Political Science

Department Spotlight

As published in the Aug.17, 2005, issue of The Spokesman-Review.

Focus abortion debate on better outcomes

Julia K. Stronks J.D. Ph.D.
Professor of Political Studies
Whitworth University

When Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement from the Supreme Court, interest groups both for and against Roe vs. Wade began to galvanize around the upcoming battle over her replacement. Because O'Connor was a key figure in a recent case that upheld Roe, she has been seen as a critical swing vote in the abortion debate.

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts will be pressed for his perspective on this historic case, though it is unlikely that he will give a clear answer. I think that is probably a good thing, and I think Roe vs. Wade should not be the focus of the American conversation on the issue of abortion.

Yes, another commentary about abortion. But, this column is not intended for the 20 percent of Americans who believe that abortion should always be legal. Nor is it intended for the 20 percent of Americans who believe abortion should never be legal (Gallup). Rather, this piece is for the majority of Americans - 60 percent of us - who believe that abortion is a tragedy but in some cases it should be allowed. We believe that rather than fighting over the status of Roe vs. Wade, our government, educators and citizens should focus on reducing the abortion rate in this country without criminalizing the act.

This 60 percent majority includes a fascinating group of diverse people. By my count it includes people of different faiths and backgrounds: it includes many conservative Christians as well as people of faith who reject the label "conservative"; it includes atheists, agnostics, the wealthy, the poor, people of all ethnicities in all regions of the country, and men and women of all ages.

Abortion is not really such a divisive issue in our country, even though the intense minority on both sides of the issue tries to speak for all of us. Most of us want to reduce the number of abortions and we want to stop fighting over Roe vs. Wade.

The thought of abortion turns my stomach and brings tears to my eyes. I see so many sides of it: the tragic waste of human life, the loneliness of the woman who chooses this route, the despair of the people who have fought so long to end it in our country and the courage of those who have fought on behalf of those who felt they had to end a pregnancy. But, it's been more than 30 years since Roe vs. Wade and, although I am a lawyer, I don't think the solution to this issue rests in a battle over the law.

Other countries have handled this issue better than we do, and it is time that we learn from them.

The United States has one of the highest abortion rates of any industrialized country in the world. (In every 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, about 21 women will terminate a pregnancy through abortion.) This statistic shocks me when I look at a country like the Netherlands.

Commentators in the United States love to point out that the Netherlands is on a slippery slope to social depravity. The Netherlands allows controlled prostitution and controlled-marijuana coffee shops; it allows euthanasia in some instances; abortion is legal and available; and gay marriage has recently been legalized. But, the abortion rate in the Netherlands is the lowest in all industrialized countries. (Six women of child-bearing age out of 1,000 will terminate a pregnancy in abortion.)

And, abortion is generally illegal in countries such as Colombia, Chile and the Dominican Republic, but the abortion rates in those countries are twice as high as that of the United States. How can this be? What does a country like the Netherlands know that we don't? Why doesn't making abortion illegal lower the rate of abortion to at least that of a country like the United States?

If we are going to reduce abortions in this country, we need to know much more than we do. A battle over Roe vs. Wade is not going to increase our knowledge or improve our communities.

So, we the majority - the bloc that wants to lower the abortion rate in our country - let's stand up and be counted. The right and the left do not shape this issue for us, though we have let them for several decades. Let's make a difference in the lives of unborn children and in the lives of women who do not want to bear a child.

Let's tell our legislators we don't want any more talk of Roe vs. Wade; we certainly do not want a Supreme Court battle over this issue. Rather, we want the number of abortions reduced. We are smart enough to know that reducing abortions means we have to reduce unwanted pregnancies, and we are smart enough to know that the political battle over "more birth control information" vs. "more encouragement of abstinence" at best affects only the abortion rate of the very young.

We want to know what a country like the Netherlands does to lower its abortion rate and we want legislators who are more interested in policy outcome than in ideological infighting.

Note: The opinions expressed in works written by Whitworth faculty and staff do not necessarily represent the views of Whitworth University or members of its community. They are, however, symbolic of Whitworth’s commitment as a Christian college to the free exchange of ideas.

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