Helpful Advice from Pro-Choicers

We all know that pro-choicers only have the best interests of the pro-life movement at heart, so when they offer up advice as Will Saletan has done at Slate, we need to listen attentively.  Saletan offers five helpful tips to the pro-life movment.

1. Reduce the abortion rate through voluntary means:  Ah yes, a favorite of the pro-choice brigade.  We silly pro-lifers have to stop focusing our attention on trying to stop the legal holocaust of the unborn, and instead focus on vague measures that change hearts and minds.  This is very helpful advice because as well know pro-lifers regularly turn a blind eye to the causes of abortion like, oh, sexual immorality. I’m glad that deep thinkers like Saletan and David Gushee are here to remind pro-lifers to focus on the non-legal aspect of the abortion debate.  It’s also heartening to hear from an adherents of an ideology that is okay with things like banning happy meals, circumcision, transfats, guns, and school prayer that opposition to the legalized murder of unborn children is something that is “unproductive.”

2. Subsidize maternity. Saletan writes:

After the conference, several pro-life attendees, writing at Consistent Life, noted the hypocrisy of politicians who oppose abortion while gutting welfare programs that make maternity thinkable for women in financial distress.

Yes, this another familiar trope.  If only we mean old pro-lifers encouraged more welfare spending, then that would just about wipe out the need for abortion.  Let’s ignore all those studies that demonstrate only a casual link between abortion and poverty and just plow ahead with more welfare grants, because as we all know once we become Sweden then abortion will be completely eradicated, just as it has been there.  Oh.  Wait.

3. Embrace contraception.  This is a fun one.  Not only does it completely contradict point number one, it makes several dubious assumptions that demonstrate the complete intellectual incoherence of pro-choicers.

First of all, unfortunately, most Christian denominations outside of Roman Catholicism have embraced contraception. Even more unfortunately, most Catholics have also embraced contraception.  The number of people who adhere to the traditional teachings of the Church, Catholic or not, is a clear minority.  This is a fact acknowledged in the article, and yet Saletan just plows on.  Somehow I don’t think a cultural aversion to contraception is really driving up the abortion rate.

Second, as I alluded to above, this contradicts point one.  Pro-lifers, contrary to caricature, are involved in cultural and non-legal efforts to discourage abortion.  That’s precisely why Catholic pro-lifers discourage the contraceptive mentality that has actually driven up the abortion rate because it more easily separates the sexual act from its primary purpose.

Finally, this is something that perpetually amuses me.  Most pro-lifers also discourage extra-marital sex, yet people continue to engage in the behavior that leads to the overwhelming number of abortions.  Supposedly, though, these same people who have ignored the Church every moment of the way leading up to the big moment suddenly take the Church’s message to heart regarding contraception.  Amazing.  Evidently the taking off of one’s underwear magically turns people from sinners to saints.

4. Early abortions are better than late ones.  This one is the kicker, and ample demonstration that Saletan is completely unserious.

The best question I heard at Princeton came from Cristina Page, author of How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America. “Studies show that restrictions on abortions push women later into pregnancy,” she told Alvare and Kaveny. “What if we were to find that in fact it [was] pro-choice policies that would reduce the gestational age? And do you think that reducing gestational age of abortion is a common-ground goal?” Kaveny welcomed the suggestion and said she’d like to see the studies. Alvare was loath to accept the legality of killing, but she conceded that later abortions were worse than earlier ones. From a pro-life standpoint, trading late abortions for early ones is hardly ideal. But it’s better than nothing, and if you pursue it, nobody will stand in your way.

This is simply incomprehensible on every level.  Does Saletan, or any other pro-choicer for that matter, really think that pro-lifers are going to be happy with a compromise that entails killing the unborn child at an earlier age?  I don’t even understand where they’re getting the data to support the theory about later abortions, anyway.  But even if that is empirically true, so what?  I’m not going to be any happier about an unborn child being killed in its third month of gestation than its sixth.  This is a truly horrifying idea and I can’t believe that Saletan could possibly contemplate this as a serious alternative.

