Rethinking the abortion debate.

With the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court, there has been a considerable amount of discussion about the abortion issue.

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 problem is that the "abortion debate" is really two separate debates that have been rolled into one.

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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Comments

29 Comments

A most thoughtful article
Thank you for this insightful and interesting article. I agree, the "pro-life", "pro-choice" labels are useless to portray the complexity of the abortion issue.  Democrats need to get their messages out to the churches and tell these people out there who are uncomfortable with abortion (as I am) that they are not pro-abortion, they are pro-life in the best sense of the word but to make a law against choice is not as "pro-life" as it sounds- (think of what a desperate woman might do to herself if not availed of a legal abortion if she really intends not to have the baby).  

While I believe Kerry won the election of 2004, and the Republicans stole Ohio and other states from him, the fact that Bush did as well as he did is spite of a rotten economy and the war in Iraq was due to Karl Rove's "religious strategy" of politicizing the Catholic and evangelical churches.  We are going to keep on losing unless we make some outreach into those communities.

At present not much is being done at all.  Look forward then to the huge field of red across the South and Rocky mountains and plain states, and possibly picking off Michigan and Pennsylvania, in the next presidential election.

by MichiganDemocrat 2005-07-23 12:04PM | 0 recs
Re: A most thoughtful article
Catholics are one of the few groups of swing voters left in America.

Catholics tend to be socially conservative, but are economically quite liberal. Catholic voters are often cross-pressured and do not fit naturally into either party, although they were once overwhelmingly Democratic.

Since 2000, Bush's strategy has been to make Catholic voters Republican. Some of Bush's odder stances on issues, such his very unpopular stances on stem cell research and the intervention into the Schaivo case are specifically designed to draw Catholics into the Republican Party. John Kerry's candidacy didn't help, because to many more conservative Catholics, Kerry is an apostate for his liberal stances on social issues, especially abortion. These Catholics may tolerate differences in a non-Catholic candidate, but they do not want to be seen as supporting what they consider heresy in the Church. In many ways, the Bush campaign made a strong effort to make the Methodist Bush into a better Catholic than John Kerry, and it worked. For the first time in recent memory (ever, perhaps?) the Catholic vote was more Republican than that of the general population.

The Democratic Party must address this problem. It cannot afford to lose the Catholic vote if it ever wants to be a majority party again.

by wayward 2005-07-23 07:12PM | 0 recs
Re: A most thoughtful article
The Catholic Church needs to address this issue. The official position of the Catholic Church is not accepted by a substantial percentage of Catholics. The rest are hypocrites and fascists.

We need to challenge the flawed position of the Catholic Church, not the position of the Democratic party.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-07-23 07:25PM | 0 recs
Re: A most thoughtful article
You want to take on Rome? Be my guest.

Setting up a battle between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church would be so amazingly stupid for so many reasons that I will not even bother to address it.

by wayward 2005-07-23 07:37PM | 0 recs
Why does the Catholic Church hate women?
The heirarchy of the Catholic Church is a bunch of mysoginist old geezers who refuse to acknowledge the proper role of women in the church. They refuse to acknoledge that women are moral beings capable of making moral decisions.

Yeah, I'll take on Rome and the Nazi Pope too.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-07-23 07:40PM | 0 recs
ITS AN ECONOMIC ISSUE....
If you want people to have children, GIVE THEM A FUTURE.

STOP exporting their jobs. STOP undermining their access to health care by encouraging companies to eliminate health insurance for workers. STOP poisoning their water. STOP promoting genetic discrimination in insurance and employment. STOP penalyzing women who have children by eliminating paid overtime. STOP putting family caps on welfare and pretending that women who CANT READ can get and hold jobs, even when they require two hour trips each way - on unreliable public transportation.

This is one FUCKED UP country, and womens CHOICE is NOT the reason it is screwed up..

But the crime rate is falling, ever since around 15 years after Roe vs. Wade.. (Shhhhhh!!! Don't tell anybody! You didn't hear it from me..) Wanted children are much less likely to become bitter adults.. the kind who cant make it in a fucked up society that never wanted them and hence.. end up committing crimes.. (to eat?)

better nip that one in the bud, huh?

by ultraworld 2005-07-23 08:18PM | 0 recs
BTW, Adoption is a multi-BILLION dollar INDUSTRY..
A 'faith based' INDUSTRY - an immensely PROFITABLE one.

That supports the Christian right..

And the supply of the goods.. the BABIES is DRYING UP.. now that many young women are resisting the age old INTIMIDATION TACTICS designed to make them GIVE UP THEIR BABIES..

And even though LOTS of 'babies' are being taken away from the increasing number of poor and homeless families whose lives are falling apart as jobs leave America, never to return.. and not to be replaced, either it seems.. most of those 'babies' are TOO OLD for the affluent, white couples who are willing to PAY for them and give them good homes.. And they REMEMBER THIR PARENTS.. which might make them bitter and unaffectionate... I'm guessing..

