated with abortion.

Regardless, I don’t oppose providing women unbiased information about the risks associated with having an abortion…though the anecdotal regrets expressed by some proportion of women having had an abortion is not, in my opinion, scientific data and should not be the basis of government intervention and education. Let me be clear…for every choice we humans make, some of us will regret our choices…but that isn’t a compelling argument to ban certain choices or require government mandated counseling suggesting we should not make that choice. Adding pressure and guilt in the form of required “propaganda” to an already difficult decision to consider having an abortion seems unfair and unnecessary.

More importantly, if the goal is to prevent abortions then wouldn’t the government be compelled to take the same proactive approach with regard to reducing unwanted pregnancies? We have statistical data that verifies that contraception can prevent pregnancy…yet those opposed to abortion routinely seek to preclude the government from “promoting” such measures. The inconsistency illuminates the influence of ideology…and points out that many seek to selectively inject their own particular bias into the role of government.

Government shouldn’t promote ideology or the religious beliefs of any one group. They do have an obligation to distribute factual information that serves the well being of its citizenry…and each citizen can then filter that information through their own belief system. We need to reaffirm that premise and cease efforts by those on both extremes to impose their will upon their fellow citizens. Public service is by definition intended to serve all of the public with as much neutrality as possible…without allowing individual bias to intervene and overwhelm.

All sides agree that the debate reached a new level of significance when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in the Supreme Court case last month, approvingly cited a friend-of-the court brief filed by the Justice Foundation.

The foundation, a nonprofit public interest litigation firm that has handled an array of conservative causes, has increasingly focused on abortion through its project called Operation Outcry. Mr. Parker said the group began hearing from women in the late 1990s who considered themselves victims of legalized abortion — physically and emotionally — and wanted to tell their stories. Operation Outcry, which grew to include a Web site, a national hot line and chapters around the country, eventually collected statements from more than 2,000 women, officials said.

In its friend-of-the-court brief, the group submitted statements from 180 of those women who said that abortion had left them depressed, distraught, in emotional turmoil. “Thirty-three years of real life experiences,” the foundation said, “attests that abortion hurts women and endangers their physical, emotional and psychological health.”

“While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained,” Justice Kennedy wrote, alluding to the brief. “Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow.”

Given those stakes, the justice argued, “The state has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed.”

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg agreed. “The court invokes an anti-abortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence,” she wrote.

Perhaps I’m completely naïve but it seems to me that the founding principle of our constitution and bill of rights was based upon the belief that government should neither punish nor promote the religious beliefs of the individual. What seems to me to have been the prudent application of tolerance is increasingly being attacked by those who are seemingly not content to allow each citizen to hold and practice their own particular beliefs.

Fueling this deterioration are politicians who seek to take advantage of the convictions of particular groups in order to attain political power. When winning office becomes a means to power as opposed to a belief in the merits of public service in order to preserve our system of government, we have begun the unraveling of all that was held dear by those who made great sacrifices to establish this nation.

Those in positions of leadership ought to be the voice of reason…not the reason the voice of the few is enabled and emboldened to dictate the choices that can be made by the many. Just as a referee administers the established rules of a game…our elected officials should champion and preserve those precepts that led to the formation of this great country. At the same time, voters have a responsibility to honor that construct and refrain from efforts to undermine its integrity. Isn’t it time for us to reaffirm that concept?

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

  1. 5 Responses to “Abortion: Is A Middle Ground Achievable?”

  2. By Paul Watson on May 22, 2007 | Reply

    Just for comparison, the position in the UK is that terminations up to 24 weeks are legal, as long as two different doctors sign the forms saying it’s necessary for the mother’s health and well-being. The debate here is whether to reduce this to 20 weeks, with later abortions only in the case of life-threatening complications. But neither the ‘abortion on demand’, nor the ‘ban it completely’ have much public support so the situations are probably not similar. In other words, if you had a similar situation, you might not have the level of argument, but constructing the compromise from the existing situation may not be possible.

  3. By Daniel DiRito on May 22, 2007 | Reply


    I’m not encouraged that a middle ground can be achieved though I think it ought to be our goal. I’ve known good people who have been unfortunate enough to find themselves struggling with the choice to abort…and in each instance I’ve concluded that it was a decision I couldn’t nor shouldn’t be allowed to make.

    Give advice IF asked…no problem. Make judgmental observations…no way. Offer support to people in need…well that seems like the humane thing to do given that none of us is perfect. In the end, bad luck isn’t selective or rational…it’s just bad luck. We’re all hopeful that we will be blessed with good luck…but this existence isn’t always going to accommodate that wish.

    If there is a higher being, shouldn’t we entrust him or her with making the complex determinations? I’m not sure why one would want or accept anything less if one believes in the existence of a higher being.



  4. By Jersey McJones on May 22, 2007 | Reply

    There is no middle ground because the right wing needs to keep the issue alive. It’s a simple eyes-off-the-prize divisive diversion that keeps the Relifious Right voting for tax breaks for the rich. The issue will never go away until the Religious Right realizes that they’re being played.


  5. By JT Davis on May 22, 2007 | Reply

    Scott LeMieux

    Pre-Suffragate City
    Jill Filipovic points us to this Times article about the new strategy to justify using state coercion to force women to carry pregnancies to term by claiming that women are too irrational to know what’s good for them, and offers a modest proposal. I would also urge you to read Reva Siegel and Sarah Blustain (see also here.) Quite simply, these justifications are premised on 19th-century conceptions of women as not being rational agents. And such justifications evidently underpin a great deal of anti-choice discourse and policy (most obviously seen in the fact that the official Republican position is that abortion is murder but women who obtain them should be entirely exempt from legal sanctions.) At least Kennedy was decent enough to give away the show, admitting that these assertions are backed by “no reliable data,” leaving us with meaningless claims that some women may regret their decision to obtain abortions in retrospect. (If some women regret getting married, can we ban that too? How about anecdotal evidence about women who become depressed after becoming mothers, does this justify state-mandated abortions?) These arguments aren’t about women’s health; they’re about assumptions that women are incapable of making moral judgments, period…

  6. By manapp99 on May 23, 2007 | Reply

    JMJ says:

    “There is no middle ground because the right wing needs to keep the issue alive.”

    The left needs the issue as well. The “threat” that a GOP president will appoint justices that will overturn R v W was used in both the 00 and 04 elections and I suspect it will be again in 08.

    I have no problem with abortion, in fact I feel that if you have a baby and then realize that you don’t REALLY want to be a mother. You ought to be able to “get rid” of it. If your baby grows up to be a murderer or some other unsavory creature it ought to be the mothers DUTY to “get rid” of it. Lighten up folks, it is just a human and we have plenty more where it came from. You don’t like the one you got, get rid of it and get another. What’s the big deal? And remember to get your cat or dog spayed or neutered.

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