The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Gjesdahl weighs in on abortion: “there’s no one answer”

Editor’s Note: Due to the sensitive nature of this issue the S&B would like to reiterate that the views of columnists in no way reflect the views of the S&B and the rest of the S&B staff.

While walking through the loggia on the day that I had to write my article, I saw a poster which said that “the best counter to the anti-abortion movement is the truth.” With all due respect, I find this statement condescending and false. The points they make on the posters are true—making abortion illegal endangers the lives of pregnant women who get illegal abortions, a large percentage of women have unintended pregnancies and contraception could prevent unwanted pregnancies. Unfortunately, none of this has anything to do with the argument of pro-lifers. Pro-lifers are not arguing about the convenience of abortion being illegal—they are arguing that murder should be illegal. Before I go any further, I’d like to say that I’m neither pro-choice nor pro-life, rather I want to point out that the flaws in this debate and propose a solution. Some societies ban all abortion and contraception while others allow infanticide—I do not see it as my place to judge. It may seem that I am arguing more against pro-choice arguments, but that is because most students are pro-choice and I don’t see the need to preach to the choir on the benefits of legalizing abortion.

The abortion debate is so acrimonious because the two sides are talking past each other (and because life is on the line). One can see this in the names of the sides—“pro-choice” and “pro-life.” Pro-life people are not opposed to a woman having control over her body—they just see a fetus as a different body rather than a part of a woman’s body. Pro-choice people are not against life—they just do not see a fetus as a life. Ultimately, the debate is over when life begins—at conception or birth or somewhere in between. This is a moral question with no rationally determinable answer. You can say that a fetus is totally dependent on its mother for life and is therefore not a human being but things are not as clear-cut as that. A fetus in its third trimester can survive on life support and a newborn baby is still highly dependent on its mother—both would surely die without support. So in fact what we are looking at are degrees of dependency up to about the age of five. I do not know of any societies that practice infanticide after five, which seems to imply that almost all societies see six-year-olds as people.

This is yet another instance of problems stemming from the belief that there is a universal truth all societies should abide by, a totalizing ideology which opposes the notion that there can co-exist more than one set of beliefs or customs. Those who believe that life begins at conception believe that it is an absolute truth which cannot be explained away. Those who believe that life begins at birth cannot accept that abortion could in any way be murder.

However, neither of these are universal, scientific truths. Certainly there are some people with more nuanced views, such as those who see abortion as a kind of murder that may be worthwhile since it could represent a major inconvenience to the woman (especially in cases of rape, incest, or risk to the woman’s life). However, they are still saying that a fetus is still not a full life, as most of them would not be okay with a mother killing a three-year-old because it was inconvenient to her. Ultimately even this more nuanced view is still a moral judgment of at what point inconvenience trumps life.

What I propose then is that Roe v. Wade be repealed and each state be allowed to vote on at what point abortion on request should be allowed—at conception, start of second trimester, beginning of third trimester, or birth. There would be a runoff between the two categories with the most votes if there were no category with more than 50 percent of the vote. The same question would also be asked for when abortion would be allowed in the case of incest or rape, and when abortion would be allowed if the woman’s life was at risk. I think this works best at a state level because moral opinions vary greatly based on region (I’ve already stated my opposition to countries as big as the United States in the first place). However, this would also work on a national level. The point is that moral decisions should be made by the people rather than by 9 old guys.

Now to console both sides of this debate. First to the pro-life people: you were never going to ban all abortion all over the US anyway. According to the Wikipedia page for “abortion in the US,” two-thirds of Americans believe that abortion in the first trimester should be legal and most believe that it should be legal in the second trimester in cases of incest, rape, or risk to the woman. The objections of the pro-choicers will be greater because they happen to be in control of the situation right now. Consider, however, that only the most conservative states (if any) would ban abortion in the first trimester and even those would probably allow it for the circumstances above. More states would probably ban abortion (with exceptions) in the second trimester, but, according to an article from the Guttmacher Institute (, 88.7 percent of abortions are in the first trimester, so this would have a relatively small effect. Also, if a woman really wanted an abortion she could drive to the nearest liberal state. In general, this move could help Democrats in the polls since many people vote for Republicans simply because they care about abortion.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *