Conceiving Common Ground


Last November, the American people voted in change. For President
Obama, common ground in tough debates not only is possible, it is
urgently necessary to move America forward. On one of the hardest,
most intractable of issues — abortion — Obama has signaled his
intention to move us beyond the divisiveness of old and into the realm
of shared values that can offer real solutions. Unfortunately, some of
the soldiers in the abortion wars — including some of my friends in
the pro-choice movement — have not yet adapted to the changing times.

We in the pro-choice movement must embrace and not fear common ground
on abortion. We do not sacrifice our support for abortion rights. We
add to it common ground.

Let’s understand what common ground on abortion means. As Third Way
has always said, common ground on abortion is reducing abortions
without criminalization and without coercion. A common ground abortion
agenda seeks to address the root causes of abortion and thereby reduce
the need for abortion. It has two policy tracks: prevention of
unintended pregnancy, because almost half of all unintended
pregnancies end in abortion, and support for pregnant women and new
families, because one of the top two reasons women say they have
abortions is that they cannot afford a child.

To be clear, prevention includes contraception, comprehensive sex
education, and helping parents communicate with their teens about sex
and healthy relationships. Support includes increasing health care
coverage for pregnant women and children, providing pregnant and
parenting women with additional resources to stay in school, and
helping new families pay for food and child care. It also removes
obstacles to adoption. This is the exact approach that pro-life Tim
Ryan and pro-choice Rosa DeLauro decided to take with us when it was
time to craft their common ground abortion legislation — "The
Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act."

This approach does not entail abandoning principles for either side.
From the pro-choice perspective, it leaves in place the right to an
abortion. From the pro-life perspective, it does not expand or codify
abortion rights.

Former head of Catholics for a Free Choice, Frances Kissling, when
endorsing the Ryan-DeLauro bill upon its introduction in 2006,
explained how this approach also has the effect of strengthening both
sides:
"This two-pronged approach avoids an ideological stalemate and bridges
the gap between sensible, well-motivated members of Congress who hold
differing views on abortion. For those opposed to abortion rights, the
recognition that contraception is vital in reducing the need for
abortion is critical. For those who support the right to abortion, a
stronger commitment to helping women continue pregnancies without
sinking deeper in to poverty is a core value of the pro-choice
community."

I would go further and say that the pro-choice community also benefits
from the aspect of common ground that acknowledges and respects the
moral complexity of abortion. Women in my generation and younger have
grown up without the baggage of the fight over the fundamental right
to abortion that our mothers faced. We may have vestiges of the
warrior mentality, but our outlook is more nuanced than absolutist. In
order to fully connect with the values of this generation, the
pro-choice movement, in addition to demonstrating its commitment to
protecting access to legal and safe abortions, needs to acknowledge
the moral complexity of this issue.
Another strength of this approach is that it broadens our family
planning coalition to include centrist Evangelical Christians. For
example, Reverend Joel Hunter, former head of the Christian Coalition,
now publicly supports birth control and comprehensive sex education.
You can find a list of other new friends like him here. This is a
marked change of course for these pro-lifers. It’s another sign of the
changing times and something to celebrate.

We should also be rejoicing that pro-life members of Congress, like
Congressman Bart Stupak, co-chair of the congressional pro-life
caucus, are now on record supporting family planning as part of common
ground on abortion. We all know that the pro-life member of Congress
who supports family planning has been a dying breed this whole decade.
Thanks to the Ryan-DeLauro bill, pro-lifers who support birth control
are coming back into vogue.

Many of my generational peers and those willing to embrace change,
including the new President of the United States, are moving solidly
in this direction, opening eyes and ears to this potentially
transformative third way on abortion. Isn’t it time to join in this
historic moment?

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • invalid-0

    Rachel,

    You and Jodi Jacobson should sit down and chat over coffee some day. Have a look at this article she penned, on some of the potential problems of the “common ground” approach.

    One issue I’d point out: When you say “that the pro-choice community also benefits from the aspect of common ground that acknowledges and respects the moral complexity of abortion,” you (1) imply that the pro-choice community doesn’t already respect the process by which a woman applies her own values to the decision (not) to have an abortion, and (2) come dangerously close to endorsing the stigmatization of abortion, which is not progress.

    I’m not pooh-poohing the whole idea of the “common ground” approach; as a pragmatic political strategy to achieve some real gains for women, it definitely has wheels. But I believe your enthusiasm for it needs some caveats and qualifiers. There’s no guarantee that this approach is going to generate positive results. The eternal vigilance must continue to be applied.

  • colleen

    “For example, Reverend Joel Hunter, former head of the Christian Coalition, now publicly supports birth control and comprehensive sex education.”

    First, while I appreciate that Mr Hunter has become a bit more sane the reports of his conversion are hardly inspiring. The numbers of people in this country who do NOT support birth control poll in the single digits. Politically speaking there is no downside to supporting contraceptives unless you’re seeking a position with at the Vatican.
    I haven’t looked up the support for comprehensive sex ed but suspect that, particularly after the disgusting and expensive display of publicly funded proselytizing which was ab-onl, I imagine an alternative would have wide public support.
    Joel Hunter and his ilk strike me as men with an eye for the main chance and, of course, the money. Why he or Jim Wallis or any of those folks should have any say at all in the private decisions of women they do not know and who do not want to know them remains a mystery to me.

    “Isn’t it time to join in this historic moment?”

    I don’t think so, certainly not without the details of the deal this coalition will produce. I remember the ‘promise of welfare reform’ which was, after all, the product of a similar coalition, as if it happened only a decade or so ago. This sounds so much that that particularly savage inquisition and, in this case, a demonization of pretty much the same demographic group, ‘irresponsible’ low income women. Will the feds give Joel Hunter and his ilk lots of money to ‘help’ women and their children?

  • invalid-0

    In 1971 philosopher Judith Jarvis Thompson argued that even if a fetus is a human being a woman couldn’t be forced to keep her fetus alive. She likened it to a situation where you found yourself hooked up to a violinist and chose to unplug yourself and kill him. If this is analogous to abortion (which is compounded by sex typically being consensual and the “violinist” being one’s son or daughter) then it has big implications for the common ground movement and resolves problems for the pro-choice movement. Here are just a few:

    1. Both pro-lifers and pro-choicers would agree that a fetus is a human being that has the same right to life as you or I (just not a right to life support). That would really bring the camps together in an unprecedented way. It would also let pro-choicers accept the patently obvious fact that abortion kills a living, whole, distinct member of the human species, or a human being and not look irrational by denying it.

