Monday, March 06, 2006


It takes a lot not to be very angry with my father sometimes. Not for the reasons any normal kids or young adults or young men are angry at their fathers, either. Noooo. In my family, it ain't an argument over who takes out the trash or walked the dog or who got the big piece of chicken, that would be too simple.

My father thinks I'm a great son, and he's a great dad, except he seems to believe I like to kill babies.

I'm serious. While normal 'houses divided' are based on college football teams, I'm trying to convince my father that my goal is not to destroy the United States of America. I'm a Pro-Choice, Choose-Life, "Safe, Legal and Rare," Culture of Death Catholic, and he likes to 'criticize' my beliefs by pretending he doesn't know he and I disagree.

Ask Sprout if I'm lyin,' he deals with this, too.

I couldn't even go over to the house today. With the State of South Dakota picking fights over this issue, and Georgia meandering along the path, I could almost see him in his recliner, hiding behind some news magazine, practicing his questions. He'd wait until I was settled in the living room, playing with the dog, and then he'd switch the TV to a news channel and wait - the trap set, him ready, me unsuspecting...

So instead of dealing with that load of nonsense (the 'conversation' never goes in a positive direction, as you might imagine) I decided to get some thoughts together on the topic and see what y'all thought.

I've tried to enunciate my beliefs as well as I can on the issue of Choice vs Life (and how I don't see them as mutually exclusive) but I always come up short. It is very difficult to demonstrate my deep personal respect for life while maintaining my deep belief in legal freedoms and my support for medicine and women's health. It is also very difficult to explain to those on my left that this issue is defined by the way they talk about it, and that they have lost the debate when it comes to the terminology and politics of the situation.

Luckily, William Saletan (author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War) can enunciate these things I believe quite well.

We'll start with a recent article of Saletan's that takes much of this week's events into account. He makes the case that the Roe decision, and the amount of political capital spent to defend it, is actually keeping us in a culture war stalemate, and that we on the forward moving side of the issue need to move past it:
Pro-lifers can't launch the post-Roe era, because they're determined to abolish its guarantee of individual autonomy, and the public won't stand for that. Only pro-choicers can give the public what it wants: abortion reduction within a framework of autonomy...
The road out of Roe won't be easy. Conservatives are already fighting early-abortion pills, morning-after pills, sex education, and birth control. But that's a different fight from the one we've been stuck in since 1973. It's a more winnable fight, and a more righteous one.

(Italics applied by HR.)

In a more striking example of how the center-left and the left-left differ, centrist Saletan got into a running dialouge with leftist Katha Pollit over this very topic. Here are some highlights from February 1 that I think are highly important:
Dear Katha,
Let's start by explaining to readers why we're having this conversation. Last week in the New York Times, I urged pro-choicers to wage war on the abortion rate through birth control and sex education. This week in The Nation, you replied that "anti-abortion moralism" would hurt women and abortion rights. You argued that pursuing an explicit goal of zero abortions would "do the antichoicers' work for them." I think you've got it exactly backward.

First, let me tackle some of your objections around the periphery of our disagreement. You say the limits of our education and health-care systems make "zero abortions" unreachable. True. Peace is unreachable, too, but we try. That's the nature of goals.

From February 2:
Take another look at that California poll I mentioned. Seventy-one percent of respondents don't want Roe overturned. Seventy-six percent favor "the government providing funding to programs that provide teens with birth control methods or contraceptives." Eighty-nine percent say it's appropriate to tell high-school kids "how to use and where to get contraceptives"; 54 percent say it's appropriate to tell middle-school kids the same thing. Yet 56 percent agree that "it would be a good thing to reduce the number of abortions." And here's the kicker: "Which of the following do you believe would be most effective in reducing the number of abortions?" Option 1: "Enacting more restrictive abortion laws." Option 2: "Providing more access to contraception." Five percent of respondents choose both. Twenty percent choose restrictive abortion laws. Sixty-six percent choose contraception.

Admittedly, it's California. In the case of Roe, national polls average about 10 points to the right of this survey. Let's suppose the same is true of the other questions: Nationwide numbers are about 10 points more conservative than in California. In that case, the majorities for Roe, contraceptive access, and contraceptive education are all somewhere in the 60 percent to 70 percent range—and so is the majority for reducing the number of abortions. There's your pro-Roe, anti-abortion, pro-contraception majority.

