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David Harsanyi
David Harsanyi
5 Feb 2016
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Is Abortion Debate Changing?


As an atheist and a secular kinda guy, I practice moral relativism regularly. Still, I always have struggled mightily with the ethics and politics of abortion. Apparently, I'm not alone.

A new Gallup Poll claims that for the first time since 1995 — when the question was first asked by the organization — most Americans consider themselves to be "pro-life" rather than "pro-choice."

The straightforward question asked of participants was this: "With respect to the abortion issue, would you consider yourself to be pro-choice or pro-life?" Fifty-one percent responded that they were pro-life, and 42 percent said they were pro-choice. These percentages are the reverse of what was found in the same poll in 2006.

What happened? Is it possible that the nation has undergone a gigantic attitudinal shift on the fundamental issue of abortion in only three years' time? Logically, it seems that the entire framing of the debate has become antiquated and far too simplistic for the questions we face. Anecdotally, I would say it's possible. I know I've changed my views.

After a life of being pro-choice, I began to seriously ponder the question. I oppose the death penalty because of the slim chance innocent people will be executed and because I don't believe the state should have the authority to take a citizen's life. So don't I owe a nascent human life at least the same deference? Just in case?

Now, you may not consider a fetus a "human life" in early pregnancy, though it has its own DNA and medical science continues to find ways to keep the fetus viable outside the womb earlier and earlier. It's difficult to understand how those who harp on the importance of "science" in public policy can draw an arbitrary timeline in the pregnancy, defining when human life is worth saving and when it can be terminated.

The more I thought about it the creepier the issue got.

Newsweek, for instance, recently reported that 90 percent of women whose fetuses test positive for Down syndrome choose to abort. Another survey showed that only a small percentage of mothers even use the test. So what happens when 90 percent of parents test their fetuses? Does it mean the end of the disorder, or are we stepping perilously close to eugenics?

What about future DNA tests that can detect any defects in a fetus? What happens when we can use abortion to weed out the blind, the mentally ill, the ugly or any other "undesirable" human beings?

Recently, Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare ruled that women are permitted to abort their children based on the sex of the fetuses. In the United States, a woman can have an abortion for nearly any reason she chooses. In fact, a health exemption for the mother allows abortions to be performed virtually on demand.

If you oppose selective abortions but not abortion overall, I wonder why? How is terminating the fetus because it's the wrong sex any worse than terminating the fetus for convenience's sake? The fate of the fetus does not change; only the reasoning for its extinction does.

Now, I happen to believe (as civil libertarian and pro-life activist Nat Hentoff once noted) that the right to life and liberty is the foundation of a moral society. Then again, I also believe a government ban on abortion would only criminalize the procedure and do little to mitigate the number of abortions.

Obviously, these are a few of the complex and uncomfortable issues to ponder. Maybe this poll tells us that the dynamics of the abortion debate are about to change, that Americans are getting past the politics and into the morality of the issue.

Then again, it's entirely possible that I'm just projecting.

David Harsanyi is a columnist at The Denver Post and the author of "Nanny State." Visit his Web site at To find out more about David Harsanyi and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at




4 Comments | Post Comment
There is no debate or decision except for the woman who makes the choice. Period, End of story.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Paul M. Petkovsek
Wed May 27, 2009 1:50 PM
Sir;... I think the change represents one single fact: That the right has used the abortion issue to tie the government in a knot while the bankers and the capitalist have had things their own way to the point of ruining the world economy, the domestic economy, and burying us in a foreign war that will be endless... There is no good from government trying to deny rights to the population, and if you believe Aristotle, Governments are formed for good...But where is the good coming from party politics and a divided populaton??? Those people who construe the purpose of government to be to deny rights on the basis of a majority vote antagonize the minority, and make them hate the union... Intelligent people would recognize the limits of a mere majority to doing some obvious good; but government has been so often broken by stupidity that it cannot fart without doing it on credit...It cannot work up the courage to tax the rich, and it has allowed the export of our jobs to such an extent that we cannot produce our own weapons of war, or field our own merchant marine, and domestic labor will no longer support government...It has cut itself out of its support, and out of its legitimacy, and all the while has gained election attacking our rights... I hope before it is too late that this people discovers the cathartic effect of revolution...Some times you have to throw all the bums out at once from top to bottom... Throwing them out one at a time, and letting the rotten apples spoil the bunch is a big mistake...It is time to attack the rights of government... They hide behind our rights while attacking our rights....This situation has got to end....Government has got a job to do, and the more time it spends attacking the rights of the people the less it does its job...If they cannot get to work, and if the religious cannot be contented praying and helping sinners, then both will have to leave... Clearly, things are not working right here...Thanks...Sweeney
Comment: #2
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Thu May 28, 2009 8:03 PM
In the Roe V Wade majority opinion paper suppoting a woman's right to abort it was stated that the "broadest" view of a woman's liberty (regarding her own body) must be observed. The braodest view of just what a fetus might be was not taken. Fetus is simply Latin for baby if I remember correctly. Later there was a Florida woman who attempted to cite Roe v Wade as setting a broadest view of her liberty toward her own body so that she could legally continue to work as a prostitute. She got nowhere but seems to me she had a point.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Annette Brown
Fri May 29, 2009 10:28 AM
In the majority opinion re Roe v Wade the "broadest" view of a woman's liberty (with her own body) was observed whereas the broadest view of just when life begins was not. Interestingly in recent years a Florida woman tried to use the precedent of Roe v Wade. She too wanted that broad view taken saying she should be able to do as she wished with her own body. She wanted to legalize the world's oldest profession. She didn't get anywhere but it seems to me she has a point. As an aside, when we legalize anything we give it a certain cachet. People who through no fault of their own were not born with a sense of logic and have no education re Mr Aristotle and logic, do rely on the law to give them guidance and unfortunately assume that what the law says is legal must also be moral.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Annette Brown
Fri May 29, 2009 10:49 AM
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