    2. It would explain why women regret their abortions (even if you had the right to unplug yourself from the violinist you may regret killing him).

    3. It would explain why we have laws that charge the murder of a pregnant woman as two homicides (if you were killed while you were consensually plugged into the violinist, then your killer would also be responsible for the violinist’s death. However, you would still have the right to kill the violinist yourself by unplugging.)

    4. Most importantly it would explain why we should reduce abortions dramatically but keep them legal. After all, a world where fewer people had to choose to unplug themselves from a violinist would be a better world. It would be wrong to force people to stay plugged in, but we could give people resources to make that choice (i.e. pregnancy assistance), or more importantly, prevent these situations from occurring in the first place (i.e. contraception).

    To summarize, the common ground compromise to this debate is to declare that abortion a legal right that is also (in some circumstances) a moral wrong and that we should reduce abortions to the ideal number of zero. Some may say that goal is unrealistic. Well, so is ending world hunger and war, but we don’t give up on peace or feeding the starving because of that do we?

  • emma

    DerekP,

    Why on earth would I want to ‘declare abortion a moral wrong’ when I don’t believe it is one? And you do realise that your statement that we must acknowledge that abortion kills a whole, distinct human being really conveniently writes the pregnant woman out of the picture. As long as a foetus is in a woman’s body, connected to her body and borrowing her nutrient supply, it is *not* distinct or separate from her.

    Re: the OP – I don’t know. I’m always a little wary of compromising with evangelical christian types. As long as they’re building altars to foetuses in their bedrooms and worshipping them several times a day, well…how much common ground can anyone find with that??

  • invalid-0

    1. Many of us have never been in the “pro-choice movement” which basically says that if abortion is legal, then it is accessible. For many reasons outlined on this very website in many articles, that is far from the truth.

    2. “Reducing the need for abortion” as a social agenda is an insult and is a obvious display of society’s contempt for women- we should be given full access to birth control methods because they promote and support our overall health and well being, not because someone else doesn’t like abortion. We want to be able prevent, space, and plan for births because it is our fundamental human right and we deserve to live and care for ourselves with dignity. If this include choosing abortion, or even depending on abortion as primary or backup method, then that is our right.

    3. The whole safe, legal, rare thing -reworked here as something not but is not- is stigmatizing. Cause if its supposed to be “rare” and then you have one, then what? Not conforming to public policy goals, how irresponsible.

  • invalid-0

    What Emma said. I’d also like to address this bit:

    Both pro-lifers and pro-choicers would agree that a fetus is a human being that has the same right to life as you or I (just not a right to life support). That would really bring the camps together in an unprecedented way. It would also let pro-choicers accept the patently obvious fact that abortion kills a living, whole, distinct member of the human species, or a human being and not look irrational by denying it.

    Um, no. I’m not going to concede to the dangerous intellectual idiocy of saying that an early-stage zygote/embryo/fetus is a “member of the human species” in the same manner that you and I are such. A pile of a billion pebbles may be a mountain, but a single pebble IS NOT a mountain—and one of the most bizarre aspects of this debate is how it has hit so many people with the stupid stick hard enough that they will say yes, a single pebble *is* a mountain.

    No. Even putting aside how dangerous that assertion is to the autonomy of women (which, of course, is why it came into being in the first place), it’s complete and utter stupidity of the willful sort. Fifty years from now, social scientists are going to be writing papers about how this sort of thinking became so widespread in this day and age; grandchildren will ask why everyone was “so dumb” back then. Me, and hopefully everyone else in the pro-choice movement? We’ll keep our brains switched on, thank you very much, and continue to call onto the carpet those who don’t.

  • invalid-0

    isn’t common ground, but more my way or the highway of you anti-choicers. A fetus becomes a person through birth, when it seperates from the woman carrying it and is fully developed and can function on it’s own. Not before, even with all of the rhetoric that you anti-choicers use. A birth certificate validates OUR views, and invalidates YOURS. For as long as a fetus is part of a woman’s body, her life and future are more important, for SHE would be the one that would be responsible for it if she so CHOOSES to bring it to fruition. (BIRTH). Adoption is a valid option, but that choice again is the woman’s. We will not be wombs for infertile people if we choose not to carry a fetus to term. The choice is always OURS. As a man, you will never know just how hard that choice can be, or the relief of the woman who aborts a fetus that she did not want to nurture. So, really, you can never fully appreciate just how important the choice to abort or NOT is to a woman of little means, or how hard birth is on a woman’s body. In fact, by the very nature of your maleness, you can and do ignore the woman alltogether, a little too easily, in my book.

  • paul-bradford

    I wrote this for Cristina Page’s column The Call for Common Ground but it makes sense for both ‘Common Ground’ threads:

     

    I would suggest that one of the best ways to make progress on common goals is to investigate what it is that we have been doing right over the past several years. The abortion rate in 1980 was 29.4 abortions per 1000 women of childbearing age. By 2004, that rate had declined to 19.4. This decline has been almost entirely due to a decline in the abortion rate for unmarried women. That rate has declined from 53.9 in 1981 to 30.9 in 2004.

     

    The abortion rate for unmarried women is the product of three rates: frequency of coitus, conceptive effectiveness (which is the opposite of contraceptive effectiveness) and per cent of pregnancies terminating in abortion. The product of the first two rates, frequency of coitus and conceptive effectiveness, gives us the pregnancy rate. We know the way the pregnancy rate has risen and fallen since 1973 (and we can make pretty good guesses before then) but the government hasn’t done enough research on how the constituent elements of that rate have risen and fallen.

     

    The pregnancy rate (for unmarried women) rose from 56.0 in 1973 to 92.2 in 1991. It would be difficult to argue that the entirety of that rise was due to an increase in conceptive effectiveness. For that to be true, birth control would have had to have been about half as effective in 1991 as it was in 1973. Could people have really gotten that bad at birth control in eighteen years? The other possibility is that the frequency of coitus rose from 1973 to 1991. How much, though, and why? Are there policies which cause that rate to rise? Are there policies which could cause that rate to decline? What about birth control? What policies improve it, what policies make it worse? And, the big question, does a decline in the second rate cause a rise in the first?