5. Choose your friends by your mission, not your mission by your friends. This is just bit of moral preening by Saletan, and hardly worth bothering with.

So there you have it.  So basically all we pro-lifers have to do is abandon most of our principles, and we’ll be able to reach a happy consensus.  Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

39 Responses to Helpful Advice from Pro-Choicers

  • So basically all we pro-lifers have to do is abandon most of our principles, and we’ll be able to reach a happy consensus. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

    Pro-lifers have managed to do it quite easily with the Republicans. I don’t see how doing so with the Democrats is that great of a leap. The only thing at issue is which principles are being abandoned. Admittedly, I see mouthing bromides as not being a great enough principle to ignore my other interests. That might even be a slight exaggeration given that Chief Justice Roberts was advised not even to do that at this confirmation hearing.

  • MZ,

    Would you like to provide some examples of pro-life abandonment of principles done to please Republicans which are analogous to the betrayal of principles advocated here by Saletan, or is this just a generic tu toque on your part?

  • We could start with torture. Social justice is a running joke in pro-life circles. Is that sufficient? I think the abandonment of principles has been pretty thorough on the pro-life side. If you want to be just abortion specific, which there really is no reason to be, you can add the three exceptions.

  • Your response was less constructive than the original piece you critique.

    Address the culture of death through non-legal means? Oh the horror! We must oppose this!

    Comparing US to Sweden is like comparing Mother Teresa to Obama. You can draw a parallel but it’d be dumb to do so. Perceived future quality of life is the #1 factor women consider when thinking about abortion. There are lots of cultural and political steps pro-lifers can take to address that.

  • I posted a comment over at another site that I think is apropos here. I am not generally a fan of Saletan’s work, which is eviscerated by his assuming the unrebuttable value of being “pro-sex” (whatever that means), but I think that this post is unfair. Consider:

    It seems to me that #2 and #5 on Saletan’s list are no-brainers for pro-lifers; adopting them certainly doesn’t run contrary to any pro-life principle, and, if nothing less, will rebut some of the more stereotypical objections to the movement: i.e. that it is anti-woman, that it cares only for unborn babies, that it is a wing of the Republican party, etc.

    #1 is more ambiguous–is Saletan asking us to *stop* trying to legislate the issue or asking us to supplement our legislative goals with other strategies? If the former, then #1 should be ignored; if the latter, then #1 should be followed. (And where’s the harm in assuming a weaker reading of #1?)

    #3 and #4 are more troubling. #4, because a taking of an innocent human life is a taking of an innocent human life, whether during the first, second, third trimester, or at any time after.

    The proposal behind #3 involves (1) an empirical claim and (2) a normative proposal based on the purported truth of the empirical claim. As for #3 (1), I don’t know whether the study Saletan cites is representative of other empirical findings on the relationship between contraception and rates of abortion; if it is, then pro-lifers *not* opposed to contraceptive sex *in principle*–i.e. many Protestant Americans–can sign off on #3, since these pro-lifers don’t have any principled objection to #3(2), which states that if contraceptive sex *does* lower the rate of abortion, it should be encouraged. Catholic pro-lifers, regardless of the validity of #3(1), should find #3(2) more troubling.

    So I find two of Saletan’s proposals unproblematic in principle, one that is unproblematic given a weaker reading (#1), one that is just wrong (#4), and one that is underdetermined by empirical evidence, leaving me skeptical about its usefulness.

  • Address the culture of death through non-legal means? Oh the horror! We must oppose this!

    That’s a nice strawman you’ve built there RR, except that I’m not opposed to this. What I’m critiquing is the notion that we’re supposed to abandon our attempts to change the legal regime solely for a cultural project.

    Comparing US to Sweden is like comparing Mother Teresa to Obama. You can draw a parallel but it’d be dumb to do so.

    Speaking of dumb. Again, the point is simply that the idea that greater support for social welfare programs won’t significantly impact the abortion rate, or at least not as much as Saletan supposes.

