Saturday, May 06, 2006

Support For Roe v. Wade Steadily Eroding

On May 5th, 2006, reported on a survey that shows that support for the original Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 continues to erode. Click here for full story.

A new Harris Poll shows that backing for Roe v. Wade, which allowed virtually unlimited abortion, is at its lowest point ever. Harris has been measuring public opinion on this case since the Supreme Court's decision in 1973, and found that Americans now support Roe v. Wade by only 49% to 47%, the lowest majority ever. Because the difference is within the margin of error, this is a virtual split.

Previous Harris Polls found between 52% and 65% of all U.S. adults favored Roe v. Wade. The decrease in support reflects the vigorous pro-life educational and legislative efforts on the part of the pro-life lobby.

Deirdre McQuade, a spokeswoman for the pro-life office of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told in a statement that the poll shows “public opinion has moved progressively away from supporting unqualified access to abortion.”

“This is a real sign of hope for both women and their unborn children. We expect that Americans will continue to trend pro-life as they learn more about abortion and its impact on women, men, and society,” McQuade said.

The drop in support is not just verbal. According to statistics supplied by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), abortions, which peaked out at 1,429,247 in 1990, have been steadily decreasing since then, with a large drop occurring between 1997 and 1998. See chart at left.

Furthermore, the pro-life lobby may be adopting more flexible tactics. Instead of continued fruitless head-on assaults against Roe v. Wade, we may see a more subtle approach. On the Little Geneva website, I found an essay published in Covenant News. Paul de Parrie reports that on April 21, 2006, the national organization of the Constitution Party voted to recognize state's rights to be of greater import than the right to life itself. This implies a possible 10th Amendment solution, where each state, following the lead of South Dakota, handcrafts its own unique abortion law. It is believed that most heartland states would restrict abortion to life or health situations. And from a power base of 35-40 heartland states, it might be easier to launch a final assault on Roe v Wade itself. Perhaps by that time we might also have some more pro-life Supreme Court justices, too.

Analysis: Common references I use are therapeutic abortion, which I define as abortion to preserve the mother's life and health, and elective abortion, which is for reasons of convenience. Three basic positions govern the abortion debate.

1). Absolutely Pro-Life: This means no abortion under any circumstances. South Dakota's new law is closest to this position, permitting abortion only to save the life of the mother.

2). Conditionally Pro-Life: Some variability involved, but in general, means therapeutic abortion only, to save the life or preserve the fundamental health of the mother. Some people also include abortion to terminate a rape or incest-induced pregnancy.

3). Absolutely Pro-Choice: This means abortion permissible in all cases. There are some people who would never have an abortion personally, but who are absolutely pro-choice simply because they want the option legally available to them if they ever change their mind.

The conundrum is, when does life begin? Obviously, biological life begins at conception, when the sperm successfully fertilizes the egg. But is it sentient life at this point? Unlikely. So we must examine the experiences of countless mothers to decide if we can determine a threshold while the baby remains in the womb. Most mothers can remember when they feel the unborn baby moving or kicking for the first time. This occurs anywhere from the third month to the sixth month. At this point, another process has taken place, which I refer to as "animation". The unborn baby begins to move on its own accord.

What causes this "animation"? This is where I fall back on my background as a Mormon. Mormons believe that at some point in the pregnancy, the spirit for whom the body is being prepared comes down from the spirit world and takes possession of the body. Being in an unfamiliar environment, with its memory of the spirit world rapidly eroding, its first instinct is to "kick the tires". So it moves around to find out what this new tabernacle can do. This is "animation".

The ethical problem is that it can vary. Since we don't know when animation takes place, abortion poses the risk of terminating a sentient life rather than merely "biological" life. If we are to accept this risk, it cannot be done merely for convenience. There must be a higher purpose. In the interests of free agency, though, we cannot figuratively stick a gun to a woman's head and force her to give up her own life or invalidate herself permanently just to bring a baby into this world, because then it becomes an act of compulsion rather than an act of love. This establishes a threshold - abortion is acceptable to save the life or preserve the fundamental health of the mother.

But what about rape or incest? To ask a woman who's become pregnant as a result of rape to carry that daily reminder of her horrifying experience in her body for nine months might overload her emotionally. Do we have a right to do that? However, do we also have the right to make the unborn baby pay for the sins of the rapist father? There's another conundrum.

After considering all these factors, I find the position best incorporating all these conflicting factors is a conditional pro-life position, where we permit abortion for life or health reasons, but also permit abortion in the case of rape or incest on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, we should be matching up prospective mothers who don't want their kids with parents who are willing to adopt them. We must also accelerate medical research to allow fetal transfers from one womb to another, or even to allow them to live outside the womb for short periods until a new host can be found. However, we must have limits - Roe v Wade must be overturned. Support those organizations working towards that goal. In Alaska, two of the leading pro-life advocacy groups are Alaska Right to Life (no website) and Eagle Forum Alaska.

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