The Abortion Conflict

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This conflict is perhaps reflective of the nation's ambivalence over abortion. While it is often depicted as a two-sided debate, the abortion controversy is actually quite multifaceted, involving complex speculation on biology, ethics, and constitutional rights. Those who identify themselves as prolife, for example, generally contend that abortion is wrong because it kills human life, which they believe begins at conception. However, some pro-lifers grant that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest, or when the pregnancy threatens the life or health of the mother. Those who identify themselves as pro-choice often maintain that abortion must remain legal because a woman should have the right to control her body and her destiny. But some pro-choicers also believe that there should be certain restrictions on teen access to abortion and on abortions occurring after the first trimester of pregnancy. This mixture of opinions is probably why Gallup polls consistently show that 50 to 60 percent of Americans favor abortion "only under certain circumstances."

The continuing debate over a relatively new form of second-trimester abortion called intact dilation and extraction (D&X) reveals the complexity of American opinion on the subject. Referred to as "partial-birth abortion" by its opponents, D&X is usually performed on women who are between twenty and twenty-four weeks pregnant, ostensibly when the fetus has severe defects or when the pregnancy endangers the mother's health. During the procedure, the doctor delivers all but the head of the fetus from the uterus, then uses scissors to cut a hole in the base of the fetus's skull so that its contents can be removed. This allows the fetus's head to collapse so that it can more easily pass through the cervical opening.

Opponents of D&X maintain that it is a grisly and immoral procedure akin to infanticide. At twenty-four...