Frances Kissling was the founding president of the National Abortion Federation from 1977-1980 and president of Catholics for Choice from 1982-2007.

I’m always interested in what Kissling has to say, because these days she often spends her time taking her own side to task, insightful in that regard. This was no different in Kissling’s op ed piece in the Washington Post on February 18. It was fascinating.

Kissling admits her side is losing. But it seems to me the actions she suggests will only hasten the day when preborn human life is preserved again in America. In other words, I don’t think that her side has any way out. There is no path to success. Excerpts:

In the nearly four decades since the Supreme Court ruled that women have a fundamental right to decide to have an abortion, the opposition to legal abortion has increased dramatically. Opponents use increasingly sophisticated arguments – focusing on advances in fetal medicine, stressing the rights of parents to have a say in their minor children’s health care, linking opposition to abortion with opposition to war and capital punishment, seeking to make abortion not illegal but increasingly unavailable – and have succeeded in swinging public opinion toward their side.

Meanwhile, those of us in the abortion-rights movement have barely changed our approach. We cling to the arguments that led to victory in Roe v. Wade. Abortion is a private decision, we say, and the state has no power over a woman’s body. Those arguments may have worked in the 1970s, but today, they are failing us, and focusing on them only risks all the gains we’ve made.

The “pro-choice” brand has eroded considerably. As recently as 1995 it was the preferred label of 56% of Americans; that dropped to 42% in 2009 and was 45% in 2010, according to Gallup polls. And abortion rights are under attack in Congress…. Meanwhile, 29 governors are solidly anti-abortion, while 15 states passed 39 laws, most of them restrictive, relating to abortion in 2010 alone….

[U]nfortunately we’re not going to regain the ground we have lost. What we must do is stop holding on to a strategy that isn’t working, and one that is making the legal right to abortion more vulnerable than ever before.


We can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible. We can no longer seek to banish the state from our lives, but rather need to engage its power to improve women’s lives. We must end the fiction that an abortion at 26 weeks is no different from one at 6 weeks.

These are not compromises or mere strategic concessions, they are a necessary evolution. The positions we have taken up to now are inadequate for the questions of the 21st century….

The fetus is more visible than ever before, and the abortion-rights movement needs to accept its existence and its value. It may not have a right to life, and its value may not be equal to that of the pregnant woman, but ending the life of a fetus is not a morally insignificant event…. Abortion is not merely a medical matter, and there is an unintended coarseness to claiming that it is.

We need to firmly and clearly reject post-viability abortions except in extreme cases….

Those kinds of regulations are not anti-woman or unduly invasive. They rightly protect all of our interests in women’s health and fetal life….

Finally, the abortion-rights movement needs to change the way it thinks about the state. Right now government is mainly treated as the enemy…. The public is ambivalent about abortion. It wants it to be legal, but will support almost any restriction that indicates society takes the act of abortion seriously. For the choice movement to regain popular support and to maintain a legal right to abortion, it has to work with the state….

We have been demanding that the state mind its own business. That lets government abdicate all responsibility for funding reproductive health care. We need more responsible and compassionate state policies.

But respect for fetal life also requires that men and women take every step possible not to create fetuses they will have to abort….

The moral high ground on abortion is not to be found in asserting an absolute right to choose. Instead, it is to be found in the movement’s historic understanding that when abortion is illegal, it is poor women who suffer….

These shifts I am suggesting are not about compromising or finding common ground with abortion opponents. Compromise assumes that there are two parties prepared to give up something in return for settling an issue. Neither opponents nor advocates of legal abortion are willing to do that. But, for pro-choice advocates, standing our ground will mean losing ground entirely….

If the choice movement does not change, control of policy on abortion will remain in the hands of those who want it criminalized. If we don’t suggest sensible balanced legislation and regulation of abortion, we will be left with far more draconian policies – and, eventually, no choices at all.