Abortion is one of the most controversial issues of our time. Like most controversies, there exist two main sides that seem diametrically opposed to each other. However, I believe that in this conflict there is a way for both sides to work together towards a common goal that will benefit both human life and society for the long term. Before continuing it is important to clarify where each side stands. Those on the “pro-life” side assert that abortion is morally wrong. This is usually, but not always, based on the assertion that God (usually the Christian god) has a purpose for all human beings and that the soul enters the zygote at the moment of conception. If one holds these assertions as truth it isn’t difficult to feel some sympathy to for their position. For those who stand on the side of being “pro-choice”, abortion is seen as primarily a medical procedure. Further, most “pro-choicers” would say that it should be a last resort only after all other options and factors such as personal socioeconomic situation and health have been carefully considered. This is because abortion, by its very nature, is intrusive, can lead to irreparable damage to the reproductive abilities of the woman and can have severe emotional side-effects (similar to those of women who have miscarried, ie. natural abortion). Therefore, they see abortion as a choice but one that should be used sparingly.
One side feels it is absolutely wrong while the other sees it as treatment and thus not completely wrong. Most of the “pro-choice” and “pro-life” individuals I have known through the years would generally agree with this summary of their general views on the subject. However, there are extremists on both sides. Carl Sagan[i] said of them, “doubtful arguments are trotted out as certitudes”. Thus, it would appear that there is little possibility of reconciliation between the sides. One side feels it is absolutely wrong while the other sees it as treatment and thus not completely wrong. How then could they be convinced to work together? To what common goal could they possibly work towards? To begin, I point out that both sides can agree that abortion is at minimum, undesirable. With this minor agreement as a foundation let us consider other procedures past and present that have either been eradicated from medical practice or are presently being phased out due to current medical therapies/treatments/advances.
For simplicity, let us consider another undesirable medical practice that is less controversial, at least ethically; amputation. Surgical amputations “date back at least to the time of Hippocrates (c.460-375 B.C.), amputating limbs to save lives did not become widespread until the sixteenth century.”(Source) Obviously, amputations “were performed mainly to remove tissue that was already dead. The reason for this limitation is that early surgical techniques could not control the blood loss.” (Source) Advances were made in surgical practices to prevent this hemorrhaging such as tying off the arteries. (Source) Amputation is an extreme medical practice which, over time given medical advances, decreases in use relative to the population. In a 1998 article in the journal “Diabetes Care”, Andrew D. Morris, MD et.al. found that “rates in the U.S. Amputation rates appear to have decreased significantly since 1980–1982.”(Source) The reason given for the decrease was education about diabetes and advances in care. Another study found that “[t]he frequency of major amputations in the country in 1986-87 of 40.9 per 100,000 per year declined by 25% to 30.9 per 100,000 per year in 1989-90.”(Source), stating further that “vascular surgery reduces the number of major lower limb amputations.”(Source) Given these and many other examples, it is clear that medical advances both in practice and education are responsible for a great deal of the reduction in the use of such an invasive, life-altering, and extreme medical procedure.
How does this relate to abortion? Not only is abortion undesirable, it is also invasive, life-altering and extreme. Thus, just as with the case of amputation; where instead of targeting the practice itself the causes were targeted, we should strive to eliminate the causes of abortions as much as possible. Abortion is obviously necessary in certain cases such as fallopian-tube babies, that if left to go to term, would kill the mother. Furthermore, just as education about diabetes helped in the reduction of amputations, so too can better sex education and the elimination of “abstinence-only” education reduce the need for abortions among ignorant or accident-prone young people. The following quote from Carl Sagani drives this point home: “Shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions.” Though it is true that you can’t prevent or solve all amputations, so too will we not be able to end all abortions. That is where technology and research is vital. However, we can, if we work together instead of fighting about who believes what, we can end most abortions by using sound judgment and trusted preventative practices to treat the causes rather than the treatment.
At this point I anticipate some resistance from those extreme pro-lifers who view contraception as evil and won’t have anything to do with it citing that it is God’s will that we end abortion. This argument seems fraught with logical problems. 1) If God chooses when we are born and when we die, then why couldn’t abortion be a tool of God? 2) If it’s God’s will that abortions end then shouldn’t he be offering a solution to us without us asking? 3) If it’s God’s will that we end abortion, could it be that his will includes research as described above and through His divine grace provide us an answer via data collected in such studies? In any case, it would seem to be in the best interest of even the most hardcore pro-lifer to work together with pro-choicers and to utilize sound and moral science to reduce the number of abortions. Instead of killing abortion doctors why not try putting them out of business in a more constructive and less violent way, and donate to an organization or research project that is attacking one of the many causes of abortions. That will accomplish far more than squabbling amongst each other about who’s right and who’s wrong. The truth is, neither group is right by themselves, they are only right together.
