Progressive, Pro-Life and Full of Yourself

On Tuesday, August 12, a loose coalition of anti-abortion
progressive evangelicals and Catholics held a press event to toot their own
horn. The new Democratic Party Platform, they claimed, took a big step in their
direction. The Platform’s explicit support for a woman’s decision "to have a
child," they argued, represents a common ground position. But the fact that
pro-choice advocates have always supported both the right to choose an abortion
and the right to choose a child
immediately undercuts any illusion that anti-abortion progressives either understand
what choice means or have any sincere desire to stand on common ground with
pro-choice progressives. Rather than
standing on "common ground," these self proclaimed pro-lifers are hanging on
the edge of cliff by their finger tips.

Not only is the new platform stronger
in its support for the right to choose abortion, it embraces the concept of
reproductive justice including not only family planning but comprehensive
sexuality education. If, in fact, these folks had anything to do with this new
plank, they did those of us who are pro-choice a big favor.

The 2004 Platform on choice was 59 words; this year’s
Platform devotes 127 words to the issue and sounds like a lot more than lip
service to women’s reproductive health. Support for Roe in the old Platform was
justified on the basis of privacy and women’s equality. The new Platform makes
no mention of privacy; instead, it derives
its moral authority from a "woman’s right to choose safe and legal abortion"
and talks about empowering people to make informed choices. A notable omission is
the Clintonian phrase "safe, legal and rare," replaced by a more honest and
modest goal of reducing unintended pregnancy through better health care, family
planning and comprehensive sex education. Sex education was not even mentioned
in the old Platform.

The progressive pro-life desire to see the Platform commit
to reducing abortions was subtly undercut; this year, the Platform merely
"recognizes" that sex ed, family planning and good health care will have the
effect of reducing the need for abortion. In all other areas, the Platform uses
strong language of commitment: the Party "strongly and unequivocally supports
Roe" and "strongly supports access to affordable family planning services." Even
the Platform’s support for pre and post natal care and income support for women
who have children is properly framed as a right on its own and not as a means
to reducing the need for abortion.

All in all, the Platform comes very close to embracing the
full reproductive health agenda that has been consistently advocated by the pro-choice,
progressive women’s movement.

So why, you might ask, are "pro-life" progressives (PP’ers) claiming
victory in this Platform? Jim Wallis of Sojourners, the group that called the
press conference, acted as spin meister extraordinaire, calling the Platform an
"historic step forward" and thereby situating himself as a political power
broker. As evangelicals in the pews leave the hard right and flock toward megachurches
which focus less on controlling personal behavior and more on "feel good" faith,
including feeling good about helping the poor and saving the environment, a new
set of leaders is taking a closer look at the Democratic Party and positioning
themselves near left-leaning evangelicals like Wallis. It is here where common political
ground is being made. Up-and-coming religious leaders are as interested in
political power as are those of the hard right – and they know as well as
anyone else does that power is moving back to the hands of the Democrats.

This is the likeliest explanation for spinning a thoroughly
progressive pro-choice plank as an anti-abortion victory. As the Sojourners’ press conference
progressed, it became clear that other than vague support for women who choose to
continue pregnancies and "caring adoption laws," there was next to nothing in
the plank these folks supported. Doug Kmiec, an antiabortion Republican
Catholic who has endorsed Obama, noted that "The Platform still falls short of
the Catholic ideal." Falls short! It is a slap in the face to Kmiec’s Catholic
ideal, which includes not only no abortion but no birth control even for
married couples, and abstinence-only sexuality curricula. The Platform also makes
an oblique reference to condoms as a means of preventing the transmission of
HIV and AIDS, which the Catholic Church still rejects.

Others on the call and in the small coalition of PPers and pro-life
Democrats have even declined to support family planning, in spite of Wallis’
claim that the new Platform moves us from "symbolism to substance" and offers
concrete ways to reduce the number of abortions. Given his and his colleagues’ failure to support the measures that would
really reduce the need for abortion, this was pure rhetoric. Wallis’ Sojourners
"takes no position on contraception" and Democrats for Life refused to endorse
the contraceptive provisions in the Ryan-DeLauro bill entitled ‘Reducing the Need for
Abortion." Frankly, it is hard to accept that these groups have a genuine
interest in common ground on reducing the need for abortion when they refuse to
support the single most important measure that would make that happen – "access to affordable family planning" – and
these groups aren’t even Catholic. It is either naïve or cynical to pretend
that we will reduce the number of abortions by changing adoption laws or by the
totally inadequate funds we think we might get allocated to help women raise
kids. When you scratch the surface, the PPers are often sadly mostly just anti-abortion.

