With the recent departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the U.S. Supreme Court and the appointment of now Justice Brett Kavanaugh, it appears that abortion will be on the Supreme Court’s docket soon. Abortion has been a divisive issue in American politics for the past 50 years, even before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. But the reality is that there is more about abortion that unites us than divides us.
The portrayal of an either-or nature to this issue forces Americans to choose one of two camps – pro-choice or pro-life. A Gallup poll last year found that 48 percent of Americans considered themselves pro-choice while 48 percent said they were pro-life. This would suggest a starkly divided nation that could never find common ground.
Yet, the reality is something quite different. Evidence of that fact is the finding that most people do not take extreme positions on abortion. In a 2018 Pew Research Center survey, 25 percent of respondents say abortion should be legal in all cases and 15 percent said it should be illegal in all cases. But 56 percent (a majority) took a more moderate position – saying it should either be legal or illegal most of the time, but not all of the time.
This more moderate view is true of Utahns as well. A Utah Policy survey taken last June found that only 11 percent of Utahns believe abortion should be legal in all cases. That may not be surprising given that Utahns are generally socially conservative. But, even more interesting is the fact that only 8 percent agreed with the view that abortion should be illegal in all cases. Eighty percent took a more moderate position saying that it should be legal or illegal in most but not all cases.
Most Americans appreciate that abortion is a complex issue that is not easily defined by simple labels such as pro-choice and pro-life. They recognize that women have rights over their own bodies, but life is valuable – even life still in the womb. Sometimes these rights come into conflict with each other.
Unfortunately, as the debate has heated up, the reaction of activists in both camps is to become more extreme. Each feels they must become more strident in their positions to counter the other side. For example, the Legislature in Alabama offered almost no exceptions for abortion in recent legislation banning the practice. Other legislatures are limiting the abortion decision to one occurring prior to eight weeks or even six weeks into a pregnancy.
At the same time, one Democratic presidential candidate is proposing that the abortion issue be removed from states altogether. He supports national legislation that would make abortion legal across the nation. Another one has vowed in writing she will appoint a Supreme Court justice who upholds Roe.
The United Utah Party position on abortion does not fit neatly into any extreme camp. Instead, we come closer to the view of a majority of Americans. We recognize the sanctity of life. At the same time, we know there must be exceptions to that position, such as circumstances taking into consideration the health of the women bearing children.
We know there are differences between believing abortion should be mainly legal or mainly illegal. But the fact that most Americans, and particularly Utahns, take one of those positions rather than a more extreme stance holds out more hope for common ground than is suggested by media coverage of the issue. We seek that common ground.
That is what we want in our elected officials as well. We want them to approach this issue with an appreciation for its complexity. We want them to avoid the temptation to adopt extremist positions, and realize that most Americans do not hold those positions either. We want them to realize that even on this issue there is more ground for uniting than dividing.
Richard Davis is chair of the United Utah Party.