Proudly Part of the Problem

Last week, a leading "pro-life" blogger Jill Stanek made a cameo appearance in the comments section of a blog of mine, "The Call for Common Ground on Abortion,"
on Huffington Post. My post basically reported on, and offered
perspective about, a conference call the White House organized for
pro-life and pro-choice groups. It took the opportunity to announce the
administration’s intent to explore common ground in the abortion
conflict. In my post, I pointed out that it’s clear Obama’s team wants
to make progress on an issue that has divided and damaged us as a
country for too long. They had explained the areas they hoped could
unite pro-choice and pro-life people: reducing unintended pregnancy,
including teen pregnancy, making adoption a more accessible choice for
women confronting unintended pregnancy, and supporting struggling
families with wanted pregnancies. They want to move forward, and have
set up a common sense framework to do so. It’s hard to demean such
earnest intent.

But many veteran leaders in the "pro-life"
movement are immovably stuck in their positions. They appear deeply
invested in rehashing the same, seemingly eternal arguments, in
continuing what even to a staunch pro-choicer like myself seems like a
tedious fight. The natural inclination of rational Americans pining for
common ground, as most of both persuasions on the abortion issue are,
might be to zone out the heckling. But listening to this increasingly
out of the mainstream arguments by people like Jill Stanek helps to
understand the reason we have suffered from intransigence for so long.
Too many of the most committed people, and here, the pro-choice side is
not immune, feel that anything the opponent agrees to must be suspect.
Bloggers like Stanek, those speaking into the echo chamber, are
apparently so invested in continuing the fight that they won’t budge.
One suspects their intransigence is based not just on morality, but
self-interest as well. If the vitriol isn’t high enough they worry
their base might drift away.

Jill is the perfect example of the
unbending culture warrior. The one committed to fanning the flames of
the ethereal, abstract side of debate and belittling or ignoring the
common sense, brick and mortar proposals for problem solving. Jill is
no doubt a smart chick. Her posts are always engaging even for those of
the pro-choice persuasion like myself. If only she used her abilities
not to undermine
common ground efforts. Obama’s common ground pledge (and my piece about
it) did not muster any interest in Jill in finding a solution. It did
inspire her to return for the billionth time to the well-worn
arguments. She writes,

"Cristina, the basic questions: Why care about reducing the need for abortion? What’s wrong with it?"

I answered,

Jill, nice to hear from you. I think it’s the same reason to reduce
teen parenthood and to reduce the need to place a child for adoption.
If any woman in one of those circumstances were to be asked, "if you
could go back in time and avoid being in this predicament, would you?"
nearly all would say yes. I think we should reduce teen parenthood and
the need for adoption too. These are each often tremendously difficult
choices that ideally no woman should have to face. Adoption, abortion,
and parenthood are all the results of unintended pregnancy and I
believe women should have access to each of these options legally and
safely. But it’s unintended pregnancy that’s the real problem here.
That’s what we need to work to avoid.

"Sorry to not give you the
"gotcha" moment you were looking for. For Huffpo readers, Jill Stanek
is a leader in the anti-abortion movement and probably the most popular
blogger on that side of the issue. Jill, here are my questions for you:
Why are you opposed to preventing unintended pregnancy and access to
contraception as one vehicle toward that end? Why do you pursue the
outlawing of abortion even though it has failed to reduce abortion
rates wherever it’s been tried? Why not institute the policies that
result in the lowest abortion rates on earth? So what if it’s the most
pro-choice countries that have the lowest abortion rates, aren’t
"pro-life" results what you’re after?"

She replied,

"Christina, seriously, thanks for the kind words on my credentials.

you didn’t answer me. You may consider my question a "gotcha," but it’s
foundational. How can we devise solutions when we haven’t defined the
problem? What exactly is the problem with abortion? Why is it "a
tremendously difficult choice[ ] that ideally no woman should have to

"What is wrong with abortion? Is it or is it not morally
neutral or even superior, as new Cambridge Episcopal Divinity School
pro-abort President Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale tagged it – "a
blessing" and "holy work"?"

I replied,

actually, if you read what I wrote again, you’ll see I was referring to
adoption and teen parenthood as "often tremendously difficult choices."
Sure, abortion can be a difficult choice for some women too (though or
some women it is accompanied by no grief, though, just relief) and
studies show that the more religious a woman is the harder struggle she
has with it. So possibly, it’s the culture she’s in that creates guilt
with her decision.

"Regardless, my point is that all choices
accompanying an unintended pregnancy can be (but aren’t always)
difficult, but that’s no reason to outlaw any of them. Based on your
logic, it’s grief that is the measure of what the "right" decision is.
Then a woman who suffers grief after placing a child for adoption made
the wrong choice, an immoral choice, right? Why not ban adoption then?
Why not tell her that the reason she’s feeling bad is because she made
the wrong decision, one that God does not condone? That would be a
terrible thing to do with women choosing adoption, and it’s a terrible
thing to do to women choosing abortion too.