     

    I would support spending my taxpayer dollars to get answers to these questions. Meanwhile, people argue from preconceived beliefs rather than actual data. If we want to save lives we need to learn from the data, not interpret the data based on what we want it to be.

     

    One rate we do know about is the percentage of pregnancies that end in abortion. That rate was 66.4% in 1977 and it has fallen steadily to 40.7% in 2004. That’s a big change! From my Pro-Life perspective I would have to say that more women are ‘choosing life'; from my Pro-Life for Choice perspective I would be quick to point out that we got a significant change without significantly restricting a woman’s access to abortion. I think we can continue to see that rate decline without needing to overturn Roe — but we need to learn HOW to do that. What are the factors that cause women to choose childbirth? What are the factors that cause women to choose abortion? No woman wants to have her privacy violated, but if we could get good answers to those questions we would really covering some ground in the effort to protect the unborn.

     

    Paul Bradford  Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

     

  • paul-bradford

    LizaF, Emma, JAN and Anon(4/7, 11:57p) have it right and DerekP has it wrong.

     

    In order to morally justify abortion you have to assert that the unborn do NOT have the same rights as the born. On the other hand, you can justify decriminalizing abortion while asserting that the unborn have as much right to live as the rest of us. That’s because morality is about what our responsibilities are to each other whereas the penal code is about the use of a certain instrument (the justice system) to advance government policies. You don’t have to assess criminal penalties for every immoral action — you only do it if doing so would cause more good than harm. Those of us who know what things were like before 1973 know about the harm that can be done by criminalizing abortion.

     

    We should follow the ‘third way’ and work to reduce abortions in a non-coercive way; but we’re not going to establish abortion reduction as social policy if we don’t think there’s something wrong or bad about abortion. On the other hand, if we do make abortion reduction our policy we will be implying that the unborn have some sort of value beyond their utility to their mothers. We’re going to have to decide that as a society — not as individuals.

     

    I don’t think criminalizing abortion would be feasible, appropriate or likely to be effective so I’m all for ‘keeping abortion safe and legal’ but that doesn’t mean I see any moral justification for abortion. I just think that in the US in 2009 there are better ways to protect the unborn than criminalization

     

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • invalid-0

    We should follow the ‘third way’ and work to reduce abortions in a non-coercive way; but we’re not going to establish abortion reduction as social policy if we don’t think there’s something wrong or bad about abortion.

    That’s why the right approach is not “abortion reduction,” but reduction of the incidence of unwanted pregnancies. What’s the appropriate response to high rates of heart disease? Do you focus on a “heart surgery reduction” policy? Do you proclaim that there is something wrong or bad about heart surgery? Or do you put money behind cardiovascular health programs, so that people won’t get to the point of having heart disease or needing surgery in the first place?

    I’m glad that you are not in favor of criminalizing abortion. But placing moral/social opprobrium on women seeking abortions is not the right way either, because that’s too late in the game, and women in that difficult situation absolutely do not need a high-horse peanut gallery telling them what to do. If you hate heart surgery, then find ways to make people exercise more and not eat so many Big Macs. If you hate abortion, then go for all-out comprehensive sex ed and make contraception as readily available to everyone as aspirin.

    Because as much distaste as you may have for abortion, you’re not going to score any points against it by painting it as a villain. It may feel nice for you to get others to share your aversion for the procedure, but that’s not going to do squat about the actual “problem.” If you really want to “defeat” abortion, you’re going to have to cowboy up, swallow your pride, start acting like a mature grown-up, and take the steps that have been proven to reduce abortion rates instead of those that only succeed in making you feel good about yourself.

    Planned Parenthood may be an abortion services provider, but their larger work as a contraception and sexual-health provider has prevented so many unwanted pregnancies and subsequent abortions that they have been called the most effective pro-life organization in existence. Think about that. Much of the modern pro-life movement has more to do with ideological purity and the unifying effect of an external enemy than the actual issue of “saving” unborn children.

    • mellankelly1

      That’s why the right approach is not "abortion reduction," but reduction of the incidence of unwanted pregnancies. What’s the appropriate response to high rates of heart disease? Do you focus on a "heart surgery reduction" policy? Do you proclaim that there is something wrong or bad about heart surgery? Or do you put money behind cardiovascular health programs, so that people won’t get to the point of having heart disease or needing surgery in the first place?

      That was so perfectly put… I wish I could thank you properly for so succinctly expressing what I was thinking as I read Paul’s words.

  • amanda-marcotte

    As Third Way has always said, common ground on abortion is reducing abortions without criminalization and without coercion.

    The problem is assuming that this is a “third way”, when it’s the standard issue pro-choice stance since the beginning of time. We didn’t call it “reducing abortion”, but we always supported women’s right to contraception, health care, education, housing, etc.

    The reason we don’t have comprehensive sex education right now is because of the anti-choice movement. We can’t reach out to them on the grounds of common ground when they strongly disagree with the grounds we’ve defined as common. We have to work with the anti-choice movement we’ve got—afraid of sex, gender reactionaries, largely homophobic, hostile to contraception—and not the ones we want.

  • amanda-marcotte

    In telling women who have abortions they are bad people.  I’m sorry, but any common ground that posits that 30-40% of American women should be morally condemned for taking care of themselves and their families to the best of their abilities is not one I’m behind.

  • invalid-0

    Excellent points.

  • invalid-0

    “It’s another sign of the changing times and something to celebrate.”

    I have to celebrate when a public figure supports birth control, something 98% of women will use in their lifetimes?

    Is this how low we have set the bar now?

    I won’t give someone a cookie for meeting the bare minimum standards of respecting women.

  • jodi-jacobson

    Hi Rachel,

    Thanks for your thought-provoking post. I agree that it is critical to focus on prevention of unintended pregnancy, and to ensure that we fully fund and promote prevention strategies, policies and funding streams that include contraception, comprehensive sex education, and helping parents communicate with their teens about sex and healthy relationships.  I also agree that all women who have wanted pregnancies should be supported in carrying them to term.

     

    But I differ with you, perhaps not so much on your intentions and your ultimate meaning, but the ways in which you have portrayed certain other aspects of the so-called common ground approach. I offer these thoughts and questions as challenges in the spirit of public debate and clarity and hope you will respond, and do not offer the following in a manner meant to be antagonistic in any way.

