The abortion debate is utterly irreconcilable because the basic disagreement – whether a fetus is as “valuable” as an already-born and breathing human being – amounts to an arbitrary line drawn in the sand. For pro-lifers, it is at conception, for pro-choicers, it is at birth. Both sides are far from consistent in their principles; pro-lifers are highly corrrelated with conservatives who tend to see spending on postnatal care, public education, universal preschool, etc as socialist claptrap and a waste of money, even though these things all make a tremendous difference in health and education outcomes for a child. Pro-choicers, meanwhile, extrapolate their concept of abortion as a right, leading to horrific things like selective reduction (even for viable twins) and an unreasonable opposition to education about options to abortion, including ultrasounds, parental notification for minors, and childhood counseling on abstinence. The very terms pro-life and pro-choice have become ironic.
In theory, the conservative position is the easier one to understand, in many ways. If you believe a fetus is a person, then abortion is murder, full stop. However, the liberal position is a but more nuanced, though no less (or more) intellectually consistent. This is why i was pleased to see this comment on an abortion thread at LOG which I thought explained the liberal reasoning perfectly:
First, the left supports abortion rights because it identifies with women as the underdogs in this case, since they are forced by the state to undergo forced pregnancy and childbirth, as if their own bodies do not belong to them. I know of no such laws that apply to men.
The left doesn’t support the unborn because it doesn’t see them as being actual human beings with rights. If it did, it would be against abortion. As it is, it sees freedom from state control over women’s bodies as being the more important issue at stake here. Which doesn’t mean the left likes abortion, it just feels that it’s up to the women to choose to bear a children, and not for the state to force her to.
That’s it in a nutshell. Pregnancy is really hard. It’s not just a minor burden, but one that amounts to a major affliction that can indeed be life-threatening. Outlawing abortion outright consigns women to the status of machines, and denies their humanity. In abortion debates, its important that this point be made, because without it the pro-choice argument has no moral foundation.
Now, personally I don’t agree that a fetus after conception is a person, and neither do I agree that a baby just hours from birth is not a person. The truth obviously lies in between, which is why I generally am very much in favor of Roe vs Wade’s grand trimester-based compromise. There is indeed room for common ground on abortion, so that it can be “safe, legal, and rare”. A world in which every child is a wanted child is one in which abortion is obsolete.
Related – the ongoing series on abortion at LOG, including a very insightful musing on the hypocrisy of the pro-life movement, which echoes and complements my own earlier posts about collateral damage and the death penalty.