(Thats why they tell adoption workers to get the babies away from the mothers right after birth.. so they wont bond with them.. or change their minds.. causing unimaginable heartache later on as they try to find each other again in a system RIGGED AGAINST THOSE UNFORTUNATE ENOUGH TO BE POOR...

by ultraworld 2005-07-23 08:25PM | 0 recs
Re: A most thoughtful article
No the Catholic Church is not consistent.  

Kerry did not sign the death warranty of anybody, but Bush executed many.  Kerry did not lie us into a war, but Bush did and killed over 100,000 Iraq civilians.  The lesser of the two evils should have been Kerry, but the Catholic Church backed Bush.

by HCLiberal 2005-07-23 09:52PM | 0 recs
Re: A most thoughtful article
Wrong.

Certain right-wing bishops backed Bush. The televangelists at EWTN backed Bush. However, the actual statement of the US Bishops left a great deal of discretion to voters on the election. Cardinal McCarrick all but endorsed Kerry and Cardinal Mahoney gave the invocation at the Democratic National Convention.

As for the war in Iraq, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI strongly condemned the war in Iraq.

by wayward 2005-07-24 08:58AM | 0 recs
Re: A most thoughtful article
I am Catholic and believe that if John Paul II did not back Bush he would have said so.  John Paul II ran the church with an Iron Fist and did not allowed views he did not agree with to be freely expressed by the Bishops.

Cardinal McCarrick almost endorsing Kerry is not the same as bishops endorsing Bush.

by HCLiberal 2005-07-24 12:04PM | 0 recs
Re: A most thoughtful article
Goplies

You may not agree with this post but it does not deserve a troll rating.  Please reconsider your rating.

by HCLiberal 2005-07-24 12:22AM | 0 recs
Stem Cell & In Vitro Fertilization
Thanks for this great post.  

The anti-choice / pro-life gang state that they are pro-life because life begins at conception.   However many on the anti-choice / pro-life side are also pro stem cell and in vitro fertilization.   According to the anti-choice / pro-life side these two procedures result in the destruction of human life.  With begs the question how can you be pro-life / anti-choice and pro stem cell and in vitro fertilization?  Maybe it is that you are really only anti-choice.  Maybe it is because you really want to control women.  If can deny a women control of her body, then she will think twice before she has sex outside of Marriage.

by HCLiberal 2005-07-23 03:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Stem Cell & In Vitro Fertilization
The Catholic Church is consistant on these issues, which should come as no surprise, because they put a high priority on consistancy.

They also oppose the death penalty, euthanasia, and are becoming increasingly anti-war. (Benedict XVI is practically a pacifist, even more so than JPII)

As for this issue of control, this is why I say that the "rape/incest" exception is a dead giveaway that someone is more "anti-choice" than "pro-life" (or they don't really care and have a politically crafted stance) What this says is that abortion is ok - as long as the woman didn't choose to have sex. Restrictions on abortion are there to punish women/hold women responsible for having what they consider illicit sex.

by wayward 2005-07-23 07:22PM | 0 recs
The Catholic Church is not consistent
The Catholic Church, and particularly the reactionary anti-abortion wing, values blobs of genetic material more than they value human life. The Catholic Church has never forcefully condemned Bush for his gruesome position on the death penalty nearly as strongly as they condemned Kerry for his thoughtful pro-choice position.
by Gary Boatwright 2005-07-23 07:29PM | 0 recs
Re: The Catholic Church is not consistent
First of all, Bush is not Catholic. They were much harder on Kerry because he is Catholic.

Second of all, the teaching on the death penalty is much more recent and nowhere near as absolute.

by wayward 2005-07-23 07:34PM | 0 recs
Re: The Catholic Church is not consistent
You just demonstrated the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. The people that Bush executed do not care if he is a Catholic or a Protestant. Why does the Church?

Query: Why does the Church have an absolute position on blobs of genetic material, but not on executing adults or children?

 At least one hundred thousand innocent Iraqi men, women and children were massacred by the American military. Why has the Church been silent about condemning an immoral war in Iraq?

by Gary Boatwright 2005-07-23 07:45PM | 0 recs
Re: The Catholic Church is not consistent
They were not silent. The RWCM just didn't cover it.

John Paul II condemned the war as unjust. He called the war a "defeat for humanity".

Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, stated that "The concept of a 'preventive war' does not appear in the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

He als said "There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a 'just war.'"

by wayward 2005-07-24 08:54AM | 0 recs
Re: Stem Cell & In Vitro Fertilization
I may be wrong, but I believe many in the anti-choice crowd believe if a women gets raped, then it is her fault being out in the wrong place.  She should have been safe at home or protected by an escort.  

So your test has a margin of error.

I do believe you are sincere and you are pro-life and not anti-choice.