    There are lots of cultural and political steps pro-lifers can take to address that.

    Thank you for stating the obvious, RR. Where would we be without such words of wisdom?

  • “Again, the point is simply that the idea that greater support for social welfare programs won’t significantly impact the abortion rate, or at least not as much as Saletan supposes.”

    Excuse me, but which is it?

  • WJ,

    It seems pretty clear that with regards to #1, he is suggesting that pro-lifers put our pursuits to up-end the legal regime on the back-burner. He notes that he doesn’t expect us to, but it’s pretty clear that’s the basic gist of what he’s arguing.

    #2 I’ve basically addressed, and we might have to agree to disagree. There’s nothing wrong with #5 on its face, but the tone taken indicates a bit of moral preening that I don’t care for. And we agree about 3 and 4, of course.

  • Excuse me, but which is it?

    It’s my concession that we simply don’t know the precise extent to which greater welfare spending would reduce the abortion rate. It’s quite possible that the decrease would be greater than I believe, but at the same time I highly doubt it would massively decrease the abortion rate in this country.

  • One last point in general. I’ll concede that a couple of these points are not wrong in and of themselves. It just strikes me that it’s kind of a weak effort to pretend that there’s really any sort of common ground. Also, the implication is that pro-lifers don’t do some of the things that Saletan suggests we do (#1 especially). Perhaps, as Wj suggests I’m being unfair, but does anyone really think that there ultimately can be any kind of substantive common ground on the issue of abortion? Yes, maybe we can yell at each other less, but at the end of the day one side believes that the unborn child is a life deserving of protection at all stages, and the other doesn’t, and that’s a difference we can’t casually disregard.

  • Reducing abortions can’t be common ground?

  • MZ,

    We could start with torture. Social justice is a running joke in pro-life circles. Is that sufficient? I think the abandonment of principles has been pretty thorough on the pro-life side. If you want to be just abortion specific, which there really is no reason to be, you can add the three exceptions.

    Well, actually, I think there is reason to limit the topic to abortion, since that’s the subject Saletan was addressing. The three exceptions certainly represent a compromise (pushing to ban most abortions at the expense of banning all of them) but I don’t necessarily see that it represents an abandonment in the way that Saletan proposes with “compromises” such as “support early term abortions so you don’t get late term abortions”. I’m unaware that many people consider being killed today better than being killed in four weeks, so whereas most people consider fewer people being killed to be superior to more people being killed.

    RR,

    Perceived future quality of life is the #1 factor women consider when thinking about abortion. There are lots of cultural and political steps pro-lifers can take to address that.

    I think there’s strong reason to believe, however, that it’s primarily relative future quality of life that people are worried about when they resort to abortion. In other words: “all other things being equal, my life will be harder if I have a child right now than if I don’t.” There is no degree of social support that would make it not be harder to have another child now than to not have one — being a parent is hard regardless of whether there are food stamps or rent subsidies or government funded childcare. These can ease things a bit, perhaps, but I think it’s really hard to make the case that the impact is all that high. It certainly makes no sense to follow Saletan’s advice in dropping legal opposition to abortion in favor of “reduing the need”. Frankly, as long as sex results in pregnancy (a startling constant that many people cannot seem to acclimate to) there will be a “need” for abortion perceived by some people.

  • Reducing abortions can’t be common ground?

    For that to be the case, one would have to imagine that Saletan had any real interest of reducing abortions — whereas the evidence would suggest that he’s primarily interested in pursuing a progressive agenda and would like to convince those who are anti-abortion that they should join him on this on the theory that it might have some ancilary positive effects they would like.

  • DarwinCatholic, I agree that the extent to which public policy can close the relative future quality of life gap is debatable. I don’t think the case for significant impact is that hard to make though. I imagine it would have a greater impact on older women who may be less adverse to having children even if they believe it’s inopportune. It may also have a significant impact on women who already have children and who would have more if they didn’t believe they’d take a huge hit to their quality of life.

