I don't know why there is so much fuss generated by elective abortion. CDC figures show that in 2019 the abortion rate was 11.4 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44 years, so only around 1% of women choose it. The rate at which fetuses are naturally aborted - miscarriages - is much higher. 43% of parous women report having experienced one or more first-trimester spontaneous miscarriages, rising to 81% among women with 11 or more living children. One in every 17 parous women has three or more miscarriages.
There's a lot of fuss for two reasons. Firstly, that rate translates into ~630k abortions for 2019, not counting California, New Hampshire and Maryland
. In raw terms, this is not a small figure. As a side note, interestingly enough ~93% take place during the first trimester so if the SCOTUS overturned Roe v Wade by allowing states to ban on-demand abortion from the 2nd trimester onwards, as is done in most of Europe, things would not change all that much in practice.
And secondly, and way more importantly, there's a fuss because of the disagreement about the personhood of fetuses - which is natural because of the philosophical foundations of the liberal democratic form of government.
As an orthodox Marxist-Leninist you probably don't care about the personhood angle, but for those who believe in natural law, in the idea that there are some rights that are self-evident, this is and should be a big deal. After all, the belief in natural law sounds nice and all, but it becomes a bit useless if we cannot agree on who has those self-evident rights.
In a way, the abortion debate is indeed an example of a concrete incompleteness, if not failure, of natural law as far as it's meant to be put into practice, and thereby undermines all systems of government that purport to be founded on natural law (e.g. like liberal democracy). The fact that we cannot decide on who's a person, and whether a fetus is a person or not, puts liberalism itself into question as a school of thought or collection of principles meant to guide how we should organize our societies. This a good argument for a positivist approach to law, and indeed I can personally see the merits in both.
Maybe this tension may not be all that relevant as far fetuses are concerned, but what will we do if we need to have this type of debate for other beings? The whole process of dealing with the slavery of Black people in the US should illustrate how damaging this type of disagreement can be for a system of government which purports to be based on the existence of rights whose existence is believed to be self-evident, which implies we all indeed agree those rights exist and who has them. And I say this as someone who believes that system of government is good, indeed, it's the best one we have in all.
Since I cannot decide on what to do regarding abortion, the only suggestion I can actually provide and which respects the principles of liberal democracy is to just vote on it. This is despite the fact that I also fully agree with ideas like:
I’m no supporter of referenda on such important matters. Such decisions should never be made that way. The rights of minorities tend to be trampled on.
Pants-of-dog wrote:F we have referendums on abortion, we should also have referendums on whether or not immigrants should have rights, and whether or not men should lose their rights after attaining the age of 65.
...which are, of course, valid. The problem is that, since there's no agreement on the personhood of fetuses, there's no agreement on what rights are involved with regards to abortion, let alone how should these be balanced. So how else can we decide the issue? In my personal case, where I have no clear stance on the matter, just accepting the result of a vote isn't particularly crazy even though I agree with you both on the risks of letting majorities impose their will and possibly deny rights to minorities.
Since both of you have already made up your minds, I don't find it surprising you don't like the idea of a vote - why would you? - but people who are decidedly against abortion could also refuse to allow a referendum to take place and the debate would not close or lead to a solution those who take the most extreme positions can deal with, even if they don't like it. And therefore, the issue would remain.
Unlike @Drlee, I also find it entirely possible this route would legalize and legitimize abortion in the vast majority of states. A deeply Catholic society like Ireland, for example, took the referendum route in 2018 and the option to legalize abortion won with 2/3 of the vote and even the most ardent opponents to abortion have had to deal with it. I haven't seen state-level surveys about abortion, but at least nationally as I said 3/4 of the American electorate seems to support legalizing and regulating abortion in some way.
@Drlee by the way, I have always believed a referendum could indeed address all these ethical and philosophical issues where it's hard to arrive to a clear opinion one way or another. Sometimes I even agree with holding referenda to decide on those I do have a better formed opinion about just to shore up the legitimacy of whatever route is taken. Clearly, asking the electorate directly can do that, and of course the electorate can change its opinion at some point.
I don't think my attempt to discuss the issue in depth is wrong or useless, though, the process of a referendum could and hopefully will have a lot of that type of discussion along with the completely foreseeable cheap appeals to raw emotion you mentioned, and hopefully more people will stop and think about the implications of even holding this type of debate.
Furthermore, you are also right in saying that, leaving philosophical concerns aside, keeping the status quo set up by Roe v Wade is by far the easiest way to go for many regarding other matters such as financial concerns and whatnot.
Of course, a referendum can also fail to solve the abortion issue. Debate can perfectly turn into a shitshow, and just lead to more conflict, and maybe the US right now is unable to have a civil debate on the matter. But then, thankfully, here comes one of what I think is one of the best aspects of this country's system of government, which is that this type of issue can be defined at the state level if the Constitution doesn't, and if one does not like the result it's always possible to just move. A national referendum on the matter, where the results would be binding to all states as would happen if the US was an unitary state, would be more likely to turn into that type of shitshow since the vote is an all-or-nothing situation. The stakes are undoubtedly lower even if Roe v Wade is overturned.
And this isn't even getting into what can Congress do regarding abortion, and abortion bans in the states, under the Constitution. Maybe Congress would not act now, but one never knows about the future.
@Pants-of-dog as for your points, I think I answered all of those. I'll just reiterate that the AMA does not write the laws, and the existence of other motivations to ban abortion besides bioethical ones (such as the long-standing desire for doctors to have a monopoly on all medical matters, which we all know has always been there, is a key reason for the very existence of medical associations and thought unnecessary to mention) does not suddenly negate the bioethical arguments it provided at the time, even if I agree it undermines them it's up to the legislator to make the call if they are undermined enough to just be summarily disregarded due to the fact that it's self-serving in many ways.
I would also be interested in seeing you answer your own question #4. I'm not going to make your own argument for you here, but I would suspect the easiest way to address the contradiction is to redefine "abortion" similarly to how up to the 19th century terminating pregnancy before quickening occurred wasn't regarded as such since a woman would only be recognized to be pregnant once the fetus became quick, hence taking measures to restart the period (which we now know get rid of the fetus) wasn't seen as "abortion". Ironically this was undermined precisely by the development of contemporary medical science and not religion as some as prone to believe, it was religious doctrine which had to revise itself if anything.