Opinion | Morgan Liddick: The elusive middle ground of the abortion debate
On Your Right
As abortion — that hardy perennial in the Culture Wars — returns to the forefront as a liberal bogeyman to organize female voters, it might behoove us all to take a deep breath and consider some statistics. The following numbers are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Guttmacher Institute, or, where more than one number is used, a range taken from both sources.
Based on the CDC’s latest state-level data, approximately 879,000 abortions took place in the United States in 2017, which is the latest year for which vetted numbers exist. This represents a continuation of a slow decline in numbers from their high point in 1996. In 2014, approximately 19% of U.S. pregnancies (excluding spontaneous miscarriages) ended in abortion. This percentage has remained fairly steady over time. According to the United Nations, only nine countries in the world have a higher reported abortion rate than the United States: Bulgaria, Cuba, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. This list obviously excludes China, whose abortion rate is likely much higher, but for which no reliable estimates exist.
According to a 2015 CDC report, 44% of women who had abortions in the U.S. had at least two; 86% were unmarried, 41% were 24 years old and younger and 60% had at least one other child. Based on CDC mortality and morbidity reports and on Guttmacher Institute studies, 1.2-1.5% of abortions are justified through incest, 1.2-3% due to rape; numbers for “medically necessary” abortions are insignificantly small, and therefore unreliable. Let’s call it 1%. In other words, using the lower overall figure for abortions and the higher figures for the “necessary” categories of rape, incest and “life of the mother,” we arrive at 830,655 abortions unjustified by any of the former triad of excuses.
Why do most of them happen? Not being able to peer into the psyche of those undergoing them, one cannot be entirely certain — but statistics of the groups which most avail themselves of the procedure are suggestive: overwhelmingly, they are young, unmarried and have at least one child. Abortion seems used here largely as a method of birth control, gristly and invasive through it may be.
Why should we care? Because our attitudes about the question reveal deeper habits of mind; habits perhaps slowly acquired from a culture which is less and less concerned with ultimate truths and increasingly dominated by ego gratification. Unexamined, they lead in unhealthy directions, like the New York State Assembly applauding a law allowing abortion at any point up to birth, by a wide range of medical practitioners. It doesn’t go quite as far as Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s quiet embrace of fourth-trimester abortion, but give it time. Once the idea has been accepted that a viable but unborn child may be killed at the mother’s whim, it’s not a far walk to infanticide.
But if “My body, my choice” is the rallying cry of self-obsessed spoiled children, so “No abortion ever, for any reason” is the verdict of a tyrant. Savagely restrictive laws such as those recently passed in Alabama and Missouri only help fuel the fear that, should a pregnancy go horribly wrong, the mother-to-be might be condemned to death as a result. Yes, the laws were passed in an effort to put the question before the Supreme Court. But they have the potential to adversely affect real people in the here and now; as such they are the paving material of the road to the very hot place.
In a just and sane world, we might find a middle ground in the argument over abortion. One that, for example, might preserve the 5% of them that address rape, incest and medical necessity, while forbidding the 11-12,000 annual late-term abortions. And we could discuss alternatives to the remaining 820-odd thousand per year, because the taking of a human life, even a potential one, should never occur only for reasons of expediency or convenience.
This is essentially a utilitarian approach to a moral question, but such a framework would allow civilized discussion to replace the current untenable situation, in which two intransigent camps scream past each other, while more than eight hundred thousand children-in-waiting are killed every year. But it won’t soon come to pass because such a conversation would immediately confront the need to recognize a moral authority outside one’s self, and to restrict current social permissions to “do as thou would’st,” both of which limits are antithetical to popular custom.
So we will continue to scream and to butcher, because in today’s world self-control is the most difficult and despised control of any.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily.
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