  • DarwinCatholic, specific policies aside, I don’t see how reducing abortions can’t be common ground simply because pro-choicers don’t share the same reason.

  • There might be a better argument for common ground if one argued that in fact what is murder should be illegal. Its like arguing that there should be common ground on racism while supporting Jim Crow laws.

  • There is no common ground with people who see butchering children as a right.

  • Even granting for the sake of argument that people like Saletan are genuinely interested in reducing the number of abortions and are not supportive of things like this. we haven’t really gotten anywhere. It’s nice to talk about “common ground” at an academic conference, but at some point the real world intrudes and you have to actually implement those common ground approaches. Well, one side believes that greater reliance on social welfare programs will reduce the abortion rate, and the other doesn’t share that confidence, and some might even think that welfare spending might lead to increased abortion rates. Similarly, one side thinks that the promotion of contraception will lead to reduced abortion rates, while the other either wholeheartedly disapproves of the use of contraception or at the very least doesn’t quite see the connection. One side, for the most part, is unfazed by sexual immorality and the sexualization of our culture, the other thinks that abstinence is the best way to avoid the need for abortion.

    So what then? Again, we can talk all we want and engage in high-minded rhetoric, but ultimately there are fundamental differences that don’t necessarily lend themselves to compromise solutions.

  • There can be no common ground on the wisdom of common ground with people who think common ground necessitates compromise.

  • Its like arguing that there should be common ground on racism while supporting Jim Crow laws.

    If you think white folks went through a period of self-loathing and ignored their interests to pursue the end of slavery, you have a romantic and inaccurate view of history. Even if you stick to just the black side of the civil rights movement, you will find many instances where groups let things slide because they thought that attempting to right an injustice at that point and time would be detrimental to the movement. See the history of the Urban League and the NAACP. The civil rights struggle involved a lot more than the just-so story pro-lifers tell themselves.

    Darwin,
    If I were to rewrite Saletin’s proposal as legally proscribe 3rd trimester abortion in the face of being unable to proscribe 1st trimester abortion, any pro-lifer would be supportive as he should be. Considering that a number of Saletin’s proposals have nothing directly to do with abortion and they are being poo-pooed for that reason, it is legitimate to consider the compromises pro-lifers have made for getting candidates to offer bromides. His proposals at least have the advantage of limited novelty and are for the most part achievable. Supporting Republicans on the other hand has had the benefit of putting Republicans in power.

  • There can be no common ground on the wisdom of common ground with people who think common ground necessitates compromise.

    Again, that’s just simply profound. Now would you actually like to make a concrete suggestion as to how the achievement of common ground can be reached with people who have fundamentally different approaches to an issue, or do you prefer vague, wispy sentimentality?

  • Paul Zummo, but those fundamental differences do not align along pro-life/pro-choice lines which means there is room for common ground. Must pro-lifers believe that welfare does not reduce abortions? Must pro-choicers believe that abstinence education is bad?

  • There can be no common ground on the wisdom of common ground with people who think common ground necessitates compromise.

    What does someone have to do in order to rule out working with them for “common ground”, if mass-scale butchering of children isn’t sufficient to rule it out? I’m seriously interested in an answer to that question. If mass-scale butchering of children isn’t sufficiently despicably evil for you, is there anyone with whom you would decline to enthusiastically pursue “common ground”?

    Butchering children is far worse than holding slaves, trading in slavery, being a raving anti-semite, or any number of other moral horrors. I wouldn’t try to find common ground with racist slave traders or Jew-haters either.

  • , but those fundamental differences do not align along pro-life/pro-choice lines which means there is room for common ground.

    But you’re missing the larger point. Yes, there are disagreements within each camp as to various approaches, but that only makes any attempt to reach “common ground” more difficult.

