My first post in the Lincoln-Douglas II: the Sanders-Scott Debates series. We’ll both be following up in the other’s comment sections. Cross posted at Virginia Right. You can read Sandy’s initial entry here.
I’ve written in the past about existential issues – policy questions that settle the political debate for many Americans. Some focus on Second Amendment rights, others on taxes or religion. Abortion – reproductive health care – is one of the big ones.
Most activists frame the abortion discussion in terms of rights. The pro-life side privileges the right to life for the fetus. Others fight for a woman’s right to reproductive choice. Advocacy coalitions on both sides privilege the freedom of the individuals they wish to protect.
Rights often conflict in a democracy, and the adjudication of these conflicts forms the core of politics. Madison expected factions to argue and fight and try to convince others they’re in the right and should form policy. Today we’re so polarized that these existential issues divide us in ways Madison didn’t expect. So even when one side or the other wins power and acts to implement policy, the other side rejects its legitimacy. Abortion is, after all, murder if you accept the personhood of a fetus. If you don’t, the pregnant woman’s health and personal freedom take precedence. She is, after all, the only human being involved.
Settling the abortion debate then depends in part on settling the question of when life begins. But even if one side won the argument, and its opponents accepted the legitimacy of the policy they seek to implement, this victory probably does not lead to optimal policy outcomes.Continue reading