J. Brady McCollough

During the past two months, one word, hidden in headlines and outshone by stories on the war, the economy and affirmative action, is omnipresent in the news: abortion. Certainly, over the course of its history, abortion has always made the news, it’s a pressing and controversial issue. Yet recently, it seems the issue is coming to a head. And so this raises some valuable questions: Is abortion the next affirmative action? How will this issue change our social fabric? Will it?

Let me quell your concerns. Abortion is here to stay. This, I feel, is not a brazen declaration by a self-proclaimed liberal, but it is what I assume to be fact. In the grander scheme, abortion is in many ways like the issue of contraception or Medicare, issues that starkly divide conservatives and liberals but are nonetheless unavoidable and irrevocable. As Americans, we can fear or extol the conservative or liberal judicial, legislative and executive powers that be, but we must reconcile that getting rid of abortion would be political and social suicide.

Where is the fire and controversy over this issue? Legislators and citizens fight the abortion battle over seemingly minor issues that represent larger ideological wars, like the battle over late-term abortions, which, though medically minor in scope, scared pro-choice advocates because of its overt conservative overtones. For another example, President Bush’s Global AIDS Initiative bill stalemated in Congress over this very issue – whether or not to finance organizations that “promote” (i.e. “offer”) abortion procedures.

That said, in order to moisten this incendiary issue, Americans need to identify the flaws in each extreme ideology and discover that, by meeting in the middle, both sides can be equally satisfied. On the conservative side, there are the adamant pro-life advocates like current federal appeals court nominee Judge Priscilla Owen, who wants abortion to be illegal. These opponents, who mix religion and law, negate individual rights and ignore cases of rape and parental irresponsibility. They fail to realize the complex interplay between government and society. The stock example is Prohibition, which taught the nation that government regulation of an entrenched, widespread social practice is simply impossible. Violence, societal agitation, and various illegal practices inevitably arise from this sort of government action, so making abortion illegal is not practical.

On the other less reprehensible extreme, are those who are resolutely pro-choice and secular. Justifiably, these advocates factor in incidents of rape and sexual abuse into the abortion equation and renounce the puritanical overtones of abortion opponents. Yet, there is a small-mindedness here too. Often, liberals negate the complexities of the issue, including rare late-term abortions and the scope of government regulation. They also neglect the adoption option, which is a very viable alternative to simply ending an embryo’s existence.

The solution to the abortion issue is this: Make pragmatic concessions. Abortion opponents need to be practically conservative, base their dissension on a general morality rather than religion and consider the legislative reality of abortion. Understanding that making abortion illegal creates all new problems, a practical conservative separates personal conviction and political persuasion. It is possible to disapprove of and discourage an abortion procedure for a friend or family member but realize that it is impossible to sway the hearts of thousands.

On the other hand, by conceding that religion and abortion will forever be linked and that certainly some abortions are unnecessary, pro-choice advocates will refine their viewpoint. In a South Carolina court case, a judge ruled it permissible for a clergyman to be on call at abortion clinics. A pragmatic abortion advocate should concede that this action, though riddled with church and state issues, does little to challenge the existence of abortion.

The final lesson for America: Meet in the middle. It is very possible to compromise on the smaller issues and still retain personal conviction. The sooner Americans learn the healthy parameters of legislation, religion, society and personal preference, the sooner abortion ceases to be such a divisive issue in this nation.

Jean can be reached at acjean@umich.edu.

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