A Plurality Of Americans Are Anti-Abortion – Shouldn’t It Be Illegal Then?

We’ve all long known that American attitudes to abortion are rather different than they are over here in Europe. We do indeed have people who are vociferously against the practice – I am one of them but this isn’t about me or my prejudices – but there’re many fewer. We really don’t have anything like the very large American pro-life movement and most certainly not the power they have in politics.

Well, OK. And it’s also pretty easy to work out why too. America is a much more religious country than anywhere in Europe. Most religions tending to be anti-abortion – as is true of any organisation which would like to recruit the next generation. If using a brand of gasoline were something largely inherited then Exxon would be against abortion among those who use Exxon gasoline too*.

But we then get to one of the great problems we’ve got in ruling the world. When does democracy triumph, that will of the people, and when doesn’t it? Because if the anti-abortionists are some significant portion of the US population then why shouldn’t their views be shaping the law on that very subject? What is it that makes this something where democracy doesn’t prevail?

The US is much more hostile to abortion than other countries in the developed world, with more Americans opposed to terminations than supportive, according to a survey of 23 of the world’s biggest countries. The YouGov-Cambridge Globalism survey, which was conducted before this week’s move in Alabama to impose the strictest abortion legislation anywhere in the US, found 46% of Americans said abortion was unacceptable, compared with 38% who found it acceptable. The poll puts the US on a par with developing countries such as India (48-37%) and Turkey (47-41%), but considerably out of step with America’s rich-nation peers.

46% is a significant plurality, close to a majority. Why shouldn’t American abortion law reflect their desires?

We know the answer to this too. Some things are rights, whereby the mob doesn’t get to tell us. Those things which are not rights are subject to that mob, that democracy.

Excellent. But that just puts us into the bind of deciding what is a right and what isn’t. And that’s where it all gets sticky. Because those shouting that abortion is a right are largely those who also shout that private property – say, how much the owners of a business can pay the manager they’ve hired, or even the labour they’re employing – should be subject to democracy, not property rights.

As PJ O’Rouke once pointed out, being against capital punishment and abortion, or in favour of both, is logically simple. But there’s a certain contortion that has to be gone through to oppose lethal injections on the grounds that the innocent might be executed but approve of the vacuum cleaner response to sex.

Still, this does leave us with that basic problem. How do we decide what is a right which is not subject to that democratic will? Yes, we know the American response – the Constitution. But what should be the underlying logic?

*This is to be cynical but not excessively so

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Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

But what should be the underlying logic? Capital punishment is a straightforward binary decision – indeed, a binary action in the case of the guillotine. But abortion may not be so clear-cut (ta-dum). While the Catholics hold a human egg to have moral rights from the moment of fertilisation, a more common classical belief was that neither the germinal stage nor the embryonic stage were truly human, but that ‘life’ began at the foetal stage. See Henry de Bracton’s comments in the 1200s: If one strikes a pregnant woman or gives her poison in order to procure an abortion, if… Read more »

Reader
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Reader

“A Plurality Of Americans Are Anti-Abortion – Shouldn’t It Be Illegal Then?”
Surely the liberal position must be that you should need a majority at the very least to make something illegal, and that even a majority should not be enough in some cases (e.g. consenting adults in private)

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

I am not sure about ‘liberal’ positions – which often seem indistinguishable to me from tyranny. As far as I can see, ‘Liberal’ is often used to mean ‘Correct’ – as in ‘settled science – you must not disagree’. I prefer to talk about Left and Right wing positions. Right wing positions are characterised by individual freedom, while Left wing positions are characterised by individual equality. From this there follows a tendency for a Right wing preference for small or no government, and a Left wing preference for large government. Hence, a right wing position would posit individual abortion choice,… Read more »

Andrew Carey
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Andrew Carey

You could just avoid the question by devolving the issue to Member States. Works for the EU too – e.g. should large farmland owners have rights to some of other peoples taxes and to protections from competition?

Q46
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Q46

The Right is sovereignty of the individual, and furthermore property Right since our body is our property and we own it. A zygote, embryo, fœtus is part of an individual’s body and therefore the property of that individual. Well, yes you can dance on that pinhead and argue the fœtus is an ‘individual’ except it is not by definition of the word ‘individual’ nor can it reason, but if you are going to grant a fœtus ‘individual’ status, at what stage, when it smaller or larger than a tadpole and what about its earlier stages visible only under a powerful… Read more »

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

So Common Law: a fœtus was not a Human Being until it was separate from its mother and breathing…

Not true. I have already quoted a 13th century law commentary below, and I will do it again for your benefit:

If one strikes a pregnant woman or gives her poison in order to procure an abortion, if the fetus is already formed or quickened, especially if it is quickened, he commits homicide.

Henry de Bracton

TD
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TD

Well, yes you can dance on that pinhead and argue the fœtus is an ‘individual’ except it is not by definition of the word ‘individual’ nor can it reason….

Doesn’t that description also apply to infants and teenagers?

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

And the elderly, and the ill….

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

If you don’t like abortions, it’s simple, don’t have an abortion.

If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t get gay married.
If you don’t like peanut butter, don’t eat peanut butter.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

If you don’t like murder, would you be happy for just you not to murder, or do you want other people to stop murdering as well?

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

But that’s an interaction with other people. The correct way to frame your question is liking/notliking *being* murdered, not *doing* murder.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

The problem with abortion is not that a number of people don’t want to undertake it themselves, but that a number of people see it as murder.

Telling them that they don’t have to have an abortion if they don’t want to completely misses that point – I suspect, intentionally.

If abortion was seen by both sides as purely an issue for the pregnant woman, then your comment would make sense. The difficulty comes because one section see it as a line in the sand supporting individual women’s rights, while the other side see it as state-sponsored murder…

Jonathan Harston
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Jonathan Harston

Yes, it’s the same line between those that see people and see control that must be imposed, and those that don’t.

Dodgy Geezer
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Dodgy Geezer

Do you believe that society should place no controls on anybody at all?

The abortion issue is a disagreement about the importance of the action. Some feel that it is insignificant, while others feel that it is murder, and that social controls to curb murder are justified…

Martin Sewell
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There is no such thing as human rights. The idea that we have human rights is a residue of Christianity.