How Progressives Talk about Abortion
by Nancy Scola, Fri Feb 03, 2006 at 01:28:07 PM EST
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.