Why The Abortion Debate Is So Intractable

Why The Abortion Debate Is So Intractable


Leonard Zwelling

If there is one issue on which everyone has an opinion, it is abortion. And there’s a good reason for that.

First, the debate on the legality of abortion is filled with emotion. People FEEL really strongly no matter which side they are on intellectually. It’s not just an opinion. It’s an entire belief system.

Second, here’s why.

The Pro-Life forces view an unborn fetus as a human being. Thus they equate abortion with murder which no one wants society to sanction.

The Pro-Choice forces view the right to an abortion as a civil right of a woman to have jurisdiction over what happens to her own body.

It is hard to reconcile these two points of view. In fact, it’s impossible. Everyone chooses one side or the other depending upon their very strongly held belief systems.

Is there a middle ground at all?

One that is frequently cited is the allowance of abortion in the case of rape, incest or the health of the mother. But some of the recent legislation emerging from the states doesn’t even allow that much accommodation and makes abortion illegal almost entirely or at least when the fetus is 6 weeks past conception which is just about the time many women know they are pregnant. In other words, some of these new state laws virtually eliminate legal abortion entirely despite it being legal in the country.

Bill Clinton had what he considered a principled position. Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. That sort of splits the hairs, but favors the Pro-Choice position and is not really a middle ground.

The fact of the matter is that there is no middle ground. The only place like that is where Pro-Life and Pro-Choice advocates meet together and acknowledge the legitimacy of the position of their opponents and realize that this fight will never end in America. This seems to be less of an issue in Europe where laws vary, but first trimester abortion is available in most locales.


So what is the United States to do regarding its state and federal laws?

As of today, abortion is still legal in the United States, but the new laws being promulgated in red state legislatures are aimed to be test cases to get to the Supreme Court so that the newly minted conservative majority will overturn Roe v. Wade.

I understand, but consider the consequences.

The last thing the country needs is unwanted babies, especially those who will become a burden on the states. Even more concerning is the desperation of the poor and pregnant who do not want a child and what that may mean in the way of illegal and unsafe abortions that were common when I was growing up before 1973. Women used to die from illegal abortions. We cannot return to that.

As a physician, in the end, it is indeed hard for me to sanction any loss of life. Even potential life. It is also hard to subject those who are pregnant and unable to hop a plane to England for an abortion to either having unwanted children or risking a dangerous unsterile procedure.

I cannot come up with a better solution than Mr. Clinton’s. Safe, legal and rare. I don’t like it, but decisions have to be made—even really hard ones. This is one of them, but though I do not like the notion of abortion personally, I also do not like the state interfering with a woman’s right to choose. That’s the best I’m going to do as unsatisfying as that is.

Safe, legal and rare. It’s not a middle ground. It’s just likely to save the most women’s lives and to make certain that women have control over their own bodies.

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