How Progressives Talk about Abortion

Bumped b/c this is an important discussion - Matt

I'm posting this here rather than (shameless plug) my own site because I have found MyDD to be the home to some sensible progressive folks interested in seeking real solutions. Something I read today makes me wonder if some Washington writers are more interested in being clever than in moving the football down the field.

What I'm talking about is this. As you may know, over at Slate Katha Pollitt and William Saletan are debating abortion under the banner of "Is Abortion Bad?" A great exchange and worth reading. What got my goat was a posting in response this morning by Sam Rosenfeld over at Tapped in which he favorably quotes Barbara Ehrenreich -- she of Nickeled and Dimed fame -- saying that the only thing that she regretted about her abortions was how much they cost.  Rosenfeld says: "intellectually, Ehrenreich's position made sense" (emphasis in the original) and praised Ehrenreich for not being "squishy" on the issue like some Democrats. While I do appreciate the nice rhetorical touch in "intellectually," that statement still managed to make the skin crawl up on the back of my neck. Rosenfeld's implication is that abortion is entirely neutral -- morally, ethically, emotionally a wash -- except sometimes you get a bill when it's all over. It's telling that that he wonders how Saleten can believe that abortion is "morally wrong" and yet still distinguish it from murder.

To my mind, Rosenfeld gets at the crux of the issue for many Democrats -- if we don't think that abortion is a neutral, neither here nor there, how can we be so damn supportive of something that we believe to be a bad thing? It's a great question, I think. I'll answer for myself. As I see it now, the choice to terminate a pregnancies is a right endowed upon us by our creator (nature, higher power, whatever) to determine our own destinies. It's a survival mechanism that carries both great power and, as the ending of a potential life, a great responsibility.

More important for me than it being morally wrong or not (though for the record, I generally don't think that it is) is whether or not it is a net bad for the individual woman involved. Everything tells me that it is. And I'll be convinced that it's not - that it's a good or neutral thing -- when somebody convenes a panel of one hundred abortion recipients who testify that the procedure left them feeling just fine. I just finished the autobiography of the choreographer Twyla Tharp, she of Billy Joel's Movin' Out fame, who traces the root of her twenty-five years of prolific dance-making to the need to "cleanse" herself from an abortion in her early twenties. For those of you who like poll numbers, 100% of Twyla Tharps feel that ending a pregnancy voluntary carries with at least some negative baggage.

I think it's important that we distinguish between the two basic positions open to pro-choice Democrats: that abortion is entirely neutral and that we must fight to the end to protect the right to have one, or abortion is a net bad and that we still must fight to the end to protect the right to one. Ezra Klein wonders why if we all agree on our policy end goal -- preserving choice, of course - what does it matter how we all get there? You see this kind of thinking time and time again. In this case, it's wrong for at least two reasons.

First off, if we admit that the policy is intended to address those worst case scenarios, then working to avoid having folks find themselves in these situations becomes the next logical thing to focus on. That this opens up the door to progressive/Democratic solutions -- on poverty, education, gender relationships, and so on -- is of course not a bad thing. Secondly and more importantly here, is where we stand in 2006 - we've got an anti-choice Democratic majority leader, House, and Senate. An anti-choice governor just gave the Democratic rebuttal to the State of the Union. We have a twice-elected President who ran heavily on the abortion issue. He's just appointed two anti-abortion Supreme Court Justices, something he promised he'd do when he asked people to vote for him. The evidence suggests that we have yet to convince a whole lot of people of the wisdom of the pro-choice Democrat way of thinking on this. I don't pretend abortion is an easy question all around. I guess what I am suggesting is that those of us interested in solutions stop acting like it is.

Tags: abortion (all tags)



Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

One relevant fact here:  there's well established evidence that abortion is less risky medically than carrying a fetus to term and giving birth.  That doesn't address the psychological dimensions that you hint at, but those are bound to vary more depending on the person involved.

I like the Slate exchange.   Generally I'm a huge Saletan fan, but here I agree more with Katha.   Unfortunately, both those writers and myself are out of the political mainstream because we don't ground our morality in religion.    My moral views on this topic are closely related to ideas about the cognition and consciousness of the fetus or the lack thereof.   I also think responsible people discussing these topics should take care to emphasize some inherent level of respect if not agreement for others who derive their morality from different sources.

by LastToKnow 2006-02-03 01:49PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

I was at bedside of someone dear to me, who almost died tonight. I wasn't thinking about her cognitive ability I was just thinking about how much I wanted her alive. I wanted her to live so badly.

You are mistaken. There is more to life than cogito ergo sum. The mother and the life of the child are entertwined - she is killing a part of herself; it is a self punishing act.

Meanwhile, if I see the word progressive one more time.. I think I'll throw up. It never worked for anyone. Why should it work here?

by turnerbroadcasting 2006-02-03 03:01PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

This is interesting logic. If the fetus is a part of the woman, shouldn't she be allowed to decide what to do with it? Further, wouldn't it be immoral for anyone to tell her what to do with it?

by bluenc 2006-02-03 03:23PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

I also don't care for the term 'progressive' as a political category when its used to subtly equate enlightment with a fixed set of positions.   But I think the author here just meant liberal democrats, more or less.

