One-Way Bridge

abortion, Obama Administration

This article from Wall Street Journal illustrates by alarm bells should go off whenever anyone speaks of “common ground” on abortion. Laura Meckler writes that President Obama is inviting advocates from across the political spectrum to try to find common ground on abortion. And that’s grand. But notice where the “common ground” is:

Ms. Barnes told participants that the White House is interested in hearing ideas in several areas, among them: sex education; responsible use of contraception; maternal and child health; pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere; and adoption.

Those are all ideas any good feminist/liberal/progressive/pro-choicer can accept easily. That’s including adoption, as long as the decision to give up maternal rights is made without coercion of any sort.

The White House position is to reduce the number of abortions in America by reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in America. Again, that’s a position any feminist/liberal/progressive/pro-choicer is comfortable with. We’ve been making the same argument for years.

Now, who is not in favor of better sex education and greater access to contraceptives? The so-called “right to life” movement is not in favor of those things. Anti-choice organizations run the gamut of taking no position on contraceptive use to being actively opposed to contraceptives. They’re all opposed to sex education, preferring the sham substitute, “abstinence only.”

I talked about the alarm bells — there are some allegedly “progressive” religious leaders making noises about common ground on abortion, and they talk about reducing abortion rate. But when you hear the term “abortion reduction,” look under the hood to see what’s running the engine. Sometimes “abortion reduction” is a code word for reducing the number of abortions by chipping away at abortion access through creative legal restrictions.

So, I prefer to talk about reducing unwanted pregnancy, not reducing abortion, although fewer abortions certainly is one of the outcomes of reducing unwanted pregnancy. And providing material support for women who don’t want to abort but are in a place in their lives where pregnancy and child care are untenable is fine with me, too, as long as reducing unwanted pregnancy is the first priority.

I’ve long argued that the way the abortion controversy is presented in media is a false dichotomy. The conventional wisdom is that the pro- and anti-choice sides are equally extreme and must meet in the middle. Although you can find people with all manner of extremist positions, if you look at the major pro- and anti-choice organizations, you are not looking at two equally extremist sides. One side —

  • Supports avoiding unwanted pregnancy as much as possible through contraceptive use and informed sexual behavior. This in turn will reduce the rate of abortion.
  • Supports Roe v. Wade, which includes the provision that states may prohibit elective third-term abortion as long as exceptions can be made for life and health of the mother.
  • Supports the decisions of women who choose to carry pregnancies to term.

The other side —

  • Either refuses to support contraceptive use or is actively opposed to it.
  • Wants to criminalize all abortions, even very early ones, including non-elective abortions in cases of medically compromised pregnancies.
  • Wants to take the ability to make reproductive decisions away from women.

This is just not two equally extreme sides.

As Lynn Harris writes at Salon, media lazily equate positions such as those advocated by the White House as a “compromise” with anti-choice positions.

… it’s not necessarily accurate to portray such framing — no matter who does it and what issues one may have with the particulars — as a “compromise.” Especially given the increasingly vocal opposition to contraception, since when is supporting it a compromise? When it comes to abortion, lots of us have been talking about prevention, and about how “it’s not just about Roe” — or, for that matter, “choice” — for a good while. I’d call this expanding the debate, not ceding ground. And now that legislators and journalists have picked up on it, the longer the focus on prevention and healthcare gets misrepresented as “compromise,” I say the longer we’ll be fighting.

Update: Obama budget eliminates funding for “abstinence only” education. Time for the dancing banana —

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. D.R. Marvel  •  May 7, 2009 @5:03 pm

    How Freudian of you…

  2. c u n d gulag  •  May 7, 2009 @6:10 pm

    Just as with any of the right’s positions, it’s ‘their way or the highway!? No middle ground. No compromise. No surrender.
    How do you negoiatiate with people like that? Damned if I know…

  3. joanr16  •  May 7, 2009 @7:13 pm

    Hey there, dancing banana! Long time no see!

    D.R. is right, btw. Very Freudian.