During the conference call, the group indicated it would push
for further language changes. Some questioned whether there was ever a "need"
for abortion. These progressives seem to resemble population controllers of old
— it is only the numbers that matter, not people’s lives. A progressive
Christian who has no sympathy for a woman who is carrying a deformed or
disabled child, who is herself stricken with cancer, or who already has more
children that she can care for, is suspect. And if that Christian is dumb
enough to believe that the Platform should not talk about reducing "the need"
for abortion — because there are always church groups
and anti-abortion groups ready to provide baby clothes or find good Christian
homes for babies who would have been aborted — he or she doesn’t
belong in Democratic politics.

The biggest disappointment the PPers acknowledged about the
Platform was that it did not moralize about abortion. But Wallis took solace in
the belief that the plank makes room for people with "moral convictions about
abortion" — as if those of us who support the right to choose have no moral
conviction that undergirds our respect for choice. In our Salon article Are Democrats Backpedaling on Abortion, Kate Michelman and I
warned against "going down the path of moral pandering on abortion," and
we are pleased the Party was of the same mind.

I take solace in the fact that the Democratic Party did
indeed move forward. I am certain that the quiet, experienced voices of
pro-choice leaders carried far more weight than Democrats and fellow travelers
who oppose a woman’s right to decide whether abortion or childbearing and
rearing is the best moral decision they can make.

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  • scott-swenson

    Frances, Thanks for this great perspective. What strikes me most about this is that it represents a comprehensive education and prevention agenda, long promoted by the pro-choice community, and that result was able to happen by including diverse perspectives. I dare say the GOP platform committee won’t give as much prominence to a pro-choice group if they include one at all. If they did, does anyone believe that the extreme far-right leaders who control the GOP would allow anything about sex-ed other than support for failed abstinence-only policies, or given what the Bush Administration is trying to do now to redefine contraception as abortion, even mention the word contraception? Very doubtful. To top it all off, that Obama’s platform coming out of the convention will progress from the Clinton language of “safe, legal and rare” must be a good sign for many women who supported Clinton in the primaries, and even more indication of party unity that the candidates themselves have been demonstrating in spite of a few vocal holdouts. What is most important about this platform from a purely political viewpoint is that takes giant steps toward returning all sexual and reproductive health care issues to their proper domain — health care — by putting the focus on education and prevention, grounding the morality of choice with the individuals involved, and coming much closer to representing a broad range of perspectives on the issue than far-right social conservatives will ever allow.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    I love how RH Reality Check continues to push for polarization and I applaud you in this effort. Those irritating moralists who seem to think that carrying a child to term and giving him or her a chance at life is a more moral choice than aborting it need to go back to their own party and stop meddling in pro-choice affairs. As long as we can keep minimalizing and mocking them, we should be able to alienate them enough so that they become even more solidly conservative because they see that the Democratic Party has no patience with their “There is a God, and every life is sacred” crap. I know the majority of Americans see abortions as a tragedy and want to reduce the number of abortions overal, but that’s just because they’re dumb and don’t understand reproductive health issues

  • invalid-0

    I know feminists claim that supporting a woman’s choice to bring a child to term has always been on their agenda and I have no doubt that it always has, but the truth is that the perception is different. As a person sympathetic to the feminist movement, but not ever directly involved, I have never heard explicit support for pregnant woman bringing her child to term. In fact, I more often hear feminists deriding the choice of “stay-at-home” moms. Yes, feminists have always pushed for more services for women, but never in the context of reducing abortions. I know this is not the way you want it spun, but this is part of what makes the new abortion plank a potential ground for compromise: it can align the goals of pro-lifers up with your goals of promoting services for women. I think your attempts to marginalize them is unfortunate and exhibits a refusal to compromise when they are reaching out. Instead you seem to mock them unecessarily and feed flames that have no need of fueling. Instead of celebrating the increased support for your sympathies, the 2 articles I have seen in RH Reality Check take a disproportionate amount of space explaining how Christians are deluding themselves and insisting that Christians must make more than just a practical compromise here. You insist on (what is perceived to them to be) a moral compromise. I know you don’t see it this way, but why can you not respect their conscience on this issue? The Christian leaders you mock here certainly respect your moral position on choice even if they do not fully agree with you. You may think them “dumb,” but it seems understandable that many people would question the “necessity” of abortion in any circumstance that it does not amount to a miscarriage (i.e. cases where the health of the mother is at stake). Anyhow, I assume this is fruitless comment, but I thought it worth the posting.

  • scott-swenson

    Courageous Anonymous Commenter:

    RH Reality Check does something that the anti-choice movement could never possibly do, we recognize a diversity of perspectives within and among even the pro-choice community, and as stated in my comment above, applaud inclusive dialog that leads to education, prevention and the recognition that women have the right and the moral authority to make decisions about whether and when to have children. Many of us who write for this site are people of faith, so far from excluding people, we welcome those people of faith who share similar values. To the point Frances was making, I think she is right to call out evangelical leaders who have not recognized that feminists and pro-choice people have always championed women’s choices no matter what. We recognize that based on screeds like yours that mainstream media and politicians have bought into for so long, that may be a surprise. Far from being polarizing, we’re demonstrating that the vast majority of Americans, believers and non, want to move toward education and prevention policies. The few people who your argument still resonates with will not like anything any of us ever have to say, and as an American I celebrate that. I celebrate more the coming of a truly pro-choice majority that will end the ways in which single issue people like you have held our democracy hostage for a generation. Can you point to one thing anyone in the “pro-life” movement has said that seeks to bring this nation together rather than misinform, distort, lie and instead tear us apart?