Regarding your analogy, note that consistency doesn't require us to take the same ethical view of the personhood for a 1. fetus that has never achieved consciousness and cognition in the first place and 2. someone who was fully cognitive and then permanently lost that ability (I infer that the person you care for has probably permanently lost consciousness, because otherwise your anecdote seems totally irrelevant to me).  But even if we did, I can't quite make the analogical transference from your feelings about your friend to what a pregnant women might (should?) feel about her fetus.

Re: "she is killing a part of herself;  it is a self punishing act" - I understand that of course you don't mean just that she is killing cells that are part of her body, as she does with ear piercing, but what exactly do you mean?   Are you saying that she is killing part of her metaphysical soul, or what exactly?

by LastToKnow 2006-02-03 05:13PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

People have criticized the US Supreme Court trimester framework, but I think it embodied an intuitive truth--it does seem to be more problematic to end a later pregnancy than an earlier one.  Further, the idea that the fetus' interests in making it to term increase with time is also intuitively reasonable, as is the idea that the women's interest in ending the pregnancy free of restraints is strongest at the early stages.  I think we do need to acknowledge that ending a pregnancy is problematic for most women, and it ought to occasion at least some serious thought.  And becauses it is problematic, we ought to make it as easy as possible (1) to avoid the choice, by making contraception more available and (2) to make the choice early, by placing no restrictions on pre-viability abortions.

Part of what colors the whole debate is our refusal to teach people (not just teenagers, but everyone) to be more responsible about sex.  Many young women won't use contraception because it requires accepting responsibility for having sex, rather than seeing it as something that "happens".   Abstinence gets emphasized rather than really talking to kids about sex, while in the media sex is glorified and treated as a casual thing.

Abortion IS ending a potential life, and there is no getting around that.  But sometimes that is the preferable choice, particularly in a society that offers women so little help once the child is born.  The less potentia1 the life is, the easier to is to have an abortion.  Making it hard to get in the early stages just inflicts more damage on women.  As someone who fought for choice for years from the mid '60s) I personally have no problems with the "safe, legal and rare" formulation.  

by Mimikatz 2006-02-03 02:00PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

Mimikatz--have you seen pictures of 1st trimester abortions? I would encourage you to take a look at the images the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform has collected on their website here (Warning: graphic images!). The embryo/fetus is obviously not viable during the first trimester. But, I think the only reason people think it's more "intuitive" that abortion is ok at an early point is that they don't understand how quickly humans develop in the womb. Those intuitions will change dramatically as people see the reality of the situation.

Also, abortion doesn't end a potential life, it ends a life. There's nothing potential about the life. It's a human life at conception (if you don't believe me, ask any doctor or pick up any biology textbook and they'll tell you). If you want to argue it's not a person, then fine. But it's definately a life. Abortion kills a human life.

by datalcott 2006-05-06 05:54AM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

There are many people from the past who had abortions and don't feel that it carries all the negatives that you say.  Many of the women who I know that had them in the 70's when they first became legal(if I remember right) saw legal abortion as a relief.  It does not haunt them at all.  Maybe those with deep religious convictions were but there were few people who were so radical in their religious beliefs.  At least among the people I knew.  But I do know people who gave up their children for adoption who were haunted about it their whole life-but no one is saying that is wrong.  Until a woman will only get pregnant when she consciously chooses to have a baby, there will always be unwanted pregnancies.  And remember, it is not always within the woman's control to stop it, but she is always the one who must live with the consequences.  That is why Roe was so important-it balanced all the interests.

by giff56 2006-02-03 02:14PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

There are many people from the past who had abortions and don't feel that it carries all the negatives that you say.

I know of three women that have had an abortion and all of them simply felt relief after the procedure.  As I mentioned below, I think the value of the polls is overstated.I have talked to clinic workers who have the pro-lifers sneak in for an abortion, and they too, are relieved. You can tell a pollster anything.

I did not address the second part of Nancy's post below: convincing people of the wisdom of pro-choice Democrat way of thinking. I'll probably take that up on her blog later as I'm not sure whether she is talking about the pols themselves, or the voters. I happen to think that party strategists have placed too great a reliance on the pro-life turn to compensate for lack of platform.

by dblhelix 2006-02-03 06:00PM | 0 recs
I can't give you a panel of 100...

But off the top of my head, two women who left it feeling just fine, probably better.  One being a personal friend who had an abortion about two weeks ago.  The second is Gloria Steinem, who, along with several other women, talks about her experience in the very excellent short documentary "Speak Out: I Had An Abortion."  If you can get a hold of it, I suggest everyone watches it.  It demonstrates that while many women do experience what you call a "net bad," residual guilt or whatever, many other women experience a "net good," and others find the whole thing "neutral."

The point, I think, is that whether the abortion itself is a good or bad in utilitarian terms for the actual woman making the choice, the ability to have an abortion, the right itself, is undeniably a good thing.

by KevinH 2006-02-03 02:31PM | 0 recs
Re: I can't give you a panel of 100...

