Of all the hot-button moral issues out there, abortion is quite possibly the most sensitive, and most disputed. When all other arguments have been uneasily reconciled, there will always bile and vitriole on this one. There are huge swathes of people on either side of the issue who will budge no inch, angrily defending their point of view. Then there are those in the middle, carefully drawing out a compromise which can never be reached. Other questions like stem cell research and cloning rest on this one. And it will never be settled, not really. Perhaps that is for the best.
A lot has been said about abortion, and so it is extremely difficult to say much that has not been said before. However, here is what I feel I have to offer to the everlasting debate.
In this post I will explain some thoughts on the motivations of those on either side. While no argument should be assessed based on the merits of its proponents (which would be an argumentum ad hominem), it is useful to examine them nevertheless. It seems to me that the vast majority of people on both sides either care about both the mother and the foetus, or would do so were it not for an attitude (call it a prejudice) developed due to this issue. Only a very minor fringe would otherwise act with complete disregard for a woman's autonomy or the wellbeing of something which can look and appear so human. So, given this groundpoint, what makes a person come down on one side or the other, to weigh up the interests and make their decision?
I would like to stress that many base their opinion on logical reasoning, personal experience and general gut feeling on the issue. Others are pushed one way or another by religious leaders, parents, friends etc. But I would argue that a fundamental factor which has helped to split opinion on this down traditional liberal / conservative lines is the attitude people have to another issue: SEX.
To the extent that I accuse either side here, I accuse them fairly equally. Those that come in with a sex-positive, free love kind of attitude are far more likely to be pro-choice. The reason is obvious. Not to mince words, but it is much easier to advocate the positive aspects of sex while downplaying the risks and consequences. While screening and a degree of care can minimise the risks of STDs, and treatment is generally uncontroversial, it is more difficult to talk away the risk of pregnancy. Firstly, because it potentially involves another, innocent third party (the potential child) rather than the willing participants. Secondly because it always has been, and always will be a real possibility. Short of extreme measures infeasible for many, the risk of pregnancy will never go away. By having abortion as a way of clearing up any 'accidents', the problem is solved. Sex can be relatively simple and without too many negative consequences. In short, promoting abortion fits a pro-sex agenda.
What of the other side? Those that come in with a sex-negative, restrictive and prudish kind of attitude are far more likely to be pro-life. For many of them, people need to be warned off any kind of sexual activity before marriage. Particularly in the USA, where anti-abortion activists have much influence, a lot of the reason for this attitude is based not on fear of consequences, but on religious teaching (which, ironically, I would argue probably originated from fear of consequences, but has now been merely cristalised into dogma). It is very hard to sell this reasoning to youth, and abortion becomes the logical way around this. By equating abortion with murder, many are (perhaps only subconsciously) trying to scare young people off sex. 'Look at the possible consequences', they are saying. 'If you dabble then you may have to choose between raising a baby or being a murderer.' It is a clever method of control. In short, condemning abortion fits an anti-sex agenda.
Again, there are many, especially outside of the USA, with good, sound reasons for their opinions on abortion. I like to think I am one of them, and I will explain my opinion in my next post. For now though, I am trying to point out that a lot of the arguing either way is actually based on an attitude to sex rather than to abortion itself. I just hope that eventually more people can learn to block that out and look instead to the issue itself, with its own, much more important, facets.