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Today is the 30th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

Obviously this is a controversial issue, but I generally find it repellant that both sides more often than not boil down one of the most morally-complex issues facing modern society to a "Tastes Great!"/"Less Filling!" level.

The original 1973 ruling is more granular than that, recognizing that a third-trimester fetus should be granted more rights than a first-trimester embryo. They ruled that abortion, like all rights, is not absolute, but is a qualified right:

That "qualified right" found its form in the controversial 'trimester analysis" laid out by the justices in Roe: no government regulation during the first three months; limited regulation in the second trimester to protect women's health and safety; and giving government the power to ban abortions during the third trimester-- where medical consensus has concluded the fetus is capable of living on its own.

And to me, this is sound law. We distinguish the rights of citizens based on their development and maturity. A 21 year-old has more rights than a 15 year-old, who has more rights than a 2 year-old. I agree with the fundamental reasoning here. A fetus that has a brain, eyes, limbs, and developed organs is clearly more of a person than an undifferentiated blastocyte.

Thus I agree that first trimester abortions should be essentially unrestricted, second trimester abortions should be subject to some restrictions, and third trimester abortions should essentially be illegal, unless drastic, life-threatening factors can be demonstrated that endanger the mother's life.

Of course, state laws based upon Roe v. Wade vary quite a bit.

Here are some stats from the CDC, from 1999. There are some interesting numbers here. 861,789 legal abortions were reported to the CDC in 1999. Of those:

The highest percentages of abortions were reported for women aged <25 years, women who were white, and unmarried women; slightly more than half were obtaining an abortion for the first time. Fifty-eight percent of all abortions for which gestational age was reported were performed at <8 weeks of gestation, and 88% were performed before 13 weeks. From 1992 (when these data were first collected) through 1999, increases have occurred in the percentage of abortions performed at <6 weeks of gestation. Few abortions were provided after 15 weeks of gestation; 4.3% were obtained at 16--20 weeks and 1.5% were obtained at >21 weeks.

Have a look at the page. Accurate statistics are difficult to find in general, but especially with regard to such controversial topics. But I'm thinking these numbers are about as reliable as you're going to get.

I'm not sure that these sorts of numbers help in making the right decisions, but they do help put the issue in some context.

Essentially, about a million abortions have been performed per year over the past 25 years. No matter what your views on abortion, you would probably have to concede that this is not a number to be proud of.

An unwanted pregnancy is a tragic situation, no matter which course of action is taken. Bringing a child that is not wanted into the world is inhumane. But sucking the undeveloped embryo or fetus out of the womb and dumping it in the trash is not something to feel good about either.

I wish I could find the searing moral clarity that so many others find with regard to this issue (on NPR this morning, all the Democratic Presidential candidates were united as being pro-choice), but I can't stomp my foot down clearly on this one.

I tend to agree with the original Supreme Court decision, though both sides find problems with it. It seems to me a sensible compromise, recognizing the increasing rights of a developing fetus while retaining the sanctity of a woman's right to ultimately decide her fate.

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