May 6, 2022

Your comments, re: Roe v. Wade

Your responses to my piece.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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In today's edition of Tangle, I’ll be sharing reader feedback about our coverage of Roe v. Wade from earlier in the week.

Sometimes, when we do reader feedback editions, I include my responses to the feedback. Given how much space I gave to my position on Wednesday, though, today I am going to let the feedback, and my previous writing on this issue, stand on their own, with one exception.

A lot of folks who wrote in (as you’ll see below) addressed my argument about a “gradient of personhood.” I wanted to clarify, or better articulate (as I think I did in past writing), what I meant. I am not adding this here to convince, but rather to be understood.

When I referred to a “gradient” of personhood that we all seem to intuitively understand, I was attempting to address the time between conception and birth. But in a more direct way, my argument is that the beginning of the existence of a human person is not the same as the beginning of an independent organism. The gradient that I see is not about kinds of people, but about when human personhood actually begins. I know everyone involved in this argument wants a clear definition of this, but there is — without question — great ambiguity.

A better mirror to the gradient I tried to address is not the gradient of different people and their varying utility to society (as many below seem to have argued), it's the equally blurry definition of when life ends. We discuss "medical death" or "legal death" or "brain death." All of these things acknowledge that where the human life ends and the body is no longer subject to legal protections is equally fraught as where the human life begins and its body is subject to legal protections. That is the gradient I am referring to in my writing.

As always, I want to reiterate that Tangle is meant to be a place where people encounter opinions they may disagree with, and that my decision to include these reader comments  is not an endorsement of their views (obviously).

On the contrary, I'm one person, and it's impossible for me to claim impartiality or lack of bias. Along with sharing a wide range of professional punditry, the only way to truly bring balance to this project is to periodically include the views of my readers and criticisms of my own writing. So below, you'll see those views.

Today, unlike past editions, I've opted to share the positive feedback first. Given the sensitivity of this issue, I thought that'd be a nice way to kick things off, especially since some of it came from folks who are on the opposite side of this issue as I am. It should also be noted that we have limited space in each newsletter, so I’m unable to include every piece of feedback I get from readers. I did, however, try to include those that felt the most cohesive, and the ones that seemed to speak to each other.

The positive feedback.

Oscar from Chico, California, said: Almost perfect. I am a "Trump" right conservative and read your Tangle almost every day. In general you are too far left for me, however, I found this article very helpful and the MOST thoughtful representation of this argument that I have read. You are quite lucid in your communications, a tribute to your education [another topic for the future].

Robert, from Charlotte, North Carolina, said: I have no response, other than brilliant work. Bravo to you and your team, as this has to be one of the finest Tangle newsletters so far. Such a complex and emotional topic, and you've delivered the information in a way that was digestible, yet powerful. Thank you for helping me further understand this topic's past & present. You're getting a paid subscriber out of me!

Mike from Austin, Texas, said: Just wanted to say I appreciate how you handle Tangle. I know it is tricky and you probably get a lot of not so nice emails/comments, but your willingness to show both sides is, sadly, so foreign to the news today. I also appreciate how intentionally you insert your opinion. I think it’s appropriate to do so when called for and even though I don’t agree with some of it, I think it shows those who read how to express themselves with both conviction and compassion. I haven’t financially supported in the past but plan to start after reading your Roe v. Wade email today (and that’s from someone who does not agree with your opinion on the issue). So thanks for what you are doing. I think it is important on a number of levels.

An anonymous reader said: Hi Isaac, although I disagree with your final conclusion in this newsletter, I very much value the reasoned and thorough way you got there. I learned much more about this issue from your newsletter than any of the repudiations of Alito's draft I've read in mainstream outlets. That means, for people who disagree with your take on the issue, you had a much bigger impact on me than those other outlets. Here's hoping that people like you and people like me can debate this and find a path forward that's best for all women, children, men and society at large.

Kyle from Gilbert, Arizona said: Hello Isaac, and thank God for you. You have brought me hope these last several months, you are a voice of reason and calm in a very unreasonable and chaotic time. I am a recovering conservative republican. Not only has my party shifted right, my views have shifted left. Trump made me reevaluate my entire belief system. I have been an ardent lifelong pro-life believer. Abortion is murder, so it was pretty easy to oppose any abortion. This recent news about the Supreme Court has me re-evaluating my belief on this in a shocking way. Your newsletter about Roe v. Wade resonated with me and now I'm wondering if the decision to have an abortion in the first trimester should be between the mother, family, and doctor and not some male dominated state legislature in Louisiana. I believe this makes me moderately pro-choice. While mid-term and late-term abortions still make me physically ill at the thought, I now empathize more with the pro-choicers on this than I ever have.

The rest of the feedback.

Leah from Texas said: I’m not good at putting emotional thoughts into words, but I will try. And yes, this is an emotional subject. I would like to propose that there is another side to this issue that is not being spoken about as much as it should be. Today, methods of birth control are readily available to those who desire to use it. Yes, I know birth control can fail. (My grandson was conceived despite the use of 2 forms of birth control.)

It would be good, though, to see the media talk more about ways to prevent unwanted births than ways to eliminate them. In my view, the ready availability of abortion seemed to be used as a way by many women of abdicating the responsibility of their actions, that is, having unprotected intimate relationships with men. I agree that abortion should be an option when the physical, emotional, or mental health of the mother is truly at risk. I would prefer that the states be the legislative body to address the issue, however, rather than the federal government.

Betsey from Brooklyn, New York, said: I have worked for reproductive rights since before Roe was decided. Your summary below is masterful. Thank you.

One aspect of this issue is rarely acknowledged. Anyone who has worked in facilities offering abortion services knows that some percent of abortion patients say "I don't believe in abortion, but in my case (or the case of my daughter, sister, etc)..."

Abortion-focused polls miss the reality that what people think they believe and what they do in a crisis are often not in sync. I wish there would be some way to follow-up with such people: Do they change their views about abortion because they (or a family member) had one? Do they admit to a change in point of view in conversations with others? Do they tell others they had an abortion? I recall an excellent letter to the editor in the NYTimes some years ago about this phenomenon, but mostly this is a topic that is ignored, which makes public discussion of abortion less realistic than it should be.

Stephen from Charlottesville, Virginia, said: Your argument, as I understand it, is that a ruling overturning Roe would be horrifying based on the moral outcomes of the ruling, not its legality, and you emphasized the practical implications of the ruling.