A Feasible and Mutually Beneficial Solution to the U.S. Abortion Problem (Part 1)

This is the first post in a series of posts where I will be taking the reader through incredibly complex (sorry, maths are necessary, but I’ll get there in a post towards the end of this series) social problems, and how they can be solved in such a way that benefits the entire society. For the purpose of this post, I will be discussing a system of problems that hugely impact various religious groups. We will model the US abortion debate.

Fifteen months ago I hinted on here that I would be demonstrating a way to overcome the is-ought dilemma, given that parties in disagreement accept each others’ ordinal preferences. Qualitative information about individuals or groups can be quantified, along with each stakeholder’s abilities and influence in the social system. This post serves two functions: 1) it speaks to the philosophy of fuzzy cognitive mapping (FCM), and 2) it identifies a single problem in the mess and its constituent stakeholders.

This type of modeling often requires outside input. Therefore, as we go through various stakeholder and node relationships, feel free to comment your own input or objections to something I’ve done. By the end, I want a solution that most people agree leaves them better off than when they started.

For the purpose of this first post, we—the readers—will take a secular position; however, religious people can feel free to chime in. Your concerns will be incorporated into the model.

FCM Philosophy

To begin I want to discuss the Type IV error. This is what we are trying to avoid. Avoiding it is the only way we can solve this problem in such a manner that all stakeholders walk away better off than when they started. The Type IV error is when a practitioner correctly identifies a problem and correctly solves the problem, but she makes the problem worse. Look at it this way:

You visit your doctor’s office complaining of fever, sore throat, and a few other symptoms. The doctor correctly diagnoses you with strep throat. He prescribes penicillin V, a cheap and highly effective antibiotic. The doctor has correctly identified and found a solution to the problem, but hours later you are rushed to the E.R. in anaphylaxis due to an undiagnosed severe penicillin allergy. In a perfect world, the doctor would have the time and resources necessary to consider possible interacting problems with strep throat. A hypothetical short-order scratch test might indicate the doctor should find a different remedy.

As stated above, we want to avoid doing this with our abortion problem. For example, let’s pretend we can play god for a moment and compel a constitutional amendment that completely removes all obstacles to any form of abortion. This would be a Hobbesian solution that might result in conservative groups banding together into an equally monolithic entity that forces a constitutional convention, where the First Amendment is thrown out (in addition to the new one).

Therefore, we need to take a holistic approach that can identify all stakeholders with identifiable influence in the system, as well as accurately identify stakeholder objectives. Again, here, this requires reader input, and the model will change as more information comes into it.

For the purpose of brevity—I’m not trying to bore you with a dissertation—I will cut short the background of FCM to the focus of the Type IV error only, but if you are interested in a very detailed background, check out this book.

Abortion Debate Stakeholders

The first and most obvious problem is that there is a debate about to what extent (if at all) abortion should be legal in the US. Some actors take different positions, ranging from completely legal 100% of the time to completely illegal 100% of the time. Right now we are not going to identify stakeholder goals. That will be for the next post, but identifying the stakeholders can be done now.

Given that there are ~326 million Americans, plus any number of non-Americans with interest in this debate (such as religious leaders), there could be hundreds of millions of potential stakeholders. We are not going to model hundreds of millions of people and groups (how could we ever identify their individual needs, anyway?). We are going to generalize stakeholders as much as possible.

I can see eight stakeholders right off the top of my head. These include:

  1. Pro-life religious leaders
  2. Pro-choice religious leaders
  3. Pro-life activists
  4. Pro-choice activists
  5. Politicians
  6. The news media
  7. Medical professionals
  8. Courts (we must solve this problem in a way that is in keeping with established US law)

As previously noted, this list can be incomplete. If a group is omitted or needs to be separated from a larger group (such as Catholics, Jews, etc.) then we can certainly expand the model at a later date. These stakeholders are illustrated in the following graphic.


In the next part of this series, we are going to identify stakeholder objectives (goals) and the power relationships between nodes. That is, politicians in this model have more power than the news media, and courts have more power than the politicians (again, we’re trying to keep things legally grounded). We will determine these relationships according to a Likert-type scale between -1 (strongly negatively influences) and +1 (strongly positively influences) (zero being no relationship), at intervals of 0.25. Don’t worry, the maths come much, much later. For now, we’re just assigning values that will eventually inform the resultant simulation. It’s something to think about while I prepare part two.

About Rayan Zehn

I'm a political and social activist.
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