30 years later, the debate over abortion is as heated as ever


Published: Tuesday, January 21, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 20, 2003 at 11:49 p.m.

Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States, and ultimately changed the way that Americans view their bodies, their sexuality and their offspring.

What do Americans think about abortion? To answer that question, a special report from the Gallup organization analyzed poll results from 1996 to 2001, examining the responses to 146 survey questions asked by 18 different research organizations.

Their conclusion was that, decades later, Americans are still deeply divided over the issue of abortion, with variability in support depending on the specific circumstances.

Most Americans (81 to 90 percent) favor abortion to save the health or life of the mother, but only a minority (25 to 43 percent) support abortions for financial, work, school or other lifestyle reasons.

So when pro-choice activists claim that most Americans favor legalized abortion, they are right. But pro-life activists are also correct when they say that most Americans do not endorse abortion on demand.

One source of such schizophrenia is the "exceptions."

Extremists from either end of the spectrum try to paint abortion as an all-or-nothing proposition, claiming it is hypocritical to favor abortion under particular circumstances, but not others. But the polling data suggest that most Americans straddle the middle of the road, and think abortion is acceptable only in certain circumstances.

This philosophy is not hypocritical or "situational ethics." It values the sanctity of human life while recognizing the imperfections of our world. This outlook is morally consistent, and hinges on the issue of choice.

When a woman is raped, her choice is taken away. Thus the outcome of the pregnancy is the responsibility of the man who instigated it, not the woman who is also a victim. Similarly, when a mother's life would be threatened by the physical demands of continuing a pregnancy, she no longer has the choice to be a mother.

In these cases, abortion means that a human life will be ended. But the pregnant woman is not responsible for murder. Her choice was taken away, and she was simply doing the best she can under horrible circumstances.

I am not an apologist for abortion. Those "special circumstances" make up a small percentage of abortions in the U.S. They are not a justification for abortion on demand. In many ways, widespread abortion is symptomatic of a society that is characterized by premature sexual activity, glamorization of infidelity and devaluation of marital bonds.

In our zeal to avoid "legislating morality," we risk losing our sense of humanity. We have circumvented the laws of nature. If abortion is used as an easy remedy to save people from the consequences of their actions, then they never need to learn a better way, and things will never improve.

I also object to the misogynist arguments used in favor of abortion, that raising a child alone is too hard, or that giving a baby up for adoption is just too difficult. I find that attitude insulting to women, and I believe that most women are stronger and more capable than that. They are grown-ups, able to accept responsibility for their own actions.

Some self-proclaimed feminists try to argue that abortion on demand is an essential right that women must have in order to achieve their full potential. This rhetoric sounds a lot like the views of Southern slaveholders two centuries ago regarding the necessity of slavery to keep the plantations in operation. Haven't we learned anything about denigrating others in order to claim rights for ourselves?

I dream of a world where abortion is rare. I yearn for a country of economic opportunity so that poor women don't feel forced into abortion. I long for a time when people engage in responsible sexual activity.

Thirty years later, we are still not there yet.

Colleen Kay Porter is a Gainesville mother of five and a researcher at the University of Florida.

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