Americans are obviously conflicted on the abortion issue. Polls shift frequently and many, if not most Americans, are both pro-life and pro-choice.
In order to move forward, we need reasoned dialogue worthy of attracting the serious attention of both sides on two key issues - the issues of consciousness in the unborn developing human being and the important uniqueness of the womb. These matters establish the fundamental truth that is on both sides.
The genesis of consciousness in the unborn human being cannot at present be scientifically or philosophically resolved. Consciousness even in fully mature human beings is a vast field of inquiry and speculation, as well as something which may never be fully understood. Therefore, if we do not know with absolute certainty what consciousness is, how can we even talk about what time it begins in the womb?
Secondly, the vital reality of the womb needs to be acknowledged. The womb of a woman is unique in that it is, actually, the whole world, in microcosm, that sustains and nourishes the being of its inhabitant(s). No human power on the face of the earth can equal or surpass it. That is, to actually provide the necessary and sufficient environment without which its inhabitant(s) cannot survive and develop. She has physical custody and it is her flesh and blood.
Expressions such as zygote, embryo and fetus, intended for the clinical use of the medical community, are often used by the pro-choice side to imply that the developing human being is not yet human, while the term 'baby' is emotively used by the pro-life side to curry sympathy from the public. Instead of using these terms wouldn't it be better to use the term 'developing human being'? Who can spin or argue with that expression?
So, who decides and under what circumstances does this being continue to its birth?
Because of the relationship of the woman and her conception, it is the woman in consultation with a doctor of her choice and guidance from sources of her choice. These choices are determined by her conscience and all the information she is capable of understanding. But, all too often, these choices are obscured by fear, ignorance, poverty, personal complications and the political dogma emanating from both sides.
Let's not be ambiguous. All abortions, whether for good reason or bad, are tragic. However, who decides whether any woman who terminates her pregnancy is, by this act, morally wrong? In order to decide this one would have to know all there is to know about the woman and her unique situation. Is there anyone who can pretend to have the authority or power to comprehend the reason behind every abortion?
Unfortunately, the reality today is that abortion is, in fact, an "us versus them" matter. However, many who say they are pro-life will have exceptions to their beliefs and many who say they are pro-choice are not ipso facto pro-abortion and have reservations on saying that all abortions are acceptable. This is common ground that we can use as a foundation to build on. It is based on intellectual humility that recognizes another's point of view as an honestly held principle.
Let's be more sensible by not thinking of the problems between pro-choice and pro-life, but rather think as American literary theorist Mason Cooley who wrote, "Passion crashes into obstacles; Reason peers around them." These challenging adjustments would be a bold move by both sides. They are definitely not for the dogmatist or the ethically timid, but would open the door to finding common ground to move forward toward looking for and finding the core societal and individual reasons that lead women to the contemplation of abortion.
Conrad Sundol grew up in Silver Creek and now lives in Buffalo.