I’m surprised NARAL linked to this piece yesterday in New York magazine, calling it a “[t]hought-provoking piece.” It’s no-spin depressing for the other side, actually. The article is long but a good read. And, with a reminder that this was written by a pro-abort, it makes quite the convincing case for incrementalism. Stay strong, pro-lifers, we’re winning. Here are some “choice” excerpts…
Most New Yorkers hadn’t heard of Bart Stupak before he attached his devastating anti-abortion amendment to the House’s health-care-reform bill 3 weeks ago….
And the results sent chills through the pro-choice world…. But… [w]as Stupak’s truly the minority view?
According to a Gallup poll from July, 60% of Americans think abortion should be either illegal or “legal only in a few circumstances.”… Just 2 months before the health-care bill’s passage in the House, a Rasmussen poll found that 48% of the public didn’t want abortion covered in any government-subsidized health plan, while just 13% did….
“Because there’s a Democratic majority in Congress and the president is pro-choice,” says Nancy Keenan, the current director of NARAL, “it sometimes gets lost how truly numerically challenged we are.”…
The idea that a bunch of pro-life rogue wingnuts have hijacked the agenda and thwarted the national will is a convenient, but fanciful, belief. Even with an 81-person margin in the House, and even with a passionately committed female, pro-choice Speaker, it was the Democrats who managed to pass a bill that, arguably, would restrict access to abortion more aggressively than any state measure or legal case since the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade….
From the moment abortion was legalized nationally in 1973, the American public wasn’t especially comfortable with it…. As Jeffrey Rosen, the legal scholar at George Washington University, wrote in The Atlantic 3 years ago, Roe v. Wade was one of the few Supreme Court decisions that was out of step with mainstream public opinion….
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 Hais and Morley Winograd, authors of Millennial Makeover, who got granular data on the subject from Pew Research Center.
Crisis Pregnancy Centers… now outnumber the country’s abortion providers, who themselves are a rapidly aging group (2/3 are over 50, according to a National Abortion Federation study from 2002). In the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller this year, the Senate couldn’t even pass a resolution condemning violence against abortion providers.
Abortion counselors will also tell you that the stigma attached to the procedure is worse than it’s been in years….
One could say, in a sense, that the pro-choice movement has always had the harder job. The choice argument is an analytical one, grounded in theories of privacy and the rights of the mother; the pro-life side has the case with instant visceral and emotional appeal: This is life we’re talking about. Things were also bound to get worse when the national tide turned Democratic; whenever a pro-choice person occupies the White House, those who fret about the issue stop giving money to NARAL and the pro-life side reasserts itself (indeed, says Cecile Richards, the head of Planned Parenthood, protests at her clinics are up, up, up).
But these explanations alone can’t fully account for the shift in tide. Rather, it’s a confluence of things–starting, I’d argue, with technological advances. Generally, science is the friend of progressive political causes. Not this one.
As fetal ultrasound technology improved during the nineties, abortion providers, conditioned to reassure patients that the fetus was merely tissue, found it much harder to do so once their patients were staring at images that looked so lifelike…. [O]rganizations like Focus on the Family began to use this technology to their advantage, sending ultrasound machines to CPCs….
Perhaps just as important, the pro-life movement got very shrewd about its politics, realizing that it had a highly conflicted electorate on its hands. As William Saletan shows with depressing cogency in Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War, the pro-choice movement was never going to win its case on the basis of women’s rights. Men, especially southern white men, didn’t care. The most persuasive argument it had was an old American standby: The government has no right meddling in your business.
It didn’t take long for the pro-life movement to use this argument to its own advantage, realizing that if the public didn’t like the government making decisions about abortions, it could force pro-choice legislators to admit that the public wouldn’t like the government funding them either. They were right. Soon, pro-choice candidates were running away from public funding and toward parental consent – another constraint the public overwhelmingly prefers, as well as 24-hour waiting periods – and a more libertarian Supreme Court upheld these restrictions in landmark cases in 1989 and 1992.
Yet that still wasn’t the worst of it. Until the mid-90s, the political debate over abortion remained mostly in the theoretical realm, with the role of government at its center. Had it stayed there, it’s possible we’d be in a different place today.
But in late 1995… FL Republican congressman… Charles Canady had a stroke of insight that would shift it to the realm of both the metaphysical and brutally physical, which is precisely where the pro-life movement wanted it all along.
On the floor of the House, he introduced a bill that would ban so-called “partial-birth abortions”…. The procedure was extremely upsetting to behold. 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. Defending it was a pro-choice person’s nightmare….
Clinton still vetoed the ban in 1996, but it was eventually signed into law in 2003 and withstood a Supreme Court challenge in 2007. More important, women were spooked. “A lot of our patients started asking whether or not the fetus felt pain after that, even if they were early along in their pregnancy,” says Albert George Thomas, who until 2 years ago had spent 18 years as the head of the family-planning clinic at Mt. Sinai….
[I]f you want to hear honest talk about the realities of abortion, go speak with… abortion counselors and providers. 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 NY, remembers the 1st 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.”
This is quite a brave confession for Johnston – or any pro-choice person – to make. It means making oneself vulnerable to opportunist pro-life activists, who’ll happily take those words about uncertainty or moral qualms and repurpose them for their own ends….
But Harris raises a very real and terrible dilemma for those of us who are pro-choice: Engage these questions and you play into the hands of the pro-life movement; refuse to engage in them and you risk living in a political vacuum.…
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….
Given this demographic shift, plus the Stupak Amendment, plus the unavoidable fact that abortion’s essential nature is unchanging – it will always involve some brutal nexus of the heart and the mind – it’s hard for a pro-choice person like myself to see how the ball rolls forward.
Perhaps Obama will help. This is, after all, a president who went to Notre Dame, a school with a 167-year history of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, and dared to give a speech about abortion.
But what he said was hardly his usual optimistic, paradigm-shifting oratory. All it was was a sober recitation of the problem, one that all-too-painfully explained why public opinion on the subject hasn’t budged in 36 years. “I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away,” he told his audience. “No matter how much we may want to fudge it – indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory – the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable.”