Thanks, KevinH. I haven't seen "Speak Out" but I found this pretty good recap. Seems worth checking out. Thanks for the heads up.

by Nancy Scola 2006-02-03 02:39PM | 0 recs
Re: I can't give you a panel of 100...

You need to be more exact. Gloria Steinem is not anywhere near the American heart right now, she was effective for her time.

When she sat across the row from Linda Lovelace (whatever her real name was) she was broadcasting that she does things, like cheering on a woman who claimed to have been forced into doing porno with a resume that included a movie starring a dog, prior.
She does things for their show value.

Matt Stoller has brought to this blog the same kind of coherence, and life that he brought to "FUN WITH DICK AND JANE" = this spirit pervades MyDD and imho mydd has since chris and jerome left, become a much worse place to hang out (chris is technically still here but all he ever does is post a question about the poll he's working on..)

You fail here, even as you get into the spirit of it all - in the letter of your post.

The reason that Abortion is what it is, is because it is, simply, a public health issue.

The questions surrounding abortion are what you need to worry about. There are no quick and sure answers there - like, for example, someone who said that defining life is as simple as cognitive ability. Stop and think about that,  it was said right here on this thread - what that means is, in essence, that Teri Schiavo was in fact alive.  There are several deaths - Teri experienced a living death, with well over half her brain mass gone - she was in essence, capable of cognition and reaction to some stimuli - but she was really dead, wasn't she - and frankly her husband did the right thing, she died an honorable death.

Maybe thats the key issue, in fact. Because a woman terminating a pregnancy is deserving of dishonor. She dishonors herself and all around her.

And so, shall we legislate honor?  Terri died with Honor because her husband had rights, but they were his rights alone. Not hers, anymore. Just his. And his decision was just.

This is an approach, that instead interests me. They are a group of people saying - why are we debating about abortion?

Lets just end it once and for all.
I agree.

by turnerbroadcasting 2006-02-03 04:18PM | 0 recs
Re: I can't give you a panel of 100...

Making abortion illegal wouldn't end abortion.

by bluenc 2006-02-03 06:28PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

In the 21st century there is only one place to stand when it comes to abortion: PREVENTION. Period.  Progressive Democrats must talk about contraception, supporting Plan B and getting it made available, and communing with parents and giving them information and the tools they need about what happens to kids when they're uninformed, or when abstinence goes south.

In addition, it is my humble opinion that we must walk away from the horrendous spectacle of expecting our candidates to parade on stage at events like NARAL had blasted over CSPAN during the 2004 primaries.  Speaking at a NARAL event is different, but again, the subject must focus on prevention.  

We are a pro-choice party, which is more than clear to the American people.  But our rhetoric casts out the attention of anyone of faith or spiritual depth, myself included, though I'm definitely more on the rebel side of the whole religious debate.

Frankly, we have an obligation to do more with our rhetoric and policies, because in this age of medical advancement there is no excuse whatsoever for an unplanned pregnancy, none.  To the extent there are so many, Democrats must take part of the blame.  We have not done enough to push prevention, because everyone gets into no-win debates about when life begins. Instead, we must fight for access and openly question why pharmacists are allowed to ignore prescriptions.  Why corporations can break the law over equal access to health care when it comes to women's needs, which really are a man's needs too.  Candidates must be taught to turn the subject to prevention every time.  When prevention fails, for most Democrats and some Republicans, the choice left is obvious.

It also must become part of the progressive mantra that liberated women and men be expected to take on more personal responsibility for their choices.  It is our duty to say so unequivocally.

The language is PREVENTION, "safe, legal and rare."  Then when pushed we say, yes, abortion is legal, but our fight today, in the modern era, is before the pregnancy, not after it's too late.

by Taylor Marsh 2006-02-03 02:32PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

I wouldn't completely agree that there is "no excuse whatsoever for an unplanned pregnancy" (even condoms and birth control pills, the two most effective forms of contraceptive, have, depending on the study, about a 2% and .3% failure rate, respectively).  If your argument is that we should be vociferously campaigning against unprotected sex, then I agree completely.  But we should not in any way limit a woman's control over her own body.

On another point, the key to making abortion rare is comprehensive sex education.  Democrats who support abstinence-only miseducation are supporting more abortions.  How's that for a soundbite?

by KevinH 2006-02-03 02:46PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

giff56 said it as far as I am concerned: And remember, it is not always within the woman's control to stop it [to avoid unwanted pregnancy], but she is always the one who must live with the consequences. I believe that abortion is murder of potential life. And I believe that restrictions on abortion arise from completely failing to value actual, living women.

I am fine with "safe, legal and rare" but mostly I completely distrust the entire conversation about abortion: it derives for ethical, religious and moral ideas that have dismissed the full humanity of women for millenia. We need at least a few hundred years of women's equality (something we can only imagine at present) before we'll have much grounding to discern right and wrong about this stuff.

In the meantime, we have to defend choice as best we can, especially for the weakest among us.

by janinsanfran 2006-02-03 02:50PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

janinsanfran, part of what I'm alluding to in the last paragraph -- and really throughout the post -- is how we go about protecting choice when elections and nominations are trending away from putting us in the position to be able to do so.

by Nancy Scola 2006-02-03 03:00PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

When I was pregnant 4 years ago, I was amazed at the amount of information gleaned about fetal development in recent years due to advances in ultrasound and other technologies. This whole idea of when is a fetus 'viable' and when is it developed enough to be considered a person, etc. is a huge moving target medically, let alone morally.