     

    One issue I have with the way this is described is the issue of "supporting pregnant women." Supporting a pregnant woman can mean helping her afford an abortion as much as it does making it easier to carry a wanted pregnancy to term. I don’t see that clearly articulated as an aspect of the agenda as you lay it out. Underscoring and supporting the right to choose abortion requires that we acknowledge this part of support as well. If the common ground agenda as you have described it truly and ultimately secures women’s rights to choose, how is this addressed?

     

    Another is that I understand, appreciate, and myself have faced circumstances in the past where I would say: "I can’t afford a child right now." But if I had been pregnant in that time period and had been faced with an unintended pregnancy, I am not sure that a simple short-term "support package" would change my mind.
    Having a child is a lifelong and extremely expensive commitment (and I am not talking here only in financial terms), one to which I have now committed myself twice intentionally and with joy. If there are indeed women who, but for lacking immediate financial resources are aborting an otherwise *wanted* child (and i think this is critical) then surely helping them achieve that end would be great.

     

    But the discussion on common ground put forth to date is very unclear what this means in practice. Does it mean new and more burdensome requirements for women who have decided to seek abortion to go through "financial" counseling and persuasion so they can be further pressured to change their decision about an unwanted pregnancy?
    Does it mean that these services are presented as a "please don’t do this" offer at the point of clinic interaction, or in some other way outside the immediate circumstances? are they offered through pregnancy crisis centers that provide women with inaccurate and misleading information?
    And….are we going to support all pregnant women facing economic difficulties in this same way, or only those seeking abortion? How do we ensure that those "incentives" don’t turn into subtle coercion? I know these questions may seem rather bothersome, but history underscores repeatedly that when it comes to women’s rights, sex, and sexuality, the devil of these compromises is well beyond the nice-sounding rhetoric and lies in the details and the implementation. We have seen this with ab-only, we have seen this with US global AIDS policy, etc.

     

    Another question I have is this: Let’s say we get a "national consensus" on common ground. Who gets to set the consensus? The policy players in the Evangelical Church and US Council of Catholic Bishops? Or the vast majority of women voters throughout the country who use contraception, who are at risk of unintended pregnancy, a large share of which have in fact had abortions? And who calls off the troops at the state level who each day are introducing legislation seeking to restrict women’s rights to birth control, to reproductive health care more broadly, and so on?

     

    What is the definition of contraception under "common ground" and who defines it? Science and the individual? Or do we fund groups to counsel women who believe basic methods of birth control are immoral and refuse to provide contraception?

     

    Finally, I have to take issue with this constant repetition of the need of "the pro-choice movement [to acknowledge] the moral complexity" of abortion."
    The realities between this discussion at the national level and the way some groups–here Third Way unfortunately–are portraying this is completely out of step with reality.

     

    Some people feel there is no moral ambiguity with abortion, especially early term abortion. Ninety percent of all abortions occur before the end of the first trimester, and an increasing share as early as 5 week. There are people who simply do not feel this is morally complex. Are their views respected?  On the other hand, there are many people who feel strongly it is morally complex–though not the only piece of a much bigger picture– and who, as responsible, thinking adults and citizens make their personal and private decisions based on their own judgments, ethics and morality. This differs from person to person and from one religion to another, as well as among agnostics and atheists.  Where is this acknowledged?  That their moral choices may lead them to terminate an unintended pregnancy?

     

    And why when people grapple with these issues daily based on their own faith do we feel we need to keep saying "abortion is morally complex?"  I did not need people in the press, the White House or Congress to tell me that I faced many daily morally complex issues when my father was dying in the hospital.  These were mine and my family’s struggles with which to grapple.  Why do we have to keep asserting this with abortion?  It really is very condescending. 

     

    Many people who feel it is morally complex have nonetheless had abortions, suggesting that the complexity does not revolve only around the procedure–as is suggested by your post–but around the set of issues of when and under what circumstances to give birth to a living human being who needs and deserves to be taken care of by a parent or parents who are capable of doing so.

     

    The issue is not that abortion is not recognized as "a moral issue," or that we need to keep reminding people of this.  It is that there is no one moral *way* to believe or to address it. To suggest that there is not recognition of the complexisty of these issues flies in the face of religious writings of which I know in the Jewish tradition for centuries, not to mention many other religious faiths, and ignores discussions that go on among people everywhere all the time. The issue is whose role it is to weigh the moral and ethical dimensions of any given unintended pregnancy or abortion, and according to what standard?  if it is at the level of the individual, then we are already doing that.  I would argue that the standard is the woman’s (and those she chooses to involve), according to her own moral and ethical beliefs.

     

    It is far more accurate to say that some people think abortion is immoral period, others believe there are moral considerations that come into play but must be weighed by the individual according to her own circumstances, ethics, judgement and needs, and then those who simply don’t see this as a moral issue, again especially in the early term.

    The only way we can have common ground is to stop pressing this "morality" claim, because it is the creation of a specific set of religious political beliefs, not the reality of the millions of moral decisions weighed by women every day.

     

    Moreover, I would argue that the pro-choice movement is itself made up of moral people who believe they are carrying out their duty to support and promote women’s rights by fighting to allow women to keep their basic human rights to self-determination.  In other words, choosing abortion can be a moral decision. Not admitting and supporting this means that the "morals" about which we are talking are being articulated only by one subset of the broader sets of beliefs and practices in a pluralistic country. That is not common ground.

     

    I would really love to hear your thoughts on these issues in the spirit of this ongoing debate.

     

    With all best wishes, Jodi Jacobson

  • invalid-0

    The pregnancy rate (for unmarried women) rose from 56.0 in 1973 to 92.2 in 1991.

    I think you may be overlooking the changing norms around marriage and the acceptability of becoming a single mother. My guess is that there are many more women now choosing to have a child while unmarried, thus leading to both a higher pregnancy rate among unmarried women and a lower abortion rate.

  • clydweb

    and i’m also worried that the ‘younger generation’ see this as the way forward. is it really not having grown up under the spectre of illegal abortion that gives younger women this ‘common ground’ perspective or is it growing up under the tremendous backlash that has given the younger generation less opportunities to explore the path to their own liberation?

