Thursday, December 02, 2010

Refreshing honesty from Frances Kissling


Is Dialogue on Abortion Useful? Response to Marcotte. On RH "Reality Check", no less!

Ms. Kissling takes Amanda Marcotte to task on her piece, "Dialogue Can't Work When One Side Is Dishonest".

Simply put, one hopes that dialogue between those opposed to and in favor of a woman’s right to choose abortion ...

DING DING DING DING! Score one for Frances! This is the first time ever I've seen a prochoicer finish the phrase "right to choose" with exactly what it is they want women to have the option to choose. And I've been at this for over a quarter of a century now.

Some of us think a civil public debate that concentrated not on impugning motives but arguing from values, facts and outcomes would result in better public policy and in less tea party rage.

I'll give Kissling a pass on the "tea party rage". (Though I'll give this anecdote as an aside. I had an "escort" outside an abortion clinic start literally jumping up and down, spewing spittle and screaming "Earth killer! Earth killer!" at the top of her lungs when I asked if it wasn't a bit odd that her t-shirt, which I took to be pro-whale, featured the flukes of a whale and a quote by Herman Melville. I am no fan of whaling, and was genuinely curious and just asking for clarification. But you never know just when or where or why or how rage will erupt.)

Still, I am with Frances Kissling 100% on "not impugning motives but arguing from values, facts and outcomes". And I confess that I often fall short in this area. Mainly because being snarky is much more fun than really trying to understand where the other person is coming from.

For some in both movements on abortion, that is the case. There is nothing to be gained from understanding the other side. We understand each other all too well, the other is evil and the right course of action is to beat the crap out of them, prove to people how evil they are and just stick to our guns.

Seen it on both sides. Been guilty of it myself.

Amanda claims you can’t have a successful dialogue with people who are dishonest. Without reference to whether people at Princeton were “honest” or “dishonest,” I’d suggest that the major successful dialogues (including those currently in process) have all had to deal with the fact that each side believes the other to be profoundly dishonest and has a long list of grievances. Part of the dialogue process is whether people can discipline themselves for a good outcome to put those lists aside as well as entertain the possibility that they also occasionally play fast and loose with truth. With an open mind, you may come to see that just as you see the other as dishonest, they honestly see you as dishonest.

I had to read it a few times to get what she was saying, but once I got it, yup, I agree.

When dialogue participants, including those at Princeton, hold back it’s not because they are “liars” as Amanda scoldingly calls them, but because dialogue requires restraint. Setting up through words old reactive patterns is not helpful. In this regard, I am glad Amanda was not there. I wouldn’t put my worst enemy in the room with someone who talked the way Amanda writes when she gets wound up about the “evil” antis.

And I, Ms. Kissling, would not put my worst enemy in the room with someone who talks the way I talk when I get wound up about the "evil" supporters of legalized abortion. But then I do it. Smackdown delivered to Christina by Frances Kissling.

Amanda also says you can’t “have a dialogue without agreeing on the facts.” In fact, you probably wouldn’t need a dialogue if you agreed on the facts. Fact fights dominate the life choice debate.

I disagree with Ms. Kissling here, but this isn't a prolife versus prochoice disagreement. I simply recognize that there are many prochoicers who agree with prolifers that fetuses are babies, but assert that their mothers have an absolute right to kill them for absolutely any reason, and that society owes it to those mothers to carry out their wishes. That's not a disagreement about facts.

But I agree with her that the bulk of the "life choice debate" would diminish significantly were basic facts widely known. Facts like:

1. Ambivalence about -- and even rejection of -- pregnancy is normal and self-limiting.
2. By the time most women know they're pregnant, the embryo/fetus has a beating heart.

I think that if just these two facts became public knowledge -- common knowledge, like the way we know that the rash from poison ivy is self limiting, and that babies don't stay totally helpless forever -- abortion would be significantly less common. And that alone would take a lot of the fuel out of the fire.

Likewise, it would really help if the bulk of prolifers understood -- really understood -- that most women walking into abortion facilities aren't going because they hate babies.

Kissling then moves on to give examples of dishonesty in a prochoicer, namely Catherine Epstein, who was singing the praises of the new hagiography of late abortionists Warren Hern and LeRoy Carhart. (She assumes that her audience, being prochoice, take prolife dishonesty as a given.)

First Kissling addresses Epstein's assertion, "The most frequent circumstances that lead to late abortion--which account for less than one percent of all abortions in the country--include fetal anomalies, in which a pregnancy is desired, but complications develop that endanger the mother or the potential life of the fetus."

Factually, we have no data to support these assertions. After a web search did not reveal confirmation, I emailed Guttmacher. Here is the response “[we do not] know of any data to support these assertions about reasons for abortions post 20 weeks. Reasons for second-trimester abortions may be very different than reasons for post-20-week abortions, but again there’s no info.

Actually, there's data that soundly dispute these assertions, and they're from the prochoice side.

Kissling also addresses the assertion, "For other women the process of finding a provider, securing travel, getting time off work, and accumulating the necessary funds can take several months, by which time the pregnancy is in its later stages."

Claiming that lack of funding for a first trimester abortion is resolved with finding six times more money later in the pregnancy is highly speculative. The average cost of first trimester abortion is just under $500. On the website of one provider of second trimester abortions, a 24 week abortion is $3000. Abortions after that time are higher in price. Do we really think women who do not have the money for a first trimester abortion find the larger amount needed for a later procedure in any significant numbers?

I've often wondered why this assertion, which Kissling finds fault with, is so often taken as a given. How can a woman who is unable to secure $500 in three months somehow cough up an additional $2500 in an additional two months?

It's refreshing to have a staunch abortion supporter like Kissling note this.

There's a huge gap between the woman who can't pull together $500 plus money for a tank of gas, and a woman who can access $3000 plus a tank of gas, air fare for herself and a companion, a rental car, and a three day stay in a motel, with meals. If the pregnant woman is able to become that resourceful in just two months, with the motivation of "Now I can afford an abortion", why can't she become that resourceful in six months to be able rise out of the poverty that's driving her to feel she needs an abortion in the first place?

Just a thought.

I will note, in closing, the the RH "Reality Check" readers are highly displeased with Ms. Kissling's work, and pretty soundly prove her right by shouting her down, sometimes with lies. So there's a long way to go.

But Kudos to Ms. Kissling for trying so hard to lead the way there.

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