A Compromise in the Abortion Debate

by Jay Johansen
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People often say that the abortion debate is endless and frustrating because the two sides are so diametrically opposed, and there is just no room for compromise. So our society is faced with a bitter ongoing battle until one side is completely victorious and the other completely crushed.

As a pro-life activist myself, of course I would like to see my side win a complete victory.

But ... surely a compromise is not only possible, but obvious.

Take a look at the results of a poll done by the Wirthlin group in December 2003. They asked people when they thought abortion should be legal. The answers were:

When should abortion be legal?
legal for any reason at any time during pregnancy 10%
legal for any reason during the first 6 months 3%
legal for any reason during the first 3 months 22%
legal when the life of the mother is in danger or in cases of rape or incest 32%
legal when the life of the mother is in danger 18%
never legal 12%
unsure 3%

Most of the vocal pro-abortion organizations, like Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, take the position that abortion should be legal at any time for any reason. So 10% of Americans agree with them. Most of the vocal pro-life organizations, like National Right to Life and Pregnant Pause, take the position that abortion should only be legal when necessary to save the life of the mother. So 30% of Americans agree with them. (If we cound the 18% who take this position plus the 12% who take the even more restrictive position that abortion should never be legal.)

That leaves 60% of Americans who believe that abortion should only be legal under certain circumstances, either early in pregnancy or in "hard cases" like rape and incest.

So here's the obvious compromise: Make abortion legal only in a few extreme cases, like rape and incest, and maybe very early in pregnancy.

I'm sure that most pro-lifers wouldn't be entirely happy with such a proposal. They don't think that it should be legal to kill a child just because his father is a rapist. But then, most pro-aborts would surely not be happy with such a proposal either. They don't think there should be any restrictions on abortion. But that's the nature of a compromise: neither side is completely happy. The pro-lifers should be satisfied with such a proposal that it would outlaw most of the abortions actually done today. (At most maybe 2% of abortions are done for rape or incest.) Pro-abortionists should be satisfied that the cases they always put forward as the type of difficult circumstances that make abortion necessary would still be allowed. And the 60% of Americans in the middle should be satisfied that a compromise had been reached.

I'm not naive enough to suppose that such a compromise would end the debate. There would still be plenty of people on both sides who fight for complete victory. But I bet many of the more moderate people on each side would accept the compromise and go home.


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Created 2 Jun 2006.

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