  4. dyedinthewoolliberal  •  May 7, 2009 @8:06 pm

    What is thought of as extreme liberal in the US, is right of center in most of the developed world. How can we expect unbiased information when this is not recognized? I guess DIY is the only way to build a deck, ensure a safe food supply and get good information. Thank heaven for blogs. Thank you Maha!!!!!

  5. ozonehole  •  May 7, 2009 @8:15 pm

    To the fetus people, pregnancy is God’s punishment for women having sex outside of marriage (I guess during marriage, pregnancy is always a blessing). Contraception is thwarting God’s will – either His will to punish loose women, or defeating the “blessing” of pregnancy on married folks.

    Of course, like all lunatic neocon positions, this one occasionally comes back to bite them on the ass. Much as they won’t admit it, even right-wing-nuts like to have sex, both before, after and during marriage. Since they keep their women deliberately uneducated on birth control methods, this means the righties also suffer from unwanted pregnancies. So what do they do when that happens? Secretly seek an abortion, and afterwards get a prescription for birth-control pills…and then head right back to the abortion clinic picket line.

    The obvious disconnect between their own words and deeds just doesn’t seem to register. Maybe they even manage to convince themselves that, having just had an abortion (or if a man, paying for “honey’s” abortion), that the whole thing just never happened. These (unmarried) conservative women gobble birth-control pills, all the while demanding that they be banned for unmarried women. How do you reason with people like this?

  6. Chief  •  May 7, 2009 @8:24 pm

    As a former teenage male and as a former 20-something year old sailor, I will guarantee you that abstinence is never in the table. So as long as there are young males out there capable of getting erect members, there better be some kind of educational programs, some kind of contraception available because as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow morning, there will be un-protected sex tonight.

  7. Dave S  •  May 7, 2009 @9:15 pm

    The obvious disconnect between their own words and deeds just doesn’t seem to register.

    In other words, “hypocrisy, thy party is Republican.” Examples are legion. They never get it.

  8. ShortWoman  •  May 8, 2009 @12:45 am

    I am so glad I’m not the only person who has noticed that the so-called Pro-Life crowd has no interest in preventing unwanted pregnancy.

    I wonder how many people say they are “Pro-Life” and yet support the death penalty.

  9. Bruce Campbell  •  May 8, 2009 @12:46 am

    I consider myself to be somewhere between an extreme liberal and a socialist.
    I would never advocate denying a woman the right of choice. I am however very troubled over the moral issues involved with abortion. Any civilized dialog on how to prevent the need for abortions, I feel, should welcomed.

  10. joanr16  •  May 8, 2009 @8:59 am

    I wonder how many people say they are “Pro-Life” and yet support the death penalty.

    And also love war, the more pointless the better.

    Any civilized dialog on how to prevent the need for abortions, I feel, should welcomed.

    Absolutely. But if one side of the dialogue wishes also to restrict (or completely do away with) contraceptives, then as maha says, there is no “dialogue.” There’s just one side taking the matter seriously, and the other shrieking control-oriented propaganda.

    It always shocks me to stop and remember that, in the U.S., states could prevent married couples from having free access to contraceptives until 1965. Single women were denied access to contraceptives until 1973 (after Roe v Wade, iirc). I don’t have time before work to research the Supreme Court cases before work this morning, but I know one (1965?) was Griswold v Connecticut.

    Seriously. 1965 and 1973. No Pill, no condoms, nothing, if state government wanted it so. Not that long ago at all.

  11. Ian  •  May 8, 2009 @11:18 am

    I don’t think this is meant to convince the type of people that picket abortion clinics and are active in pro-life type groups. In other words, not the type of people who are likely to say anything about it in national media.

    This is meant to convince more moderate folk, who are pro-life because they think abortion is wrong, but who really don’t pay much attention to the issue.

    Framing it as a compromise rather than representing it as just exactly what we’ve been trying to say all along gives these people a mental path towards backing away from pure pro-life … if they see it as a compromise, they can still get behind it and consider themselves pro-life, just as they’ve always been. If they see it as just more of the same old pro-choice rhetoric, they can’t get behind it without repudiating their previous opinions, which is hard for anybody.

    So … peel off the people that can be peeled off, and let the people that can’t wither on the vine…

    -me