Why there is no consensus on abortion

The idea of this site is to take the contributions of several American citizens with a wide diversity of view points, and identify those areas where there is or can be substantial agreement. An unstated premise will probably be, that those issues or concerns where nothing approaching consensus exists, are probably not a valid field for the police powers of the state… no matter how fervently some fraction of the citizenry believes it should be.

No subject is more intractable than abortion, for an obvious reason: at one pole of the debate, is the sincere belief that from the moment of conception there is an independent human person deserving full protection of the law. At the other pole, is flat denial that abortion destroys a human person.

Polls can be misleading, partly because how a question is worded can drastically change the response people give when interviewed. But most polls over a prolonged period of time consistently show that about half, perhaps a little less than half, of Americans oppose criminal penalties for abortion up to a certain point in pregnancy. Many, perhaps most, of these same people are not comfortable with abortion being treated as a routine option. Then there are those who favor aboriton as a positive good, and, those who condemn it as murder.

For purposes of this discussion, I suggest that a viable majoritarian platform should not attempt to define a common position on abortion. The sacrifice I ask pro-life people to make at this time is to recognize that Roe v. Wade is going to remain as a restraint on the police powers of the state. The sacrifice I ask pro-choice people to make is to accept that pro-life advocacy has a legitimate place in the public square, and that some fraction of pregnant women will probably benefit from hearing a pro-life appeal at a critical time in their lives.

I also suggest that the boundary pinned to the point in fetal development known as “quickening” might indeed be moved. There can be little doubt that a fetus a week before delivery has about as much individuality and self-awareness as a fetus a week after delivery (more commonly known as a baby). A pro-choice position recognizes that there is a process of development, with a zygote being very far from an independent human being, and a near-term fetus being indistinguishable from a baby. Moving the boundary back to 20 weeks, based on advances in medical science since 1973, is not an unreasonable concession. We should err on the conservative side as to when there is a functional central nervous system and a rudimentary self-awareness.

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