I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. At some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature. Barack Obama (source)
Indeed, the views seem to be irreconcilable. But, on closer inspection, they’re rather less than one would assume. Take the pro-choice side: few people really believe that women should have a right to choose in all circumstances. Same for the pro-life side: only a few nutters believe that every fetus has a right to life. Most pro-lifers are ready to permit abortion under some circumstances. And most pro-choicers agree that a woman’s right to self-determination doesn’t go as far as allowing all abortions under all circumstances.
So neither side believes in an absolute right. Hence, as Ronald Dworkin observed, the argument on abortion isn’t between two completely different and incompatible world views. It’s merely a disagreement on matters of scale and extent. Both parties value the interests of both the fetus and the mother. They just balance these interests differently.
If we tone down the rhetoric of soundbites and slogans, we would see that pro-choicers aren’t anti-life, and pro-lifers aren’t anti-woman, and we would be able to discuss how to appropriately balance the interests involved. Rather than demonizing the other side and blocking all serious discussion, we would perhaps be able to have them agree to a balancing of interests that is closer to ours. Personally, I believe that there are too many abortions, and that the interests of the fetus (Dworkin wouldn’t agree that a fetus has interests, by the way) aren’t given enough weight in many cases.
I think that’s what Obama means by his “common ground” approach to the issue. Let’s hope that all parties are able to see that such a common ground is indeed possible, or that at least the two grounds can be moved closer to each other. I’m skeptical, however, especially regarding the pro-lifers: it’s hard to give up the view that abortion is a discussion between people who are either for life or against it. And such a view, by definition, doesn’t allow a middle ground. They would do good to admit that they aren’t so absolutely pro-life, and that the others aren’t so absolutely anti.