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • scott-swenson

    Thanks for the comment. The diversity of opinion is important and we try to reflect that, even by going so far as to allow something the anti-choice sites don’t … commenting from all perspectives. I actually happen to agree in part with you, though I understand and appreciate the argument being made by Frances above and Emily yesterday. I do see this as a moment when Americans are starting to realize that progressive’s platform of education, prevention and respecting a woman’s moral authority makes more sense than the strict prohibition arguments that the extremists on the far-right make. For a long time, Jim Wallis and others have told the sexual and reproductive health community to just be quiet, focus instead on poverty, the environment and bring evangelicals to our side. I understand why pro-choice people might not see that as "respecting your moral position on choice" as you stated. As a Christian, I’m appalled by the way the far-right has been able to manipulate the debate in complete disregard of women for an entire generation now. I agree that this is a moment when we should recognize the progress toward better policies and try as best we can to leave the bitterness of politics behind, but I also agree with Frances that it is time for those who claim moral superiority to make some important moves in this direction too, and acknowledge outright the morality of free will. Quibble with fine points, I do too, but where will you find this much dialog and forward progress toward a healthier discussion of these issues … I wouldn’t go looking in "pro-life" circles for that.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    It is either naïve or cynical to pretend that we will reduce the number of abortions by changing adoption laws or by the totally inadequate funds we think we might get allocated to help women raise kids.

    That is breathtakingly dismissive of the struggle to provide adequate support for mothers who keep their children. It’s no wonder that it took pressure from pro-lifers to get language added to the platform in support of those mothers.

    Of course, income support, health care and child care can reduce the number of abortions. Chris Korzen cited research to that effect on the very call you listened to. In addition, we know that the abortion rate in many Western European countries with strong safety nets, is much lower than the rate in the U.S. Do you dispute that? Or are you just giving up in advance on getting adequate funding for those programs, without even trying?

  • scott-swenson

    Jen R.

    The pro-choice movement has long been about expanding pre- and post-natal care and maternal health around the world as well as in the US. The frustration stems from the fact that so-called “pro-life” people don’t recognize that because of their mono-maniacal focus on one medical procedure. Sexual and reproductive health and maternal health are far more important to pro-choice values than the “pro-life” community would like people to believe. Gee, someone should create an online publication that deals with the wide ranging scope of issues involved in sexual and reproductive health to demonstrate how progressives do that work. Look around Jen, the life work of Frances and many others reflects a much broader agenda than you acknowledge.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    Yes, there are many pro-choicers working to provide support for mothers who want to carry their children to term. I’m well aware of that, though I think that for a lot of people it’s a lower priority than birth control and abortion. Hence, its previous absence from the platform.

    None of that makes Kissling’s statement in this article defensible.

  • invalid-0

    Ultimately, the “diversity of opinion” is a lot narrower than that. Legally speaking, the “pro-choice” plank is nothing more than the suspension of the criminal code. That’s pretty rotten wood to be standing on. If right wing radicals keep sending court cases to a conservative court, you may be throwing yourself on the public relations mercies of the Jim Wallises. The other option is letting the pragmatic legal dystopia play itself out–dead women, men in court accused of rape by women determined on “infanticide,” etc.

    “RH reality check,” meanwhile, lives in a “reproductive health” bubble of its own making that doesn’t really compute with what’s going on. Recasting it as “reproductive rights” just makes the public start to think about what you’re really saying. And when it thinks about it, it’s inclined to levels of disagreement. That’s slim democratic pickings. There’s better support for gay marriage.

    You may come to miss the days of “safe, legal, and rare.” Down the road, the smart thing for the political party may be taking that rotten plank out of its platform completely.

    But, it is your “choice” as you say.

  • invalid-0

    “I also agree with Frances that it is time for those who claim moral superiority to make some important moves in this direction too, and acknowledge outright the morality of free will.”

    But, see, Scott. This is the problem here. We *do not* have complete free will. This is incontrovertible. Complete “free will” is chaos, the state of nature to which modern political theory refers and recognizes as incompatible with civilization.

    To people for whom abortion resembles killing a human being (rightly or wrongly) such a statement is inconsistent with American law. Belittling the religious, as such, is therefore not any sort of adequate response. As a mostly secular person, who is decidedly not part of the “RH reality check” fantasy bubble, this just looks unforgiveably stupid and counterproductive on *your* part given the stakes that you yourself insist are involved.