That being said: I believe Roberts will overturn Roe vs. Wade.  The real question is what to do after that happens.  

by HCLiberal 2005-07-24 12:20PM | 0 recs
I dont like pro-choice/pro-life frame
How about those who want to recriminalize abortion vs those who advocate Real abortion- decreasing policies.
by jasmine 2005-07-23 05:19PM | 0 recs
Nobody is pro-abortion
I would describe your position as pro-fascism, because you wish to impose your moral and religious beliefs on me and my family. There is nothing in the Democratic platform that is fairly described as pro-abortion.

I am pro-choice and pro-life. I also believe that Roe is too restrictive.

I am a Pro-choice Pro-life Libertarian. Nobody has the right to define my moral and religious beliefs for me. Nobody has the right to demand that my family must live our lives according to someone else's moral and religious beliefs.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-07-23 07:01PM | 0 recs
Re: Nobody is pro-abortion
The Democratic Party's problem is that we are even having this debate about whether or not there is anything pro-abortion in the platform.

The platform calls for funding for the abortions of poor women. If that isn't pro-abortion, it certainly could be misunderstood to be that way. The party needs to be sure to clear up any misunderstandings such as this.

As for imposing my moral beliefs on anyone, I fail to see how my position imposes my moral beliefs on anyone. I'm not sure where you are coming from. You are as free to disagree with them as I am to promote them.

That being said, my entire point is that we shouldn't get wrapped up in a morality debate because that is the wrong debate to have. When we do confuse the moral debate with the legal debate, this only benefits Republicans and hurts us.

by wayward 2005-07-23 07:29PM | 0 recs
Re: Nobody is pro-abortion
Providing funding for poor women to get a medical procedure is not pro-abortion. It is pro-religious freedom. It is pro-women's rights. It is pro-family.

I described your position as pro-fascism because you attempted to describe my position as pro-abortion. The natural consequence of your position is imposing legal restrictions on my right to live my life according to my religious and moral beliefs.

The Democrats can and must win the moral debate as well as the legal debate. I see no reason to surrender either argument. Where does the Catholic Church get the religious or legal authority to impose their religious beliefs on me any my family?

by Gary Boatwright 2005-07-23 07:50PM | 0 recs
Re: Nobody is pro-abortion
Gary, let me put it to you like this.

There are over 75 million Catholics in the United States. Many of them vote.

I don't know about you, but I don't want them voting Republican.

If you are going to take on the Catholic Church, do it on your own time. Don't take the party down with you.

Second of all, it isn't just Catholics who have these beliefs. There are many people who have a problem with abortion who aren't even Catholics or even Christians.

by wayward 2005-07-24 09:12AM | 0 recs
God is Pro-Choice
Since God Is Pro-Choice the only reason for the Catholic Church to be anti-abortion is because they hate women and don't believe women are capable of making moral and ethical decisions for themselves.

The Bible clearly recognizes that people are more important than blobs of genetic material. If someone inflicted injury on a preganant woman and she died, the penalty was death. If she miscarried, the penalty was a civil fine.

The position of the Catholic Church is not only anti-woman, it is anti-scripture. Where does the Pope get the authority to re-write the Bible?

by Gary Boatwright 2005-07-23 08:12PM | 0 recs
Gary please help me.
I would like to know what chapter and verse that

"The Bible clearly recognizes that people are more important than blobs of genetic material. If someone inflicted injury on a pregnant woman and she died, the penalty was death. If she miscarried, the penalty was a civil fine."

is located.  I would like to use it to prove your point.   If pro-life people are anti-choice because of the Bible, then we need to point out that the bible is pro-choice by citing chapter and verse. I think it would make a good letter to the editor.

by HCLiberal 2005-07-23 10:06PM | 0 recs
Exodus 21: 22-23
Bartleby has a great Bible search engine. Under the category Laws Concerning Acts of Violence:

22      ¶ If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman's husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23      And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life,
24      eye for eye, tooth for tooth, Lev. 24.19, 20 · Deut. 19.21 · Mt. 5.38 hand for hand, foot for foot,
25      burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

The biblical punishment for violence that caused a miscarriage was a fine. Any physical harm to the pregnant woman was to be punished according to the eye for an eye standard.

The Bible clearly distinguishes between punishment for violence that causes a miscarriage, a civil crime, and violence that causes physical harm to a pregnant woman, a criminal act.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-07-24 06:03AM | 0 recs
Does God Hate Shrimp?
You tell me. Why does God hate shrimp?
by Gary Boatwright 2005-07-23 08:13PM | 0 recs
m or f?
Are you male or female?

If you are male, i say shut the hell up.

If you are female, I respect your opinion on the matter.

by goplies 2005-07-23 11:02PM | 0 recs
boy from the comments
it looks like the progressive prostration for Casey has begun.

sheesh.

by goplies 2005-07-23 11:04PM | 0 recs

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