25 Apr Tough Issue #7
Protecting Life / A Woman’s Right to Choose Abortion
Conception occurs. Barring miscarriage or other tragedy, a birth ensues around nine months later in most cases. That is, unless the pregnant woman elects to have an abortion. In that case, no baby is born.
The woman’s right to choose abortion and the baby’s right to live are diametrically opposed, and clearly there is no perfect “win-win” solution available. Nevertheless, there is a way to resolve the divisive conflict that has plagued U.S. politics for many decades. Except for extremists on both sides of the issue (who are not nearly as numerous as they may appear to be), Americans will be satisfied with our proposed resolution.
Basic Facts of Life and Choice
What the issue is: Should Congress pass a nationwide abortion law, and what should such a law say?
Why this issue is difficult: Abortion and choice are topics on which some people hold strong religious or freedom-based views. Accordingly, both major political parties have magnified the issue to motivate those voters and to sway others. This dilemma also involves federalism—the question of whether individual states or the U.S. government (or neither) should determine who has what rights.
Where the issue stands today: The Constitution of the United States does not mention abortion, other than in recognizing general concepts like “life” and “liberty,” which actually cancel each other out in the context of abortion and choice. Understanding this, the Supreme Court last June overruled its 1973 abortion-allowing Roe v. Wade decision. Now, if and when a woman can have a legal abortion depends on the laws of the state in which she seeks to have the procedure.
Since the federal rule of Roe was overturned in the Dobbs case, not all has been quiet on the abortion/choice front. More than a dozen states have banned abortion or at least restricted it (for example to the first 6 or 15 weeks of pregnancy), and some abortion clinics in those states have closed, limiting access even during the time when abortion would be allowed. Therefore, thousands of women have crossed state lines to have abortions. Efforts to ban abortion pills also have popped up, resulting in lawsuits and appeals. Relatedly, judicial elections and state constitutional amendment proposals seem to be favoring the pro-choice forces in other states, as are gubernatorial and legislative races.
Despite calls to do so, Congress has not passed a law codifying a right to abortion nationwide. Nor has Congress passed a law to make abortion illegal, as others have sought.
Amidst it all, abortion reportedly is down six percent in the United States this year.
To resolve national issues that are treated inconsistently by the states and worsen our political divisiveness throughout the land, America needs a nationwide solution.
Principles involved: In this blog’s previous abortion-related articles, including Abortion: Weighing the Principles (July 20, 2021); A Principled Federal Role in Abortion Law (July 23, 2021); If Roe v. Wade is Overturned (December 3, 2021); and Abortion: A Solution (June 24, 2022), we identified freedom, protecting the vulnerable, and limited government as the most relevant governmental principles
Solutions: Readers most invested in the abortion debate may be surprised to learn that few Americans believe abortion should always be illegal, as over 90 percent favor allowing abortion when the woman’s life is in danger and over 85 percent favor allowing abortion when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest. Nor do most Americans believe that abortion should always be legal, given that 75 percent would disallow abortion during the final months of pregnancy.
This consensus virtually begs for a federal political solution that permits some pregnant women to choose abortion in some circumstances, while banning abortion in other circumstances.
Objective standards could be negotiated in Congress. The first standard could be based on the age of the woman, mirroring laws already passed and widely accepted for “statutory rape.” Because the public so strongly favors allowing abortion in situations of rape, viewing all pregnant minors as having been statutorily raped provides the biggest part of the answer to which women could have abortions legally. Victims of incest, irrespective of age, also should be protected.
A second objective standard should focus on how long the woman has been pregnant. Please remember, the vast majority of the voting public believes the length of the pregnancy matters—on both ends of the nine-month timeline. Most people do not think abortion should be allowed late in a pregnancy, when the baby clearly is viable outside the womb, but most would agree that abortion should be allowed early on, and this would be doubly true when the woman has been raped (statutorily or as an adult) or has been the victim of incest.*
*For anyone denied an abortion under these rules, the federal government could provide adoption support, financial assistance to help with prenatal and obstetric care, and, if the baby is not adopted, financial assistance for early education, daycare, and housing, if needed.
Lastly, the federal law could codify the almost universally accepted belief that no woman should be denied an abortion when a doctor has certified that pregnancy would endanger her own life.
Based on those simple, fact-based criteria, a solution could be reached. Minors, other rape victims, and incest victims could elect abortion for an agreed number of weeks (say up to 12 or 15), and all women whose life is endangered by pregnancy could abort at any time. Some may not find such a law ideal, but even the most strident might agree that a resolution along these lines will help unify our troubled country.
Written by Quentin R. Wittrock, founder of Principle Based Politics.
Look for his posts each week, as this blog will explore and promote the idea of principle in politics, both as to individual elected leaders and our federal government as an institution.