If human life begins anywhere, it begins in the creation of an individual genome and a protoplasmic being at the moment of fertilization, so it is morally wrong to abort a pregnancy. Because a human is a special being, we rightly consider it wrong to end the life of one. But if being a free person means anything, it means that we have the right to control our own body, so it is morally wrong to force an unwilling potential mother to continue a pregnancy she does not want. Because a human being is a special being, we consider it wrong to take away the freedom of one.
Given the contradiction between the interests involved, it is understandable that an unwanted pregnancy is something of a legal and ethical battlefield. It might seem that a public compromise to the fact that abortion is ethically wrong, but legally necessary, could create consensus, but there are practical and political issues that prevent such a social accord.
On a practical level, to hold that abortion is morally wrong means that as a society we should try to do all we can to reduce their numbers. But where abortion is rare the infrastructure needed to make it available to women who choose it tends to diminish or disappear. In our polarized views of the issue we tend to create geographic zones where abortion is provided in a dignified and readily available fashion and where it is not. Another practical issue that is just as critical is money. There are close to 2,000,000 abortions per year in the US (several states, including California, do not report abortion statistics, so the actual number of abortions is unknown), and two-thirds of women who have abortions report that economic resources are a factor in their decision. (This figure is no doubt higher for African-American women in light of racial disparities in income; in 2002 Black women
had 32 percent of all abortions in spite of making up 12 percent of women.)
The ongoing impasse in the abortion debate, and the possibility that the new Supreme Court could radically upset current law and policy, call for fresh attempts to resolve the conundrums of abortion. Maybe a compromise between conservative pro-life women and liberal pro-choice women is possible. For the pro-choice, the right to abortion must be guaranteed before they are willing to bother promoting the idea that abortion is wrong, because their instinct rightly reminds them that heretofore any equivocation on their part will be used to limit this right. For, pro-lifers a recognition from their opposition that abortion should truly be rare is a prerequisite to serious engagement.
One package of policies that both sides might be able to find in common could include: 1) an open admission that abortion is ethically unsound as regards the interests of the fetus and a related campaign to reduce the number of abortions, 2) a nationally-guaranteed and subsidized right to a safe and dignified abortion in every community, and 3) subsidies for women who want to give birth and adopt out and for those who want to raise a child (obviously welfare re-reform will be a hard sell). Liberals would be much more willing to discourage abortion if there was a guarantee that it would still be available everywhere, and any policy which could put a dent in the one million abortions motivated by financial factors would be attractive to right-to-lifers.
Paradoxically, and in what would have to be a deliberate suspension of supply and demand, a new policy framework 1) could make increased abortion availability go along with a reduction in the number of abortions, and 2) would require ensuring the supply of abortion services while at the same time working towards a reduction in the demand for abortion. The policies under consideration have the potential to build ties between feminist and socially conservative women: they are feminist because they would guarantee not just as an abstract right, but as a practical reality, access to abortion services, and they are conservative because by guaranteeing special rights to women they recognize that they, women, are, in fact, different from men.
Given that in most times and places men have owned women’s bodies, it is understandable that feminists feel particularly protective of their infant legal status as equal to men and of their concomitant jurisdiction over themselves. And the reality of legal and moral reasoning about abortion will always be different from the more immediate reality of being a woman in a body that is pregnant. But if women worked together, across political lines, a set of solutions that could both increase access to and reduce the numbers of abortions are possible.
On a sidenote, economists insist that we need the one million Mexicans who illegally enter the US each year in order to maintain our economy and our Social Security system, so maybe a policy that birthed a million new Americans could help resolve more than one of the conundrums of the moment.