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A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concludes that “The clinical evidence clearly shows that legal abortions in the United States — whether by medication, aspiration, D & E, or induction — are safe and effective. But the risks of serious complication increases with weeks’ gestation.” This means that state laws and policies that unnecessarily delay the scheduling of an abortion procedure hinder, rather than help, the government in pursuing its interest in protecting women’s health.
Given these risks, access to legal abortion is, in general, life- and health-preserving for women.
Our public debates need to consider the state’s interest in protecting women’s health and the limits of state power in interfering with the decisions we make about how best to preserve our own health or protect our own lives.
Until they do, we need to focus on the more manageable and relevant question of how to regulate a medical service or procedure that is sought by millions of women.
When there is a lack of public consensus on a moral question, our public policies need to reflect the principles on which there is broad agreement.
Yet questions about individual moral behavior or personal ethics, which still generate wide disagreement based on religious diversity, are not really all that relevant to the issue of lawmaking.
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In short, what a good society does is based on a different set of considerations and principles than what a good person does.
A 2012 study of abortion in the United States published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, concluded: “Legal induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth.
The risk of death associated with childbirth is approximately 14 times higher than that with abortion.”There is a lot packed into that statistic, but we often forget that pregnancy and childbirth pose health risks, which vary for women depending on their age, health status, projected need for a cesarean section, number of previous pregnancies and the spacing between them, and so on.
The individual or personal ethics question — on the moral acceptability of abortion — is not likely to generate a public consensus, given the current lack of agreement on many background issues.
It is well known that members of our society hold vastly different views about when personhood or a human life begins, about our moral obligations to our genetic offspring, or what kind of sexual acts are permissible. A pluralist, democratic society can accommodate a good amount of such disagreement.