     

    I was born only a few years before Roe v. Wade and I find it tragic how little I was taught about the history of women’s liberation struggles. I have a hard time seeing common ground with folks who STILL believe that a woman’s place is in the home, obeying her father and husband and producing children. When the pro-life movement becomes pro-women’s lives, then we can look for common ground.

     

    When the anti-abortion folks can say that my life is more important than a zygote, maybe we can talk.

     

    http://www.birthingjoy.net/blog

  • invalid-0

    You do realize that in your response you have made an implicit moral claim. You have claimed implicitly that abortion can never objectively be immoral. That is, when a woman freely consents to having an abortion and feels it is the best decision for her, then you have made the claim that none of us can say her decision was immoral or wrong. Would you apply that same standard to the very small minority of women who have abortions because they don’t want a female child or those who have elective late term abortions? Your view that abortion is never immoral is as dogmatic as those who say it is always immoral. If I have misunderstood your position please help me to understand. Are there are any circumstances where it would be immoral for a woman to freely choose to have an abortion?

  • invalid-0

    Would you apply that same standard to the very small minority of women who have abortions because they don’t want a female child …

    We are against sex-selective abortions, yes—but because of the “sex-selective” part, not the “abortion” part. Because this is a manifestation of the devaluation of women, and because over time it leads to skewed sex ratios which make things even more difficult for women (bride theft and the like).

    We recognize that the way to address sex-selective abortion is NOT to restrict a woman’s right to abortion in any way, but to change the attitudes that cause females to be devalued in the first place. Because crowing about the “immorality” of sex-selective abortion, at the end of the day, is just attacking the symptom, not the root cause.

    … or those who have elective late term abortions?

    Oh boy, did you step in it.

    DerekP, if you want to argue about this scenario—extremely rare if not nonexistent as it is—you’re going to have to find a real, living, breathing woman with a real story who decided to have an elective late-term abortion. You’re presuming some hypothetical woman who has an elective late-term abortion for some ridiculously silly or superficial reason—in other words, a classic pro-life bogeyman. If there is a real woman out there who has had an elective late-term abortion, and her story is public, then we can talk about that. And you know what? My first impression would not be to immediately condemn her for her “immoral” decision, but to think “my God, what twist of fate could have possibly driven her to decide to have an abortion so late in her pregnancy?” Because in my view of the world, it would be flat-out bizarre for a woman to make a decision like that frivolously or with foreknowledge.

    It’s like asking, “But what happens if someone withdraws all their money from their bank account, goes to the top of the Empire State Building, and flings the lot from the observation deck?” Sure, it’s possible, but it’s stupid to think that enough people are going to do it for that to make some kind of argument.

  • sayna

    The abortion rate for unmarried women is the product of three rates…

    The pregnancy rate (for unmarried women) rose…

    Just out of curiousity, what is the significance of the woman’s marital status? It seems completely irrelevent. Women from all walks of life have abortions, not just unmarried women. And, as Anonymous (April 8 @ 2:59) said, attitudes about marriage and having children have changed a lot.

    One rate we do know about is the percentage of pregnancies that end in abortion. That rate was 66.4% in 1977 and it has fallen steadily to 40.7% in 2004. That’s a big change! From my Pro-Life perspective I would have to say that more women are ‘choosing life'; from my Pro-Life for Choice perspective I would be quick to point out that we got a significant change without significantly restricting a woman’s access to abortion.

    But women’s access to abortion has been restricted since then and it’s become increasingly more stigmatized since then.

  • invalid-0

    Here is one sample of a woman who decided to have a late term abortion.It is heartbreaking. But yes, the abortion was, in a way, voluntary.

    http://www.rhrealitycheck.org/blog/2008/07/08/obamas-late-term-abortion-comments-ignore-stark-realities

    The issue is just simply not black and white. Perhaps you, Derek should walk in this woman’s shoes or even those of her husband.How dare you think that you should make this agonizing decision for someone else.

  • gloria-feldt

    Indeed, Amanda. Thank you for saying what needs to be said with clarity and conviction. 

    Who the heck do they think invented the idea of prevention anyway? It sure wasn’t the people who lambast abortion and/or self-righteously suggest women should be shamed for choosing abortion.

    The rhetoric used against abortion today is the same as was used against birth control in the early days of the movement before abortion was legal. In fact, the rhetoric is quite similar to that used to oppose women’s suffrage and wome’s equality in general if you probe history a bit. That’s why we need to make women’s human rights central to the conversation and quit all this dancing on the head of a pin.

    I appreciate RHRealityCheck giving a platform to a wide range of people expressing various prochoice positions, but I must say I find Rachel’s article enormously disrespectful of women and (her own included) moral agency as well as far out of touch with the realities of women’s lives and the decisions they make in all good conscience for themselves and their families. I’m speaking from the frontline, having heard thousands of women’s stories. They made me humble enough not to judge. 

    Gloria Feldt

    http://www.GloriaFeldt.com

  • jodi-jacobson

    for answering DerekP with virtually the same points I would have made, but did not have time earlier tonight to put down.

     

    I agree fully with the articulation of the issue of sex selection and I agree fully with the same on late-term abortion (as expressed by Anon.)  

     

    I would only underscore one thing: Derek, you missed the point of my comment on the morality issue entirely. You have your own moral position. You are free to exercise it as pertains to your own life and circumstances, though that is somewhat irrelevant here because I am assuming you are a man.
    What you are not free to do is to impose that moral standard on others who do not share either your religious beliefs nor your specific moral views.
    This is where we go round and round. There is no one moral view on abortion, much less on abortion at different stages of a pregnancy, and the effort to keep imposing one won’t make it so. This is why we call it "pro" choice….all choices should be available for and to women who want to have a child (a wanted pregnancy), all choices should be available to women who want to be sexually active but avoid pregnancy, and all choices should be available to women who experience an unintended pregnancy.

     

    As I and many others have argued here, if you put those conditions in place, you will reduce unintended pregnancy, which is the proximate cause of abortion. But if you look at the state level at least there is a nearly unending stream of efforts to deny women not only access to reproductive health services, including but not limited to contraception and abortion, but to deny women any form of humanity, period.