In summary, my hope is that I’ve made it clear to pro-choicers that pro-lifers are not all a bunch of scripture-spouting nut-bars that are out to turn the country into a theocracy. Also, pro-lifers are truly concerned about human life, just as much as any pro-choicer. The problem lies in the question of when “human” life begins. This question is not as clear-cut as both sides would like it to be, therefore the concerns of the pro-lifers about ending human life is a painful decision that is not completely baseless from a scientific point of view. Also, I’ve hope I’ve made it clear to pro-lifers that not all pro-choicers are malicious baby killers that care only for the reproductive rights of women and care nothing of potential human beings. There isn’t a single person that is truly for abortion, but one way to rid ourselves of it as much as possible is embracing science and giving medical research a chance to find the cure for the causes of abortion in an effort to greatly reduce the practice.
 ANDREW D. MORRIS, MD; RITCHIE MCALPINE, BSC; DOUGLAS STEINKE, BSC; DOUGLAS I.R. BOYLE, BSC; ABDUL-RAHIM EBRAHIM; NAVEEN VASUDEV; COLIN P.U. STEWART, MD; ROLAND T. JUNG, MD; GRAHAM P. LEESE, MD; THOMAS M. MACDONALD, MD ; RAY W. NEWTON, FRCP.
[i] In an article that first appeared in Parade magazine on April 22, 1990 entitled “The Question of Abortion: A Search for Answers”, quoted here from his book Billions and Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death the Brink of the Millennium (1997). The article appears as Chapter 15 entitled “Abortion: Is it Possible to be both Pro-Life and Pro-Choice?”
Below is an e-mail we received the Coalition For Secular Government "MEDIA RELEASE: COALITION FOR SECULAR GOVERNMENT Nearly 40% of Colorado Voters Seek to Destroy Reproductive Rights Sedalia, Colorado / October 7, 2008 Contact: Diana Hsieh, co-author of "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life" and founder of the Coalition for Secular Government, Diana@SecularGovernment.us or 303.304.0689 A poll of likely voters shows strong support for Amendment 48, the ballot measure that would grant the full legal rights of persons to fertilized eggs. The survey, conducted on September 28th by Rasmussen Reports with 500 likely voters, shows that 39% plan to vote for the measure, 50% to vote against it, while 11% are unsure. (See <http://tinyurl.com/4huary>.) Such strong support for Amendment 48 should surprise anyone familiar with the barrage of criticism published in Colorado media in recent weeks. Critics of the measure have warned voters of its destructive effects on Colorado's laws if passed and enforced. They have shown that it would usher in a near-total ban on abortion, outlaw the birth control pill and in vitro fertilization, and subject pregnant women to police controls. Yet these latest poll results are basically unchanged from a June poll, also by Rasmussen. (See <http://tinyurl.com/4mm59r>.) Diana Hsieh, founder of the Coalition for Secular Government and co-author of "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life," argues that the broad support for Amendment 48 is driven by a deeply-held faith pretending to be "pro-life." The most recent Rasmussen poll showed that 41% of Colorado voters believe that "life begins at conception." That number explains the strong support for Amendment 48, despite the media barrage against it. "People who endorse that slogan regard a fertilized egg as a new, whole person with a right to life," Hsieh said. "They regard the enormous sacrifices forced on real men and women by the measure as insignificant -- or even ennobling. Their vote is based on faith, without regard to the real-world requirements of human life and happiness. It's not 'pro-life' at all." "To effectively combat measures like Amendment 48, the whole 'pro-life' ideology must be challenged at its root," Hsieh said. "A mushy slogan like 'it simply goes too far' is unconvincing, even misleading. It doesn't speak to the fundamental dispute. Worse, it suggests that some compromise -- like banning most abortions -- would be acceptable." "Instead, reproductive rights must be defended on principle, based on the objective facts of human nature. With regard to abortion, the fact is that a fetus or embryo is only a potential person so long as encased within and dependent on the woman. Once born, the infant is a new individual person with the right to life. That view ought to be the basis for the laws of a free society. Any alternative -- any attempt to grant rights to the embryo or fetus -- would violate the rights of pregnant women." For a principled defense of reproductive rights, see the Coalition for Secular Government's issue paper, "Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life: Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person," available at <http://www.seculargovernment.us/docs/a48.pdf>, particularly the section "Personhood and the Right to Abortion," pages 10-13." - Chalmer
The following was written by Riki Mathews, our friend and mentor. Check out her blog, The Trickster Tells.
When I look at McCain’s advisors, the same ones that shaped the Bush/Cheney White House, I realize that nothing will change, only the top names stamped on the policies. And the more I watch the invectives spewing out of the GOP humanity grinder, as they count on us to mistake our baser selves for the best in us, I am sickened by the stench emanating from their lies, innuendoes, and true disgust for all of us who have tried to help each other through the catastrophes and hard times made worse by the Bush administration. McCain, Maverick no more, in 2007 voted for Bush-favored policies 95% of the time. Nor will I ever forget that as Katrina, at category 5-level hit, as people clung to rooftops, as governors from Louisiana and Mississippi pleaded for more government help, Bush and McCain orchestrated a madhatter’s tea party—with cake instead of jam. Forty Senators and 100 members of Congress visited New Orleans before McCain did; he finally got there in March 2006.
