By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. A friend happened to re-read this post over the weekend and suggested to me that it was worth re-posting. I hope you agree.
“Even the most radically pro-choice will tell you that the political discourse they hear about the subject, with its easy dichotomies and bumper-sticker boilerplate, has little correspondence to the messy, intricate stories of her patients.
They hear about peace and guilt, relief and sin. And it is they who will acknowledge, whether we like it or not, that the rhetoric and imagery of the pro-life movement can touch on some basic emotional truths. Peg Johnston, who manages Access for Women in upstate New York, remembers the first time her patients unconsciously began to co-opt the language of the protesters outside.
‘And it wasn’t that these protesters were brainwashing them,’ she says.
‘It’s that they were tapping into things we all have some discomfort about.'”
— From “Just How Pro-Choice is America, Really?” by Jennifer Singer, New York magazine
Every so often, an unabashedly self-described “pro-choicer” will pen a piece that practically knocks your socks off, so brutally honest and candid that you have to ask yourself how he (more typically she) retains their “pro-choice” credentials. Doubtless this compliment will be ill-received by Jennifer Senior, but her “Just How Pro-Choice is America, Really?” is the kind of pull-back-the-covers-and-reveal-the-truth-about-abortion article that were it to come from the word processor of a pro-lifer would be instantly trashed.
[Before you even read my comments, I strongly encourage you to read Senior’s piece for yourself. It ran in New York magazine and can be found at http://nymag.com/news/features/62379.]
On those rare occasions when pro-abortion authors are telling tales out of school, it’s a pretty clear sign they are grappling with more important issues if they devote little time to caricaturing pro-lifers.
And aside from an occasional nod to pro-forma by-the-number denunciations, Senior’s essay is remarkably free of snide asides.
What it is replete with, however, is candid admissions that the pro-abortion creed is wearing thin, outpaced by technology, outflanked by the consciousness-raising impact of the debate over partial-birth abortion, and a mystery to many young people who find NARAL’s the-sky-is-falling clichés outlandish.
The best debunking typically begins by critiquing whatever reassuring blather it is that helps someone feel at peace. For pro-abortionists it is the assurance that they are in the majority. Senior provides a quote from two pro-abortion names from yesteryear who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times bashing Democrats for allowing the Stupak-Pitts amendment to pass.
Kate Michelman, NARAL’s former head, and Frances Kissling, once the head of Catholics for Choice, insisted, “The House Democrats reinforced the principle that a minority view on the morality of abortion can determine reproductive-health policy for American women.”
Senior’s bold question: “But is that actually right? Was Stupak’s truly the minority view?” Her analysis is unflinchingly honest and no doubt deeply unsettling to her colleagues.
Senior paraphrases a conclusion from a very interesting three-year-old essay that makes all pro-abortionists squirm, then and now: “Roe v. Wade was one of the few Supreme Court decisions that was out of step with mainstream public opinion.” She goes through the poll numbers which, on first blush, do not seem to have changed all that much, but when examined more closely reveal a ticking time bomb.
“If forced to choose, Americans today are far more eager to label themselves ‘pro-life’ than they were a dozen years ago. The youngest generation of voters–those between the ages of 18 and 29, and therefore most likely to need an abortion–is the most pro-life to come along since the generation born during the Great Depression, according to Michael D. Hais and Morley Winograd, authors of Millennial Makeover, who got granular data on the subject from Pew Research Center. Crisis Pregnancy Centers, dedicated to persuading women to continue their pregnancies, now outnumber the country’s abortion providers, who themselves are a rapidly aging group (two-thirds are over 50, according to a National Abortion Federation study from 2002).”
Not to be overly obvious, but an aging cadre of abortionists, at one end, and a growing pro-life sentiment among young people, at the other end–not hard to figure out that the demographic trends are trending well for us.
There are 20 different points that could be developed at length. Let me summarize four and develop only one.
#1. The stigma surrounding abortion is alive and growing.
#2. Roe’s out-of-control approval of abortion for any reason or no reason never enjoyed majority support. Nearly 37 years later, there is more popular support for limitations than ever before.
