Friday, June 5, 2009

The abortion debate

I’ve talked recently about the debate on abortion and how we pro-choicers seem to be loosing on technicalities. Most of that stems from, in my opinion, the way we’ve let the anti-choice groups take control of the debate.

(I know I keep saying that, but I really believe this is the core issue.)

We accepted their hijacking of the title “pro-life” from the people against capital punishment. We allowed the term “partial birth abortions” to be used as commonplace when talking about dilation and extraction, even though it is completely inaccurate and inflames emotions in people.

We have allowed people to believe that doctors are murdering infants (though these - VERY GRAPHIC - are the type of fetuses that are being aborted in late term abortions).

And we haven’t been challenging people who are really pro-choice, but feel the need to say they’re “pro-life.”

This entry from Piny, over at feministe, sums up what I’m saying perfectly:
Dr. Tiller died in part because the anti-choice faction in this country has managed to utterly warp the discussion away from the lives of actual people. One of the ways they’ve done it is to confuse people about the meaning of “pro-life.”

This is not what pro-life means. It doesn’t mean you don’t like abortion, or that you believe it is a tragedy, or that you have serious qualms about the idea or the practice, or even that you think it’s categorically wrong. You can believe that abortion is an unconscionable destruction of potential life. You can even consider it morally comparable to infanticide. (To be fair, there’s a certain set of moral beliefs about abortion that would make support for legalization illogical.) That doesn’t matter. Pro-choice encompasses an entire spectrum of philosophies about pregnancy and abortion. The only criterion for being pro-choice is not believing that a woman “should be forced to carry a pregnancy to term.” You don’t even have to not believe that for a particular reason. You can be a pragmatist or an idealist, a socialist or a libertarian, a progressive or a conservative, an atheist or a devoted churchgoer. Your fears can be visceral or abstract. You can see Romania then or Tanzania now or America past and potential future. Your mother, your wife, your patients, yourself at any age.

“Pro-life” does not refer to a moral objection to abortion or an unwillingness to choose it for oneself. It refers to the belief that the law should prevent other women from getting the abortions they do want, and that people like Dr. Tiller should be rotting in prison. Or in the ground. It doesn’t mean legal in the first trimester. It doesn’t mean legal up to a certain phase of fetal development. It doesn’t mean legal with restrictions. It doesn’t mean safe, legal, and rare. It doesn’t mean legal but shameful or legal but less necessary. It means a broad prohibition on elective abortion.

So if you think that abortion should be legal, please don’t include yourself in the category of people who want to make it illegal. It makes it that much more difficult to fight them, and that much more difficult to force them to compromise. A “pro-life” plurality indicates an anti-choice consensus. Don’t give them what they don’t have.

If a few lights didn’t just go off in your head then there’s nothing much I can do for you.

As I said to Haworth (though he hasn’t had a chance to give me his rebuttal), I don’t believe there is a middle ground when it comes to abortion. Either you’re pro-choice or anti-choice.

Either you believe women have the right to the autonomy of their lives or you don’t.

Either you believe women should be able to make medical decisions for themselves, or that somehow having a vagina means we’re in some way less and need the government to make them for us.

Either you’re pro-choice or you’re for forced childbirth.

Everything else is just filler.

Just to clarify: The reason I don’t think there is a middle ground in regards to abortion is because, like I told Haworth, the middle ground is behind pro-choice lines. Trying to reduce abortions through better health care for women and easier access to contraception are all part of the pro-choice position (as well as gender equality and a whole host of other things).

So it's not that I'm against trying to find common ground, it's just that I don't see how it is practically possible.


  1. "I don’t believe there is a middle ground when it comes to abortion. Either you’re pro-choice or anti-choice." I agree with this statment! And i would argue is a rather strange way that Pro Choice is the middle ground.....Because there is a choice.

    I just think (remember i am male and british here and have a very vague knowledge of this stuff) what Obama was saying about the 'middle ground' was interesting in that, making the other options better, IE contraception adoption, would be good, because abortion its not a good thing for everybody. Though i truely beleive with all my heart Abortion is a valid and right option it should not take all the room in the debate. To fight the causes of unwanted pregnancies should be the root we attack. But women have the right to choose and i would never ever want that right to be taken away.

    Feel free to rip my point of view apart now :)

  2. What anti-choice folks seem to forget is that pro-choice supporters are not forcing women to have abortions as if there are no other alternatives. Pro-choice just means that there's more than one choice. You don't have to give birth if you find yourself pregnant and you don't want to be. Sure, there are miles and miles of gray area as far as preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place, adoption, improved access to contraception, abstinance. But pro-choice doesn't automatically equal having an abortion. It means that each woman has the right to make an educated individual choice about what is best for her without government interference and without some religious or political group imposing their beliefs on her. If anti-choice folks had their way, that same woman would have only one choice: give birth and figure out afterwards what to do with her life. But just like prohibition when alcohol was illegal but no less available, if abortion were illegal it wouldn't just go away. It's been around for millenia and always will be because women deserve that basic freedom to choose for themselves.

  3. I pretty much, totally agree. A lot of people I know are hard core pro-life, but they can't even explain why. They tell me it's not right to kill and that abortion is murder, but they can't back it up either.

    As for the middle ground stuff, I agree with you. Again. And it's strange that people can decide what they are without thinking it through the effects and consequences.

    Well, no, it's not that strange.

  4. Haworth: I actually agree with you that that’s probably the direction President Obama was alluding to (see? No ripping lol). My point is that this “common ground” is actually part of the pro-choice movement. As Embee said (perfectly), we’re pro-choice not pro-abortion. Easier access to birth control and poverty alleviation is part of the pro-choice platform because they directly affect the type of choices women have available to them.

    If Obama can convince hard core anti-choicers we’re not all about baby killing I’m all for it.

    Kathryn: I totally agree. Most people are ridiculously narrow minded. I’m constantly amazed at how willing most people are to limit other people’s rights without realizing their limiting their own as well.


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