Saturday, November 14, 2009

Pro-Coathanger or Pro-Life?

Tristero likes "pro-coathanger" for anti-abortionists, although he recognizes its inflammatory qualities. Yet, as a way of invoking almost-forgotten memories of dead girls so terrified of giving birth that they were willing to chance death, it's pure genius. Why is it inflammatory? Because it suggests that all those people crying themselves silly over un-anchored blastocysts might not be the compassionate paradigms they paint themselves? No one who has ever spent any amount of time with them would doubt that there are few pure enough to wear the label they prefer. The phrase "pro-life" is such an ethically pure concoction that it's almost impossible for anyone to don it without hypocrisy, unless he is Gandhi or Albert Schweitzer. And the phrase itself speaks volumes about the fact that the vast majority of those who own it (aside from saints and bodhisattvas) feel no conflict amongst their positions, because everyone "knows" that it doesn't refer to war, or capital punishment, or a non-toxic environment, or freedom from slave labor. No, it's a very targeted phrase referring ONLY to one's attitudes toward pregnancy and fetuses, and that narrow definition allows for the implication that only fetuses matter. At this point it seems unlikely that "pro-life" can be rescued from the anti-abortion bin within my lifetime, but that doesn't mean its hypocrisy shouldn't be attacked, as many times as needed, and by whomever it is used.

But while we're in the room, let's talk about the received wisdom being bandied about of late that "the majority of Americans are now against abortion". The fact is that there has been no essential change in the positions held by most Americans since Roe v Wade. The phrase "pro-life" becomes malleable when people are left to their own devices in defining for themselves. The Gallup poll, which has been ballyhooed as the Revealed Truth on this, shows that currently 23% believe abortion should be legal under all circumstances, and yes, this is a decline from 2008. But about 23% felt the same way in '75-'77, '84-'85, '97-'98, and 2005, and that number rose and fell constantly over that time. If anything, the peak for this position rose starting in 1989 and fell in 1997, but rose and fell again thereafter. Likewise, the shift in percentage points over that time is similar for those who think abortion should have limitations, and those who think it should always be illegal, with a baseline (53-54% and 21-22% respectively) that has not significantly changed since 1975. This is the face of American attitude toward abortion: about 1/4 each believe it should be legal or illegal without exception. The rest have mixed feelings, and this has never really changed. What has changed is the media, using this latest nothing of a poll to trumpet falsehoods about the country being anti-abortion now (do you recall any of them talking about this in 1997?). And the more this becomes accepted, the bolder the pro-coathanger crowd will feel in pushing things like the Stupack Amendment down our throats, until one day we'll wake up to Bush's Supreme Court ripping up Roe v Wade and we can all go back to the bad old days where women AND fetuses died together.

And that's an image of the world "pro-life" people can live with.

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