Since the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, about one out of three pregnancies end in abortion. This means that 1.5 million abortions are performed in the United States each year (Flanders 3). Not since slavery has an issue posed a greater moral dilemma. It ranks among the most complex and controversial issues, arousing heated legal, political, and ethical debates. The modern debate over abortion is a conflict of competing moral ideas and of fundamental human rights: to life, to privacy, to control one’s own body. Trying to come to some sort of a compromise has proven that you cannot please all of the people on each side of the debate.
Many people describe the abortion debate in America as bitter and uncompromising. Usually represented on both sides by people with an intense devotion to their cause and usually with irreconcilable positions. Many of those who are pro-choice insist. That a woman’s right to abortion should never be restricted. While those who are pro-life maintain that a fetus has an unequivocal right to life that is violated at any stage of its development if abortion is performed. Discussions between both sides are usually argumentative, and sometimes violent, so any attempt at coming to a mutual agreement is drowned out. How can anyone hear if they refuse to acknowledge the other side except to shout at them?
Since the Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion, proposed compromises on limiting or allowing abortion have taken two forms: those based on the reasons for abortion and those base on fetal development at different stages of pregnancy. The first compromise would allow abortion for “hard” cases (rape, incest, or risk of the life or health of the pregnant woman), but not for the “soft” cases (financial hardship, inconvenience, possible birth defects, or failure of birth control). Compromises of the second type would allow abortions, but only until a given stage of pregnancy, which is usually much earlier than the medically accepted definition of viability (when the fetus can survive outside the womb) (Flanders 8).
Although compromises based on reasons for abortion have been incorporated in law (the Hyde Amendment, for example, restricts Medicaid funding for abortion to so-called hard cases), many people now focus on time-based restrictions. This idea is more realistic and practical than banning abortion all together since there would still be many women who would find a way to have the procedure done even if it became illegal or highly restricted. Agreeing to a time-based restriction could protect older fetuses and still safeguard the rights of most of the women seeking abortions, who are usually within 12 weeks of pregnancy. Coming to an agreement as to when the fetus is viable is the next step to coming to a time- based restriction agreement.
Medical science has advanced the ability of the fetus to survive outside the womb from about 28 weeks to about 23 to 24 weeks. Since the progression of medical technology is always changing, suggestions for compromise propose a cutoff date for elective abortions at eight to sixteen weeks, which is well before viability (Flanders 25).
One of the strictest proposals includes prohibiting abortions after approximately the eighth week when fetal brain waves can be detected. Some say that this is appropriate because this is the same way that doctors determine the end of a persons life. The counter- proposal to eight weeks was a less strict sixteen weeks since this would acknowledge that women would still have the right to make reproductive decisions and that they may need a reasonable period of time in which to acquire and think about relevant information for making a decision with which she feels comfortable. Pro-choice people argue that this restriction would be less objectionable than the eight-week restriction since ninety percent of all abortions are performed within the twelfth week of pregnancy (Driefus 101).