Does Abortion Matter?
3 Final Steps Toward a Complete Policy View
This article is the last in a seven-piece series dedicated to a complete policy view on abortion. (If you’re interested in how we reached this point, please view its predecessors here.)
Seven? Why would anyone want to read so much about the same issue?
So far I’ve only disclosed one reason why you might: to become bulletproof in relevant political discussions or debates. Starting with the next article, we’ll see that we’ve in fact been building toward something far more ambitious and more widely applicable.
Before we reap our rewards, however, there is one last article to write and read. Because we are still missing something. Three big-picture components to be exact: Ideal, Priority, and Personal Process.
Vision and ideals are an often overlooked feature of political speeches and debates. Nevertheless, they are very important.
In one of my first articles on Medium I argued this point in more detail. Norton’s and Ariely’s (2011) results were a pivotal part of my argument because they show that most Americans actually agree on what at first glance appears to be a strongly divisive subject: the ideal distribution of wealth.
Would we reach the same conclusion regarding abortion? Is there common ground we can all agree on or do our views as a community diverge too much?
Given the lack of data, we can merely speculate. At the same time, abortion is hardly a more divisive subject than inequality, so why not?
Moreover, as has been pointed out numerous times, nobody is pro-abortion. Thus, I wager that most of us will agree with the following statement.
“In my ideal world, abortion is used only as an absolute last resort, as infrequently and as early in the pregnancy as possible.”
That’s all well and good, but the real importance of an ideal rests on the shoulders of its real-world implications. So let’s get more specific.
If we agreed, for example, that adoption is almost always preferable to third-trimester abortions, we could invest resources into a system that links women late in their pregnancy who wish to abort with couples or individuals looking to adopt.
Or if we agreed that conscious family planning is almost always preferable to abortion in general, we could shift our efforts from the abortion debate to the promotion of such informed decision making.
This is, in fact, already happening. And it has been for a while. At the 2012 London Summit on Family Planning, more than 20 governments and many other players pledged USD 2.6bn to such efforts. In this particular case, they kept their word and their initiative has grown into a global movement supporting family planning worldwide.
And the beauty of the whole thing is: you don’t even have to love contraceptives and other family planning tools to applaud this initiative, merely agree that they’re better than abortion.
So let’s get even bolder and more controversial. Recall the reasons women want to abort in the first place? Domestic abuse, deep poverty, lack of support from their partners and/or families?
If every protester and activist on the pro-choice and pro-life side dedicated their money and energy toward large-scale societal programs aimed at eliminating these root causes, there may not be a need for the whole abortion debate any more!
Is that far-fetched? Sure. But we have to start somewhere. So let’s find out what our ideal is regarding abortion. Or better yet, let’s make one.
At any given time, hundreds of policy issues compete for politicians’ and the public’s limited resources such as attention, time, and money.
All of these are important. But surely, they are not important to exactly the same degree. So let me make another statement that most of us will probably agree with.
“The resources we (as a community) dedicate to each policy issue should strongly and positively correlate with the importance of that issue. In other words, we should focus most on what’s most important.”
So how does abortion measure up? How important is it in the great scheme of things?
Fortunately, we can rely on the framework we’ve already built to provide a first, approximate answer.
We know whom abortion impacts. We also have an idea of how often it happens. In 2017, for example, 862,000 women had an abortion in the US. If we add to that the approximate number that weren’t performed (e.g. due to restrictions), we can gain a rough indication of how many women and fetuses were affected by abortion policy in a given year. We can probably say with reasonable confidence that this number is between 1–1.5M per year. And the impact on mothers and children is massive.
Abortion also affects the father and other family members, people looking to adopt, as well as those with professional interests. Moreover, it has a potential effect on everyone, i.e. via the relationship between abortion and crime.
The impact on these members of our community is more difficult to price and most likely ranges from sizable for a relatively small minority (e.g. Planned Parenthood employees) to moderate for most.
In addition to who is impacted to what degree, we could use the Ideal we developed above to gauge abortion’s priority. Arguably, we should focus on issues where we’re furthest from our ideal but can reduce this distance with the least effort.
This one is even more difficult to quantify. If you agree, for example, with my arguments above, abortion would be significantly lower priority than fighting domestic abuse and poverty. At the same time, it is probably higher priority than many local issues such as corn subsidies in Nebraska.
As a rough estimate, I’d place abortion somewhat lower than the middle of our imaginary list of priorities. It’s an important issue but not nearly as important like some parts of economic policy or the Covid-19 response.
The American public seems to agree. As I wrote in the series starter article,
According to a Gallup poll conducted between May 1–13, 2020, 24% of a nationally representative sample of American adults said the candidate they may consider must share their views on abortion. A further 47% said it was ‘one of many important factors’.
While not frequently discussed, Ideal and Priority are fairly non-controversial. That certainly makes this section about Personal Process the weirdest. So where is it coming from?
Our Right to Transparency I introduced in this article.
As private individuals, each of us has the freedom to make decisions for ourselves as we wish. The moment we start making decisions for a community, however, members of that community automatically acquire the right to know exactly what we took into account when we made that decision, how, and why.
So at minimum we have the right to demand that our ask elected officials answer questions like:
- How did you arrive at your view? What did you and didn’t you consider?
- Did you keep an open mind or did you cherry-pick facts and arguments that supported their initial view?
- Did you demonstrate a degree of awareness of your own biases? Did you employ strategies to counter them?
Note that one doesn’t have to be a politician to be asked these questions. You can and should use them on your debate partner. Needless to say, that goes both ways, which is why it’s a good idea to have your own answers ready.
Here is mine.
The strongest bias I had to fight while writing these articles was what we could call ‘go with the tribe’ bias. Or strong one side bias.
Most of my friends and colleagues are left-wing or left-leaning. Consequently, there was, at times, a voice in the back of my head reminding me that by (even covertly) arguing a pro-choice position I could appeal to my ingroup and increase my own sense of belonging.
Not to mention that the non-committal wishy-washy stuff I presented doesn’t make good headlines. ‘Ben Shapiro SHREDS Pro-Choice Arguments’ is certainly easier to market.
A nuanced, independent view is harder to make and harder to sell. Alas, I also believe it’s the right kind to have.
All We Need to Know About Abortion in One Figure
Our work nearly done, it’s time to bring it all together in one final visual.
Figure 1 summarizes all the information in this seven-article series.
The part above the horizontal black line in the middle is what we covered first and in considerably more detail, culminating in the Complete Simplified Saturated Policy View.
The three elements discussed in this article are in the bottom half of Figure 1.
Note the unique position Knowledge occupies. Its location above the line is a nod to where it’s most relevant: in relation to Impact on People, Solutions, and Circumstances. At the same time there’s a reason Knowledge is not separated from the bottom half of the figure.
What is our community’s ideal? How high priority is abortion according to different groups in our polity? What biases influence decision making? These and other similar questions all call for pieces of knowledge we could and should apply to the three elements covered in this article.
So after all’s said and done, was all this time investment worth it?
To answer that question we need to see what we can do with the comprehensive policy view we’ve built.
The nice thing about standards is, they allow you to judge. In other words, we’re in prime position to ask a question that can get uncomfortable pretty quickly.
How good is your policy view on abortion, [insert name]?
Let’s start our new series with some pretty big fish.