I, too, welcome a discussion about the morality of requiring a woman to bring a child to term when it is riskier than bringing a child to term, when the odds are high that it would take heroic efforts for either the mother or the child to survive if left to nature, etc.

We may be able to make embryos outside the womb, but it still takes a uterus to make a baby -- and that uterus belongs to a thinking, working, taxpaying, voting human being. How moral is it for the state to force a decision on American citizens  when the impact on her, her family and even the growing person in her body is too complex to legislate? How moral is it to change privacy laws for this procedure and not for related procedures that also have an impact on the 'family'?

Framing the morality debate on the unborn baby has done a great deal of damage to any real debate on reducing the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies -- legal or not, abortions will happen when women feel boxed in. We know that from pre-Roe. Its time to re-frame the debate.

by musicsleuth 2006-02-03 03:09PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

The problem here is that there is not a consensus view on when a real * human* life begins. The Roman Catholic and Evangelical fundies think life begins with an embryo, conception. If that's the case then about 60% of human beings get flushed down the toilet and God is the greatest abortionist of all time. There needs to be some ethical thinking here  because progressives simply can't make this go away or dismiss the question.  Right now it remains a question.

by cmpnwtr 2006-02-03 03:15PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

As I stated earlier today, I don't fault anybody for having different thoughts or feelings on this subject matter than my own.

Nevertheless, I think it's obvious that there is a political eventuality which must be addressed.  I'm not necessarily in the camp of those who believe John Roberts, who will in all probability be the Chief Justice of this Court for a very long time, will vote to overturn Roe. Until I see otherwise, what I think is just as probable is that he will stear the Court in a direction in which the right is so restricted that it becomes a functionally nonexistent right. Under this scenario, I think it's worth considering whether of not having the decision overturned in its entirety would not be preferable in order to maintain the absolute right in some places?

Of course another possibility is that the balance of the Court is shifted by the replacement of another Justice in a manner in which Roberts has the block necessary to overturn Roe in which case the battle definitely moves to the individual states.

The last scenario, the least likely in my opinion, is that pro-choice Democrats are able to affect electoral politics in such a manner in the immediate future that results in the election of a sufficient number of Democratic Senators or an absolutist pro-choice President in order to prevent either of the first two scenarios. As was already mentioned at the beginning of this discussion, a significant number of the most prominent members within the Democratic Party itself are pro-life. Similarly, the fact that Casey of Pennsylvania, another pro-life Democrat, is the most likely Democratic pick-up in the Senate in 2006 doesn't bode well for this realization. As was also alluded to earlier as well, this issue doesn't resonate with progressives in the same manner as it does the rank and file of the Republican Party who are much more polarized, and hence energized, by the issue. Even if progressives were open to "being educated" in a matter which would produce the desired result of those who wish abortion to remain an absolute right, not all members of the rank and file of the Democratic Party are progressives.

These things having been stated, I strongly believe that it's in the best interest of those who wish to maintain abortion as an absolute right to begin the process of preparing to continue this battle on a state by state basis as opposed to risking the possibility of being completely swept away by a tsunami which could occur in the event of another Justice hostile to the practice altogether being appointed to the Court: Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Lastly, at some point a question arises as to the long-term effects this battle, no matter which field or side of the fifty yard line it's actually fought on, has on other matters of equal significance. This isn't the only battlefront in the war and other issues also derive their legitimacy from equally significant moral imperatives. In raising these questions, I'm not suggesting tossing anybody overboard at this particular point in time. All I am saying is that an honest and open conversation must take place in order to answer these questions due to the fact that there is an absolute necessity to be prepared for all eventual outcomes.      


by Seldom Seen Smith 2006-02-03 03:23PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

The question of the morality of abortion is interesting and important. However, the answer to that question does not automatically supply the answers to various other questions.  These include, the constitutionality of abortion restrictions, and the advisability of passing them.  In other words, what can the government do and what should the government do. It an entirely plausible position -one held by any number of people- that abortion is generally not moral, but that government regulation is limited by various constitutional issues.  Or, even if you set aside the constitutional questions, that government should not bar abortion, because of differing moral interpretations, respect for individual choice, etc.

So, for the past few years, I prefer to make my focus in this sort of discussion the question of what government can do, and what government should do.  The issue is not so much if abortion is right or wrong, but who should be making that determination: the government or the individual?

by Kempe 2006-02-03 03:24PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

The mistake that progressives and pro-choicers make so often is that we get sucked into the moral debate. I've heard several decent moral arguments against abortion, but I've NEVER heard a compelling legal argument against it. In other words, I can see why some folks might never want to have one themselves, but I can't understand how anyone could make the argument that it should be illegal. Abortions are bad because they are unwanted pregnancies, which are never positive situations. The answer lies in better education, better women's health, more options. I'm an evangelical Christian, and I'm constantly having this philosophical fight with people: even if an embryo is a human being, can you compel a woman to carry it to term? Morals aside, what legal basis can you have?

by bluenc 2006-02-03 03:30PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

Ehreinch is an idiot. I really liked her book Nickel and Dimed until I found out that she voted for Nader in Florida.

