Abortion: pro-life or pro-choice?


The recent Supreme Court decision requires laws passed by state legislatures, including in Indiana. Hence, we face an intense period of debate and discussion. The debate is often posed simply as pro-life or pro-choice. Well, pro-life or pro-choice, where to stand?

Yes, both pro-life and pro-choice. It is complicated, which is the reason for so much conflict and media attention. Politics, religion, and other divisions separate citizens into warring factions over the decision. Few viable solutions are presented; no middle ground — just absolutes without any hope of agreement and healing the country. Those who occupy a middle ground would be wise to focus on potential points of agreement.

We rejoice in some decline in recent years in number of abortions. No one I know claims to be pro-abortion, if that means celebrating more abortions.

We hope for the day when fewer unwanted babies are conceived in damaging situations and by parents unable to provide for them.

We know it is better for everyone if qualified professionals perform abortions in safe, sanitary facilities and not quacks in dark alleys.

We hope for a time when every child is welcomed into a secure family, or a safe alternative, and praise those who facilitate the wellbeing of all mothers and children.

Thorny issues remain that require discussion in the hope some peaceful agreement. When might abortion be judged justifiable? Never or always are not feasible. Perhaps one could start with reasonable propositions:

• A fetus that is viable when separated from the mother’s body should not be aborted, but should be delivered — or when an egg becomes a living being, although exactly when that happens can be debated.

• Many ethicists and religious regulations state that abortion is morally justified in the case of rape or when the mother’s life is endangered and can be saved only if the baby is not.

• Who has the legal right to make a decision about an abortion? Each of us has God-given rights to our bodies. Doctors require our written permission to engage in procedure that alter our body. A woman’s body is her possession by right, and that can only be taken away by a lawful authority. She has a right to choose. The right is not absolute; for example, the state can imprisonment and control a person.

• When is it reasonable for the legal authorities to prohibit the termination of a pregnancy and charge those involved with a crime? Perhaps when performed by a person not licensed by the state. No one would want to go back to the days of dark alley abortionists. Agreement on guidelines for those licensed to perform abortions could be difficult, but necessary.

• What role does the government have in making provision for women who do not have personal resources to obtain an abortion prior to legal prohibition? The government, along with private initiatives, could provide resources that enable women to have safe abortions.

• The role of government is complicated because 50 states establish laws governing abortion, the federal government establishes laws and the Supreme Courts at the state and federal level adjudicate disputes regarding constitutional issues. No one suggests that reasonable discussion and solutions are easy, especially when we are so divided.

A more immediate issue in the meantime is cooperation to reduce the number of abortions in Montgomery County and to assure that all abortions are safe and legal? If civil discussion clarifies those points about which we agree, and if we engage in responsible civic discussion about parameters of the rest, we might begin to heal the awful divisions that threaten our churches, communities and our civil society.


Raymond B. Williams, Crawfordsville, LaFollette Distinguished Professor in the Humanities emeritus, contributed this guest column.


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