Can Reasonable People Disagree?
By Patrick F. Cannon
The number of intentional abortions in the United States was 1,545,170 in 1980, and 930,670 in 2020. In the latter year, that’s about 14 abortions per 1,000 births. Of course, the rate varies by state. My state, Illinois, has a rate of 16.6; neighboring Wisconsin, 5.9 (abortion is banned only after 21 weeks and six days); New York, 26.3 (yikes!); Vermont, 11.4; and so on. Although there has been a spike recently, the overall trend is down.
Despite this, abortion as a political issue seems to be front and center in this election. In my home state – broke (and woke) Illinois – most of the Democratic campaign ads for the November 1 election paint the Republican candidates as fiends who would take a women’s right to choose abortion away, even, as they all claim, in cases of rape or incest! As it happens, Illinois is one of the least likely states to do anything like this.
Although I’m conflicted about abortion, I do think women should decide for themselves whether to have one or not. What troubles me is the demonization of people who oppose abortion for religious or moral reasons. For example, if you are a devout Roman Catholic or belong to a fundamentalist Christian denomination, you are required to believe in the sanctity of human life, no matter it’s form. It you believe that as soon as the woman’s egg is fertilized human life – sanctified by God – begins, then you feel obligated to oppose its termination, regardless of how it took place.
Recent polls say that 61 percent of American support abortion in some cases; 50 percent support it in all cases. If you add the number who oppose abortion in all cases to those who support it only in cases of rape or incest, you come up with 49 percent, creating a statistical tie. The number of Americans who support abortion only in certain circumstances has remained remarkably constant since 2000.
When more than 90 percent of American were churchgoers (1900), support for abortion would have been miniscule. In 2020, only 47 percent said they went to church regularly (it was 70 percent as recently as 2000). This mirrors the trend in Europe, where regular church attendance is less that 10 percent in Germany and France; and between 10 and 15 percent in the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. It’s no surprise then that abortion is legal in most of the European Union, with the exception of Malta. Poland – still staunchly Roman Catholic – also prohibits it except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother’s life is threatened.
But here, and perhaps for the next few decades, we are divided on this issue. And though there are excesses on both sides – doctors who performed abortions have been murdered, for example; and pro-life organizations have been vandalized and even fire-bombed – pro-choice advocates seem increasingly to demonize those who oppose abortion for religious or moral reasons. Thus, the negative campaign ads that make some candidates look like heartless monsters. (By the way, what does one’s position on abortion have to do with how one administers the state treasury?)
In the end, I think it must be the individual woman, not the state, who must decide whether abortion is a moral or medical issue. But I also think it’s a mistake to demonize people whose sincerely believe abortion is wrong for religious or moral reasons. But neither side of the issue benefits from politicians who position on abortion is not based on any moral quandary, or actual belief, but: “what will get me elected?”
Copyright 2022, Patrick F. Cannon