Anyway her statement about abortions does bother me. Frankly, although I am pro-choice, I will state that I think abortion is the termination of a future life. I believe that women should have a right to an abortion, but I also don't like the practice either.

I'm pro-choice for any reason up until the baby can live outside the womb. I think twenty-four weeks is a decent enough limit for elective abortions. By then the woman has had at least a few months to decide what to do and most genetic tests are done before then. After that I only support abortion in cases where the mother's life is in danger or if the baby is suffering from extreme deformities such as not having a heart or a brain.

But frankly I don't have a problem with people encouraging to consider other alternatives besides abortion. Frankly I think the pro-life movement would be better off directing its energies toward offering women other options to consider.

The way some on the left talk about abortion--as if it is just some other medical procedurt--is obscene. I find Ehnreich's comments to be offensive and insenstive. Maybe she doesn't regret or is glad that she terminated her pregnancies, but the callousness of her statements just seems offensive to me. That she can think of an unborn fetus in such cold terms disturbs me.

by jiacinto 2006-02-03 03:48PM | 0 recs
voting for Nader in Florida makes you an idiot?

how about the people who voted for him in other states? is there a sliding scale for stupidity?

by johnny longtorso 2006-02-03 05:28PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

if we don't think that abortion is a neutral, neither here nor there, how can we be so damn supportive of something that we believe to be a bad thing?

The key words are something we believe to be a bad thing. To quote from Rosenfeld's post:

"Saletan personally hews to a "pro-choice, anti-abortion" position, and associates this Third Way-ish stance with the one consistently held by a majority of Americans in opinion polls, year in and year out. This much touted middle-ground position on abortion -- that the practice is morally wrong, should be restricted, but shouldn't be outlawed -- may in fact be the majority position, but on both operational and moral/philosophical grounds, it's certainly never struck me as a very coherent one.

Saletan's pro-choice, anti-abortion position that coincides with the majority in polls is a position of luxury attached to an essential freedom guaranteed by Roe. I will make an analogy with another popular sentiment of these times: "I support the troops". Yes, but when push comes to shove, nobody's running down to the enlistment office, and we all expect this majority position to change dramatically if a draft were imposed on the American public.

In a diary earlier today, Seldom Seen Smith made a comment:

"You're forgetting that the other side has some pretty graphic photos too and that a significant number of those in your own party don't even agree with you on this subject." and,

"however, I see no evidence of any major political realignments in the event Roe is in fact overturned."

Yes, you don't see the pictures from the pro-choice side today because it's all been cleaned up for you -- just like your support of the troops is nice and safe. Many of us on this board aren't even old enough to remember pre-Roe. Out of sight, out of mind -- the American way. And that's what today's "morality" is based on. And I would claim that as restrictions increase or if Roe is overturned, public opinion will be reframed on weighing the morality of increased incidence of dead or injured mothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends or nieces against the potential life we currently hold so dear.

It's just like those caskets coming home that Bush doesn't want you to see. Out of sight, out of mind. But when we have funerals for real, humans that had connections to others instead of discussions on the feelings and attitudes we'd like to impose on a woman to when she's in the clinic, I suspect the morality barometer will shift.

Morality is our subjective determination of what we collectively find right or wrong. Roe's central holding is that a woman may freely decide to terminate a pregnancy during the first trimester.

We are supportive of the essential liberty a woman posseses in deciding what to do with her body. I will try to make this clear to you by bringing a new perspective into the standard arguments I see on these boards.

We agree that the potential for pregnancy occurs once a month. So over her lifetime, on average, there are 300 opportunities for fertilization. If a women uses oral contraceptives during this time, statistically she might expect to become pregnant three times due to known failure rates.

Oral contraceptives have known side effects. From a medical point-of-view, the safest form of birth control (outside of abstinence, of course) is condoms backed up by abortion in the first trimester.

So, when women choose oral contraceptives instead of condoms and an abortion, she is actually making a choice that is statistically less safe for her health. So, by the logic presented in these discussions, she must be operating on a high moral ground because she is reducing the abortion rate -- at the expense of her own health.

But the key point here is that the choice she is making is her own -- whether you personally rejoice that she is not relying on elective abortion for emergency backup in the interest of her own health, or whether you decry her for choosing an abortion when oral contraceptives fail. And that, in my mind, is what we are supportive of.

by dblhelix 2006-02-03 03:50PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

My view, to oversimplify, is that abortion is astoundingly personal. Thus, I believe that each woman faced with termination should have the right to be informed and the right to terminate. That's why I'm pro-choice. Beyond that, I profoundly believe it is all our responsibility to sustain and nurture those already born to this world.

by mainsailset 2006-02-03 04:25PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

I am of the "rare, safe, legal" opinion as far as abortion goes.  What bothers me is that you can't hold such an opinion without being a "flip-flopper" or "uncertain" or "pro-abortion."  

