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 —