Abortion is an issue that has divided many Americans into two extreme camps. A pro-life commitment can force a person to support initiatives and ideals he or she doesn’t agree with. Likewise, a pro-choice view can obligate one to look the other way on matters of critical importance to society.
Presented with two polarizing points of view, we allow emotion and fear to divide us. Those on the pro-life side frequently label those in opposition as murderous heathens, too irresponsible to exercise birth control and too willing to “take a human life” to improve their own. Pro-choice advocates often view members of the opposing side as religious zealots, hell-bent on exercising control over a woman’s body and seeking to force unwanted births in the name of God. This is a house divided against itself and as history has taught us, it cannot stand.
I believe a solution to this contentious issue falls somewhere in the middle, a common ground that allows us to stay faithful to our beliefs while remaining civil to our fellow Americans.
The number of abortions performed in the United States has consistently been going down. In 2016, the CDC reported the lowest number of abortions in more than 45 years. Almost five years later that trend continues to move in the right direction.
Both sides would say the decrease in the annual number of abortions is a good thing. Perhaps such a continuing decline could be a starting point for considering whether society can reconcile a woman’s right to choose with the basic human rights afforded a child after passing into this world.
In discussing abortion, we need to take an open, honest look at ourselves. Will we want to recall this as a time when we practiced murder against unborn children? Equally, would we proudly look back one day and say we allowed our government to involve itself in individual healthcare decisions that would force unintended births on record scales, further exacerbating the great economic divide?
I would argue that the answers to both questions is a resounding “no.”
Some would say that reaching middle ground on the abortion issue will be forever elusive and I understand that perspective. There is no more powerful a motivating force than religious conviction. It is the very reason that our founders built a separation of church and state into the Constitution. History has shown us time and time again the dire consequences of the two intertwining. Although we may not have the theocracy our founders sought to avoid, religion provides more than simple moral guidance to our leaders. Church doctrine can demand political obedience by threatening to withhold the money, resources, and support of its devout followers. It’s a phenomenally complex situation and I can understand why some Americans may not be willing to rest until the last abortion is performed on American soil.
But I do not believe that such an unbending point of view is shared by the majority of conservative-leaning Americans.
I believe that many of us do not condone the practice, and would never choose it for ourselves or our immediate family. But I also believe that many of us make room for the fact that we can never understand all the complex reasons a mother may choose to make such a decision.
Perhaps we could begin to bridge this great divide if we engaged the most brilliant minds in philosophy, religion, and science in a meaningful study and dialogue about the moment a fetus makes its transition to a viable, human child. The moment that it is no longer a grouping of cells totally dependent on its host, but rather its own being, capable of supporting its own life and developing its own consciousness.
We would then need to translate their findings into terms easily accessible to all women, no matter their base stance on the issue.
We also need to pay close attention to what President Obama said at Notre Dame in 2009: “Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction, but surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature. Open hearts, open minds, fair-minded words, it’s a way of life that has always been the Notre Dame tradition.”
In that spirit, no matter one’s religion, we all need to acknowledge the importance of the Right to Choose but also stand firm that the Right to Choose ends and becomes a Right to Life when the child is no longer a biological extension of his or her mother and becomes capable of sustaining his or her own life.
If we can draw this distinction and trust one another to hold that line, we can bridge the divide of one of the most heated and challenging issues in modern American history.