#3. What was once a kind of abstraction was personalized in a terrain-shifting manner by the enormously important debate over partial-birth abortion. Even though the simple line drawings showing what these abortions actually are were quite mild and meek, “The procedure was extremely upsetting to behold,” Senior writes. “In it, the fetus–or is it a baby?–is removed from the uterus and stabbed in the back of the head with surgical scissors. It’s a revolting image, one to which the public was ritualistically subjected on the evening news as the debate raged on the House and Senate floors.” She adds, unnecessarily, “Defending it was a pro-choice person’s nightmare.”
#4. An awful lot of women had (and have) difficulties with their decision to abort. The impact of the pressure boyfriends exert to abort cannot be exaggerated. (Any relationship between the two?) Often it is a sick joke to say that a woman–and particularly a girl–has exercised her “choice” to abort.
Let me offer a long quote from “Just How Pro-Choice is America, Really?” It encapsulates a lot of what is going on, not just in this essay, but in the larger culture.
NARAL’s Nancy Keenan likes to say that abortion’s biggest defenders right now are a “menopausal militia”–a rueful, inspired little joke.
These baby-boomers, whose young adulthoods were defined by the fight over the right to choose, will soon be numerically overtaken by a generation of twentysomethings who is more pro-life than any but our senior citizens. As GOP strategists Christopher Blunt and Fred Steeper have pointed out, this group came of age during the partial-birth debate and was the first to grow up with pictures of sonograms on their refrigerators. The major development in reproductive technology during their lifetimes wasn’t something that prevented pregnancies but something that created them: IVF. These kids have no idea–none–what it was like to live in a world without abortion rights. (“This generation’s knowledge of Roe is like, ‘Roe vs. what?'” says Keenan.) And they feel much more strongly about personal responsibility than the generations preceding them: Didn’t use birth control? The burden’s on you.
Abortion is (as one former abortion clinic owner once confessed) “a kind of killing.” And although Senior does not recite the actual words, in 1993 Michelman admitted to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “We think abortion is a bad thing.” (Michelman soon backtracked, but the interview had been taped which left her flailing for a way to explain the discrepancy.)
Why is this important? Because at least some pro-abortionists (for whatever amalgam of psychological reasons) have grown perilously close to being almost casual about abortion’s soul-numbing brutality. In one of her few missteps, Senior approvingly cites what she describes as “an incredibly powerful essay” written by abortionist Lisa Harris for Reproductive Health Matters.
Senior describes Harris’s attempt as “trying to come to terms with the goriness of second-trimester abortions while simultaneously recognizing their validity.” Senior then quotes from the essay:
“What do we do when caught between pro-choice discourse that, while it reflects our values, does not accurately reflect the full extent of our experience of abortion and in fact contradicts an enormous part of it, and the anti-abortion discourse and imagery that may actually be more closely aligned to our experience but is based in values we do not share?”
But if you read the essay, Harris is writing about how when she herself was a little over 18 weeks pregnant she performed an abortion on a woman who was … a little over 18 weeks pregnant! She remembers “tears streaming from my eyes”–a “brutally visceral response”–that was “heartfelt and unmediated by my training or my feminist pro-choice politics.”
Yet within a few paragraphs, Harris is clearly encouraging pro-abortionists to “own” the “violence and, frankly, the gruesomeness of abortion.” Why? Because it is currently “owned only by those who would like to see abortion (at any time in pregnancy) disappear.” (See my take on Harris’s essay at www.nrlc.org/News_and_Views/Oct09/nv102009.html.)
My concluding point is as simple as this edition of National Right to Life News Today is long. At the same time that people like Jennifer Senior see the corner into which pro-abortionists have been painted, others like Lisa Harris see this as an opportunity to get off of the defensive. I would summarize Harris’s counsel as, “Embrace the inner abortionist within.”
With allies like this, no wonder Senior is forced to conclude, “it’s hard for a pro-choice person like myself to see how the ball rolls forward.”
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