"I’ve attempted to
answer your question twice. You have not answered my questions even
once. Please do. Why can’t we agree to try to help women avoid having
to make these decisions in the first place? Tell me Jill, honestly,
what do you think are the areas we can agree on? Because I think
there’s a bunch."

In the end, Jill never once
attempts to answer any of my simple questions, which is typical. I’ve
noticed this tactic used often by those pro-lifers who work in the
movement. Whenever the discussion gets off ethereal principles and onto
the problem solving, they revert back to airy lectures. They continue
to want to talk about the morality of abortion and are desperate to
change the subject when it’s about solving what they consider a moral
crisis. They are trapped in an endless argument over semantics (Jill is
currently arguing that pro-lifers should demand we reduce the "number"
of abortions rather than "the need for" abortion. Good luck with that
debate.) They’re the ones who have a problem with abortion. Why is the
pro-choice camp the only side trying to come up with solutions, often
successfully, to their problem? President Bush didn’t promise to
attempt to reduce abortion rates during his Presidency and, early
indicators suggest, he lived up to that disinterest. The decline in
abortion rates slowed during his administration, teen birth rates
spiked, and the economic nightmare he left us in seems to already be
causing an uptick in abortions. All that is traceable to Bush policies
and mismanagement.

Meanwhile, the dramatic declines in
abortion rates brought to us by President Clinton and the Obama
administration’s promise to deliver the same results elicit sneers and
ire from the "pro-life" movement. (I put "pro-life" in quotes because
you can’t really be pro-life if your actions create more of the
abortions you profess to hate.) Bill Clinton, if based on results
alone, was the most pro-life president we’ve ever had and the pro-life
movement hates him for it.

This is why the Obama team needs to
look past the old-guard culture warriors. People like Jill Stanek
approve of the rhetoric of the "culture of life" but are not interested
in reducing the need for abortion. She’s seems more interested in
attracting eyeballs to her site. Looking for common ground solutions
from operatives like her is like turning to Michael Vick for
dog-training tips.

The common ground movement Obama is hoping
to advance will come about because of people who want real solutions,
whose livelihoods don’t depend on the conflict continuing, people who
believe we deserve a better national dialogue and better leadership on
this issue. We’ve finally got an administration willing to moderate a
productive discussion. It’s time to get the hecklers out of room, and
get on with the work.

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  • invalid-0

    I had a similar, and also amusing, discussion about common ground with the head of NevadaLife. He thought we might agree on the need for lower taxes (I’m Republican and I don’t especially agree on the tax issue), but he didn’t see any opportunity to work together on anything else.

    I think you’re hitting the nail on the head … it’s the leadership folks who are committed to controversy. Many of the rank and file can agree on common sense measures like access to birth control and even comprehensive sex ed.

    Maybe we should spend more time talking to them.

  • invalid-0

    (I put “pro-life” in quotes because you can’t really be pro-life if your actions create more of the abortions you profess to hate.)

    Looks like you found one of those fabled “pro-abortion” advocates that the other side likes to talk about so much!

  • invalid-0

    While I agree with your overall conclusions about extreme anti-abortion activists in general and Ms. Stanek in particular, she does have one real point: You didn’t answer her question. She was asking you to define exactly why you feel that abortion is something that should be phased down. Yes, it was a “gotcha” question, but so are some of the ones that you were asking her.

    You could have told her that, even if, for the sake of argument, human beings don’t become human until the moment of birth, abortion is still surgery that can be physically and emotionally painful for the patient.

    Anti-abortion folks like Ms. Stanek are they’re trying to save what they believe to be innocent lives but they’re also trying to turn back the clock on sexual behavior. Otherwise, they’d be hand in hand with us in creating a culture of prevention. What’s muddying the waters here is that so few of them seem to realize it.

  • emily-douglas

    DRF, do you not think that Cristina answered Stanek’s question when she wrote, in essence, that grappling with the decision to have an abortion, giving up a child for adoption, or parenting a child who was unplanned, can be difficult — a predicament most people would rather not find themselves in — even if, whatever choice they make, they are certain it is the right one? And that’s reason enough to be pro-prevention?

  • amanda-marcotte

    I want to reduce the need for abortion in the country as I do for myself (by taking the birth control pill) for the same reasons I do it for myself: Abortion is expensive, often painful outpatient surgery that costs money and time I don’t want to spend.


    Asking why you want to reduce the rate of abortion is like asking why you want to reduce the rate of cavities. We all think cavities are bad. Pro-choicers are just all about brushing your teeth and anti-choicers are all about quitting eating.

    • invalid-0

      Fantastic response, Amanda! Love it – so true.

  • invalid-0

    You are right on target on the issue of finding solutions in a debate.

    One problem. Why “make adoption a more accessible choice”?

    You yourself said it is a regrettable decsion. It actually causes a lifetime of unresolveable guilt, shame, grief and PTSD.

