Reviews | The American abortion debate has unquestionable parameters

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New York Attorney General Letitia James recently said at a rally supporting Roe vs. Wade that when she had an abortion, “I walked proudly into Planned Parenthood.” How did we get to the point where an abortion is, to some, what? A feat? A declaration? Sort of a proud occasion?

In 1992, candidate Bill Clinton, maintaining his moderate persona, declared that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare”. Seeking re-election in 1996, his party platform said, “Our goal is to make abortion less necessary and rarer. The 2004 platform said: “Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Hillary Clinton used this wording in her campaign for the Democratic nomination in 2008.

In 2012, however, the word “rare” was scratched from the platform and, soon, from the rhetoric of many progressives. Many people consider it unprogressive to wish that abortions were rare, because wishing to do so is tantamount to suggesting, even indirectly, that abortion may not be a matter of completed moral indifference. That, even within the extraordinarily permissive US abortion regime (see below), there is Something on abortion, which should arouse at least some ambivalence.

Douglas Murray, associate editor of The Spectator, recently explained to his mostly British readers, “What America Gets Right About the Abortion Debate.” Many Europeans, although most of them live under far more restrictive abortion laws than all Americans, see the mere fact of the American debate as evidence of America’s backwardness – of lateness in getting on the “good side of history”. Murray thinks:

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“The fact that America still views abortion as a serious moral issue strikes me as a demonstration that America is still a serious moral country. She recognizes that this is one of the great moral questions: the question of life, and the encouragement or not of its cessation. He is not decided on the question, nor does he imagine that there is a clear direction of the moral journey directed by the passage of time.

With the exception of the small minority who are morally callous, intellectually obtuse and politically motivated like James, most Americans surely think like Murray: “Why walk ‘proudly’ into an abortion clinic? By no means is this a sad situation to say the least?

Karen Tumulty: Politics has erased common ground on abortion

The admirable American debate unfolds within certain indisputable parameters, starting with this: human life begins at conception, the conclusion not of an abstruse philosophy or theology, but of a elementary biology. But that is not, as many opponents of abortion believe, where the abortion debate ends. On the contrary, for most Americans, it starts here: when is it reasonable – in a way objective, because visible – to see a human being nobody?

This is why technological development has done much to stabilize abortion politics by broadening and solidifying the ambivalent majority in the middle. Vastly improved ultrasounds show vivid images of little people in utero, with beating hearts and sucking their thumbs. People who, in the words of one anti-abortion activist, can hear their mother’s heartbeat.

Americans who believe in a “right to life” are right to say that in the absence of accident or abortion, life that begins at conception becomes, in utero, a recognizable person. But when ?

The abortion debate that the Supreme Court timetable has sparked forces Americans to think about what abortion policy should be, but first recognize what US policy is: an extremely absurd situation. In 39 of the 42 European countries that allow elective abortions, the basic limit is 15 weeks gestation or earlier. In 32 of 39, the limit is 12 weeks or earlier. Worldwide, fewer than a dozen countries allow abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy for any reason.

In 1975, two years after deer was decided, Archibald Cox, a Harvard law professor and former United States Solicitor General under President John F. Kennedy, told a lecture at Oxford University: [Roe v. Wade] opinion ignores even what I assume to be the most important compelling state interest in banning abortion: the interest in maintaining this respect for the supreme sanctity of human life which has always been at the center of Western civilization. This interest, while perhaps unintelligible to people like James, is important to the vast American majority.

This majority could soon have the noble task of instructing its elected representatives to codify, state by state, the community norms relating to the appearance of personality. An acorn is not an oak tree; a young oak tree is. The burden of intelligence and self-government is that you have to make distinctions.

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