    Look, to me all this talk about “common ground” is just utterly vapid. What exactly is achieved is we all gather round the circle, sing kumbaya, and agree that we have “common ground?” Oh, now we’re talking about ways we can slightly reduce the incidences of a grave evil? Well to quote Derrick Coleman, “whoop de damn do.” I’m sure it will be great comfort all aborted children that there were 950,000 abortions instead of 1.2 million. Common ground!

  • Why would I rule out pursuing common ground with anyone so long as I believe something positive can come out of it? If Hitler wanted your help in banning euthanasia, you’d decline simply because he’s Hitler?

  • Can’t we reach common ground on exempting every tenth Negro from slavery?

  • “If you think white folks went through a period of self-loathing and ignored their interests to pursue the end of slavery, you have a romantic and inaccurate view of history. Even if you stick to just the black side of the civil rights movement, you will find many instances where groups let things slide because they thought that attempting to right an injustice at that point and time would be detrimental to the movement.”

    It seems part of that movement was passage of laws which banned discrimination. Perhaps the Civil rights movement would have moved along faster if those laws weren’t passed and common ground was the norm.

  • Why would I rule out pursuing common ground with anyone so long as I believe something positive can come out of it?

    RR, it is clear at this point that we’re just talking past each other, so I’m gonna bail.

  • Paul, yes I’d celebrate a 20% reduction in abortions. I’d question your pro-life credentials if you didn’t.

  • If Hitler wanted your help in banning euthanasia, you’d decline simply because he’s Hitler?

    Um, how do I say this, um, YES. I would “decline”, which is to say I would not try to pursue common ground with Hitler.

    A more to-the-point question, though, is would I pursue “common ground” with fellow citizens who wanted to bring the gas chambers to America to exterminate America’s Jewish population?

    Again the answer is a resounding NO, I would not pursue “common ground” with fellow citizens pursuing an American reenactment of the Holocaust. I rather suspect that those touting the benefits of “common ground” would also decline to do so, if it came down to it, and that the only reason they don’t recoil from the “common ground” appeal is that they don’t really see abortion as the despicable wickedness that it is.

  • Common ground circuses are a complete waste of time and fog an issue which is really crystal clear: one either believes that the unborn are deserving of full legal protection or one does not. I do not want common cause with those who think it is perfectly legitimate to kill unborn children. I want to convert them or defeat them.

  • MZ,

    If I were to rewrite Saletin’s proposal as legally proscribe 3rd trimester abortion in the face of being unable to proscribe 1st trimester abortion, any pro-lifer would be supportive as he should be.

    But Saletan’s argument is that the few restrictions pro-lifers have been able to put on abortion have simply delayed people and caused them to have later term abortions, and that we should thus drop those restrictions. I have no problems with banning late term abortions, but I do obviously have a problem with dropping the hurdles that have been put on early term ones.

    His proposals at least have the advantage of limited novelty and are for the most part achievable. Supporting Republicans on the other hand has had the benefit of putting Republicans in power.

    Given that Republicans tend to support restricting abortion and Democrats tend to support handing them out like candy, I’m not really clear why pro-lifers would see this as a downside. The reason I tend to support republicans (at least given that the only other viable choice is Democrats) is that I want Republicans in power instead of Democrats.

  • I think part of what’s at issue here is that politics is inherently factional — as in, getting things done usually has to do with supporting a particular faction composed of individuals who have certain beliefs in common.

    Now, with regard to abortion, the fact of the matter is that while there are some pro-choice Republicans and some pro-life Democrats, most of the time you are faced with a more conservative candidate who is against abortion and a more progressive candidate who is in favor of abortion.

    What Saletan is suggesting is essentially that those who are against abortion make a point of supporting those who are more progressive (who happen almost invariably to also be those who are pro abortion) over those who are more conservative. It should hardly be a surprise if both conservatives and those who are opposed strongly to abortion see this is a ludicrious suggestion. The only people who it will appeal to are:

    - Those who are somewhat opposed to abortion but are strongly progressive.

    - Those who are progressive and wish that people who are against abortion would stop “voting against their interests” on economic issues (at least according to the progressive notion of what is in one’s interest.)