    It gets too intellectually (and perhaps morally) embarrassing to even call onself a feminist and associate oneself with such people. You rip your own coalitions apart by refusing to exercise your own mental capacities.

    Educate yourself, son. Get out of the bubble, because ultimately “RH reality check” is so simple minded that it’s just plain wrong.

  • mellankelly1

     In fact, I more often hear feminists deriding the choice of "stay-at-home" moms.

    I am a feminist, pro-choice, at home mother.  I have been surrounded by feminists my entire life and I’ve not been ridiculed for my choice to have children and leave the workforce.  What I’ve found is quite different from what you have described.  I was supported equally for my choice to terminate a pregnancy as well as my choice to have children – this reflects the altruistic nature of the feminists I know; they seem to have enough faith in women to believe that they are perfectly capable of making their own sound reproductive decisions (novel idea, no?)

    Yes, feminists have always pushed for more services for women, but never in the context of reducing abortions.

    Yes… never-mind the Prevention First Act or pushing for Plan B to become available to millions of women.  Lets please just ignore these facts in order to get our point across… nobody should notice that.

    I think your attempts to marginalize them is unfortunate and exhibits a refusal to compromise when they are reaching out.

    And I think that your attempt to pretend as if feminists are interested in terminating every pregnancy would be comical if it weren’t so pathetic.

  • scott-swenson

    but for the life of me I can’t figure out what it is. Must be my lazy mental capacities. Are you suggesting that because there is no absolute free will we should control free speech and people’s opinions for better messaging about this? To “belittle the religious” would be belittling myself, and why should I do that when I’ve got anonymous comments from you to do it for me. I’m sorry you have such a disregard for differing opinions, be they about religion or reproductive health. Bottom line, the platform reflects a progressive reproductive health agenda, and it was born of an inclusive process. Again I ask, can you tell me one instance of anything like that happening from the “pro-life” side — either left or right? Ever?

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • harry834

    If you want to alienate people because of their beliefs, nothing works better than advocating for laws that force women to remain pregnant if they don’t want to.

    For all the talk about "big tents" and "tolerating differences of thought", we should remember that the pregnant women who have to make highly consequential decisions about their body need this tolerance more than any of us.

    You’ll let me have a belief in my head, but your belief will rule my body? Thanks, but no thanks. 

  • invalid-0

    In addition, we know that the abortion rate in many Western European countries with strong safety nets, is much lower than the rate in the U.S. Do you dispute that? Or are you just giving up in advance on getting adequate funding for those programs, without even trying?

    Unfortunately, a prevailing view in this country seems to be “every person for him/herself.” Safety nets aren’t very popular these days. For instance, take health insurance. A common complaint is, “why should my insurance company cover Disease X? I don’t have Disease X.” Another person may not have Disease X but instead have Disease Y and therefore not want to pay for Disease X. This ignores the fact that insurance is supposed to spread the risk among a large group of people. You pay for a disease that you may not have, and in turn other people pay for a disease that you might have. Spreading the risk widely is the whole point, but it doesn’t seem to sit well with our sense of individualism.

    Bottom line, I don’t think we can count on safety nets. Unless I’m wrong (and I really hope I will be), we will see inadequate funds being allocated to help women who choose to bring their pregnancies to term. Reducing abortions through this mechanism won’t work.

  • mellankelly1

    This is the problem here. We *do not* have complete free will. This is incontrovertible. Complete "free will" is chaos, the state of nature to which modern political theory refers and recognizes as incompatible with civilization.

    It’s peculiar how the statement made indicated the importance of acknowledging the morality of free will (a voluntary choice or decision) which then became a statement about the chaos of "complete free will".  I’m doubtful that there is a person alive who believes that the mere existence of free will is incompatible with civilization and I’m fairly certain that’s not what was implied by the writers statement.  It would appear as if addressing the morality of free will is quite difficult for some to do.

  • harry834

    pro-lifers use their free will to advocate for laws that force women to remain pregnant against their will. They have yet to own up to this.

  • invalid-0

    Thank you for speaking up for what the pro-choice movement has been saying all along.

    Rev. Debra Haffner

  • invalid-0

    I am a pro-life Democrat.

    Although I fully support a woman’s right to choose what she does with her own body, I cannot agree that the fetus and placenta are part of her body. It is a fact that each new human being begins with a single cell (zygote). We can only disagree on whether these human beings have any rights under the law. I think all human beings should have the same rights as any other person. So far the Supreme Court says I am wrong. Indeed in Roe, Doe, and Casey, the Supreme Court said that a woman can never be forced to remain pregnant, even if the fetus is viable. She merely has to assert that the pregnancy risks her health for the abortion of the viable fetus to be constitutionally protected.

    Regarding birth control, non-religious pro-lifers have two main objections. 1) Long-term hormonal birth control and the IUD often function by preventing implantation of the developing human embryo in the uterine lining. This results in the death of the embryo, something many pro-lifers define as abortion or equate with abortion.

