Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pro-choice abortion

In Slate, Dana Stevens concludes her odd piece about abortion politics and Knocked Up with this nugget...

That same Atlantic blog post concludes with the opinion that the movie is "almost naively pro-life"—that Alison decides to keep her baby because "killing it" would be "obviously and terribly wrong," and Alison, bless her heart, is not a "bad person" who would do such a thing. The 77 percent of Americans who support abortion rights—and the 40 percent or more of American women who have exercised that right—can be excused for wondering where that supposedly obvious moral consensus is coming from. Roe v. Wade may be in perpetual danger of erosion, but look on the bright side: We still have more choices than most pregnant women in the movies.

Stevens doesn't source her 77 percent number, but that is the highest number I have ever seen for either side of that issue, and she says it is those who "support abortion rights," so I would tend to believe it was those opposed to an outright ban.

Remember -- the topic here wasn't Roe v. Wade, or any effort by the government to restrict abortion. It was about a movie not presenting abortion as a legitimate option for its female protagonist experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

Now, as a veteran of abortion debates, I thought the consensus was that conflating support for abortion rights with enthusiasm for the procedure itself was a dirty trick by the pro-life side designed to portray the pro-choice side as amoral monsters. I thought the party line included phrases like, "nobody likes abortion," and "safe, legal, and rare."

Indeed, the entire pro-choice argument rests on the principle that there should be some space between what is considered immoral and what is criminal. Keep you rosaries off my ovaries, etc. People can feel how they want about abortion, so long as they don't try to translate it into criminal santions. This is the argument Catholic pro-choice politicians, including the current Speaker of the House, use to explain how they can reconcile their faith, which unambiguously condemns abortion, with their pro-choice positions.

But I guess that 77 percent number was too big for Stevens to resist.

So, should we take Stevens at her word? Does opposing banning of abortion imply moral approval? Should people's position on Roe v. Wade be based on anything more than moral appoval or disapproval of abortion in general (or things like parial-birth abortion in specific, since each Democratic presidential candidate lamented the Supreme Court not finding it to be protected)?

I don't think affirmative answers to those questions would lead to conclusions Stevens would be very happy with. Which is why NARAL took the word "abortion" out of its name, pro-choice politicians say things like "reproductive self determination" and "a woman's right to choose" rather than mention abortion explicitly, and pro-lifers are condemned for graphic depictions of abortion. From the pro-choice movement, "shmashmortion" would qualify as rare candor.

But if Stevens want to rip the facade off, that's fine with me. You just don't get to eat your cake and have it to. You don't get to claim 77 percent of the public has no moral problem with abortion, and then blanche when we link a permissive abortion legal environment with cultural approval of abortion.

  • Ross Douthat responds, since the article was in large part in response to his comments.
  • Ezra Klein has something closer to what a a pro-choice reaction is, if pro-choice really isn't just a euphemism for "pro-abortion."
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