My Secret Burden: The abortion-rights movement grapples with repression, By William Saletan
Friday morning, leaders of pro-choice and feminist groups gathered at the Center for American Progress to debate the movement's future. One of the panelists reported that the latest annual tally of abortions in this country was 1.295 million. The most recent comparative numbers, detailed in an article I brought to the meeting, indicated that our abortion rate exceeds that of every Western European nation. "Raise your hand if you think that number is too high," the conference moderator told the 50 people in the room.
I saw one hand go up. The woman next to me said she saw another. The two hand-raisers used to work for pro-choice groups but no longer do.
A low abortion rate makes it difficult to argue that abortion is "necessary". So a low abortion rate is actually bad news for abortion proponents.
I was invited to the meeting, along with my friend Katha Pollitt, to debate the wisdom of declaring a pro-choice war on the abortion rate. Katha and I are on the record on this question. I'm for it; she's against it.
Interesting, isn't it, that there are prochoice activists that are openly against reducing the abortion rate.
I'm not a woman, obviously, so I hesitate to say this—but is it really true, as some folks at this meeting argued, that abortion is fundamental to how today's women construct their lives? I understand the point, made by the Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that this generation of women has grown up with the implicit assumption that they can get an abortion legally if they need one. But I find it hard to believe that many women would call this part of how they construct their lives.
If we look at sexual behavior (I blogged about this recently), clearly women do make a lot of their decisions about their sexual behavior, at least, around the idea that they can readily get abortions.
My other problem at gatherings like this one is that I'm not a lefty. So, I listened with dismay as some speakers dismissed the abortion debate as a byproduct of racism and misogyny. Pro-lifers don't really care about morality, said one participant: They just "want white women to have more white babies."
I'm very pleased that this guy recognizes how absurd this statement is.
She went on to assert that leaders of protest groups such as Operation Rescue do what they do because they have no other way to make a living—possibly the most amazing statement I've ever heard, considering that the entire penalty-avoidance strategy of such groups is perpetual poverty.
Not to mention that the vast majority of pro-life activists do what they do at their own expense. They're not paid activists, like PP has in such abundance.
Then I have this hangup about relativism. .... If you accept that the rightness or wrongness of abortion depends to some extent on circumstance, or that as a general rule, the woman in question is more entitled to weigh the moral factors than Rick Santorum is, that makes you a bit of a relativist. But it was clear at Friday's meeting that many pro-choice activists go further. They're absolutists about relativism. They argue that abortion is good because it's what a woman wants, and that the goodness or badness of abortion depends entirely on her choice.
Aside from having a beef with them on the relativism, I'd also have a beef with their underlying assumption that the women in question want the abortions they're undergoing. Standing outside an abortion facility for an hour and watching weeping women trudge in will disabuse you of any illusion that they're doing this because they're freely choosing it.
I knew I'd get flak for using the word "bad." But I was amazed at the group's reaction to the word "responsibility," which was the subject of the next panel. "Responsibility is to me a code word that has a lot of racial and class … implications," said one participant. "I don't like the word 'responsibility,' " said another. "I don't want to talk about responsibility unless we're talking about the government taking responsibility," said a third. Hoping to bring the discussion back to earth, the moderator suggested, "Is there a way for us to reclaim the idea of responsibility?" The answer was a chorus of rejection, punctuated by a "No way!" She retreated apologetically.
Advocates who work with post-abortion women were the most explicit. One described the abortion dilemma as "awful." Another called for more stories of women who, while regretting their own abortions, wouldn't deprive others of the choice.
So, the strategy for dealing with the fact that abortion often just makes the woman's life worse is to encourage those whose hearts have been broken to hold off from warning others. Misery, it seems, must be taught to love company.
In the struggle for self-correction, such candor and wisdom will help. So will humor. Toward the end of the meeting, a Planned Parenthood executive announced with delight that Wal-Mart had just agreed to stock morning-after pills. "Of course, we don't want anyone to shop at Wal-Mart," cracked a woman to her right. Everyone laughed.
Draw your own conclusions about that one.