Tuesday, January 22, 2013

So much for “choice” …

Here we go with the third annual Ask Them What They Mean By Choice Day, in which we pro-life bloggers all pretend that, if we pile on with the posts, the pro-aborts will stop communing within themselves, step out of their echo chamber and actually pay attention to what’s really happening with the Great Western Atrocity.  Oh, I’m sorry — that was bitter and cynical, wasn’t it.

“I’m neither pro-choice nor pro-life,” said one woman in a focus group commissioned by Planned Parenthood.  “I’m pro-whatever-the-situation is.” Said another, “there should be three: pro-life, pro-choice and something in the middle that helps people understand circumstances [...] It’s not just back or white, there’s grey [sic].” A recent research push by the organization found that large numbers of Americans feel this way — uncomfortable with both the pro-life and pro-choice labels. And so Planned Parenthood’s newest messaging will be moving away from the language of choice.

PB has also rolled out a companion website and advertisement, with the advert — in a touch that must have Friedrich Nietzsche smiling in whatever part of the hereafter he occupies — titled “Moving Beyond Labels”.

“A growing number of Americans no longer identify with the pro-choice and pro-life labels that they believe box them in,” Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement. “Instead of putting people in one category or another, we should respect the decisions women and their families make.” The campaign also has a companion website focusing on abortion as a personal decision.

“The decisions women and their families make”.  “A personal decision”.  Another word for decision is … choice. 

But PB is nothing if not sensitive to nuance.  EVP Dawn Leguens believes that choice now sounds “frivolous”, as if women have abortions in fits of willful caprice.  ("Yeah, I was going to keep the kid, but we did a bunch of Jaeger bombs Friday night, and I said what the hell.  Next thing I know, I'm at the clinic with a helluva hangover and a brand-new tattoo.")  I’m sure there are people out there who still believe that.  And maybe there are a few women out there who would have, or have had, an abortion “on principle” … a thought that should frighten anyone with a working moral compass.

However, the vast majority of pro-life writers and speakers are fully aware that the woman who aborts most often does so either because she thinks she has no other option or because the people around her — her family, her friends, the father, her employers, the clinic staff — allow her no other choice.  All other things being equal, most women would rather not abort; give them the support they need (heck, almost any support at all) and they choose life for their child.  Phrasing it as a “personal decision” does nothing to diminish the irony.  Calling it a “family decision” is even more ludicrous.

To correct Leguens’ impression:  The right to abort didn’t become “right of choice” until Roe v. Wade[1] made it clear that the “right of privacy” was a notional construct found nowhere in the real Constitution and wouldn’t remain useful for much longer.  By the time the Rehnquist Court killed the “privacy” argument in Bowers v. Hardwick[2] and Webster v. Reproductive Health Services[3], the pro-abort forces had already transitioned to “choice” as the preferred god-term.

No, the shift in terms, like PB’s other shifts in terms, is to maintain its hold on the “mushy middle” — the people who believe there are valid exceptions, the ones who “don’t want to impose their morality on anyone else”, the ones like Peter Venkman who are “kind of iffy on the whole ‘good/bad’ thing”.  This is where the majority of people stand, according to last year’s Marist College/Knights of Columbus poll (see graphic).  The labels imply an allegiance, even an extreme; while young people today know or at least believe that there are things that are intrinsically right and wrong, abortion doesn’t seem to be one of them.  Or, if they believe it’s wrong, it’s just not “wrong enough” to merit legal proscription.

Such pandering to the morally indecisive is perfectly irritating to hard-core ideologues like Amanda Marcotte, who claims she will fight against “forced birth” as a matter of “choice”.  But it also tells us that PB is stumbling, looking to recapture the edge.  In this respect, announcing their shift away from “choice” is a major tactical error: they’re surrendering the moral high ground in the hopes that, by talking of “nuances” and “gray areas” and otherwise emphasizing complexity, they’ll continue to present a contrast of reason and reasonability against the dogmatism of the “extremists”.

Sorry, kid ... he wasn't counting you.
The advantage, however, goes to the side that can simplify.  The human mind naturally gravitates towards black/white pairs, towards reduction to disjunctions.  Leave the high ground unoccupied and the enemy takes it unchallenged.

You’re “pro-whatever-the-situation-is”?  Then you’re pro-baby-killing, because that’s what the situation is.
“There should be … something in the middle that helps people understand circumstances”?  Abortion takes a human life, one guilty of no crime except inconvenience — how hard is that to understand?

That’s the root reality, the “ground truth” of abortion, and the pro-aborts are at their least convincing and weakest factual basis when they try to argue the non-humanity or non-life of the unborn.  Only the hardest of the hard-core can acknowledge the unborn’s living humanity and still insist it has no bearing on the issue; the rest are at some pains to deny one or the other.

The ultimate irony is that the issue has never been a struggle between “life” and “choice”.  Rather, the issue has been whether we continue to recognize intrinsic evil in abortion or obscure it with consequentialist arguments.  That issue won’t go away by swapping labels.

[1] 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
[2] 478 U.S. 186 (1986).
[3] 492 U.S. 490 (1989).  Webster is particularly ironic because the majority stripped the “privacy” rationale from the right to abort without putting anything in its place, yet left the core decision intact to avoid a civil war.