Here, I think, is the fundamental problem with the abortion debate: “pro-life” and “pro-choice” are not having the same conversation.
Everyone seems to think it’s a debate over whether a woman has the right to remove and therefore “kill” a fetus. But this is not correct. This is why you never get anywhere in your arguments.
You see, the decision to have an abortion is actually two decisions, not one: (1) to remove the fetus from the mother’s womb and (2) to terminate the fetus.
If that seems like a subtle and absurd distinction, I promise you it’s not. And if you think that’s obvious, well, you’re the first person I’ve ever spoken to who thought so.
For early term abortions, these are, necessarily, one and the same. That is, removing a fetus kills it. Done.
So for early term abortions, the “pro-life” side is arguing the primacy of point (2).. that is, you don’t have the right to kill the fetus, while ignoring point (1) entirely.. that is, it completely ignores the right of the mother to primacy over her own body. The “pro-choice” side does the opposite, arguing the primacy of point (1).. that is, you can’t make a woman keep something in her body she doesn’t want there, while completely ignoring point (2).. that is, that there is a fetus which is (may be) alive and will be killed.
Because both sides are arguing their own point and because both sides’ points are, more or less, true, they never get anywhere. And, because they both conveniently ignore the other side’s point, they both think the other side is dense for not seeing the obvious. Or worse, “baby-killers” or “anti-women.”
So, again, in an early term abortion, the pro-choice side argues point (1) is dominant while the pro-life argues point (2). And it’s a toss-up of who is right.. there’s no clear winner, no affirmatively right answer. For an early term abortion, (1) she does have the right to remove the fetus and (2) she does not have the right to terminate the fetus – but you can’t have both… one side has to give.
I lean toward side (1), others toward side (2), and it’s sticky mess trying to weigh two absolutely correct and perfectly valid rights against each other and pick a winner. And this is only further muddied when you factor in the question of whether a mother used birth control or was raped or if the child is a product of incest. This is, of course, to say nothing of gender-selective abortions (almost unheard of in America, but common in places like India) or genetic-disease-selection (ie, Downs, etc) abortions.
We’ve had this argument before, we’ll have it again. But we’re never going to get anywhere on it because there is. no. right. answer. Both sides are right and both sides are wrong because both sides are backing an absolute right and both sides are overriding and ignoring an absolute right.
But, where this gets interesting is here: late term abortions.
In a post-viability abortion, there are, again, two choices being made – not one. The die-hard staunch “pro-choice” side will tell you that an abortion at this stage is still a question of the primacy of the woman’s right over her own body. But this is not really the whole story. And it’s not that they’re lying about it, they just don’t realize that it’s two really questions. Meanwhile, the pro-life side backs them into a corner by stubbornly refusing to acknowledge any right of the woman over her own body. Again, they are (1) remove fetus and (2) terminate fetus.
But, because this is after the point of viability, these are no longer unseverable questions. When, for example, an Intact Dilation and Extraction (D&E), or “partial birth abortion” is performed, it is treated as “the mother’s choice” to do so since she has the right to remove things from her body (and she does!). But this ignores that she is making two choices, only one of which she actually has a right to make: (1) She does have the right to remove things from her body but (2) she does not have the right to terminate the life of the fetus.
To be fair, the general consensus amongst pro-choice is that an abortion after the point of viability is no longer acceptable, but it serves to illustrate a point. All but the most extreme have long since ceded this ground to the pro-life factions.
For a late-term pregnancy, it is no longer a question of which is dominant, point (1) or point (2), but rather we’ve reached a stage at which both sides can be satisfied to the fullest extent of their moral standing. At this point, the woman does have the right to have the fetus removed, but does not have the right to terminate it – by extension, the obligation of the hospital is to do whatever is necessary to keep the fetus baby alive. Thus, the mother can have the primacy of her body and the fetus can not be terminated.
The entire abortion debate has a built-in obsolescence:
As technology pushes back the age of viability further and further, the whole abortion “debate” becomes irrelevant – an “abortion” in the future will consist of a fetus being safely extracted from a mother and carried to term in either an artificial womb or a surrogate – already, the advances in pre-natal and neo-natal care have been staggering, and there is no reason to expect that they will not continue into the foreseeable future. This will respect the right of the mother to (point 1) remove her unwanted fetus but not (point 2) to terminate a fetus. Everyone wins.
The most logical end-result of an unwanted pregnancy is not a terminated fetus, but a formerly-pregnant woman not being forced to share her body and a wanted baby in a loving family. Someday this will be the reality for every unwanted pregnancy. Someday, people will look back and say “well of course that’s how this should work out.. what were they thinking”? Unfortunately, we don’t yet live in that world, but my guess is that it isn’t that far away – maybe 20-30 years.
The utopian future:
I can look into my crystal ball and see a future wherein a mother wishes to abort, but a father still wants the child. So the fetus is removed from the mother, gestated artificially to term, and given to the father’s sole custody. This is so much better than today where a father (or grandparents!) has exactly zero say in the matter. Today, someone else has the right to terminate MY fetus regardless of my opinions/feedback/parental-rights – and beyond this, they don’t even ever have to tell me.
I can see a future wherein the state claims a vested interest in the safety and well-being of future citizens and bans termination of fetuses while still permitting their (safe) extraction to a surrogate of artificial womb. Today, the state claims a vested interest in children, but this will likely extend backward, perhaps even to the moment of conception. And it will do so without trampling the rights women.
The dystopian future:
This will, no doubt, create a host of new problems – what happens with the unwanted children? Will we generate hundreds of thousands of new orphans every year? Right now, the adoption wait for newborns in America is extremely daunting – no doubt this would more-than suffice to cover the shortfall in supply. But what about the rest? To the work-houses? Medical experimentation for the lot them? We’ll have to figure that out, and it won’t be easy.
And, additionally, though technology will eventually catch up, premature babies are prone to a host of health and learning issues – how will we deal with this? What are the societal costs? Who will foot that bill? How will we take care of them? The societal cost of children with special needs is staggering and that’s today – what happens when you start introducing hundreds of thousands more each year? How do you keep the system from collapsing under its own weight?
And finally, I would suggest that, eventually, artificial wombs will outperform humans in terms of benefits to the child and safety for the mother. It will be safer, have fewer complications, and will probably result in healthier and better formed infants. What will happen when (as is inevitable) it is considered child endangerment to bear a child to term the old fashioned way? Just some food for thought.