And, from February 3 and the really real kicker for the left-left:
Katha, if we agree on virtually all of the policy questions, isn't politics the whole ballgame? Look at our wish list: more birth control, more sex ed, more emergency contraception, more male responsibility, more health insurance. How much of that agenda can we get without government action? And how much action can we get from a government of which we control not a single branch?
That's why I quote polls instead of letters. It's not because I don't care about women. It's because polls tell us what the public thinks, not just what our friends think. Without the public, we have no power. And without power, we're no good to women at all.

Why is that such a kicker? For this we go to Saletan again, two years ago. He was protest march slogans to point out how abrasive leftists only play into the hands of the right:
Marches attract passionate advocates and concentrate them in one place. They foster the illusion that you and your sisters who have filled the National Mall represent a cross-section of America. You don't. Most Americans hate abortion and don't consider themselves feminists. You need the votes of these people. Praise abortion, shout about patriarchy, and you'll alienate them for another decade.

Maybe now, with the Constitutionality of Roe about to be seriously challenged, the left-left will start realizing how badly they need the center with them on this issue. I doubt I'll ever be able to convince good men of principle like my father and DADvocate, who believe so passionately in their respect for life and their definitions of life, to agree with me. But if the left-left would understand that most pro-life opinions aren't founded in a hatred for women, and that the anti-life rhetoric they cling to is only making matters worse, we wouldn't need to convince anyone. America is already there.


Meredith said...

Getting the abortion rate down is a good thing if just from a women’s' health perspective. Logic alone should tell us that such a sudden and highly invasive procedure could have risky side effects at the very least. Those sorts of things just don't make the evening news. Abortion shouldn't be the fix for careless decisions or bad judgment calls.

Most people who don't like abortion want people to see that unborn child as a life.

Dante said...

"America is already there."

From what you've shown me here, all we really know is that California is already there but I do agree with your political assesment. If progress is going to be made on either side of the mutually exclusive for political purposes fence in the near future, it'll be made by the pro life side. If the pro choice side can get some really real mainstream support, they can probably turn the tide in their favor.

Personally, this is an issue I don't particularly care about. I'm not thrilled about the idea of abortion but I certainly don't feel compelled to lift a finger to help either side here.

And out of curiosity, why are you more than happy to argue these points here but not with your own father? Shouldn't you be telling him all this stuff instead (or at least in addition to us)? Not that I mind or anything.

patsbrother said...

Patrick: practice the following scenario:

P: (sitting down on the couch, to the dog) ooo, hey, Gremlin-Groo, whatcha gonna do now? what now?

E: Abortion grumble grumble abortion grumble...

P: (to Ed) You're silly... (to the dog) Roooo-dy...

E: Abortion abortion!

P: Whatever Ed. Kill 'em all. Ooo Gremlin-Groo...

Patrick Armstrong said...

And out of curiosity, why are you more than happy to argue these points here but not with your own father?

I've been sharing 'em with the Pops for years. He doesn't like seiously discussing the issue (like we can here), he just likes starting arguments. I didn't want to start an argument here as much as I wanted to have a sane discussion.

(Which is why the Sprout's above scenario, while goofy sounding, often works.)

petallic said...

Remember that your father's loathing for abortion is probably based in his blind love for his two sons. I've never met Ed, but I would imagine that like my father he'd put a bullet in his own sister's brain if it came down to her or me. Perhaps Ed just can't get past the notion of someone killing his babies, now grown sons. I doubt if any amount of rational thought or logic is going to make a difference on that.

Or alternatively, he may see the argument as a way to spend time with you. Could it be his equivalent of playing XBox?

Meredith said...

New for XBox: Legal Wars III

Or maybe it's just that once they're parents they always will be - no matter how old their children get they were always the ones who were right first and formost. Maybe he just can't help it.

Patrick Armstrong said...

Well, this discussion wasn't really supposed to be about the Pops or his strange way of paying attention by starting arguments.

And he wrote Legal Wars. (There's a game in there somewhere, but you have to use a subpeona to get to it...)

Anyway, this thread is about the culture war over pregnancy termination that is currently being waged in this country.