     

    What i think is immoral and constantly missing from these discussions is the total lack of emphasis on the children who do come into the world who have no homes, not enough food, live in unsafe and often outright hazardous environments as a result of their poverty, suffer abuse that goes unrecognized by poorly funded and staffed social service agencies and so on….not to mention the many who live their lives in the foster care system.

     

    Why don’t we worry as much, talk as much, fret as much about them?
    Jodi

  • invalid-0

    ‘Third Way’ appears to be a corporate funded ‘think tank’ which is one of several institutions metastasized from the Democratic Leadership Council. The DLC is the portion of the Democratic party which along with many editorials in the WSJ, brought us a number of politicians who, in their search for the center went W-A-Y off into the further reaches of right field. The past two Presidential elections have featured speakers from the DLC at the Republican convention (in ’04 Zell Miller, in ’08 Joe Lieberman) Under the ‘leadership’ of the DLC the Democratic party spent 15 years losing elections. Now Evan Bayh appears to be ‘leading’ their diminished coalition. they’re going to have such a hard time dealing with Al Franken.
    Their MO is spin designed to insult and denigrate ‘liberals’ and to marginalize ‘liberal’ opinions in the media and in congress. (‘liberal’ being anyone who is pro-choice, for gay marriage and wants to see single payer health care.)
    The ‘centrists’ do not debate with the masses, they are not believers in participatory democracy. They insult, denigrate and retreat to their think tanks.

  • emma

    You’re playing semantic games, DerekP. You are perfectly welcome to hold your own view of what is or is not moral. That does not mean I am required to concede that your view is correct – i.e. that abortion is morally problematic – when I do not, in fact, view it as morally problematic.

     

    The problem with the idea that my view (abortion is always morally unproblematic) is as dogmatic as your view (that abortion is always morally problematic) is that my beliefs do not involve coercing anyone else to live according tothat which I believe. That is, I have no more interest in forcing an unwilling woman to terminate a pregnancy than I am in forcing an unwilling woman to continue a pregnancy. That’s what the ‘choice’ aspect of ‘pro-choice’ means: that what another woman does with her pregnancy is not and should not be up to me to decide. It’s about respecting that each individual woman knows herself and her circumstances best, and is thus the best qualified to decide whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy. 

     

    And as has been pointed out, sex selective abortions usually occur in societies in which women hold low status. (And incidentally, access to reproductive services, including abortion, tends to be a good indicator of women’s status within a society. Think about that.) Banning abortion does absolutely nothing to resolve that problem.

     

    The ‘women have late term abortions for fun!’ argument isn’t even worth addressing.

  • paul-bradford

     

    Jodi,

     

    Since I’ve long agreed with pretty much everything Rachel wrote in her column, and since I’ve argued many of those same arguments on these boards, I’d like to say that, after hanging around this ‘site for six months, I’ve come around to seeing how a lot of the ‘abortion reduction’ arguments actually would seem condescending to people who are convinced that a developing fetus has no more moral standing than a wart.  It’s only been by discussing things with people on the RHReality Check boards and reading columns written by you and Amanda as well as some others that I have been truly understood the line of thinking that would lead someone to say "Supporting a pregnant woman can mean helping her afford an abortion as much as it does making it easier to carry a wanted pregnancy to term."  The ‘third way’ doesn’t make allowances for people who are convinced that a mother/child relationship doesn’t exist between a pregnant women and a very young fetus because the young fetus doesn’t qualify as a ‘child’.

     

    You wrote, "some people think abortion is immoral period, others believe there are moral considerations that come into play but must be weighed by the individual according to her own circumstances, ethics, judgement and needs, and then those who simply don’t see this as a moral issue, again especially in the early term."  I’m glad that you articulated this so clearly because I was thinking of the distinction between these three types of thinkers earlier this afternoon.  I’m in Group One, obviously; but I’m coming to realize that I have a lot more respect for people in Group Three than I do for those in Group Two.

     

    When someone says they’re Pro-Choice they can mean one of three things (depending upon which group they are in).  They can mean what I mean which is that mothers (and fathers) have to make their own choices about the best way to care for their children and that there’s a big downside to having the government pry too deeply into a family’s privacy.  They can mean, as I think you mean, that a fetus is nothing more than a clump of cells and that a woman is as free, morally, to choose to empty her uterus as she is to cut her hair.  Or they can mean that each woman gets to choose for herself whether the fetus in her womb is a living human being or a ‘biological growth’.

     

    I don’t call Reproductive Rights Advocates ‘baby killers’ because I can see that, from your perspective, you are simply asserting a woman’s right to decide for herself whether to have a child, or another child.  I don’t accept being called a ‘nasty anti-choice meddler who wants to control women’s uteruses’ because I have confidence that, if someone is open-minded, they can see that — from my perspective — I am simply speaking out for fellow human beings who deserve to have their civil liberties respected as much as I do.

     

    The attitude that I’m losing respect for is the attitude that everyone gets to decide for herself what a fetus is.  You and I disagree about what a fetus is, but we agree that it’s something and that something is rooted in a reality that’s beyond the power of any of us to alter.  From your perspective, us religious wackos don’t have the power or the right to elevate the status of a six week old fetus to ‘human being’ anymore that someone would have the right to claim his goldfish deserves Fourteenth Amendment rights.  You believe that a fetus is what it is and it’s not up to us to decide what reality is.

     

    When someone asserts that everyone can choose for herself what reality is they’ve abandoned all hope that we can function as a society — since a society has to be able to recognize who’s ‘in’ and who’s ‘out’ of its sphere of protection.  For those who believe that there’s such a thing as reality, the abortion question is a moral ‘no-brainer’.

      

    I’m right, or you’re right.  If I’m right, acting on your assumption is evil; if you’re right, acting on my assumption is madness.  It’s the society itself that has to do the ‘soul searching’ and that soul searching requires respectful and productive dialogue.  It’s possible to respect those you disagree with if you look at things from the other person’s perspective.

     

    Paul Bradford

     

  • paul-bradford

    Thanks, Sayna, and ‘anonymous’ for your questions.

     

    The difference between married women and unmarried women is the fact that there has long been, and continues to be, an overwhelming percentage of unmarried women who are disinclined to have a child.  We could almost say that the fewer unmarried women who get pregnant the better — although we certainly can’t say that about married women.