    2) The availability of free/cheap contraception has actually led to an increase in the rate of abortions. It is certainly counterintuitive. Most recently we have see that with the UK, where contraceptives including Plan B are readily and cheaply available, the rate of unplanned pregnancies and abortions has continued to rise.

  • invalid-0

    We can only disagree on whether these human beings have any rights under the law. I think all human beings should have the same rights as any other person. So far the Supreme Court says I am wrong.

    David, have you thought through some of the implications of this?
    There are going to be times when the needs and rights of the mother and the needs of the fetus are diametrically opposed. What are you going to do when that happens? If two non-fetuses were involved, there would most likely be a court case or other process to determine who should prevail. How are you going to do that when one of the parties is a pregnant woman and the other is a fetus, unable to communicate and totally dependent on the other party for pretty much everything? The following things might happen:
    1.) Assume that the mother will want all of her needs met and all of her rights respected. (We’ll leave out, for a moment, what those rights are.) Assume that the fetus will want the same thing. Where does that leave us? Same place we started out, with two parties with opposing claims and the need to decide in favor of one or the other.
    2.) Appoint a separate “advocate” for the fetus. Problem is, how is THAT person going to know what the fetus would want or need? If that person reflexively leans towards putting the fetus’s needs first at all costs, you’re going to wind up with the same situation as in #1.
    The bottom line is that you’re at a point where two parties have opposing needs, and only one of those parties’ needs can be met. If we follow your reasoning, that every “person” has the same rights as everyone else, then there will have to be an arbitrary determination of who should prevail. Why not, then, have the pregnant woman’s wishes and needs prevail? It’s her body that’s involved, not a court’s or judge’s, and ultimately, if she dies or has another bad outcome, chances are the fetus will die or have a bad outcome, too. Then the point is moot.

  • invalid-0

    Abortion policy must be completely secular. In 1797, America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” This reassurance to Islam was written under Washington’s presidency and approved by the Senate under John Adams.

    Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a physician who presided over 60,000 abortions before changing sides on the abortion issue, wrote in his 1979 book Aborting America: “The U.S. statutes against abortion have a non-sectarian history. They were put on the books when Catholics were a politically insignificant minority…even the Protestant clergy was not a major factor in these laws. Rather, the laws were an achievement of the American Medical Association.

    “Traditionally, religion opposes abortion because ‘the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away.’ What about atheists like myself who do not believe in the existence of a personal God? I think that abortion policy ought not be beholden to a sectarian creed…In the case of abortion, however, we can and must decide on the biological evidence…without resorting to scriptures, revelations, creeds, hierarchical decrees, or belief in God. Even if God does not exist, the fetus does.”

    In 1827, Von Baer determined fertilization to be the starting point of individual human life. By the 1850s, medical communities were advocating legislation to protect the unborn. In 1859, the American Medical Association protested legislation which protected the unborn only after “quickening.”

    A rational, secular case thus exists for the rights of the unborn. Individual human life is a continuum from fertilization until death. Zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, toddler, adolescent, adult, etc. are all different stages of human development. To destroy that life at any stage of development is to destroy that individual. The real question in the abortion debate is not the seemingly absurd scenario of giving full human rights to human zygotes, but rather the thorny question of how to legally protect those rights without violating a new mother’s privacy and civil liberties. And the right to privacy is not absolute. If parents are abusing an already born child, for example, government “intrusion” is warranted–children have rights.

    Recognizing the rights of another class of beings limits our freedoms and our choices and requires a change in our lifestyle–the abolition of (human) slavery is a good example of this. A 1964 New Jersey court ruling required a pregnant woman to undergo blood transfusions–even if her religion forbade it�for the sake of her unborn child. One could argue, therefore–apart from religion–that recognizing the rights of the unborn, like the rights of blacks, women, lesbians and gays, children, animals and the environment, is a sign of secular social progress.

    The humanity of the unborn: Are the unborn human? Yes. Biologically, the unborn are not only human, they have an individual human genetic identity; 46 human chromosomes. Virtually all medical authorities (physicians, biologists, etc.) agree with geneticist Ashley Montagu who wrote: “the fact is simple. Life begins not at birth, but at conception.” J. Lejeune of Paris, discoverer of the chromosome pattern of Down’s syndrome, observed: “Each individual has a very neat beginning, at conception.”

    When does human life begin? “At conception,” states Professor W. Bowes of the University of Colorado. Professor M. Matthews-Roth of Harvard writes: “It is scientifically correct to say that individual human life begins at conception.” Dr. Mary Calderon of Planned Parenthood in the 1960s, wrote: “Fertilization has taken place; a baby has been conceived.”

