Problems classifying views on abortion:
People hold diverse beliefs concerning the ethics of abortion in general and whether individual women -- faced with specific problems -- should be able to choose to end their pregnancy by having an abortion.
However, many people have a fondness for dichotomy -- the splitting of a topic or item into precisely two non-overlapping parts. Examples are us vs. them; religious vs. secular worldviews; theists vs. atheists, etc.
However, the world is often not that simplistic.
Public opinion pollsters and commentators often attempt to squeeze beliefs about abortion into only two categories: pro-life and pro-choice. As a minimum, there are in reality at least four categories -- most of which have a number of sub-categories to consider.
The pro-life movement:
Its members are motivated by a desire to reduce the number of abortions, or to totally eliminate tem altogether. At the same time, they reject violence against persons and property as means of reaching their goals. Being pro-life they very strongly oppose assassinations and attempted murder of abortion providers and abortion clinic staff.
Roman Catholics form a major section within the pro-life movement. Their church currently teaches the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death and thus rejects all abortions, almost all executions of murderers, and allowing terminally ill persons in intractable pain to obtain assistance to commit suicide.
Fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians form another major section of the pro-life movement. Their faith groups generally oppose abortions, favor executions of convicted murderers, and oppose physician assisted suicide. Although they are often criticized by being pro-life on abortions and pro-death on executions, they see their position as consistent. They are in favor of preserving innocent life in the womb, while they favor destroying guilty life in prisons -- executing people who have been found responsible for the murder of others.
Most individuals in the pro-life movement share a single concept: that human life in the form of an ovum and spermatozoon becomes a human person at the instant of conception. From this principle, it naturally follows that a newly fertilized ovum, a pre-embryo, an embryo, a fetus, and a newborn are all human persons who should be granted the same rights, privileges and protections as a child or adult -- including the right to life. Some view an abortion clinic as the ethical equivalent of a Nazi death camp.
Within the pro-life movement are persons with conflicting views of abortion:
- Some follow the teachings of the Roman Catholic church and advocate for laws and regulations that would not allow abortions even to save the life of the woman.
- Most would allow abortions only if needed to save the woman's life.
- Many would allow abortions to women who have become pregnant through rape or incest.
- Some would allow abortions for women who would suffer serious or permanent disability if the pregnancy were allowed to continue.
The pro-life movement is sometimes referred to as "anti-choice." The latter is a derogatory term that implies to some people that the main aim of the pro-life movement is to regulate women's lives and reduce their options. We feel that a group should be referred to by the name of their own choosing, assuming that it is not intentionally deceptive. To have two names referring to the same group is confusing to the general public.
The anti-abortion movement:
Individuals in this movement hold pro-life beliefs, and go one massive step further: They feel that acts of violence against abortion clinics are justifiable in order to lower the number of abortions. Some argue in favor of the ultimate violent acts: to attempt to assassinate abortion providers and clinic staff. The term "anti-abortion" has only been in common use since the Clinton years when it was first used to identify individuals and groups who employ violence and murder to attain their political ends.
The term "anti-abortion" is occasionally used as a derogatory term to refer to persons in the pro-life movement. We recommend against this use because it leads to confusion. Also, we feel that a group should be allowed to select the name by which they are known -- unless it is intentionally deceptive. Any time that there is one word or phrase with two meanings, the result is chaos.
A pattern has been observed in which U.S. anti-abortionists tend to be relatively inactive during Republican federal administrations and very active during Democratic presidents. More details.
The pro-choice movement:
The pro-choice movement generally teaches that the fetus becomes a human person at various stages later in gestation, when:
- It loses its neck structures which resemble gill slits, or
- It loses its tail, or
- It begins to look human, or
- It becomes sentient. That is, its brain's higher functions first turn on and the fetus is able to sense its environment, generate thoughts, has memories, etc. or
- Its lungs develop to the point that it becomes viable and can survive outside the womb, or
- It is born, or
- Some other transition point occurs between conception and birth.
From this viewpoint, a woman's access to a safe and affordable early abortion is viewed as a fundamental human right. Many pro-choicers advocate that a woman should be able to choose abortion at any stage of gestation for any reason that she feels is valid.
The pro-abortion "movement:"
This movement, a.k.a. "pro-abort," is often referred to but doesn't actually exist. This movement would be made up of persons who actively promote abortion. There may be a few such individuals in North America who administer abortion clinics and are motivated by greed, but no movement exists.
The terms "pro-abortion" and "pro-aborts" are generally used by some religious conservatives as phrases to denigrate abortion providers and pro-choicers. This is a snarl phrase used to disseminate hatred. We recommend against its use.
Classifying the public's beliefs concerning abortion access:
As noted above, each of the movements -- at least the three that exist: pro-choice, pro-abortion and pro-life -- can be subdivided into many shades of beliefs. Thus to make a statement that X percent of American adults are pro-life while Y percent are pro-choice is almost meaningless.
The only way to accurately understand the public's actual opinion would be for a polling agency to present to a group of perhaps 1,000 randomly selected adults a series of scenarios that real women face with problem pregnancies. The subjects would then be asked whether laws and regulations should allow a woman in such a scenario to have an abortion if she wished to have one. This would produce data with a margin of error on the order of ±3 percentage points.
Although such a survey is badly needed to truly assess public opinion, we have never been able to find one in the literature.
Copyright 1998 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting on this website: 2010-FEB-07
Latest update: 2010-FEB-07