     

    There are some unmarried women who wish to have a child and that number may very well have increased from 1973 to 1991 (and may have decreased again after Dan Quayle took it to Murphy Brown).  The more women who fall into that category, the more skewed the data is.  It would be great if we could select out those unmarried women who were actually trying to get pregnant.  Just one more reason why I support us spending more money to get an accurate picture of what is going on. 

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

  • invalid-0

    The attitude that I’m losing respect for is the attitude that everyone gets to decide for herself what a fetus is. You and I disagree about what a fetus is, but we agree that it’s something and that something is rooted in a reality that’s beyond the power of any of us to alter.

    Paul, let me change some words here, to show why your reasoning is faulty:

    The attitude that I’m losing respect for is the attitude that everyone gets to decide for him/herself whether God exists. You and I disagree about the existence of God, but we agree that it’s something and that something is rooted in a reality that’s beyond the power of any of us to alter.

    There is a real, objective Truth-with-a-capital-T out there about what a fetus is. But we have no way of knowing it, at least not with our current understanding of the universe. We cannot answer the question, “Does a fetus have a soul?” Heck, we can’t even answer the question, “What is a soul?” The only thing we have to guide us on questions like this is our faith, our values, our incomplete understanding. Which happens to be the very same place where humanity stands on the question of “Does God exist?”

    You may be convinced of the existence of God. It may be an utter no-brainer for you. But does that mean you do not respect the atheist? Especially when you have no more evidence in favor of the existence of God, than the atheist has in favor of His non-existence?

    This is what Jodi was getting at, with everyone making this decision for themselves. There is no way that the question of the status of the fetus will ever be resolved objectively to everyone’s satisfaction. A pro-life scientist can say, “Look at this neural scan! The fetus is responding to pain stimuli! It can feel pain!” and others will say, “There’s a big difference between ‘responding to stimuli’ and ‘subjectively feeling pain’ and you’ve only shown the former.” There’s no way. We can only answer this question for ourselves individually, after leaving objectivity behind. Just as you have done. Just as Jodi has done. Just as everyone who has ever thought long and hard about abortion has done.

  • paul-bradford

    First of all, why do you keep your name a secret from us?  I don’t understand the point of posting under an ‘Anonymous’ moniker.  I actually feel silly responding to you, Mr/Ms Anonymous.  

     

    You may recall that I was responding to Jodi’s analysis of three separate groups — the group for whom abortion is immoral, the group for whom abortion is an occasion for moral wrangling, and the group for whom abortion is not a moral issue.  I placed myself in the first group and told Jodi that it seemed pretty clear to me that she was in the third group.  I said, "You and I … agree that [a fetus] is something."  That is, ‘Those of us in Group Three and those of us in Group One have enough humility to realize that WE’RE NOT GOD and can’t decide what a fetus is based on our choice.’  Those in Group Two take the position that we all can make up our own minds.

     

    I’m guessing, Mr/Ms Anonymous, that you are a member of Group Two but I am of the opinion that the Group Two position is the worst position for a society to be in.  I feel much more confident that a conversation is actually progressing toward understanding when I’m told by a member of Group Three that my belief that the unborn should be treated as members of the society is ‘dangerous’ (which it would have to be if the fetus has no human rights) than I do when a member of Group Two serenely suggests that we all satisfy ourselves with whatever answer we choose.  The Group Three member ‘gets’ that a society has to have an understanding about who’s on the ‘ins’ and who’s on the ‘outs’.  It isn’t a society if everyone decides for herself who the members of a society are.

     

    People may gravitate to the Group Two position because they think, as you put it, ‘we have no way of knowing.’  I don’t think there’s a scientific way to know the answer, but I think there’s a ‘moral sensibility’ way to know the answer.  The members of Group One have their ‘moral sensibility’ detectors on and they’re moving one way.  The members of Group Three have their ‘moral sensibility’ detectors on and they’re moving another.  As long as both groups have their detectors on we’ve got a chance of getting somewhere.  My gripe with Group Two is they’ve given up believing that their moral sensibility detectors can do any good.  We’ll never get anywhere if we follow their lead.

     

    "Does a fetus have a soul?"  I have no way to answer you that question.  I don’t even have the capacity to prove that you have a soul!  I take it on faith.  If you believe that I have a soul you’re taking it on faith because you have no way of knowing for sure about me either.

     

    I do, however, know that you have a human body — and so does a fetus.  I present, to you and to everyone else, my conviction that we ought to treat those who have bodies as if they had souls as well.  If we all turn our moral sensibility detectors on we’ll eventually come up with an answer.  Just as we came up with an answer to the question "Do barbarians have souls?" and the question "Do infidels have souls?"  The fact that most of us have come around to answering those two questions in the affirmative is evidence, to my way of thinking, of the belief that we’re becoming more civilized.  The fact that some of us are answering those questions in the negative worries me greatly.

     

    I will say with certainty that we can’t resolve the problem of racial and religious hatred by letting everyone make up his own mind about whether barbarians and infidels have souls, and I’m not going to go along with the idea that we can solve the abortion problem that way either. 

     

     

    Paul Bradford

    Pro-Life Catholics for Choice

    • mellankelly1

      the group for whom abortion is immoral, the group for whom abortion is an occasion for moral wrangling, and the group for whom abortion is not a moral issue.

      I’ve read the article several times, Paul and I do not see the three groups that you’ve referenced. Do you not realize that there are people who see abortion as moral? I am in the group who believes that to cause harm to a pregnant woman would be immoral (either by forcing abortion or forcing gestation, childbirth & parenthood/adoption?)

      I said, "You and I … agree that [a fetus] is something."

      I believe the fetus is "something" also… I believe that the fetus is the conceptus from the eight week of pregnancy until birth. Who are these people who don’t believe that the fetus is "something?"

      but I think there’s a ‘moral sensibility’ way to know the answer. 

      Me too.  I believe that it is morally sensible to allow pregnant women (their loved ones and/or doctor) to make decisions regarding their pregnancies.

      I present, to you and to everyone else, my conviction that we ought to treat those who have bodies as if they had souls as well

      Why?  Why should your opinion(s) about pregnancy, life, personhood, morality and the nature of the soul trump the beliefs of the pregnant woman?  Further, people’s bodies are not attached to and a part of another persons body. Lets try not to present logical fallacy as a valid argument.