    Everything that defines a person physically is present at fertilization–only oxygen, nutrients and time to develop are required. The unborn child has his or her own genetic code, EEG trackings, and circulatory system. Often, the blood type and sex of the unborn child will also differ from that of the mother. The heart of the unborn child begins beating at 18 days, and is pumping blood at 21 days. The brain is functioning at 40 days–EEG trackings have been made at less than six weeks gestation. The unborn child responds to stimuli by the sixth to eighth week. Rapid Eye Movements (REMs) characteristic of actual dream states, are present in 23 weeks. There are clearly two distinct individuals (mother and child) present during pregnancy.

    “I will maintain the utmost respect for human life, from the time of conception; even under threat, I will not use my medical knowledge contrary to the laws of humanity.”

    —Declaration of Geneva
    World Medical Association
    September, 1948

    “The child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.”

    —A Declaration of the Rights of the Child
    United Nations General Assembly

    “Is birth control an abortion?”

    “Definitely not. An abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun.”

    —Planned Parenthood pamphlet
    August 1963

    “Every person has the right to have his life respected, this right shall be protected by law and, in general, from the moment of conception. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life.”

    —American Convention on Human Rights in San Jose
    November 22, 1969

    “The reverence of each and every human life has been the keystone of Western medicine… it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous, whether intra- or extra-uterine. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not put forth under socially impeccable auspices.”

    Journal of the California State Medical Association
    September 1970

    In one anti-abortion pamphlet, Dr. Jean Garton states that religion did not discover when human life begins, the biologists did. The fact that religious people may oppose abortion does not make abortion a “religious” issue any more than the fact that religious people may oppose drunk driving makes drunk driving a “religious” issue. In her book, Who Broke the Baby?, Dr. Garton compares discrimination against the human unborn to other forms of discrimination:

    “By placing unborn human beings outside the protection of the law, it became possible to deny them basic rights. This is not the first time in our history that we have made a distinction between the biological category of living human beings and the legal concept of ‘person.’ At one time in our history American Indians were not legal persons because we did not grant them the protection of our Constitution. Thus we were able to take by force anything which belonged to them.

    “Usually what we wanted was their land, so we denied them the right to property. Next in our national list of non-persons were black slaves, declared to be chattel and property of their masters as a result of the Dred Scott decision of 1857…In 1973, another group of human beings was added to the non-person list: the unborn.”

  • harry834

    any once-defined defintion of a non-person: racial minorities, gays, what have you, and they all differ from the unborn in a crucial way –

    all of the other minorities do not require the woman’s body to inhabit.

    Anyone who insists that the unborn be protected is implicitly insisting that woman MUST carry their pregnancies – and all the emotional, physical consequences of them – whether they want to or not, whether they can afford to or not, whether they have to sacrifice everything to carry, bear, and look after the child, even until the indefinite time when it’s ready for adoption.

    This is why personhood status is rejected for the unborn, but not those other groups. It does seem to compare the two is to forget and ignore the hardship of the woman carrying it in her body.

    If unborn children were conceived and developed in a an artificial container, then you could protect them to all extents. But they do not grow in containers, they grow in other human beings, and these human beings have the ultimate say of what grows inside of them.

  • marysia

    Prochoicers frequently challenge prolifers to care for the already born.  And that’s a  fair and good challenge, I wholly agree–it makes no sense to care about one group of humans while undermining another.


    Unfortunately, when prolifers do show some signs that maybe some of us do care about humans after they’re born–suddenly, it’s not real concern, it is all invalid, it’s all just selfserving hogwash….


    I have written about this unfortunate dynamic <a href="">here</a&gt;.

    I find this immensely, immensely frustrating because, honestly, Frances, I would love to work *with* you and other prochoicers to address such vital issues as contraception, comprehensive sex education, and comprehensive social welfare policies for women and children before, during, and ever after pregnancy.  And I am hardly alone in this.

    But how can this ever happen if people like me are never judged to have real concern for the already born, if we are continually found wanting, and wanting, and wanting in basic human caring? 

  • marysia


    Of course prochoice people are working on a broad range of reproductive justice issues.  But you know, there are prolife people doing the same thing!   One might never know it from reading RHReality Check, though…and I find that immensely frustrating.

    The sooner both "sides" recognized the reciprocal unfairness of the monomania charge in many, many cases….the sooner there could be cooperative action on the many things that could and even already do unite us.

    It doesn’t help when someone of Frances Kissling’s activist stature  apparently dismisses the very possibility that any progressives could truly both oppose abortion and advocate for the very measures that reduce it–and that not simply because these measures prevent abortion, but because we regard these as human rights, women’s human rights, in and of themselves.


    It would be a lot better  not only if prolifers stopped assuming that prochoicers don’t care about anything but abortion….but if prochoicers would realize the same about many of their purported "enemies."

     You know, I, for one, get immensely tired of the charge that no prolifer could possibly care about anybody after they’re born…


    For example, I’ve been told, adamantly, despite all evidence given to the contrary, that I am virulently anticontraception when in fact, I’ve been publicly advocating for contraception since probably before some of my accusers were born!  That’s just for starters….