To redirect, I hate the culture war and the radical ways of talking about this issue. I do agree with Saletan, that a majority of Americans support a woman's right to choose at the same time they lament the need for the choice to be made.

I do think the hard left isn't helping matters by not respecting people who value life. I think the hard right isn't helping matters by not respecting people who value personal freedom.

I don't think that South Dakota is helping the matter with this legislation. I don't think picketers at clinics are helping the matter with their actions. I certainly don't think radical feminists are helping with their rhetoric or lobbying dollars.

Maybe you all already agree with me, and that's why we're talking about the Pops and the dog. (I know y'all didn't just stop reading with the prolouge.) Maybe there are plenty of us just avoiding the topic altogether.

But hiding from it and hoping the Supreme Court does the right thing here - that's what got us into this mess in the first place.

patsbrother said...

Personally, I'm against any non-volunteer lobbying group. Getting them out of the way may be the best avenue of getting away from the extremist, you're either x or you're y mindset.

Why? Even sensible legislation, if it can be read by someone, anyone, as giving up an inch on an issue, professional lobby groups will fight as irrationally as possible over that illusory inch.

Legislation to ban fingerproof-resistent gun handles? The NRA opposes it. Find that in the Second Amendment, will you?

Legislation to restrict third trimester abortions to those women who need one to prevent severe or abnormal physical injury? A travesty! cry abortion groups. Don't let THEM tell you what you can do to your own body! (Bill Clinton vetoed such a bill back in the day. Apparently he wouldn't sign unless there was an exception for a woman's mental health as well. If someone knows how a third trimester abortion is less emotionally taxing than giving birth [as one typically goes through similar, if not more invasive, procedures to get the abortion], please share.)

Without lobbying groups that can employ talking heads to get out there and squawk and shriek at anything that moves, a larger number of people might actually be able to reach through to the logic and the wisdom of such measures. I don't think many people are currently able to sift through the din.

We're also much less likely to listen to the shrieking harpies of extremism if they don't have a title attached to their name. Crazy man in a suit: put him on TV! Crazy man on the street: walk faster. Maybe if lobbys were staffed by all volunteers, whose incomes were not tied to people throwing money "at the good fight", they wouldn't go out and squawk when there is nothing to squawk about.

Laddi said...

"But hiding from it and hoping the Supreme Court does the right thing here - that's what got us into this mess in the first place."

My feeling is that no matter how much I kick and scream, the courts will do what the courts will do. Sometimes they judge on public opinion, maybe; I hope that's rare. Even if we the people are hiding from the issue, would it matter? If anything, South Dakota is coming from those shadows to place this in the courts' hands again. If I never say another word on this singular subject of abortion, it will still go to court. If I hide, it will still go to court. If I run for public office and get abortion banned in Athens, it will still go to court. Hiding, not hiding, doesn't matter when the issue will ultimately be in the hands of nine people under the guise of constitutionality.

So we're left hoping the Supreme Court does the right thing. But I know you have to realize that the right thing will be wrong to at least 40% of Americans. The mess isn't the court ruling, the mess is the issue itself.

There are two issues that, to me, are absolutely unlike any other circumstances: the smoking issue and abortion. Abortion is unlike other issues because it deals with the right to life versus the right to liberty, both at total odds in this singular issue. How many issues deal with a person deciding one or the other? Because that's the reality of it. Once a abortion is lawfully protected, the right to liberty supercedes the right to life. If abortion is banned, the right to life becomes greater than the right to liberty. There aren't many issues that boil down to fundamental rights being at these extremes of the decision line, and certainly none that deal with the life of a child (in the womb or otherwise). This isn't like capital punishment where the issue is right to life. The scenario isn't like self-defense laws where the issue is my right to life versus the intruder's right to life. I cannot think of any issue where the decision to liberty and life are in mutually exclusive circles.

So what is there really to say that hasn't been said once before? My personal opinion is that I hope the Supreme Court refuses to hear the case. However if they do, to those nine judges my opinion really doesn't matter. Cynical? Yeah, maybe. Really real reality? A checkmark there, too.

And I agree with Kevin's scenario: play with the dog. Tug-o-war is no fun when the other side doesn't grab hold of the rope.