  • invalid-0

    First of all, why do you keep your name a secret from us? I don’t understand the point of posting under an ‘Anonymous’ moniker. I actually feel silly responding to you, Mr/Ms Anonymous.

    As far as I’m concerned, anything other than the discussion at hand is irrelevant.

    Those in Group Two take the position that we all can make up our own minds.

    No, those in Group Two simply take the reasonable position of “it depends.” Is it okay to speed on the highway? What if you were taking a woman in labor to the hospital? How much over the limit can you drive? It all depends, doesn’t it?

    I’m guessing, Mr/Ms Anonymous, that you are a member of Group Two but I am of the opinion that the Group Two position is the worst position for a society to be in.

    Presumably because, like many Catholics, you don’t like the idea of moral complexity. You like black-and-white clarity: *this* is good, *that* is evil, and there’s nothing in between.

    I like black-and-white clarity, too. It’s so much easier to root for the good guys, and Bronx cheer the bad guys. But if there’s a gray area, I’m going to see gray—I’m not going to just decide it’s white or it’s black so that I can go back to playing cops and robbers.

    I feel much more confident that a conversation is actually progressing toward understanding when I’m told by a member of Group Three that my belief that the unborn should be treated as members of the society is ‘dangerous’

    “Dangerous,” only because it puts “in” an entity that may or may not objectively be a “member of society” (i.e. the fetus), at the expense of a grown human being who most certainly is (the woman). Especially when there’s already a long, troubled, and ongoing history of the woman being on the short end of the stick for, well, pretty much everything.

    People may gravitate to the Group Two position because they think, as you put it, ‘we have no way of knowing.’ I don’t think there’s a scientific way to know the answer, but I think there’s a ‘moral sensibility’ way to know the answer.

    What you’re forgetting is that this “moral sensibility” detector is owned and operated by the individual, not collectively by a society. Which brings us back to the idea of everyone deciding this issue for themselves.

    My gripe with Group Two is they’ve given up believing that their moral sensibility detectors can do any good.

    On the contrary—they’re the ones actually grappling with the moral dimensions of the decision. You’re going to tell me their moral compass is poorly developed when they have the hardest road to travel of the three groups? I think they could teach the other two groups a thing or two!

    I do, however, know that you have a human body — and so does a fetus. I present, to you and to everyone else, my conviction that we ought to treat those who have bodies as if they had souls as well.

    Your conviction is that, even though we don’t know the answer, we should proceed as if we did know the answer—and not surprisingly, that pseudo-answer happens to be the one you favor.

    If we all turn our moral sensibility detectors on we’ll eventually come up with an answer. Just as we came up with an answer to the question “Do barbarians have souls?” and the question “Do infidels have souls?” The fact that most of us have come around to answering those two questions in the affirmative is evidence, to my way of thinking, of the belief that we’re becoming more civilized. The fact that some of us are answering those questions in the negative worries me greatly.

    Barbarians and infidels can speak for themselves, and we’ve come to recognize the psychological underpinnings of their historical dehumanization. You’re never going to get a similar consensus on a fetus, because not only is the fundamental notion of what is capable of constituting a human person in question, many people are rightfully keeping the women who have abortions in the picture (unlike you) and finding that their tribulations are a heavy counterweight to all this concern about fetuses. And isn’t the increased autonomy of women also a dimension of an advancing civilization?

    I will say with certainty that we can’t resolve the problem of racial and religious hatred by letting everyone make up his own mind about whether barbarians and infidels have souls, and I’m not going to go along with the idea that we can solve the abortion problem that way either.

    You’re welcome to try changing people’s hearts. Good luck getting everyone to show more concern for the fetus than for the woman in whose body it resides.

    I’m glad that you don’t support criminalizing abortion, but if you don’t respect the process by which others come to a decision on it, then you haven’t come very far. I don’t know if you, as a Catholic, have respect for those who don’t believe in God, or those who follow other faiths. I’ve known kooky Catholics who believe their faith is the only path to heaven, and good people of all other faiths are bound for hell if they die without having converted.

    I would hope that you, even with your faith in your heart and your Bible in your hand, can recognize that you don’t necessarily know all the answers. Even the hierarchy of the Catholic Church admitted to this, when an archbishop spoke out against the excommunication of the doctors who performed the abortion on the nine-year-old girl with twins. You are not God, and the world is not as simple as you would like it to be—how do you acknowledge that?

  • invalid-0

    After reading Ms. Laser’s article on the issue of pro-choice and a common ground, I was actually surprised that the view point I’ve simply been calling “pro-choice” is actually what others call a “common ground.”

    As a young woman, I know that if I currently found myself in a situation in which I became pregnant, I would not be in the mental or emotion position to begin a family. In that way, I am certainly pro-choice.

    But I without doubt agree that in the political society we live in, compromise must be made in order to ensure safety and rights to women.

    Common ground doesn’t ask women to give up their hard-fought rights to abortion. It does not require the thousands of women who stand up for their freedom of choice to concede victory to those who have been trying to shut us down.

    Common groud DOES NOT morally condenm the women who need to make that difficult choice to undergo abortion when they know it is the right thing for them.

    Common ground DOES encourage policy makers and people to find ways to ensure that less women need to make that difficult decision by promoting protection and increasing the availability of family planning and aid.

    What pro-choice person does not want to see more schools teaching teens that abstinence is not the only option? What pro-choice person does not want to see a woman who is pregnant have greater help emotionally, physically, and even financially in order for her to be able to start the family she wants?

    Please don’t assume that finding a third way means giving up the rights we currently have or that Ms. Laser’s article morally shuts down or in anyway “shames” women, as Gloria Feldt indicates in her response (linked in her comment).

    Yes, often times the issue of abortion is a moral issue for the woman who needs to make that decision, but the idea of a common ground or third way makes no effort to cast moral judgement on anyone.

    -Frankie Gabrielle Solomon
    American University student

  • invalid-0

    Frankie,

    Please understand that what you understand “common ground” to be is not necessarily what anti-choicers would understand it to be. An anti-choicer might say, “We can both agree that abortion is a tragedy, and that the woman has a moral duty to avoid it if at all possible.” I don’t think you’d necessarily agree with that, would you?

    The whole reason why this Great Compromise has a lot of people worried is because everyone has their own idea of where the lines should be drawn, and no one knows how they’ll turn out in the end.