Monday, May 04, 2009

Stephen Waldman’s pointless abortion debate’s editor-in-chief Stephen Waldman wants to scrap our current debate over abortion and start a new one in which the goal is to get women to have abortions sooner as opposed to them having fewer abortions. He believes the average person would favor this debate and the possible changes where abortion would be “safe, legal and early” as opposed to Bill Clinton’s famous mantra of “safe, legal and rare.”

The problem is that Waldman seems to base this new debate on the moral confusion of your average American. Waldman writes,
According to a 2007 survey commissioned by a progressive think tank called Third Way, 69 percent of Americans believe abortion is the "taking of a human life," but 72 percent believe it should be legal.

Let that soak in. Most people think abortion is taking a human life and yet favor the procedure being legal. How grotesque! Are we Americans utterly immoral?
I think immorality certainly has something to do with but it’s more about being confused about what’s morally right and what’s morally wrong. When large portions of our society view moral claims (whether something is right or wrong) as if they were preference claims (whether they like or dislike something), it’s not surprising that a large segment of people who think abortion is the taking of a human life respond in a pro-choice manner when asked whether they agree with an obviously slanted assertion like “The decision whether or not to have an abortion should be left up to a woman,
her family, and her doctor” (that’s how the question was actually phrased in case you were wondering).

For the actual poll question of whether abortion should be legal or not - 12% said illegal in all circumstances, 26% said illegal in most circumstances, 40% said legal in most circumstances and 20% said legal in all circumstances.

Waldman continues,
Actually, what the data proclaim is something that politicians and activists can't: Most Americans believe there are gradations of life. Some living things are more alive than others, and so the later in the pregnancy it gets, the more uncomfortable people become. But in reality they believe both that a life stirs very early on and that a one-week-old embryo is more "killable" than a nine-month-old fetus. For them, determining whether "life" begins at conception really doesn't determine anything.

To a certain extent, he’s right about the last sentence. To some in our society, it doesn’t matter that the unborn are living human beings and abortion kills them. What’s odd is that Waldman wants to base abortion policy not on scientific reality but on what he thinks ignorant people believe. I’m not sure how anyone could believe something as silly as “Some living things are more alive than others.”

So because Waldman thinks average people believe (or is that what Waldman himself thinks?) the nonsense idea that there are certain living human organisms that are “more alive” than other living human organisms, we should base public policy on this incoherence instead of say... I don’t know... trying to educate these massively confused people about embryology.

Should we really be basing our public policy decisions on how ignorant people feel about how alive living human beings are? To me that seems like an exceptionally poor starting point for deciding how we’re going to deal with the issue of abortion.

Waldman’s also piece includes a number of head-scratching quotes which make me wonder how much thought he's put into it. For example,
All in all, birth control would be more available, early abortions would be easier and might increase, second trimester abortions would decline and third trimester abortions would virtually disappear. There would be more abortions before the baby's heart starts beating, less after.
Except only a very small percentage of abortions occur before the baby’s heart starts beating (at about 5 weeks into pregnancy, 3 weeks after conception) because often times the mother doesn’t even know she’s pregnant and because the child is so small, it’s difficult for the abortionist to confirm that he’s removed all of the child’s body parts. No policy prescriptions are really going to ever change this.

Waldman also thinks some press release in which the Alan Guttmacher Institute “estimates” how many abortions emergency contraception prevented in 2000 is a “study.” If Waldman had read the actual study, he would have known the estimates regarding EC’s purported effectiveness come from estimates by James Trussell from 1999 using a different type of EC regimen.

In the decade since Trussell’s 1999 estimate, there have been various studies noting that increased use of EC doesn’t have an effect on pregnancy rates. Trussell has even publicly renounced his previous estimates regarding the effectiveness of emergency contraception.

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