Jack DeVine

In 1973, the battle over abortion in this country was supposedly settled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

But it’s not settled. The debate has been perking all along and with the advent of the hyper-partisan 2020 election cycle it’s now boiled over to open warfare. Among all of the contentious issues facing our nation – immigration, climate change, health care, etc. – abortion is arguably the one in which the chasm between left and right is deepest.

The two sides are now further apart than ever. Pro-life conservatives remain highly skeptical of a SCOTUS determination that the right to abortion was tucked into the Constitution all along. My guess is that the Founding Fathers, who lived at a time when keeping their young children alive was a constant and often unsuccessful challenge, are now turning over in their graves at that prospect.

Pro-lifers are adamant about protecting the defenseless unborn, about 60 million of whom have been lost to abortion since Roe v. Wade. (Those who buy into the fiction that opposition to abortion is a “war on women” might note that 30 million of those were female.)

By contrast, pro-choice advocates maintain that a woman’s right to determine the fate of her unborn child is absolute. They argue for abortion on demand at any time in the pregnancy. In that construct, the unborn infant is expendable, not a human being and having no rights until it exits the womb naturally.

That’s not exaggeration – it is exactly the policy enacted just this year in the New York State Reproductive Health Act, legislation that has become the template for policy actions in “blue states” across the nation. The “red states” are countering with increasingly restrictive abortion legislation, in turn prompting fury from the left. Around and around we go.

As of now, all 22 of the announced Democratic presidential candidates advise of their support to unrestricted abortion on demand. As one example in a recent televised town hall event, "Mayor Pete" Buttigieg responded to a question about late term abortion by asking the audience to imagine the anguish of a woman considering an abortion after carrying her child for nine months. It was a moving, thought-provoking answer – but not once did he mention the voiceless infant whose entire life would be hanging in the balance.

The crux of the matter is this: there are two human lives in the equation, both important and both equally deserving of legal and medical protection. The next election will not settle the issue any more than Roe v. Wade did. There can be no resolution until our nation’s policies, practices and laws provide an appropriate balance between the inherent rights of both mother and unborn child.

The Roe v. Wade decision leaves room – and in fact demands – such balance. It prescribes protection based on viability of the unborn child and it acknowledges the scientific uncertainty extant in 1973 on that basic question: When does life begin?

Medical science and technology are now shining a bright light on that question and offering more and more opportunities for effective intervention and treatment of prenatal threats to mother and child. Babies prematurely delivered during the third term of pregnancy are now regularly incubated and taken to full maturity.

Moreover, current public opinion on abortion mirrors that drive for balance. A majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal and safe in the early stages of pregnancy and should be restricted to some extent in the latter stages.

Surely we can agree that withholding care and sustenance to a baby that survives an abortion attempt is infanticide – murder – and must be treated as such. Surely we can also agree (as did the Supreme Court in 1973), that abortion of unborn but viable babies must be limited to clear cases of medical necessity. And surely we can respect that those whose religious and moral convictions comport with abortion of a non-viable fetus should have access to a legal and safe procedure.

Of course, that accommodation would not fully satisfy either side. But it could be achieved by a chief executive of either party along with bipartisan cooperation within both legislative chambers, and without dismantling Roe v. Wade.

Common sense is an uncommon commodity these days and moderate, bipartisan resolution of knotty issues even less so. Nevertheless, I believe that broad public consensus on these points can lead our elected representatives, executive and legislative to a position that can be – if not common ground – a bridge over the troubled waters.

The abortion war is tearing us apart. It’s time for reasonable compromise.