    The other day I read something about how those awful "antichoicers" couldn’t *possibly* care about disabled children who aren’t aborted.  Didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or scream at that one! 

    Don’t care about disabled kids who do get born, hunh….Not only I am a disabled woman with a disability rights consciousnes, I suppose that toal uncaring explains  why I’ve been going to the ICU every day for several hours to give the parents of my congenitally disabled grandson respite!

    And why since even years before his unplanned conception, I behaved as if  the issues now central to his life and wellbeing–disability rights, justice for people of color, universal health care, etc, etc–as issues going far, far beyond any one individual, as matters demanding immediate and thorough and comprehensive collective responsibility…


    And if people reading this post think I’m a big fat antichoice liar, then please visit and and decide for yourself whether I am telling the truth….

    This charge from prochoicers can be just as unfair as the one from prolifers that you all are single-issue monomaniacs…. What good things could happen if everyone lay down their verbal weapons?

  • invalid-0

    I’d like to think that it is neither comical nor pathetic, but I leave the language of ridicule up to you. If you see me as trying to paint that picture, then I expressed myself incorrectly. I was trying to express that this is how I have seen the movement in expression by those around me and felt by more conservative women I know. I think the same thing happens to Christians: the perception, often, does not represent how Christians actually are (i.e. for a long time I viewed them as hateful toward those with different viewpoints, but having gotten to know more or them, I see that the majority are deeply loving people and that this is what Christianity actually teaches). And if I missed key pieces of legislation supported by the Feminist movement and made incorrect assumptions and conclusions, then I apologize because I am rather new to this whole debate and trying to think about it deeply. That being said, I feel the dialogue could be aided by not reverting to sarcasm and intentionally hurtful comments. I understand that you may, perhaps, deal with ignorance in abundance, often expressed in hateful terms, but I would caution you against alienating those like me who tend to agree with you on policies, but may get caught up in the moral argument and struggle to understand this issue. I have no problem with you pointing out flaws in my argument, but I would appreciate if it could be done in less vitroilic terms.

    God Bless.

  • marysia

    Scott writes:

    "Can you point to one thing anyone in the "pro-life" movement has said that seeks to bring this nation together rather than misinform, distort, lie and instead tear us apart? "


    One thing?  I can point to a bunch of things that some prolifers, myself included, have been saying, and saying, and saying, and saying for decades, for example, about the need to join with prochoicers and address genuinely shared reproductive justice concerns.

    If nobody believes this, I cordially invite you to, for example, visit the Nonviolent Choice Directory, to see and hear for yourself.

    If people like me are going unseen and unheard despite years of effort,   I don’t know why.  It’s not for lack of effort, believe you me.

    But I suspect one reason may be because people on *both* sides of the abortion debate so frequently make totalistic, demonizing, oversimplifying assumptions about the intractable horridness of the Dreaded "other"…and anything more complex or human or constructive than that is blotted out and shouted over….

  • mellankelly1

    I’d like to think that it is neither comical nor pathetic, but I leave the language of ridicule up to you

    Would that it were comical… however I must admit that when I read statements which claim that feminists do not have the best interest of women in mind (including reducing the need for unnecessary surgery) it does elicit feelings of melancholy and often-times compassionate pity from me (i.e. pathetic).   Perhaps I found it rather ironic that this statement was made "Instead you seem to mock them unecessarily and feed flames that have no need of fueling" in the same paragraph in which you indicated that the blame for our apparent inability to find common ground lay squarely on the shoulders of feminists who support a woman’s right to choose the course her pregnancy should take:  

    "I have never heard explicit support for pregnant woman bringing her child to term. In fact, I more often hear feminists deriding the choice of "stay-at-home" moms. Yes, feminists have always pushed for more services for women, but never in the context of reducing abortions. I know this is not the way you want it spun, but this is part of what makes the new abortion plank a potential ground for compromise"

    Really?  How we "want it spun?"  What does that even mean?  Seems to me that certain flames were being fueled by those generalizations as well.  Unfortunately we are limited by the words we choose to use in order to express ourselves (particularly when using the written word) and I suppose it is possible that I misjudged those statements.  Maybe it’s that I’ve always had a difficult time imagining legislatures and ideology having more of an influence than Doctors and medicine when it comes to the reproductive needs of myself and my daughters.  

    I feel the dialogue could be aided by not reverting to sarcasm and intentionally hurtful comments.

    Sarcasm… you betchya (in my opinion, it would be virtually impossible not to use ironic language after so many years of dealing with those opposed to abortion.)  Intentionally hurtful comments… no, if the comments were hurtful, I promise that wasn’t my intention. 

    I understand that you may, perhaps, deal with ignorance in abundance, often expressed in hateful terms, but I would caution you against alienating those like me who tend to agree with you on policies, but may get caught up in the moral argument and struggle to understand this issue

    And how… but ignorance expressed in hateful terms does not bother me in the least.  At least, not when expressed by complete strangers on the Internet.  No, what bothers me is that one can believe that their opinions (or moral arguments) should have any bearing what-so-ever in regards to the reproductive decisions of all women.  I’m not being hostile, I am merely stating my opinion which is exactly what I did in my first response.

