I think it's important for us to be able to say: When a fetus reaches the point where it could survive outside the uterus, is healthy, and the woman is healthy, and she has had five months to make up her mind, we should say no to abortion. One can and should have compassion for the woman or girl who seeks to end a pregnancy at that late date, but absent severe fetal abnormality, a threat to her life or a clinical diagnosis of serious mental or physical health consequences of continuing the pregnancy, I believe we should say: "I am so sorry. You waited too long. I know this is a difficult decision for you to bear, but we cannot give you an abortion. I will help you any other way I can, but I cannot perform an abortion."It's certainly good news that she is willing to accept restrictions on abortion -- the kind of "common ground" that actually saves lives. What is interesting, though, is that in her defense of those limitations she frankly concedes that all the reasons given for elective abortion do not justify killing the unborn if he or she has a particular moral status -- in her view, the value of "potential life" (a horribly misleading phrase).
Some recoil from this conclusion. What about the teenagers who denied their pregnancy out of fear or shame, or the unfulfilled desire that their boyfriend would marry them, or just ignorance of their body? The very young ones will meet the definition of physical danger; older adolescents may not. Some may have clinical mental health problems, but President Obama was correct during the campaign when he said "mental distress" without clinical dimensions is not a justifiable reason for late-term abortion.
Nor are those cases where women's social circumstances changed late in the pregnancy -- they lost their job or were abandoned by partners. These are terrible things, and we need to do whatever else we can to help those women continue their pregnancy, keep the baby they once wanted or give it up for adoption. There is a point when our respect for potential life, for that individual fetus, should outweigh a woman's desire, even need, not to be pregnant.
Those reasons are equally insufficient for abortion at any stage of pregnancy as long as the unborn maintains that same moral standing. Indeed, Kissling says what pro-lifers say: "One can and should have compassion for the woman or girl who seeks to end a pregnancy, but ... I believe we should say: 'I am so sorry. You [chose to have sex and now, as a consequence, you are carrying an unborn child]. I know this is a difficult decision for you to bear, but we cannot give you an abortion. I will help you any other way I can, but I cannot perform an abortion.' "
So Kissling essentially concedes that the permissibility of abortion depends upon the moral status of the unborn, and that the reasons given for abortion (mental distress, social circumstances) are beside the point. (Her own view is that there is a point late in pregnancy, presumably when certain developmental milestones have been reached, when the unborn begins to command our full respect regardless of the wishes of the mother; pro-lifers take a different position, arguing that human beings have worth and dignity by virtue of what they are rather than the accidental properties they have acquired, so every member of our species is entitled to equal, fundamental respect.)
Given that moral clarity, I think it's unhelpful that she then goes on to frame the abortion issue as one of competing values (woman v. unborn child), saying that pro-choice advocates should not "follow the example of those opposed to abortion and present only one value." As Kissling's own writing indicates, it's not so much an issue of "competing values" as it is a question of the moral standing of the unborn entity who is killed by abortion. Kissling herself agrees that if the unborn is due a certain degree of moral respect (as "potential life"), killing him or her is morally impermissible.
So why confuse the issue?