What’s behind the “rebellion within the abortion-rights cause”?

By Dave Andrusko

g9510.20_abortion.inddYou knew—you just KNEW—that Kate Pickert’s article in the latest edition of TIME magazine, the one we wrote about late last week,  would provoke a heated response from younger pro-abortionists. 

At the time I was only able to read excerpts of the article–TIME had it behind a paywall—but now having read the whole piece,  it’s easy to see that Pickert was every bit as apologetic in her defense of the Abortion Establishment—specifically NARAL, NOW, and the Feminist Majority Foundation—as some of the younger feminists (who reacted in anger) say she was.

But it’s more complicated than impatient younger pro-abortionists and an aging cohort hanging onto leadership by a thread. Let’s talk about three themes that Pickert weaves through “What Choice? Abortion-rights activists won an epic victory in Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing every since.”

First, irony of ironies, the voice Pickert uses to represent a middle position in the pro-abortion community–that is to say, the voice that says you can’t say “abortion is just another medical procedure”—is Frances Kissling, who has been around forever, and was once upon a  time president of Catholics for Choice! Here’s what she tells Pickert. “The established pro-choice position—which essentially is: abortion should be legal, a private matter between a woman and her doctor, with no restriction or regulation beyond what is absolutely necessary to protect the woman’s health—makes 50% of the population extremely uncomfortable and unwilling to associate with us.”

Of course, as we’ve discussed many times in critiquing Kissling, this is absolutely true (if anything, it underestimates the public’s opposition), but  it’s all for show. She no more wants limitation on abortion than NARAL does or the younger pro-abortion feminists. She just wants advocacy wrapped in rhetorical gauze to soften the blow.

Abortion “involves the termination of an early form of human life.” So what follows? “That deserves some gravitas,” Kissling gravely announces. Pardon? Limitations? Protections? More information for women contemplating abortions? Of course not. Just “some gravitas.”

Second, as Pickert keenly observes, the ostensible division—the “rebellion within the abortion-rights cause”—is not between hard-liners versus accommodationists. “Young activists fighting for reproductive justice [the label they prefer in lieu of “pro-choice”] have the same hard-line view of abortion access as their predecessors: they say it should be unrestricted by state governments and that the decision to terminate a pregnancy should be left solely to women and their doctors.”

The real division appears to be two-fold. The younger set fears that the Abortion Establishment (which obviously includes Planned Parenthood) has grown soft, unwilling to be unapologetically PRO-abortion. That’s why you see in pro-abortion sites such as rhreality.check.org the adamant insistence that women “tell their [abortion] stories.” They believe that this will result in the “normalization” [taking away the stigma of abortion]–or they don’t care.

The other explanation is that the “reproductive justice” appellation captures a larger agenda—“the natural maturation of the pro-choice movement,” according to Pickert, “a broader, more diffuse agenda that addresses abortion access but also contraception, child care, gay rights, health insurance and economic opportunity.”

Third, and finally, Pickert correctly understands that with a pro-abortion President and Senate, even more than usual, action will be in the states. Which is why in a piece about an ostensible rift within the pro-abortion movement, she wedges in a discussion of what actually takes place at one abortion clinic to illustrate the impact of an increased number of pro-life initiatives.

But this is the more important aspect of “What Choice? Abortion-rights activists won an epic victory in Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing every since.” WHY are they losing (and by “losing” they mean passage state pro-life laws)?

The answer is obvious, and is contained in Kissling’s let’s-pretend-we-take-abortion-seriously answer: all these laws—and more—have widespread support. Again, why?

“The antiabortion cause has been aided by scientific advances that have complicated American attitudes about abortion,” Pickert writes. “Prenatal ultrasound, which has allowed the general public to see fetuses inside the womb and understand that they have a human shape beginning around eight weeks into pregnancy became widespread in the 1980s, and some babies born as early as 24 weeks [and earlier] can now survive. Cultural norms about unwed pregnancy have shifted as well in the decades since Roe v. Wade.” There are many other reasons, of course, but that would require Pickert to acknowledge your work in educating the public.

The younger pro-abortionists blow that all off. At the same time they dismiss their older sisters as locked in a limited and “outdated” strategy [which includes, in their view, WAY too much emphasis on politics], they are no less the prisoner of their own self-assurances.

And that is, if they are “unabashedly inclusive, radical, and unashamed” (as Steph Herold, one of the critics quoted by Pickert wrote subsequently at rhreality.check.org), they can overthrow all the “traditional power structures,” including the one currently calling the shots for the Abortion Establishment.

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