Episode 39 – Using Innovation to Solve the Abortion Debate


Welcome to the Thirty-Eighth episode of my podcast, The Power of Three. I want to help show you how harnessing the Power of Three can lead to a more fulfilling life, a life that celebrates our differences and our similarities, and accepts that we are part of the great web of life.

In this episode, I will discuss how we can use innovation to solve the abortion debate. I am not going to debate the right or wrong of abortion itself. What I want is to determine whether there is a way to solve the debate in a way that allows the less extreme sides to come together. I am not trying to resolve the issue, just show that with the right kind of thinking, we can reduce the animosity on all sides.

We can soften the edges of really intractable problems by looking at the problem in new ways. We approach social problems like warriors rather than negotiators. We see people who are opposed to our position as the enemy. The debate becomes toxic as people refuse to give ground.

People stick to their guns as though prepared to fight to the last man. Or woman. This causes warfare, political, social or real war. No one ever wins a war. Take the Civil War in the United States. If we count victory as winning a war, the Union defeated the Confederacy. What followed during Reconstruction was just a continuation of that conflict, with the Black Codes, Jim Crowe and eventually the Civil Rights era.

People in the South still talk of the war of Northern Aggression. The war is no longer fought on a battlefield; it is fought in Congress, in state legislatures and the courts. The animosity is still there. It was resolved in the worst way possible, with violence, and it did not work. Instead, a lot of lives were lost. Without necessity.

The decision to legalize abortion occurred forty years ago. Today, battle lines are drawn, with one side calling the other murderers and the other demanding the right to the privacy of their bodies. Stalemate. No one is winning. Arguments over whether a fertilized egg is human or not continues unabated. It is quite feasible that at some point the Civil War will re-ignite and countless lives will be lost. And regardless of who wins, the fundamental problem remains.

We know that banning abortion does not work. In countries in which it is banned, abortions continue. Except now they are more dangerous. Morning-after-pills are traded on the black market, just like heroin. Alternatively they turn to back-street abortions. Desperate young woman, discovering they are pregnant for whatever reason, commit suicide because they have nowhere to turn. Doctors or young women are criminalized, adding to prison overcrowding.

If contraceptives are banned, the result is more unwanted pregnancies, with more back-street abortions. If women are forced to give birth, it results in abandoned infants, or increases in crime. In some parts of the world, abandoned children turn to crime or are seen as vermin and are hunted by police.

How do we resolve this intractable problem, allowing both sides to resolve their issue without rancor? Is there any way to do this? The current approach does not work and just divides society. I see on-line debates that deteriorate into mud slinging matches. I despair of finding solutions.

I can see the rational arguments on many sides of the debate. Many people have a valid point. How can a young woman endure pregnancy without medical care? How does a poor, underage woman care for an unwanted child? How can a doctor terminate a pregnancy? Should a woman be forced to give birth after rape?

It struck me that neither side was listening to the other. One side calls it murder, the other demands privacy and rights over a woman’s body. Is there a way to provide both? The doctor performing the abortion is perceived as killing the fetus. How can we prevent this perception? What if the fetus were surgically removed from the woman without any attempt to harm it?

I don’t know much about the medical procedure itself, but it would probably entail an operation rather than an outpatient procedure. Operations are inherently more dangerous to the woman, and more costly. However, if the fetus were removed, or separated from the woman without harm, can it be considered killing? If the doctor attempts to save the fetus with the technology at his disposal, is it still wrong?

The woman no longer carries a fetus, which relieves her of the burden of pregnancy. The question of viability no longer serves as the arbitrary line dividing when abortions are allowed. If the fetus is kept alive after separation, it is viable. As technology advances, the chances of viability will improve.

The ideal solution is an artificial uterus. In the future, it is quite feasible that women would no longer have the burden of pregnancy. In vitro fertilization is quite common today. There is no reason we cannot extend this procedure to allow a fetus to grow in an artificial uterus. No need for abortion whatsoever because there is no need for pregnancy. If the state has a compelling reason to ensure the sanctity of life, the state can provide the funding for research and for the pregnancy.

Technologies like CRISPR allow for gene manipulation. Any future genetic abnormality can be caught early, and the fetal DNA modified. In that way, the resulting infant can be assured of a life without disability. This removes the need for aborting abnormal fetuses.

There are other ways to approach the entire problem. The first and most obvious is free universal access to contraception. This would result in fewer abortions, which is the aim. Sex education in schools can be mandatory. Another solution is to develop a long-acting contraceptive pill for adolescent girls. If given automatically at puberty, future accidents are prevented. How about developing a pregnancy vaccine for women who no longer want children? A temporary vaccine for pubescent girls would also work.

Some religious groups want bans on contraception, which is a religious imposition that violates religious freedom. Given a choice between preventing pregnancy and the end of abortion, clearly the latter is more important.

We also have a real problem with human population size. The threat to the natural environment is not imagined, it is real. Human population growth will threaten all natural environments and will cause untold hardship for humans, and all life. Religions must accept this fact for us to take concrete action. Before it is too late. Restricting access to contraception only makes the problem worse.

According to the New York Times, in Sierra Leone on Africa’s West coast, children under five and pregnant women get free health care. This includes prenatal care and deliveries. Yet in the United States, women die in childbirth at five times the rate in Britain due to lack of access to pre-natal care.

Access to pre and post-natal medical care is a major problem in the abortion debate. If the state has a compelling interest in fetal or infant well being, the state should provide the funding for that care. That prevents a great number of abortions, since most abortions are for younger, single, and poorer women. Many women seek abortion because of the cost. If the state provided that care, that need would disappear.

I grant that there is a moral hazard here. If the state provides pre and postnatal care, anyone that wanted a child might take advantage of that access. As with so many things, there is always compromise involved in finding permanent solutions to intractable problems. It is our human task to balance our desires and needs with the greater good. Finding a balance between the need for reproductive control and reducing the number of needed abortions is clearly difficult, but we can find a more comfortable middle ground that satisfies a greater number of people. One solution might be regressive assistance that recedes with increasing income.

If getting everything that we want is the resolution to social problems, we are creating an authoritarian state. A balance of needs and desires exists with everything in life. When we tip that balance too far in any direction, we create unstable societies. We see that with the abortion debate. Each group wants their priorities to override those of everyone else. We need innovative approaches that take each perspective into account to resolve the problem.

Listing all our concerns together and finding solutions to address them all allows us to make progress. Few attempts in the abortion debate do just that. Debates like this only divide societies. We can find innovative solutions together. We can find innovative solutions that provide a win for a majority. We can unite a divided nation together using innovative thinking.

I encourage you to continue to enhance your life with the Power of Three and search for the best possible life to live.

Until next time, go well my friends.

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