Holding Center: There is a middle-ground on abortion rights

At the Los Angeles Women’s March last weekend, people carried pink coat hangers. They made a cute accessory, hanging on bag straps, belt loops and pinky fingers. They were printed with the warning, “This is not a surgical instrument,” alluding to the scores of women who have been reduced to the self-mutilation of a coat-hanger abortion. 

Just a few streets over, a separate anti-abortion parade marched with posters of fetuses that looked like babies. They marched with the same argument conceived by anti-abortion groups in the 1950s — that abortion is tantamount to killing a baby. 

These parades should be a strange sight, given that the decisive Supreme Court ruling on abortion was settled nearly half a century ago. But the issue is no less contentious today, with more than 200 Congress members just recently asking the Court to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and return the issue to the states. 

While most issues would have been mediated in some way after all this time — or at least resolved with changing generations — abortion has managed to stick around. Maybe this is because the issue is so ideologically fraught, with either side being able to claim the moral high ground over the other. A woman’s right to choose is inalienable, and restrictions on that right don’t lead to fewer abortions, only more dangerous ones. Among countries without legal abortion, 30,000 women die each year from unsafe and often brutal procedures. 

At the same time, the pro-choice position argues that abortion is infanticide, a crime equivalent to leaving one’s baby in a dumpster. With the issue set in these opposing and immovable arguments, we haven’t found an acceptable middle ground that does not lend itself to murder on one side and murder on the other. 

We also can’t hope for the issue to resolve itself with the passing generation. According to a Gallup poll, “Young adults were slightly more likely than all other age groups, including seniors, to say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.” 

It is clear that the fight over abortion is here to stay — it has become a centerpiece of our politics, with 17% of Americans being single-issue anti-abortion voters. The issue seems intractable, with no workable compromise between the two sides of an unbudgeable debate. 

The solution does not lie in convincing those who are pro-choice that their position is wrong because, truthfully, the argument for preserving fetal life has merits. A fetus can taste food by week 16 and may begin crying by week 28. To abort past a certain point becomes morally questionable and, with every passing day of a pregnancy, the degree of moral doubt deepens. 

The question then centers on where to draw that line between a “living being” and “clump of cells.” Any such line would be arbitrary, as pregnancy is a gradual process with no innate partitions — but that hasn’t stopped the courts from attempting to do so. The Roe v. Wade decision made the distinction between the first and second trimester, the point past which a fetus may survive outside the womb. 

As for the question of whether that line should exist at all, there is much debate. Babies are not, as President Donald Trump has repeated, “executed” by doctors and mothers post birth. In fact, 91% of abortions are performed within the first 13 weeks of a pregnancy, and only 1.4% take place after week 21, often due to fetal deformity or with regard to the mother’s safety. 

When we clear away the distortion caused by vocal minorities, the issue becomes more workable. There is a middle-ground between the two extreme ends of the debate: The right to abortion is justified, and some limits on that right are justified as well. 

This approach is supported by the majority of Americans — two-thirds of whom support access to abortion in most or all cases. 

The remaining third, who would rather heap as many restrictions to access as they can legally manage, should consider the priorities of their movement. Restrictions often lead to later abortions, rather than fewer abortions. Waiting periods, mandatory hospitalizations, parental consent —make it more likely that a woman’s abortion will occur past the dividing line. 

The goal for either side — and for anti-abortion advocates especially —should be to foster the earliest and easiest abortion possible. Though the debate over the rights and humanity of a developing fetus is perhaps too indomitable to ever be resolved, we can still come to policies that most reasonable people will accept. 

Abortion is morally difficult, which is why the issue hasn’t found a resolution in the past 50 years. I have no proposals for what acceptable policies might look like, only suggestions to the opponents of abortion. 

Dillon Cranston is a sophomore writing about politics. His column, “Holding Center,” runs every other Wednesday.