August 7th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

A Plausible Abortion Compromise?

I saw an article last Friday on the Pew Research Center's August 3rd survey of Americans' political opinions on social issues, headlined, "Pragmatic Americans Liberal and Conservative on Social Issues: Most Want Middle Ground on Abortion." It brought to mind something I concluded about two years ago, and that I have yet to see any evidence to refute.

You see, the entire argument about abortion centers on the question of at what point in development between (as the old joke goes about Baptist beliefs) the point when the woman's bra is unhooked up to (as the old joke about the Draft goes) age 35 human life, entitled to protection under the law, begins. And one of the most interesting things I've noticed about this debate is that there's a lot more commonality between most people who self-identify as "pro-choice" (pro-abortion) and those who self-identify as "pro-life" (anti-abortion) than the leaders of each side are interested in admitting. You see, in statistics there's a common test for reliability of statistics where you ask the same question more than one way, with the two versions of the question separated by other unrelated questions. Presumably, if the subjects are reliable and your survey is well constructed, the two answers will be tightly correlated. But you can't use that test on abortion questionnaires, because tiny, tiny changes in the wording of the question produce vast differences in how people respond. But looking at which words result in which shifts of opinion, you can see the outlines of a very broad consensus. It's not one that would satisfy the fanatically pro-abortion or the even more fanatically anti-abortion, but screw both of them. Who cares? As the survey results (at right) show, both camps of fanatics taken together make up less than 30% of the population. Lets the rest of us look at what we could do to settle this issue, shall we, and possibly stave off another civil war?

Based on a couple of years of my questioning my friends on all sides of the issue, at various levels of intensity of opinion, it's possible to divide the question into three questions and see a nearly-universal consensus on the separate answers to the three questions. First, should a fertilized egg that hasn't even begun cell differentiation, and which may not have even implanted yet in the uterine lining, be treated legally as a person with its own independent right to life? I'm aware that we have a tiny fanatic minority in this country that believe so, but I think if you put that specific question, by itself, to the voters the answer would be a resounding, nearly unanimous, "no."Second, should a baby or fetus that could with only minimal intervention survive outside the womb if it were delivered now be able to be killed for any reason other than to protect the life or safety of anyone that it might be threatening? I think you'd be hard pressed to find more than one or two people per hundred that would say "yes" to that question. And third, isn't there a gray area in between those two easy questions where reasonable people could reasonably disagree? I think that the survey results show pretty clearly that 66% of the population or more says, "yes."

So let's discuss a possible constitutional amendment, shall we, just as a purely hypothetical question. Let's suppose we were going to say that up until a fertilized egg has implanted in the uterine wall, undergone sufficient cell differentiation to be naked-eye common-sense recognizable as anything other than a growth on the woman's lining, it's medically and legally a part of her body, to do with as she chooses, under the same legal guidelines that would apply to any other minimally invasive surgery. Let us further suppose that we were going to say that at the point of near-inevitable fetal viability outside the womb, not only is that recognizably a person and a citizen but, for god's sake woman, if you waited this long, what's the problem now? With the obvious caveat that if the fetus has no chance of survival, or if it's posing the same kind of health, safety, or life treat that would make it legal to shoot if it were 20 years old and posing that kind of threat to another citizen, then obvious her right to self defense our obligation to use up to lethal force to defend her applies. What do we do in between? Why not throw it to the voters in the various states to see how it shakes out? Why rule on this nationally at all, except to say that if it is done, it needs to be regulated as a medical procedure like any other? Well, OK, there is a reason to have a problem with this: people aren't going to be entirely OK with something that touches on this deep a philosophical issue varying too widely from state to state. So OK, here's our proposed compromise on the 3rd issue. We'll set a presumption that up until or near viability, the states are allowed to put almost any obstacle in the way that they want, with the understanding that the law says that if she meets every obligation of the law, she's entitled to the abortion just because, if no other reason, if you restrict her too far she'll simply hop a plane or a bus to somewhere where she can get it. And if not, well, let's face facts: no force on earth can make a woman carry to term if she's sufficiently determined not to, sufficiently determined to risk her own life to stop it.

I strongly suspect that some of you would scream bloody murder -- in some cases, literally -- over this proposal. Well, screw you, on both sides. I repeat, who cares what you think? Taking everybody in America who wouldn't like this result together, both on the left and the right, and you still don't have even 30% of the public. And the rest of us are tired of fighting about it, so we're going to ignore you and just get this done. Yep. So okay, we've sold the proposal to 70% of the public ... and now we spring the trap. That's been the law in the United States for 33 years now. That's what Roe v Wade says. But you'll hardly ever hear anybody say that, because all the money and all the advertising and all the think tank research and all the publications are from people with a strong interest in tugging the public away from that consensus, towards one warring side or the other. Too bad. I have strongly suspected for at least two years now, and I think that this survey is more evidence that I'm right, that if more Americans knew what Roe v Wade actually said and meant that we wouldn't even be having this debate.
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