    Why should that option be encouraged and abortion discouraged? Makes absolutely no sense.

    You need to look at Australia as a model. When family preservation programs and resources for families in crisis are in place, there is no need for any mother to suffer such a loss and to create a child that will likewise always feel a sense of rejection that no amount of substitute love can erase.

    Domestic infant adoption is already more than an available option – it is often accompanied by subtle coercion and pressure because infants are such a hot commodity. There is no multi-billion dollar industry pressuring women to abort – there is in adoption!

    BEWARE who is behind what agenda. The huge moneyed baby broker industry has powerful lobbyists and shrewd marketing. They have teamed up with the right wing fundamental church leaders and made it an issue that is preached from the pulpits because adoption is a way to increase the shrinking numbers of Christian “believers” needed to be a powerful political power in this country.

    Between the money and the religious faction the pressures to place children for adoption are immense as is the regret.

    In order to reduce unintended pregnancies, we need to prioritize sex education and access to birth control, as is done successful in Europe and the rest of the industrialized world. Our sex education needs to include education and prevention of infertility because delayed childbirth, STDS (particularly chlamydia), environmental contaminants, obesity, and multiple abortions that increase the infertility rate and create the demand for adoption. We need to stop this endless cycle of loss and the redistribution of children.

    When that fails we need to provide the resources needed to keep families together. No mother needs to suffer such a loss simply because of temporary issues such as her age, marital store financial status. Families should only be torn apart by adoption after all attempts to provide a safe home for the child within the extended family have failed. outside the family should be extremely rare, not encouraged or promoted. No child should have to be placed into a system that denies them – in most every state – the right to their own birth certificate.

    Mirah Riben, Vice President of Communications, advocating for family preservation and mothers’ rights and author of “The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregulated Adoption Industry”

  • invalid-0


    Thanks for such a terrific post and for really engaging with “the other side.” I think it’s critical to be clear that those of who want to find common ground are looking for common ground with people of goodwill, who are actually invested in finding real solutions to preventing unintended pregnancies and supporting those women who wish to carry their pregnancy to term. For me, it’s about being pro-choices– the choice to abort, the choice to not get pregnant in the first place, and the choice to carry a pregnancy to term.

  • harry834

    Good luck.

    You folks have your work cut out for you. I can only hope that these fringers are losing their numbers and can be reliably excluded from the decision tables.

    Of course we need to watch out for the power of small numbers of people, but I think this recession is killing a lot of funding. One silver lining.

  • invalid-0

    Cristina, you are by far one of the clearest voices on these issues and I am so thrilled to read you here regularly on RH Reality Check (HuffPo is nice, but this is where I come for the real story on all things reproductive health). Keep up the good fight on the common ground issues, it is so important. President Obama’s efforts are commendable so long as his team recognizes what you so clearly do — that the complexity of these issues, from sex ed to contraception to prenatal, postnatal, and yes abortion and adoption must be considered together. Jill and others just want to throw bombs — and as I commented on Frances K’s piece yesterday, apparently do some on the left. ENOUGH! Pro-Choice people need to recognize they own the common ground, Americans agree with common sense policies that allow choice, and we need to embrace ANY pro-life person, regardless where they are on this issue, that is willing to work with us to put the acrimony of these issues aside. This is the start of the search for common ground, not an expectation anyone has all the answers. Thanks to you and RH Reality Check, I really believe we can put this issue in its proper perspective — health care — and get the politics out of it once and for all.

  • invalid-0

    My thoughts on taking advice from Cristina Page regarding lowering the need for abortions are here.

    You shouldn’t trust someone whose policy preferences have made their city America’s abortion capital to tell you how reduce the need for abortions.

  • invalid-0

    nitpick: comparing the rate of abortion with the rate of cavities isn’t quite a parallel analogy. it would be better to compare the rate of abortions with the rate of root canals (both procedures) or the rate of unintended pregnancies with the rate of cavities (both effects of actions). personally, i like the root canal analogy: nobody wants one, it can be difficult & unpleasant, but nobody wants to keep you from having one even if you haven’t brushed your teeth. :)

  • invalid-0

    You can’t really blame her for what happens in her city or what decisions people in the city make. Not everyone is listening to her nor are they all following the same ideas. Not everyone in the city is taking a full advantage of the systems New York has in place for pregnancy prevention. Some might not even know they have access to it. Too many variables are in place to try and make her look guilty. It’s like blaming the college student who is active in preventing Alcohol abuse for all deaths of fellow students who died of alcohol poisoning.

  • invalid-0

    You’re missing the point. I’m not blaming Cristina for all of New York’s abortions. I’m simply pointing out that the policies Cristina prefers (which have been in place in New York for years) haven’t lead to the abortion reduction she claims she wants.

    If you’re going to look for advice on how to reduce abortions, it doesn’t make sense to go to someone whose policy preferences have failed miserably.