Abortion Common Ground: A Pro-Choice Agenda
What pro-choicers can learn from the Princeton abortion conference.
5. Target repeaters. In her presentation, Brown delivered this brutal observation:
About half of all abortions are to women who have had at least one previous abortion. Half. That suggests not only the family planning systems, but also the people who provide terminations, are not doing enough to prevent additional unintended pregnancies, including such things as immediate post-abortion IUD insertion.
That's a scandal. One unintended pregnancy should be enough to warn you—and the doctor who vacuums out your uterus—not to risk another.
6. Reconsider the legality of second-trimester abortions. This is the part I don't like. I hate the crudity of bringing criminal law into such personal matters. But people with stronger pro-choice credentials than mine have been thinking about it for some time. At Princeton, one of them, historian David Garrow, infuriated pro-lifers by equating Roe v. Wade with civil rights and by attributing much of the pro-life movement to "feelings about sex" rather than life. Then he said this:
The discussion that I would like to have in a setting like this is: How negotiable should the legal status of the second trimester be? … I quite frankly am not morally capable of having a discussion that doubts women's fundamental right of access up through at least 12 weeks. Now, having said all that, I'm perfectly willing to discuss everything about [weeks] 12 through 22. … It is imaginable, as a pro-choice person … to entertain the question of whether [week] 12 forward should be subject to the sort of hospital-committee regime that we saw in abortion law history in the late 1960s. … That is a moral concession I'm willing to entertain as a possibility, even though I view it as a potentially dangerous slippery slope.
After the conference, pro-lifers assailed Garrow for disrespecting them. They ignored his remarks about the second trimester, which represented by far the most significant offer from anyone on the pro-choice side. They should take him up on it, and pro-choicers should think seriously about following his lead.
Imagine a deal—I'd call it the Gushee-Garrow Compromise—in which pro-choicers accept restrictions on second-trimester abortions in exchange for pro-life support of contraception. Both concessions would hurt, but that's what makes the deal fair. Many stalwarts on both sides would reject the trade—most notably, the Catholic Church—but their cooperation might prove unnecessary. Abortion would remain safe and legal, but it would be rarer. And in exchange for a 12-week deadline on elective abortions, women would get better options for avoiding pregnancy.
I hate half of this proposal, but I think I could tolerate it. If you feel the same way—and the other side does, too—we might have a deal.
(For what pro-lifers can learn from Princeton, see yesterday's article.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Ultrasound image by Fotopress/Getty Images.