Life Itself: Abortion in the American Mind Summary

Roger Rosenblatt

Life Itself

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Much of the American controversy about abortion swirls around the question “When does a person’s life begin?” Believing that no individual or group can answer that question once and for all, Roger Rosenblatt, a noted commentator on social and moral issues, also affirms that abortion either prevents or ends a human life no matter when that life begins. Wrestling with the ambivalence that abortion creates within the American mind, as well as within the author’s personal beliefs, LIFE ITSELF advocates a permit-but-discourage policy.

Rosenblatt’s “permit” includes not only a woman’s legal right to choose but also governmental funding to ensure that poor women have equal access to safe abortions. When Rosenblatt says “discourage,” his emphasis falls on national efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies. High on his agenda are better sex education, strategies that build family cohesiveness, and substantive adoption programs.

For reasons that include deep-seated, at times even contradictory, convictions about the sanctity of human life and the liberty of individuals, Americans are probably fated to disagree on abortion. At the very least, Rosenblatt contends, abortion is an issue where Americans must learn to live on what he calls “uncommon ground.” By doing so, he thinks, they could find significant shared support. To illustrate, Rosenblatt discusses the public opinion that informed his book. Polls show that about three-quarters of the American people support abortion rights; a similar percentage considers abortion to be some form of murder. Rosenblatt holds that his perspective sensitively reflects those findings. Permitting-but-discouraging could provide a position on abortion that keeps Americans together uncomfortably but together nonetheless.