  • The thing we need to do is drop all those niggling restrictions on slavery and find common ground in reducing the need for slavery.

  • Perhaps more redistribution of wealth from Northern industrialists to Southern plantation owners.

  • “If Hitler wanted your help in banning euthanasia, you’d decline simply because he’s Hitler?”

    Of course because Hitler would hold other views so poisonous that any assistance from him for any goal, no matter how laudable, would be an almost literal deal with the devil. Actually Hitler was a big believer in not being cruel to animals. No Jews among them.

    In regard to these common ground follies, we have pro-lifers sitting around with people who are against the law protecting unborn children but who are purportedly concerned about reducing the number of abortions. By doing anything with these folks in regard to abortion, pro-lifers give them bona fides for good faith to which they are not entitled.

  • “Given that Republicans tend to support restricting abortion and Democrats tend to support handing them out like candy, I’m not really clear why pro-lifers would see [electing Republicans] as a downside. The reason I tend to support republicans (at least given that the only other viable choice is Democrats) is that I want Republicans in power instead of Democrats.”

    This.

    “What Saletan is suggesting is essentially that those who are against abortion make a point of supporting those who are more progressive (who happen almost invariably to also be those who are pro abortion) over those who are more conservative. It should hardly be a surprise if both conservatives and those who are opposed strongly to abortion see this is a ludicrious suggestion. The only people who it will appeal to are:

    - Those who are somewhat opposed to abortion but are strongly progressive.

    - Those who are progressive and wish that people who are against abortion would stop “voting against their interests” on economic issues (at least according to the progressive notion of what is in one’s interest.)”

    And this.

  • Speaking of “helpful advice from pro-choicers”:

    Check out this article from the Illinois political blog Capitol Fax on how the adamantly pro-abort Personal PAC targeted pro-life, GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady for defeat, and how their efforts seem to have had enough of an effect to possibly make a difference in a VERY close election:

    http://thecapitolfaxblog.com/2010/11/15/why-and-where-pat-quinn-won/

    My first reaction to this article was great sadness that so many people should devote their skills and experience in political fundraising, publicity, and marketing to the cause of insuring that unborn children can continue to be killed anytime, anywhere, for any reason.

    My next reaction was to consider: what can pro-lifers learn from these people? And most importantly, what strategies and tactics of theirs can we adapt to OUR advantage?

    One suggestion that immediately came to mind is that we should, like Personal PAC, target (middle aged) parents of young daughters — but with a different message. Illinois has no parental notification law (it was passed and signed into law more than 15 years ago but the courts have repeatedly refused to let it take effect) so a pro-life flyer could emphasize that fact that their daughters could get pregnant AND have an abortion — perhaps even several abortions — without their even knowing about it or having a chance to lend a hand or discuss their options.

    Maybe a pro-life message could include a personal testimony from a mother or father saying “We almost lost our grandchild without ever knowing it.” Or from the mother of an aborted child, saying “If only I had talked to my parents before I had an abortion….” Then include some information on the candidates who oppose parental notification and those who support it.

    Now granted, parental notification is just one aspect of the whole pro-life effort and it can’t stop there, but, it is a measure that enjoys a broad base of support even from people who call themselves pro-choice, and would probably be the easiest place to start hacking away at the likes of Personal PAC. From there we could move on to things like informed consent and other measures.

  • I do think his first point is a good one. We DO need to focus on changing the legalization of abortion, but more importantly we need to focus on changing hearts and minds. Outlawing abortion won’t end it, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t outlaw it, but it does mean that we need to go after the conversion of individuals with love and mercy. True reform is in the hearts of men.

    Which brings me to my next point:

    Sarcasm isn’t going to get you anywhere in the debate. It just alienates those whom you are debating against. Think about every time someone was sarcastic to you, did it change your mind? We must argue with right reason and compassion. We must fight for the good of all out of love for all, including our enemies. Our sarcasm and disgust will only drive them further from the teachings of Our Lord in the Gospel and through the Church.

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