make that medium-rare
By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 25, 2006
There's no such thing as a bad abortion, in the view of the über-feminist Katha Pollitt, and she doesn't hide her alarm and disgust with those of her comrades who are sweetening their language for reasons of political expediency:
The trouble with thinking in terms of zero abortions is that you make abortion so hateful you do the antichoicers' work for them. You accept that the zygote/embryo/fetus has some kind of claim to be born. You start making madonna-whore distinctions.
Pollitt is canny enough to realize how the logic works: concede that abortion is -- or could ever be -- regrettable in a way that removing a tumor is not, and they've lost game, set, and match. The intermediate steps in the moral reasoning may take some time to unfold in public, but once the key pass is sold the move to invest the unborn child with human rights has to follow. Therefore Pollitt insists on an extreme moral solipsism: the woman is the only party whose will matters in a pregnancy. She allows no half measures. Admit that even a subsidiary interest might be accorded the father, the state, or the fetus itself, and you've "obliterated" the woman.
Not even Mordor is buying -- at least, there are signs that hard-core pro-aborts are abandoning Pollitt's rhetoric, if not her goals. NARAL President Nancy Keenan is outraged that South Dakota passed a bill outlawing abortion last week, but the statement she issued in protest uses the "let's make abortions rare" language:
"Rather than continuing these unconstitutional assaults that threaten to endanger women's lives and imprison doctors, these legislators should commit to enacting commonsense legislation to prevent unintended pregnancy."...
Keenan continued, "South Dakotans who cherish the fundamental American values of freedom and personal responsibility must call on Gov. Rounds to veto this egregious legislation. We should work to reduce the need for abortion, not continue to battle about Roe v. Wade."
Compared with the standard NARAL line of even five years past, Keenan's approach shows considerable softening. She realizes that the old magic no longer works. And while Pollitt is overly pessimistic about the immediate future -- it'll be a long time before the blue states and the prestige institutions relinquish abortion -- her political allies understand that the terms of the debate have shifted. Even Frances Kissling acknowledges that it is more expedient to be morally incoherent (and visibly uncomfortable with incoherence) than to appear heartless:
As a prochoice advocate, I want my movement to help shape this struggle, which includes living with public discomfort, as we discuss how to balance women's predominant right to make decisions about their lives and society's right to be involved in questions of respect for human life, even for life that is not yet a person and properly is not accorded rights.
"In the war of ideas," wrote Kissling last year, "not every hill is worth climbing." She's got it exactly backwards. It's in the realm of ideas that one's philosophy is obliged to take on every challenge; in the realm of politics one can work instead for what is possible. Thus she's prepared to support laws requiring late-term babies to be anesthetized prior to abortion because the contrary position doesn't play well in public, even though such support is at odds with her own contention that "women have a basic human right to decide what to do about a pregnancy" and that "the human rights community is moving steadily towards recognizing a woman's right to choose and there is no countervailing view in this community that even considers the question of whether or not fetuses are rights-bearing entities."
C.S. Lewis wrote that a long face is not a moral disinfectant. It can, however, be an effective piece of stagecraft. In defiance of Pollitt's exasperation at their hypocrisy, NARAL and CFFC and even Hillary are pulling a long face for the benefit of the "persuadables" -- those voters in the middle who want the option to eliminate inconvenient persons but feel queasy at the glee displayed by the Wavers of the Bloody Coat-hanger: a killing can't be so bad, after all, if the killer pretends it's a morally serious act. However unconvincing the hang-wringing itself, the very fact that it fills a need tells us the momentum is changing.
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