I don't know if I can think of an issue with more polarization than the abortion debate. Maybe the middle east peace process. Shrug.
I think both sides are pretty seriously dishonest about each other. I also think that, while there are definitely irreconcilable differences between the two camps, some progress could be made if we hold the discussion on more honest grounds.
First, why everyone on both sides sucks. Nobody, nobody, thinks it is ok to murder babies. Implying that the other side thinks this is ok is very dishonest. Nobody is trying limit women's choices. Yes, it may have that effect, but that is no one's goal. We as a society limit the choices of murderers and bank robbers, and that doesn't upset anyone (except them, of course). That line of argumentation is dishonest.
That brings me to the point, which is that the whole debate ought to be about WHEN LIFE STARTS. Everything flows from this simple question. If you want to talk constructively, talk about that.
It's actually a really difficult question. I do not think I, or anyone, can definitively say, but I think we can set upper and lower bounds (mathmaticians do this when they are trying do find the value of a constant, like pi or e).
I will posit that implantation is the *earliest* time one can call a group of cells a baby. My reasoning is that without implanting, a fertilized egg has exactly a 0% chance of being born.
I will further posit that the point at which doctors could save a baby is the *latest* possible time one could decide it's alive. I believe this is around 28 weeks. Perhaps it's 22, I don't recall.
In other words, I'm saying that before implantation, it's definitely not a baby. I'm saying that after 22 weeks (or whatever it is), it definitely is a baby. I think these are reasonable cut off points, and that though it will be uncomfortable for both sides, they could, if they were to try, agree with me. It still leaves 22 weeks of ambiguity, but that's a significant improvement over the current state of affairs.
If society adopted these definitions, I think it would be a good thing, for a few reasons:
* The morning after pill becomes universally licit. I do not think we need to burden rape victims with the thought that they may now be murdering a baby (it should be clear from the above that I don't think they are). Nor should we be rewarding rapists with children. (It would still make me uncomfortable to have people use this as their birth control; plan better, please!)
* Fewer babies would be aborted. Those abortions that still would occur would at least be morally ambiguous.
* There should be options for women who will suffer serious complications (like death) from having a baby.
* Both sides will have compromised.
Further, it avoids some philosophical problems.
* I don't do any person-value calculus. I.e., I didn't say a fetus becomes more and more of a person, until at birth it is a full person, and that it is less of a problem to kill partial persons than full persons. This line of reasoning opens up the door for things like euthanasia (are old people that can't get around anymore really full persons still?) and infanticide (infants aren't really full persons yet, they can't do anything on their own). Under my view you either are a person, or you're not (or we don't know), but you can't be half a person with partial rights.
Now, as if I haven't already made everyone mad enough, I have a few additional thoughts, mostly targeted at the right.
If you're going to be consistently "pro-life", then why do you stop at conception? Has anything fundamentally changed from the moment before? I don't think so; I think you need to back up and say that birth control is a form of abortion. The Catholics almost get full marks, but I believe they allow the rhythm method (which, arguably works poorly enough that it's not a method-- but I think it's the thought that counts). C.S. Lewis seems to take this position in his book "That Hideous Strength".
I guess that's another way of saying that if you posit that life starts at conception, you need to have some way of convincing us that you're right. Waving bibles around doesn't help. (It doesn't even make your case for you. Go on, find a verse that says life starts at conception. I'll wait here.)
Finally, to make things even, I have to criticize the left. First, let's not speak of babies as a "punishment." A human life is not a punishment. I know it is difficult to phrase things well, but if you want the right to pay any attention to you, you need to do much better. Second, let's agree that we as a society would do well to reduce the number of abortions, and not act all cool and rub abortions in the faces of those who disagree.
One last anecdote. I recall that as a kid reading some history book or other, I ran across an account of Napoleon, struggling to have a child, was brought a message that there were complications in labor, and what did he want done? He responded that the normal thing ought to be done-- the life of the mother was most important. The author of the book was impressed by this because it showed character. I have never forgotten this random factoid, possibly because of the implication that xxx years ago it was *normal* to consider the mother's life *more valuable* than the life of the nearly born child.