Reviews | A hard but real compromise is possible on abortion

While virtually all abortion providers outside of Texas offer their services to women during the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, there is a sharp drop after this point. About half of clinics do not offer abortion by week 15, the limit set by Mississippi. By week 24, less than 10 percent of clinics are doing this. (The big exception is Texas, where providers were recently barred from offering an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy – although this law is unlikely to be in place for long.)

Why have so many providers restricted access to abortion in a way that roughly matches the sensitivity of most Americans? And why have they continued to do so even in the face of decades of pressure from other pro-choicers to offer abortion on demand and without excuses? In part because the providers share the moral intuitions of Americans. As a vast body of research shows, providers generally dislike performing abortions at some point during the second trimester, when the fetus becomes more human.

A good example is Dr Susan Wicklund, a heroine of the abortion rights movement. Faced with death threats, she drew attention to go to work with a loaded gun within reach. Less noted was his decision to limit his practice to first trimester abortions. Recalling his decision, Dr Wicklund, who is now retired, wrote: ” Seeing an arm pulled through the vaginal canal was shocking. One of the nurses in the room escorted me when the color left my face. She continued, “From that point on, I chose to limit my abortion practice to the first trimester: 14 weeks or less.”

In his willingness to deal with deadly enemies of abortion but not second trimester abortions, Dr Wicklund embodies our conflicting urges.

Anti-abortion groups have been less inclined to make such compromises, as Dr Wicklund knows all too well. But that could change if Roe is scaled back to protect a narrower range of abortions and our legal regime shifts to a compromise like hers – a compromise that grants wide access to first trimester abortion but largely restricts it to second. and third. Despite the recent Texas abortion law drama, I suspect that in post-Roe America, the same moral intuitions that have long moderated abortion providers could possibly also temper opponents of abortion.

Since the merger of the pro-life movement, its most important mobilization tool was footage of second and third trimester abortions. They have emboldened countless activists, giving them confidence that they are waging a war for basic human rights. There have been many such images in the movement because Roe has created legal space for a minority of late abortion specialists, some of whom have been a thorn in the side of the pro-choice movement. Without such clinics and the images that leak out of them, it may be more difficult for pro-life leaders to sustain the moral passions of their movement – as well as the fiction that most aborted fetuses look like new ones. -born.

This conclusion arose from experience. The leaders of the movement found it very easy to rally their base against “partial birth” abortion, but struggled to mobilize it against research on embryonic stem cells. Like their pro-choice counterparts, pro-life activists simply cannot have many feelings for embryos that are unrecognizable as humans. And as any activist knows, it is emotions, not just principles, that move movements.

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