It seems to me that the present debate, as controlled by the conservatives, is one of hyperbole.  For example, in the 2004 election, here in WV, some group (don't remember which) sent out multiple fliers with horrific pictures and descriptions of late-term abortions.  The literature slandered Sen. Kerry because he voted against the law to ban such abortions.  Those that were up on the issues knew that he did this because the law allowed no exception for the life of the mother.  Most voters in my local area did not know (or frankly even want to hear) that.

The truth is that I don't know anyone that says -hey I think I want to get an abortion today...  Just for kicks and giggles...  The decision is one of the most painstaking and personal decisions that a woman can be presented with in life.  But, you don't hear that.  No, these abortionists are just "sluts" who want to use abortion as "birth control."  All untrue.  Maybe progressives should start with the theme of "truth" about abortion.

In that ilk, I personally believe the truth to be that abortion will never be minimized by gutting the supply side, but rather by addressing the demand side.  Let me elaborate...

You cannot minimize (or end, as many conservatives want to do) abortion on the supply side.  You will not control abortion by making it illegal either through statute or SCOTUS ruling.  After all, even when abortion wasn't legal, people still found ways to end their pregnancies.

The only true way to minimize abortion is on the demand side.  This starts first and foremost with REAL comprehensive sex education that goes beyond the abstinence only curriculum.  Ironically, when I was growing up, I was exposed to such education through my Sunday School at the local Catholic Church!  They told us about all of the birth control options out there.  They told us about the risks involved with unprotected sex (disease as well as pregnancy).  They did tell us that the only 100% guarantee (as well as the only acceptable form of birth control sanctioned by the church) was in abstinence, but they did at least educate us on other options.

The next step is access to birth control.  Does it anger anyone else that pharmacists can legally refuse to fill birth control prescriptions due to religious reasons???  When you become a pharmacist, you have to understand that you will probably have to fill a few birth control prescriptions every now and then.  If you don't understand that or can't live with such a choice, perhaps a new profession is in order...  I believe there should be tougher licensing restrictions that prohibit such non-professional judgments.  

After all, if I do not instruct students in the curriculum sanctioned by my school, I can lose my job.  Do I agree with trying to cram all the information they want students to learn into the finite school year?  No, but if I don't like it, I know where I can go.

But, when it comes down to it, it is really about self-determination.  Why are we promoting liberty around the globe, but increasingly restricting it here?  Just some food for thought...

by KayeMO 2006-02-03 04:38PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion
I like "safe, rare, and legal." It's what most Americans want. What's the alternative? Sending women and doctors to prison? The countries with the fewest abortions are those with the most available and accessible contraception programs. One might say therefore that the Vatican is the greatest cause of abortion on the planet. And even those who don't like abortion are in favor of it, if a mother, wife, sister's life is in danger, they want it, and they want it now, safe and legal.
Progressives need to be in favor of family planning to prevent abortion and give women the independence of planning their childbirth. Progressives need to be on the side of medical safety for women.
by cmpnwtr 2006-02-03 05:43PM | 0 recs

I don't see why Ehrenreich's quote gets your goat.

There's no inconsistency between recognizing that a choice has had negative effects, but feeling no regret about that choice.

For example, even though I can't enjoy having a cocktail go my head any more, I have no regrets about my choice to quit drinking. On the whole, it was very obviously the right thing to do. (Though like Ehrenreich, I wish the medical treatment involved were less expensive.)

To regret a choice is to doubt whether the choice was correct. For the choice I took, there was and is no doubt. Thus, no regrets, even though in some ways I miss the drinking life.

Ehrenreich apparently had and has no doubt about her choice. Given the variety of experiences and circumstances of pregnant women, I'm sure many, many other women who've had abortions feel the same way.

Also, you say you're convinced that abortion is a "net bad for the individual woman involved," but that you could be convinced otherwise if a great many women could say truthfully that their abortions "left them feeling just fine."

But we often make choices that leave us feeling terribly conflicted and pained, where the results of the choice are still not a "net bad" for us.

The focus here simply on abortion is far too narrow. What we're really talking about is a woman's choice whether or not to continue on the path of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood.

We're talking about whether abortion is a "net bad" for women as if it's actually a meaningful, answerable question.

But what panel of ethics (blogger or otherwise) would convene on whether pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood are a "net good," for women as a whole or for any particular woman? That panel would need greater confidence in its moral authority than I have.

Would you be convinced that pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood were not a "net good" if I could convene a panel of a hundred women who said that these experiences did not leave them feeling "just fine" ?

I'm with the crowd who favor choice precisely because the project of coming to convincing general moral conclusions here has been a disastrous failure, which was from the outset doomed utterly.

This means there's no moral authority to take this choice away from the affected woman herself. And where the question has such a determining impact on her life, taking this choice away from her would itself be deeply immoral.

People who make rulings about the net moral value of motherhood, childbirth, pregnancy, or abortion for women as a whole are, in my view, pretending to a wisdom which simply isn't possible among mortals.

Similarly, I doubt whether motherhood, childbirth, pregnancy, or abortion can be said to be a net good or bad for any particular woman.

