Can There Be Compromise on Abortion?

With the passage of new laws in multiple states geared toward restricting abortion – and the subsequent pushback by pro-choice activists – it’s worth considering whether there really is any sort of compromise that can be achieved on this issue.

On the pro-life side, really any allowance for abortion still leaves in place the biggest issue – that an innocent life is ended in the process. Many Americans favor restricting partial-birth or late-term abortions, but arguments are frequently made to allow for exceptions in the case of rape, incest or the health of the mother. The most strident pro-life advocates would say that even those situations shouldn’t be grounds for a legal abortion. The life of the baby is too precious.

On the pro-choice side, any tightening of abortion restrictions takes away the right of a woman to choose what she can do with her body. Requiring a sonogram, heartbeat bills, partial-birth abortion bans are all anathema. The point is that it’s not really a baby until it’s born, and until then the mother has all rights and privileges (with her doctor) over how the pregnancy will continue or end.

So we have passionate activists on both sides of the debate who view any allowance for the other side’s position to be a non-starter. And that’s where polarization comes into play. As the country becomes more polarized and each party becomes more extreme, it becomes less and less likely that members of either party will budge on their positions. Doing so could seriously jeopardize their chances of getting elected.

Is there hope for a middle way? Can centrist leaders make any progress on finding compromises that advance the pro-life position? Are we all left playing a zero-sum game, where only one side is going to take everything?

It seems inevitable that the courts are going to chip away at abortion rights, though a full overturn of Roe v. Wade doesn’t appear close on the horizon. So pro-choice activists could feel the brunt of things sooner than later barring some surprises at the Supreme Court.

But if that becomes the trend, should the pro-life movement accept any compromise or drive forward until all abortion is illegal in every case in every state?

Abortion data on the reasons women are seeking the abortion is hard to come by. However, a recent release of statistics for abortions in Florida revealed that less than 1% (combined) of the more than 70,000 abortions performed in 2018 were cases that involved rape, incest or the health of the mother. That’s an incredibly small percentage, and affirms the claims by the pro-life movement that those exceptions cannot serve as the foundation for blanket abortion-on-demand policies.

The strongest exception to abortion would be if the mother’s life is in danger. Forced to choose between the herself living or her child, if a woman made the heart-wrenching choice to save herself then that should be a clear exception.

Following that, rape and/or incest tend to have the most support as pro-life exceptions. As traumatic as carrying a baby to full-term in that situation would be, having an abortion can be equally as traumatic. A pure pro-life position would view it as unacceptable for the unborn child to pay the ultimate price, even given the trauma experienced by its mother.

Addressing a trauma by undergoing another trauma isn’t an ultimate solution, but this is probably the ground that the pro-life movement will have to cede in order to ultimately enact effective abortion restrictions. Further change will need to come from a culture of life winning over skeptics and people becoming convinced over time that one trauma is enough. Preventing 99 percent of abortions is worth it, though conservative leaders had better work on addressing social programs and structures to enable all children who are born the opportunity to succeed and not be subjected to a life of total poverty and suffering.

But after that, there aren’t any exceptions that make sense. If the pro-choice argument is that it’s unacceptable to tell a woman what to do with her body, period, then that’s an straightforward argument to engage. As a society, men and women are told many things they can’t legally do with their body, such as consuming too much alcohol, selling their organs, using drugs. And countless other laws are in place preventing people from using their bodies in ways that could harm others. What could be more harmful to an unborn child than killing it?

Much of the crux of the debate comes down to the personhood of the unborn child, but that’s another post for another day. As for the original point of this post about compromise, the short answer is yes. It’s just not going to seem like compromise to abortion activists, while pro-lifers are going to need to resist the temptation to go for broke.

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