Why Pro-Choice is Losing
Lately I’ve been troubled by how badly the pro-choice movement has been doing. Here in South Carolina we are continuously dealing with legislation to limit access to abortion. This year a 24 hour waiting period law was passed, and the state legislature is almost ready to sign in a law that prevents state funding for any abortion, even in cases of maternal jeopardy, rape and incest. Nationwide, abortion is under attack in many states, and in some cases progress is being made to limit access.
One of the things that bothers me is that I don’t see this trend improving, at least not until some major changes are made in the pro-choice movement. Right now, anti-choice is wiping the floor with pro-choice. Pro-choice is always on the defensive, and never on the offensive. Prochoice is tending goal and Prolife is always taking shots. This can only go on so long before one gets in the net, and we’ve been seeing that happen lately.
Here’s the problems as I see it:
Pro-life has been very successful in merging two question that should be separated, and by doing so have taunted the pro-choice side into addressing the wrong one. These questions are 1) is abortion unethical / immoral? and 2) should abortion be illegal? The vast majority of pro-life rhetoric is based on the belief that termination of pregnancy is immoral. Pro-life is marketing very successfully that abortion is unethical, and through that they garner adequate public support for their agenda, leading to successful legislative efforts to limit access.
Pro-choice must separate these two questions. There is absolutely nothing to be gained in trying to convince people that abortion is a moral act. The belief that it immoral is based that the fetus is an independent life form, and that it is a person. If one accepts that belief, it is quite logical to then believe that abortion is murder. To someone who believes that abortion is murder, no argument to the contrary will suffice. These arguments only serves to separate the divide between the two sides. While an argument for the morality of abortion is compelling to someone who is pro-choice, it is just meaningless to someone who already is against abortion. To those who are undecided, it feels like somebody else telling them what is right or wrong, which also doesn’t work. Pro-choice needs to win the hearts of these middle ground people, and arguing morality won’t do that.
Pro-choice needs to stop addressing the question of morality question all together. The only question that should be addressed is whether or not abortion should be legal, and the best way to do that is to clearly show the country what the effects of a ban on abortion would be. Pro-choice needs to make sure that everyone in this country can imagine the effects of an abortion ban on women, and is vividly reminded of what was going on in this country prior to Roe v Wade. Prior to Roe v Wade hospitals had entire wards full of women injured or dying from illegal untrained abortion. This is incredibly compelling, yet Pro-choice gives it a back seat to a pointless argument about morality. Pro-choice needs to make it clear that despite the huge number of people that argue that abortion is wrong, the same people seek abortion when they need it just like those who believe that it is acceptable. Despite their advertised belief, when the rubber hits the road many of them feel differently. The country needs to understand this – that the moral objection to abortion is not the same thing as wanting to make abortion illegal.
There are other problems as well.
Pro-choice also needs to stop pretending that abortion is not destroying life. Pro-life argues that abortion is murder, and in response we hear from pro-choice is that it is not life, but a potential life. This is not a compelling argument. A fetus, from any scientific point of view, is alive. Claiming that a fetus is not alive is inaccurate, and this somewhat vampiric idea paints Pro-choice in a bad light in the eyes of the middle ground population that might be convinced to support their cause. Pro-choice must recognize that abortion is destruction of life, but is still a justified thing. Parallels must be drawn between abortion and other justified destruction of life. It is ironic that the conservatives who are the greatest detractors of abortion are often also the greatest supporters of war, and in so are the greatest supporters of killing. To be a supporter of war and then to claim abortion cannot be justified because it is killing a life is a very bad argument, and the weakness in this position must be capitalized on.
Pro-choice is also losing because they are not aggressive enough in marketing. There are billboards all over the place promoting pro-life ideas. I never see billboards promoting pro-choice ideas. This is a problem. I don’t know why this is, but I think it has something to do with pro-choice believing that their side is morally justified and does not need to be defended publicly. I believe this is folly. The position must be defended aggressively. Pro-life is also very effective in promoting their cause through picketing of abortion clinics. While they probably don’t scare off too many patients, their presence is a constant and vivid advertisement for their cause, and can draw support from the important middle ground. Why isn’t pro-choice doing the same? Every time there are picketers outside an abortion clinic, pro-choice supporters should have picketers out there peacefully promoting the opposite message. Pro-choice should be picketing Crisis Pregnancy Centers EVERY DAY.
When I was living in a very liberal state, I had the luxury of believing that my position was morally correct and that the opposition was incorrect. When I moved to South Carolina I realized the folly in this position. While I am as Pro-Choice I have ever been, I have met far too many wonderful intelligent caring people who happen to be Pro-Life to continue to believe that their position is fundamentally wrong. Their beliefs are completely logical given the premises they learned as children. The argument that abortion is justified is just as logical based on a different set of premises.
We need to stop fighting about these premises, as such a fight is a religious war. We need to fight with facts, and if needed we need to fight a little dirtier. Always taking the high ground hasn’t been working.
Thank you all for your comments on this post.
There have been a great many comments on this post, many of which were quite thoughtful. That being said, in the past few days the comments have degenerated to being quite a bit less thoughtful, and full of ad hominem attack. When people fail to recognize another’s right to have an opposing view and devalue them as a person for their views, they cease to be worthy of respect in my opinion, and lose the right to comment on my blog.
As this comment thread has moved this way, I’m going to go ahead and shut it down now. Part of me is sorry to not keep the comments that ultimately caused me to shut down the thread, but at the same time I’m not interested in giving them a platform.
My original idea was that pro-choice is a little too casual about the issue of abortion rights. Liberals (like me) feel pretty secure in our moral correctness on this issue, but the truth is that a lot of people disagree, and are passionately trying to push it the other way. While pro-choice is willing to express outrage at this shift, we have failed to demonstrate the merits in our position with the same passion that the opposing side has shown, and over time the position has weakened. The truth is that both sides have compelling arguments, and which side you go with depends on your point of view. The problem is that our compelling arguments are not being pushed enough, and that we are being overpowered by a opposition that is far more zealous, and perhaps has a lot more time to fight.
I have wondered if the passion and sometimes zealotry of the pro-life side comes primary from the predominance of religion in that population. As a non-religious person, I was not taught to try to convince others of my views. While I am certainly interested in what other people think about something, it has never occurred to me to really want to change their mind. Ultimately, they have the right to think whatever they like. Those of a religious persuasion, in contrast, have been taught that they are doing something noble by trying to persuade others to believe as they do, that they are actually helping that person by doing this. Perhaps this is why the Pro-Life side has been more effective in pushing their views.
I’d love to leave that idea up to comment, but I don’t think the thread can really be adequately contained for that. So its just food for thought for now.
Thanks for reading and commenting.
Now back to regular Academic OB/GYN programming, at least for a while.