Now, asserting that this is possible opens the possibility that a woman's own views about her choices are wrong. That is, it's possible that her decision to have a child was really a net good, and that if she regrets her choice because she thinks it was a net bad, it's because she's not thinking right.

Of course, what really seems to get your goat are the women, like Ehrenreich, who think their decision not to continue their pregnancy was a net good, when in your view, it simply must have been a net bad.

I think it's a strange and fruitless diversion to try to convince these women, and everyone else, that the way they think about these choices is all wrong.

by social democrat 2006-02-03 05:55PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

I think it has more to do with "who decides?'

Cheney makes this great insightful comment about marriage and how it has been between a  man and a woman for 5000 years of human civilization.  That's essentially bullshit, because many gay marriages have been observed and recorded since ancient times, but that is not the issue.  The issue is that he can't know that because there are no complete records....and that is because until a couple of hundred years ago there were no governments making records, and it wasn't a religious matter until several hundred years ago.  The point is that marriage weas something people entered into by themselves sometimes with a ceremony sometimes without.  They just moved in together.  It was entirely private.

What has this to do with abortion?  Because until about 150 years ago, in other words for just about all of human history and prehistory, abortion was not a government matter.  It was entirely a private matter, decided upon by  a woman herself, perhaps with the help of a midwife or a family member.  And any change in that arrangement is entirely radical, not conservative.

by NorCalJim 2006-02-03 06:31PM | 0 recs
I don't understand your point

You say:

The evidence suggests that we have yet to convince a whole lot of people of the wisdom of the pro-choice Democrat way of thinking on this.

But what is "the pro-choice Democrat way of thinking" on abortion?

You seem to be intimating that most Democrats are pushing an "easy," "abortion is morally neutral" frame a la Sam Rosenfeld. That's not the case at all.

For example, John Kerry's position:

"On abortion, I myself, by belief and upbringing, am opposed to abortion but as a legislator, as one who is called on to pass a law, I would find it very difficult to legislate on something God himself has not seen fit to make clear to all the people on this earth. . . .

seems like exactly the kind of nuanced position that you are calling for. But it didn't help him win.

And the fact that both the Senate Democratic leader and the Democratic governor who just gave the rebuttal to the state of the union address are both, as you say, "anti-choice," suggests that leading Democrats are already doing what you advocate, and it's not helping us win elections.

Further, it's pretty clear the Republicans are not winning elections by being nuanced on the abortion issue -- their platform says:

Ban abortion with Constitutional amendment

We say the unborn child has a fundamental right to life. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation that the 14th Amendment's protections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions. We oppose using public revenues for abortion and will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respect the sanctity of innocent human life.

The fact is, Democrats are not losing elections because of the abortion issue. By 66-25 the public does not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade. By 57-40 the public thinks that abortions ahould be legal in most or all cases. By 59-38 the public believes that abortion laws should be made either less strict or remain the same as they are today.

The problem for the Democrats is much larger than just abortion. We have an anti-health care reform Congress and President, and we have an anti-minimum wage increase Congress and President so by your reasoning we have not convinced "a whole lot of people of the wisdom of the pro-Democrat way of thinking" on these issues. And yet the public largely supports universal health care and increases in the minimum wage.

The problem is larger than just abortion. On any number of issues public opinion is far closer to the Democrats than it is to Republicans, yet we are still losing elections. Figuring out the reasons why will get us a lot farther than another round of tedious hand-wringing over the abortion issue.

by tgeraghty 2006-02-03 08:31PM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

1.  Making abortions illegal will not end abortions.

  1.  At what stage is the fetus?  This impacts emotions.  T
  2.  Motivation is a huge deal.  Abortion as a substitute for birth control or to make up for a cavlier approach to birth control vs. abortion as as a plan b for birth deformities, birth control failures, save the live of the mother - this is not a black and white issue.
  3.  Guilt/remorse - yes, for what could have been under the right circumstances vs. relief for the reality of the circumstances.  

The bottom line is making abortions illegal will not end abortion.  Is it murder?  Only to the same degree that killing in war is murder.  Just war, not "murder".  Unjust war, yes, "murder".  

by oakland 2006-02-04 04:18AM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

abortions for some, miniature American flags for the others!

by johnny longtorso 2006-02-04 06:04AM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

I have thought long and hard on this, and just don't see how the Roe approach is the "progressive" position.  I've actually concluded that not being pro-life is inconsistent with the values of "Progressives."  Writers like Nat Hentoff have done a far better job of explaining this than I ever could. The website of Democrats for Life has collected some pretty good essays which also make the point quite well.  

by DemOutWest 2006-02-04 06:22AM | 0 recs
Partly right, but stuck in the wingnut frame

I responded here. Excerpt:

My own feeling is that people have no place wringing their hands over other people's private medical decisions. If you think abortion is bad, don't abort your pregnancy. But don't presume it's your place to judge what others do.