  • invalid-0

    I would encourage you to be intellectually honest with yourself. In context with the word comical, I get the impression that your use of the word “pathetic” took on the meaning “so inadequate as to be laughable or contemptible.” If that was not the case, then perhaps a better word choice was in order, given the connotations.

    I was not in any way saying that the blame for a lack of common ground lies squarely on the shoulders of feminists. That is not what said, nor what I tried to imply (in fact, I think rabid pro-lifers, their cries of “baby-killer,” and the subversive nature in which they have tried to undermine Roe v. Wade s been a major roadblock to any progress on this issue). Maybe I could have used better word choice, too. My point, however, would be that in this case, a few pro-lifers DID try to reach common ground. They acknowledge that the new platform strongly reinforces the legal protections for abortion, but they also see some common ground for cooperation (what I meant by the spun comment is that the reproductive health community views services for pregnant woman not as helping to reduce abortion, but simply providing the kinds of services to which women ought to be entitled). The above article seems to ridicule those few who are working toward a common ground on what is a very difficult personal and political issue for them. I know it’s not the common ground that the reproductive health community would prefer, but it’s also not the common ground that the far right desires either. The whole point is that finding a common ground on such a divisive issue would require sacrifices from both sides, and each will always be wishing the ground was closer to their position. Most people in America simply don’t have your kind of clarity on the issue.

    Obviously there are fundamental differences in the way we approach arguments and I am not sure that achieving anything more fruitful is possible. In my world view, as in many others, opinions do not equate with moral arguments. There is a right and a wrong, even if people can be confused about which is which (and resources such as the Bible help provide guidance). In this case, if life begins at conception, then abortion involves the termination of a life, or at least the termination of a potential life and that is wrong. Now the debate is more nuanced and difficult than that, in my opinion, but I can respect the viewpoint of people who view the issue through that lens, just as I respect your viewpoint that does not seem to see “morality” in any absolute sense. To me, that is how – quite understandably -“one can believe that their opinions (or moral arguments) should have any bearing what-so-ever in regards to the reproductive decisions of all women.” If you view something as wrong (such as child abuse), then it is easy to see a corresponding obligation to stop that wrong. I mean why should my opinions (or moral arguments) have any bearing what-so-ever in regards to the parenting choices of other parents? If they want to beat their children and sexually abuse them, is that simply their rights as parents? I think few would argue that. Again, the abortion debate is more nuanced and difficult than that situation, but I am trying to understand your arguments because they don’t seem to be applicable in a broad scale.

    If anything, this dialogue increases my respect for the Democrats and their ability to find language that both pro-lifers and pro-choicers could hail as victories.

  • invalid-0

    Lots of fertilized eggs die natural deaths and are never implanted. This happens without the aid of birth control of any sort.

    I’ve also got bad news in that the fetus USES the BODY of the woman as a source of life- without the woman it can’t survive.
    Hence a dilemma.
    What people are worked up about is that a woman has free will and can decide whether or not she wants to become pregnant or raise a child. In both cases there are options (birth control, sterilization, Plan B, abortion or adoption.). To limit these options doesn’t make for a particularly kind or decent society and puts women in the role of a host and a host only.

    >The availability of free/cheap contraception has actually >led to an increase in the rate of abortions.
    and the non-availability of contraception or abortion has led to huge population increases and deaths from starvation, disease, overpopulation woes etc.

  • invalid-0

    If I have “the morality of free will” as Scott says, then I have the moral right to kill my own mother. After all, it’s her needs versus mine. I think mine are more important. And if, as Harry (I believe) says, “human beings have the ultimate say over what grows inside of them,” then I have the right to kill my unborn child because a geneticist thinks it may have Down’s Syndrome. And I don’t like Down’s Syndrome, the people who have it have really dumb facial expressions. And I have a strong need not to look at that misshaped face.
    Frances’s contempt for those who apply morality to the abortion issue would be comical if it wasn’t so poorly reasoned and with such tragic results. If people believe in God, then wouldn’t they likewise believe in God the Creator and final Judge of souls? Couldn’t we then free-will ourselves straight to hell, and can’t we women have full say over our bodies…up to the point of the ultimate judgment of our souls after we die? Choosing to kill one’s own child isn’t a human right and it isn’t natural. It’s an immoral act requiring an immoral, uninformed, or malformed judgment. The only repair for such an act is God’s mercy. I know.

  • invalid-0

    Where the arguement bog down is that people from both sides of the debate think there is a one size fits all solution. I don’t think most mainstream people would support forcing a woman to have a child that was conceived from sexual assault.

    Yet there are self righteous people who would justify that to help all the other unborn children born out of wedlock by accident.