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The Centrist Collision Course

[ 1 ] June 7, 2006 |

The recent story about how not having access to Plan B is likely to lead to more abortions reminds me about this telling statistic, which appeared in the last Harper‘s index:

Percentage of U.S. abortions in 1973 and 2002, respectively, that took place in the first trimester: 38, 61.

One of the biggest effects of Roe was that it allowed women to get abortions in a more timely manner. Which makes this data a nice counterpoint to Jeffrey Rosen’s latest entry in the “let’s compromise on abortion by limiting the legal protection of reproductive rights to women I know” sweepstakes (which, admittedly, is the best of this useless genre.) I haven’t said anything about it because I have a print article coming about the subject, but like virtually all abortion “centrists” Rosen falls into the pro-life trap by assuming that the primary goal of abortion regulations that stop short of a ban is stopping the tiny fraction of elective third-trimester abortions. Like all such arguments, it basically sidesteps all of the difficult questions about regulating post-viability abortions; even if we concede that the Roe/Casey health exemption gives women and doctors significant discretion, there’s little reason to believe that changing the statutory wording around to protect women at severe (but not life-threatening) risk would make any difference, and not allowing later-term abortions even such health consequences would ensue is problematic, and even enforcing a strict exception only allowing abortions in situations where the mother’s life is at stake would be much more difficult to enforce (and require a great deal more intrusive harassment of women and doctors by state officials) than its supporters acknowledge. Trusting women and doctors, I think, makes much more sense.

But the bigger problem is that not only do most of the regulations beloved by urban-center-white-male centrists have absolutely nothing to do with late-term abortions per se, they are actively counterproductive if preventing them was their goal. If the “compromise” position is to maximize the number of elective abortions that take place in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, creating an arbitrary regulatory obstacle course that makes it more difficult for women with fewer resources to get abortions in a timely manner and also make it more difficult for clinics to operate is the worst conceivable policy. If reducing late-term abortions is the goal, it’s obvious that access to abortion should be broadened, not reduced, and in fact getting rid of intrusive regulations and increasing funding to Planned Parenthood clinics would in fact be a far more effective way of reducing late-term abortions than criminalization. That abortion “centrists” claim to be most concerned about late-term abortions while they advocate policies that will inevitably reduce the percentage of abortions obtained in the first trimester is one of the clearest marks of their fundamental unseriousness.

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  1. [...] idea. This is true even with respect to late-term abortion — stigma and regulatory obstacles lead to more, not [...]

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