Prior to 1973, there really was no debate over abortion. It was legally and morally wrong; end of story. But all that changed with the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision which made the procedure legal. It arose out of a left-leaning high court’s interpretation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment and its Due Process clause which carries an implicit right to privacy. That right was viewed as extending beyond one’s home and what goes on therein, to what one chooses to do with one’s own body.
Since Roe v. Wade, the ensuing debate quickly degenerated into a polemic back-and-forth with both sides playing a zero sum game; i.e. a contest in which absolutely nothing is conceded, and the other side must be denied so much as a single point. This tactic is the antithesis of rational, objective discussion and precludes arriving at any sort of sane policy.
Pro-life forces viewed the Roe v. Wade decision as an abomination and morally repugnant. To them, the legal basis for the court’s position was irrelevant; morality trumped all. At the other extreme, pro-choice groups staked out the exact opposite ground; i.e. it is the law that must hold sway for aren’t we a nation of laws? While that is a rhetorical question, this issue cannot be resolved so easily. That is because there is an important moral dimension to the abortion question which isn’t even arguable. But, “Who becomes the moral arbiter in this matter?” Should it be society in general, or should it be left up to the woman, her conscience, and whatever relationship she has with a Higher Power? For pro-lifers, the answer is society. Among the hard-liners, there should be no exceptions; not in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the expectant mother’s health. For those in favor of pro-choice, it is the individual and she should be provided with an abortion on demand. We can see here, the aforementioned zero sum game being played out; i.e. win all and give nothing.
The position taken here is that the moral implications of having an abortion should be the exclusive domain of the woman involved. But, there should be restrictions on the availability of the procedure. For example, confine it to cases involving rape, incest and the health of the mother, and to some prescribed period time such as the first trimester of the pregnancy. This more “middle-of-the road” view will be anathema to the extremists on both sides of this issue. But, it is far more in line with the general public’s attitudes towards abortion. While polls now consistently show a majority favor a woman’s right to choose, there is an even stronger sentiment in support of limitations much like those just described. So long as this more nuanced approach gets short shrift and isn’t part of a large national conversation, abortion will remain the polarizing issue that it has been since the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down. It just doesn’t have to be that way.