Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Abortion: Safe, Legal, and RARE

As we prepare for the Harriet Miers confirmation circus, abortion and constitutional rights are hot topics. I've written about the serious problems with the judicial overreach at the core of the Roe v. Wade decision. In 1973, the Supreme Court went beyond invalidating the criminal abortion statute in Texas to delineate the specific limits of the right to abortion.

I support the right of a woman to control her own body, and I support the right of reproductive privacy. Further, I decry the usurpation by the states in the late 19th century of the individual's traditional common-law right to abortion. At the time of the founding of this nation, none of the states outlawed abortion. The first criminal abortion statute in the United States was in Connecticut in 1821. In the 1950's, Alabama had, strange as it may now seem, one of the most liberal views on abortion.

To quote from Roe v. Wade, "At the time of the adoption of our Constitution, and throughout the major portion of the 19th century, ... a woman enjoyed a substantially broader right to terminate a pregnancy than she [did] in most States [in 1973]."

The question is whether the individual's right to continue exercising traditional freedoms outweighs the state's right to curtail those freedoms. The problem is that it is and always will be a constitutional gray area, especially when compounded with claims ascribing certain fundamental rights to unborn human beings and placing those rights in conflict with certain non-enumerated rights of already-born human beings.

We have one dedicated faction in this country, committed to the idea that abortion is murder. We have another dedicated faction in this country, also known as the majority, equally committed to the idea that abortion must be a decision left to the individual conscience of the mother. It is fundamentally impossible to reconcile the two viewpoints; they are diametrically opposed. You might as well try to engineer a merger of the Catholic Church with the Church of Satan; it just ain't gonna happen.

That means that we have to search for common ground as a basis for coexistence. Happily, it is very easy to find some important points of agreement about abortion.

  • No one wants to see lots and lots of abortions.

  • No one wants to see women dying from illegal abortions.

  • No one wants government bureaucrats or judges to make their personal medical or moral decisions.
That means that the way out is for the "pro-life" and "pro-choice" factions to work together to make abortion safe, legal, and rare. Safe is a relatively uncontroversial point: nobody wins if mother and unborn child both die. Legal is a bit more of a challenge, but it has to be inextricably tied to rare. If abortion is illegal, it will not necessarily be more rare, it will just be more dangerous. To make abortion as rare as possible, we need to do two things: make unwanted pregnancy as rare as possible, and offer as much support as possible to options other than abortion.

How do we make unwanted pregnancy as rare as possible?
  • Encourage abstinence. Yes, seriously. Abstinence is a sure-fire way to not get pregnant and to avoid most sexually transmitted diseases. However, abstinence cannot be the whole story, because the simple reality is that people want to have sex. The desire to have sex is hard-wired in our DNA.

  • Encourage sex education. Kids who don't have accurate information about sex are more likely to make bad decisions about sex.

  • Encourage education. Kids with a good education have more options in life. That means that they're more likely to have long-range plans and long-range goals, including plans to have children when they are in a position to provide those children with a stable and secure start to life.

  • Empower young people to make informed decisions about sex. We need to give young women the assertiveness and self-confidence to resist lines like "If you really love me, you'll do it," and "All the hep cats are doin' it, bay-bee!" We should encourage young people to make decisions about sex within the context of their own moral and religious beliefs, also taking account of their partners' moral and religious beliefs.

  • Encourage contraception. It doesn't contradict the first point at all. If you're going to have sex, you should know the important facts about how to avoid both unwanted pregnancy and unwanted diseases. Encouraging kids to take reasonable safety precautions when they eventually decide to have sex, is not the same thing as encouraging them to have sex right now. Giving condoms to teenagers doesn't encourage the kids to have sex, it only encourages them to use condoms if they're going to have sex anyway.
I'll have more to say about responsible sexuality in another post.

How do we offer support to alternatives for unwanted pregnancies?
  • Provide resources for adoption. It is irresponsible and unacceptable to make abortions more difficult to obtain, but it is entirely acceptable and responsible to do what we can to make adoption a tenable option. That means providing resources for birth parents who decide to give up their babies for adoption, and also providing resources for adoptive parents.

  • Provide support for women who decide to keep their babies. There's plenty of room to make raising a child easier without encouraging women to have children just for the welfare benefits. We also need to provide educational resources for these children so that the cycle of unplanned pregnancy — especially unplanned teen pregnancy — doesn't continue into future generations.
If we make abortion safe but rare, everyone wins, but the only way to do that is to keep it legal.