Four Canards about Abortion Reduction (Reprised and Updated)
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Dec 27, 2009 at 09:41:19 PM EST
Here is the second reprised and updated post culled from my favorites from the past year. I posted this originally on March 28th, when the Obama administration was still new. Now, both houses of Congress have passed profoundly antiabortion provisions in their respective health care bills; and it seems inevitable that rather than a bill that is "abortion neutral," as the president and the common grounders claimed they sought, we will end up with a landmark piece of antiabortion legislation.

We have been tantalized in recent months by claims that common ground has been found between those opposed to and those in favor of abortion rights. It should come as no surprise that some of us have looked at these claims with a combination of great interest and fair skepticism, particularly in light of a certain creeping Religious Rightism in the Democratic Party.  I, for one, wrote that in one instance, the subject had been studiously avoided rather than actual common ground identified.  I also reported that the so-called abortion reduction agenda has it roots in antiabortion strategy of the 1990s and that some of its contemporary proponents were among the authors that strategy.

Now come John Gehring and Simone Campbell speaking respectively, for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Network a national organization of Catholic sisters.  They have published an article that features at least four common canards that festoon the arguments of those seeking to sell the notion of "abortion reduction" as policy.

I first encountered their screed in the form of an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, which was promoted by the liberal think tank Faith in Public Life. Then it was featured on SojoNet and further promoted in an e-blast to their national list.

This article is titled: "What Makes Liberals and Conservatives Angry?  Abortion Reduction". In this article I learned that any of us who disagree with the authors are ipso facto, making "`the perfect' the enemy of `the good.'"

Canard # 1:  False middle ground

Common sense tells us that just because Gehring and Campbell claim to represent a moderate and responsible middle between two alleged extremes, does not necessarily mean that in fact they do. And indeed, the amount of invective they were able to cram into a short space in the service of their strawman arguments, should give pause to anyone who might be inclined to consider whether their views are, in fact, moderate or reasonable.

Here is a sampler of terms they use in discussing those of us who disagree with them:  "malign," "righteous zeal," "absolutist devotion," "predictable to the absurd," "demonization" "hardened agendas" and - my personal favorite -- a "scorched earth rhetorical style."

They conclude with a call to the rest of us to "embrace a spirit of greater humility, compassion and critical introspection..."

It was not hard to figure out where I, (as one of those who has written critically about the politics of abortion reduction) fit on Gehring and Campbell's enemies list. I must be among that notorious lot of unnamed "liberal bloggers" who allegedly "slam Catholics and evangelicals working on this approach as radical 'anti-choice' hardliners cozying up to the Religious Right." I say "allegedly" because Gehring and Campbell offer no examples and make no effort to actually address any of our points.

Canard #2:  False framing

Gehring and Campbell try to frame the issue as one between religious and non-religious people; pitting "Secular progressives who view access to abortion as a fundamental right" against "religious Americans who believe it is a profound threat to the sanctity of life..."

As I wrote on the occasion of the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade that the notion of "abortion reduction" as presented by its proponents

"presumes that abortion is analogous to a dread disease, the incidence of which must be "reduced."  This recasting of the language of antiabortion moralism into something akin to epidemiology, stands in sharp contrast to the mainstream religious traditions of tens of millions of American Christians, Jews, Unitarians and others which teach that abortion is often a moral choice, and that in any case women are fully capable of deciding when and under what circumstances to make that choice without direction from the state or other uninvited agencies."

Rev. Anne Fowler, an Episopal priest and a long time leader in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (and the current chair of NARAL of Massachusetts) said that what was missing from the abortion reduction agenda was "any acknowledgment of women's moral agency and their capacity to make honorable sacred decisions for the welfare of their families and for themselves."  

Nevertheless, Gehring and Campbell declare that among those who support reproductive choice, whether religious or non-religious, are "those who make an idol of choice as the ultimate virtue."  And who exactly are these supposedly idolatrous prochoicers?  Gehring and Campbell do not say.

Canard #3:  Barack Obama Seeks Abortion Reduction

According to Gehring and Campbell,

"President Barack Obama has made abortion reduction a priority of his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships."

In fact, the president and the Democratic Party have taken a different tack that emphasizes reducing unintended pregnancies, and thus the "need" for abortion.  Here is the relevant section of the OFBNP mission statement from the White House web site:  

"It will be one voice among several in the administration that will look at how we support women and children, address teenage pregnancy, and reduce the need for abortion."

The Democratic Party platform and the White House rejected language that implies the goal of numerical reduction of abortion sought by the antiabortion lobby for the past two decades.  They use instead, the phrase "reduce the need for abortion" to reflect the view that under the law, the Constitution, the party platform and the view of the vast majority of Americans, that abortion is a legitimate "need."

Canard #4:  Liberals are "angry" about abortion reduction

Gehring and Campbell did not identify a single example -- or offer any evidence whatsoever for their claim that liberals are "angry" about the idea of abortion reduction -- or if anyone was, so what if they were?

There are no hard choices and no sacrifices in the land of anti-abortion leaders. There is no recognition that giving up a child for adoption is a long-term source of grief for a significant percentage of the birth mothers. There is no recognition of the long term disadvantage faced by teen mothers and babies raised by teen mothers without substantial familial and community support. There is no recognition that children have needs once born, and no willingness to step up and help poor mothers on a long-term basis. Somehow everything is sweetness and light once the baby is born, and no mother is faced with choosing between food and electric bill.

There is no point in discussions with anti-abortion leaders who are unwilling to address real obstacles to raising children: poverty, homelessness or dangerous living conditions, no high-quality infant day care or adequate child-raising stipend, bad schools, etc.

by NancyP on Sat Mar 28, 2009 at 10:08:35 PM EST

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