But of course, we never hear that, because women are already considered owned by society. Women's rights seem to be provisional, and in fact luxuries, such that when women speak out against attempts to establish governmental claims on their own bodies, people start whining about whining, shrieking about shrieking and bitching about bitching. The only difference is that the women are fighting for their fundamental human rights, while the others are just wanting the women to shut the fuck up.

by media girl 2006-02-04 07:09AM | 0 recs
It's funny how much our own

opinions on abortion, even women who've had abortions, are informed by everyone else's opinions. I wonder if Twyla Tharpe's need to "cleanse" herself after her abortion would have been nearly so strong if there were not loud societal demands by certain sub-groups that she cleanse herself. We internalize others' messages, even when we don't necessarily agree with them, or even when we wouldn't agree with them if we could separate them from what our own consciences, hearts, and spirits are tellling us.

by jamfan 2006-02-04 07:54AM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

The decision whether to give birth or not belongs only to the woman who must bear that burden or that blessing, dependent solely upon her own situation and belief system and completely independent of any other person in this universe... including each and every one of you.  

The only responsibilities of society are to not interfere with this most personal of decisions and to make all possible resources available for either outcome for the good of any individual involved and the benefit of society at large.

Your opinions are irrelevant.  There will be abortions regardless of what anyone thinks, of what anyone legislates, or what any court rules.  There always have been abortions, there always will be abortions.  The only debate is whether many females will die having abortions.  

As for Taylor Marsh's comment, "because in this age of medical advancement there is no excuse whatsoever for an unplanned pregnancy", please excuse me but I can think of at least two immediately and off the top of my head.  

  1. Rape  
  2. Incest

Live in the real world.

by theanalyst 2006-02-04 09:13AM | 0 recs
Re: How Progressives Talk about Abortion

Ms. Scola

If I were Walter Brennan in some old 1930's movie I would call you a whippersnapper who hasn't had experience with hazards of life.

Let me introduce you to a grown up married woman, me, who does not feel that abortion is a "a net bad for the individual woman involved. Everything tells me that it is" And I know thatfrom personal experience, one in which I was as an adult, not a mindless child who just feels the way because the censorious culture tells her that's how she's supposed to feel.  

BIRTH CONTROL FAILS---FROM IUDS TO DIAPHRAGMS TO CONDOMS AND EVEN THE PILL.   What did I feel? I got my life back.  That's what I felt. And 4 months later when my health returned, I voluntarily conceived my second daughter, ( who by the way as a philosophical conundrum would not be alive except for an abortion)

I am just sick and tired of these kind of comments.  They are ignorant of history, religious thought and real life experience.  

Let me quote from Jewish religious law--The Talmud
From tractate Mishna Ohalot 7:6
    "If a woman has difficulty in childbirth, we cut up the fetusin her womb and remove it limb by limb because her life takes precedence over its life. Once its greater part has emerged, you do not touch it because you may not set aside one life for another."    --The verb cut up in Hebrew is in the IMPERATIVE tense.  

Not only is abortion permitted; it is mandated. We are under a positive moral and religious obligation to put the woman's life, up until she gives birth, before the life of any fetus. (That is even more stringent than Roe.  I.E.Life begins at birth)

Now let us go to one of the most revered Jewish lawgivers-Maimonides (philosopher, scholar and a physician) who said that the  fetus is a pursuer (hebrew: rodeph) who may be killed to save the life of the pursued, i.e., the pregnant woman.

"Therefore the sages have ruled that when a woman has difficulty in giving birth, one may dismember the child within her womb, either by drugs or by surgery, because he is a pursuer seeking to kill her."

Similarly, the 18th century Rabbi Jacob Emdem ruled that a woman who conceived a child in adultery may abort that child in order to avert her anguish at "the thought of giving birth to a mamzer." (mamzer is bastard)  Here we have a regard for a women's general well being - physical and mental.

And if you remeber the case of the Long Island couple that made the headlines-- she was happily pregnant, had a car crash, was in a coma; her husband was advised that an abortion could bring her out of the coma.  Under Jewish law, he had a moral obligation to her to do that in order to make her better.  Sme right wing anti abortion fanatics went to court to stop him.  Thank god it was the late 80's and they lost.  In that case and in many others there is no compelling moral case to be made on the other side.  They were immoral by my lights to have tried to interfere in a way which could cause the wife harm.

Two other overriding commands of jewish religious law..... Baba Kama -ONE CAN NOT MAKE A RULING THAT THE MAJORITY OF THE COMMUNITY CAN NOT ABIDE BY (I assume that is why you are prochoice) and THAT ONE SHOULD DO ANYTHING TO SAVE ONE'S AND YOU CAN NOT FORCE OTHERS TO DO THINGS WHICH CAN ENDANGER THEIR LIVES--so while men are required to be fruitful and multiply women are not- because it places their lives in danger.

So no I heartily disagree with you that what you wrote is how real progressives talk about abortion. I base that on real life experience, religious thought, history and moral values.

by debcoop 2006-02-04 11:06AM | 0 recs
PS Twyla Tharp

is a great choreographer and like any artist--good or bad--self dramatizing. Take it waith10 grains of salt.  However she is so talented she doesn't need some hidden trauma to create.  She probably regrets not having children, which is often the case with women of her (also my) generation who found that the world made family and success hard to combine.--but that would be the case if she was just used birth control or had no sex.

by debcoop 2006-02-04 11:14AM | 0 recs


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