McCain voted against establishing a Congressional commission to examine the Federal, State, and local responses to Katrina in mid-September 2005. He repeated that vote in 2006. He voted against allowing up to 52 weeks of unemployment benefits to people affected by the hurricane, and in 2006 voted against appropriating $109 billion in supplemental emergency funding, including $28 billion for hurricane relief. Shortly after the disaster in New Orleans, McCain did introduce a bill that sought to improve communications mechanisms for first-responders and authorities. The bill failed to go anywhere, and McCain later voted against other bills that had similar provisions.
And McCain’s economic policy, which he tries so hard to hide—with good reason—is to eliminate ALL regulatory agencies along with unemployment benefits, Medicare and Medicaid while making tax cuts to the wealthy permanent and funding only the military industrial complex. Stripped to the minimum now, thanks to Republican ideology, the agencies that are there to come to our aid during natural disasters, to prevent food contamination, to research and contain disease, provide vaccines for our children, and so on, would be axed under the McCain/Palin administration. McCain claims country first, but I must ask whose country does he mean? Certainly not the country of the poor, the workers, single women, minorities, the sick, or those trying to get an education.
I worked for 30 years teaching college and high school (recognized in Who’s Who for my contributions to the US, to education, to women) before I became disabled; now I depend on a poverty level pittance from Medicare to survive. Myself and others like me, despite what we have given to our country, would eventually be cut off with no government support under the McCain/Palin ideology, even veterans—as McCain has repeatedly voted against bills to help them, still, McCain runs on his story of being a POW as qualifying him to be president while denying veterans further benefits, and so I ask again, just what kind of country does he mean? Those willing to give their lives for this country get slaughtered or maimed for a pittance while those who got their money through inheritance or by investing, those living off the money others make …. get government subsidies.
Now McCain has chosen Sarah Palin for VP, the anathema of feminist and humanist values. As many before me have said, I yearn for qualified, independent, thinking women in all roles—but Palin has none of these qualities. A person, man or woman, with Palin’s record, being sheltered from the press, needing to be protected from questions crucial to the direction of this country, is not an appropriate candidate. We are told Palin’s religion, record, and family are off limits by the same people that demeaned Obama’s family, clamored he was racist, a sexist, that his religion was not the “right” kind of religion, even attacked his patriotism and his qualifications. That she should be held to an entirely different set of standards is despicable.
She has lied about lobbying congress for earmarks, for supporting the bridge to nowhere. She wants to force her beliefs upon the entire country, throwing out wholesale the concepts of liberty and freedom, ignoring the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Of course she is the darling of the extremist right; she believes that a grouping of undifferentiated embryonic cells is of more value than the living, breathing, thinking, laughing, crying female in which the cells reside. Make no mistake; she is not interested in educating women in order to reduce the need for abortion; she is against helping women make wise choices, helping them have the tools to prevent abortion, but when it comes to once the damage is done, she is all for forcing a woman to give birth even if the woman was raped, a victim of incest, or, yes, the woman will die from the pregnancy. I believe, as do all women, that abortion is tragic. But I do not see the extreme right taking on the burden of prenatal, natal, and postnatal care—including the millions of dollars it now costs to raise a child—due to their extremist, toxic mix of no education regarding birth control, no access to birth control, and then forcing a woman to give birth against her wishes. I simply cannot see that this helps women or children, and while[now wile] the majority of Americans are against it, the Federal government under the Republicans and the conservative judges they’ve gotten appointed, is forcing the rest of us against our will to follow.
And for the brave women raising their children alone, Palin’s brand of religion and GOP ideology has plenty of names for them: irresponsible, lazy, immoral, unworthy of help. But far be it for anyone to make a judgment about Palin’s family “choice.” Where I come from, that is called hypocritical, and it most certainly is not feminist, compassionate, or the type of country I want to live in. It is not a country that respects all women, that recognizes all women’s contributions to the fabric of this land.
In an age where anyone being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan makes you VP material and thus potential presidential material makes me cry for the future of this country. If I sent out a resume claiming I had foreign affairs experience because I lived “close to” Russia, I wouldn’t get even a first look from any capable business. In an age where the man running for President blatantly lies and when caught continues to lie (just like George Bush), who believes smearing his opponent with the most vile pejoratives passes for “straight talk” yet has the gall to talk about honor and duty to his country clarifies for me the problems we face: we can choose to descend back into the Middle Ages of chronic warfare (the cost of Iraq alone is clocking close to $545, no 6, billion as I write), abject poverty, financial ruin, pettiness, ignorance, narrow-minded hateful rage, and extremist religious rule—or we can choose to rise out of the muck, work together, and leave a better world for all.
Perhaps McCain’s contempt toward everyone but those who weave his webs of deceit comes through best in his exchange with a concerned citizen who asked him a legitimate question about his ability to lead given his age; McCain, rather than simply answering the question, called the man a “little jerk.” As a life-long educator, I know that there is a calling to become our better selves. Let this be the time that we realize it is critical to answer that call.
“All of us are in the gutter; only some of us are looking at the stars”-Oscar Wilde