Rethinking the abortion debate.
by wayward, Sat Jul 23, 2005 at 11:48:57 AM EDT
I have talked with a considerable number of people on both sides of the debate, and have come to the conclusion that the traditional "pro-life"/"pro-choice" dichotomy is very misleading when it comes to characterizing people's attitudes and agendas when it comes to abortion.
The problem is that this mischaracterization of the debate and the issues at stake gives a considerable advantage to the Republican Party and a considerable disadvantage to the Democratic Party.
More after the bump.
The first debate is a debate about the morality of abortion. I will use the term "pro-abortion", to refer to those who believe that abortion is a good way to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, while I will use the term "pro-life" to refer to those who believe that abortion is always morally unacceptable, with the possible exception of medical necessity. Obviously, many people fall somewhere in between these two positions.
The second debate is a debate about how the law should deal with abortion. I will use the term "pro-choice" to refer to those who believe that the law should stay out of the abortion issue and that the decision should be left up to the woman. I will use the term "anti-choice" to refer to those who believe the state has a compelling interest in decisions made by a woman about her pregnancy. Likewise, there are people who are in between these two positions as well.
(While one can be "pro-abortion" and "anti-choice", such as the People's Republic of China, in this diary, "anti-choice" people are assumed to be against abortion.)
As far as the ethical debate is concerned, I can't think of terribly many people who like abortion. From an ethical perspective, the "pro-life" side has clearly the better and more convincing moral argument. This argument that could best be summed up as "live and let live". The "pro-abortion" argument relies on prioritizing a woman's autonomy over a child's life. Since this is a weak moral argument, the "pro-abortion" side tries to de-emphasize the humanity of the fetus, which is more sophistry than science, since all humans were that age once. The argument becomes especially poor after the point of viability, since the woman's body is no longer required to keep the child alive.
As for the legal argument, it is understandable why many "pro-life" people are also "anti-choice". If abortion is so wrong, then the law should do something about it, right?
Well, not necessarily. There are considerable problems when one thinks about how to enforce it, who to punish and how much, and what to do about illegal abortion, because desparate women will do desparate things when they don't want to be pregnant. In the conversations I have had with "anti-choice" people, I have found that very few of them had thought this far ahead. In many ways they resemble the well-meaning, but hopelessly misguided, progressives of the early 20th century who tried to legislate away alcoholism with prohibition.
That being said, many "anti-choicers" are not very interested in being "pro-life", even if they do want to ban abortion. The primary purpose of these "anti-choicers" is to enshrine their moral beliefs into public law. They are not concerned with the consequences of such a law, nor are they terribly interested in alternatives that would ban abortion. These are many of the same people who were OUTRAGED, that the Supreme Court overturned state sodomy laws, despite the fact that these laws were almost never enforced, and the penalties minimal when they were.
The biggest giveaway that someone is more "anti-choice" than "pro-life" is the "rape/incest exception". This is more of a politically crafted position than one that has any moral basis. (If you believe that abortion is wrong, then it is wrong, and the circumstances of the conception, no matter how traumatic, are irrelevant.)
The "pro-choice" argument is strongest because of it's practicality. The criminalization of abortion is simply bad policy. Worse yet, to enforce an anti-abortion law, the Government would have maintain a constant presence in the healthcare decisions of every woman of child bearing age, even those who have no intention of ever having an abortion.
What this means is that one can be "pro-choice" and "pro-life" at the same time. One can oppose abortion and work to reduce the number of abortions regardless of whether or not abortion is legal. These are the people Howard Dean wants to reach out to, and these are the people the Democratic Party should embrace with open arms. The Democratic Party can accept the "pro-life" agenda without accepting the "anti-choice" one. The proposed 95/10 Act is the best examples of "pro-life" legislation that is not "anti-choice", and Democrats should strongly support it.
Where the Democrats have erred, and the Republicans have succeeded is in confusing these two issues. Republicans have used "pro-life" arguments to support an "anti-choice" platform, while Democrats have often adopted "pro-abortion" arguments and even positions to support a "pro-choice" platform. For example, the plank in the Democratic Party Platform that calls for abortion to be funded for those who can't afford it sounds much more "pro-abortion" than "pro-choice". Whether this is intended or not, this plank implies that abortion a good enough thing to support with public money. This is not an image that helps the Democratic Party.
Democrats must show that Democratic policies actually reduce abortion while preserving women's freedoms. Republicans are more concerned with passing bad laws than reducing abortion. The Democratic Party must be both "pro-choice" and "pro-life" at the same time. This is the debate we need to be having and this is the debate the Democrats can easliy win.
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