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A 2012 study of abortion in the United States published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, concluded: “Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth.The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.”There is a lot packed into that statistic, but we often forget that pregnancy and childbirth pose health risks, which vary for women depending on their age, health status, projected need for a cesarean section, number of previous pregnancies and the spacing between them, and so on.Second, given the viability of the fetus in the late stages of pregnancy, an abortion — a medical procedure in which the fetus’s death is an unavoidable outcome — imposes on the medical staff the act of performing a procedure in which a viable fetus will die.
It is true that abortion procedures commonly used a century ago were highly dangerous for patients.
With advances in medicine, though, the procedures in use today pose fewer risks to a woman’s life or health than pregnancy or childbirth itself.
In a liberal democracy, we don’t need to resolve many difficult questions of individual morality in order to have defensible public policies — policies that are justified by our commitment to democratic decision making, liberty and equality. ” suggest that entire groups of people that pursue activities necessary to securing their basic human needs are possibly morally compromised, and are thus insulting; they also encourage civic leaders and their constituents to take up rigid and extreme views based on their own personal convictions, and to be morally arrogant toward others who don’t share their views.
State officials who appeal to their own beliefs on questions of individual morality, in order to justify their policy decisions, are violating values more fundamental to our society. Raising these questions in the midst of heated public debate about access to abortion services or to civil marriage makes it seem as if we are hopelessly divided as a society in ways that render the policy questions irresolvable.
A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concludes that “The clinical evidence clearly shows that legal abortions in the United States — whether by medication, aspiration, D & E, or induction — are safe and effective. But the risks of serious complication increases with weeks’ gestation.” This means that state laws and policies that unnecessarily delay the scheduling of an abortion procedure hinder, rather than help, the government in pursuing its interest in protecting women’s health.
The state also has an interest in protecting fetal human life, even if fetuses are not legal persons, but this state interest needs to be balanced against others.The individual or personal ethics question — on the moral acceptability of abortion — is not likely to generate a public consensus, given the current lack of agreement on many background issues.It is well known that members of our society hold vastly different views about when personhood or a human life begins, about our moral obligations to our genetic offspring, or what kind of sexual acts are permissible. A pluralist, democratic society can accommodate a good amount of such disagreement.Public debate on this question over the past few decades has been productive and illuminating. How should governments restrict or regulate the abortion services offered by medical professionals or facilities?Because this is an issue about good medicine, we need to focus on health risks and outcomes instead of personal ethics.Yet it is necessary that we do reach a strong consensus about how to regulate a public service, and so moral, political and philosophical analyses should aim to illuminate the issues that can help generate such a consensus. For example, to productively discuss the opioid abuse crisis, we should ask how our government should regulate doctors who prescribe opioids or pharmacies that distribute them, not when is it morally permissible for an individual to take an opioid (or any addictive) drug.The marriage equality movement raised the question of whether our government should recognize marriages between two people of the same sex, not whether those marriages are ethical.Until they do, we need to focus on the more manageable and relevant question of how to regulate a medical service or procedure that is sought by millions of women.When there is a lack of public consensus on a moral question, our public policies need to reflect the principles on which there is broad agreement.Laurie Shrage is the author of ”Abortion and Social Responsibility: Depolarizing the Debate” and a professor of philosophy at Florida International University.Now in print: “Modern Ethics in 77 Arguments,” and “The Stone Reader: Modern Philosophy in 133 Arguments,” with essays from the series, edited by Peter Catapano and Simon Critchley, published by Liveright Books.