Much is made these days by the pro-choice movement about the supposed desire for “common ground” on abortion.
But the term “common ground” is amorphous, and at the end of the day, one is left to conclude that there is little regarding abortion and related issues that both sincere pro-life and self-styled pro-choice advocates can agree on.
Yet there are some points that both sides can agree on, one of which is revealed in a piece on the website Academic OB/GYN provocatively titled “Why Pro-Choice Is Losing”, written by stridently pro-choice physician Nicholas Fogelson.
He writes (emphases are in the original):
Right now, anti-choice is wiping the floor with pro-choice. Pro-choice is always on the defensive, and never on the offensive. Prochoice is tending goal and Prolife is always taking shots. This can only go on so long before one gets in the net, and we’ve been seeing that happen lately.
Here’s the problems as I see it:
Pro-life has been very successful in merging two question that should be separated, and by doing so have taunted the pro-choice side into addressing the wrong one. These questions are 1) is abortion unethical / immoral? and 2) should abortion be illegal? The vast majority of pro-life rhetoric is based on the belief that termination of pregnancy is immoral. Pro-life is marketing very successfully that abortion is unethical, and through that they garner adequate public support for their agenda, leading to successful legislative efforts to limit access.
Pro-choice must separate these two questions. There is absolutely nothing to be gained in trying to convince people that abortion is a moral act.
Notice the point he’s making to his fellow pro-choicers: arguing morality is a loser for them. Which means that on the other hand, it’s a winner for us.
On this, we agree.
It’s precisely because what abortion does to a human person at an early stage of development is so unspeakably awful that we must continually keep it before our fellow citizens, both through our words and our actions.
Fogelson then says:
Pro-choice needs to stop addressing the question of morality question all together. The only question that should be addressed is whether or not abortion should be legal, and the best way to do that is to clearly show the country what the effects of a ban on abortion would be. Pro-choice needs to make sure that everyone in this country can imagine the effects of an abortion ban on women, and is vividly reminded of what was going on in this country prior to Roe v Wade. Prior to Roe v Wade hospitals had entire wards full of women injured or dying from illegal untrained abortion. This is incredibly compelling, yet Pro-choice gives it a back seat to a pointless argument about morality.
“The bad old days of abortion” narrative might indeed be compelling—if it were true.
An interesting discussion ensues in the comments section in which Fogelson is called upon to produce documentation of his claims of widespread maternal abortion deaths pre-Roe v. Wade in which the best he can come up with is:
I don’t need a source – I have first hand knowledge. The very hospital where I trained once had an entire ward devoted to women with post abortal sepsis. Per several of my attendings who were there at that time, it was regularly full.
After discussing the importance of stressing legality over morality, Fogelson candidly admits:
Pro-choice also needs to stop pretending that abortion is not destroying life. Pro-life argues that abortion is murder, and in response we hear from pro-choice is that it is not life, but a potential life. This is not a compelling argument. A fetus, from any scientific point of view, is alive. Claiming that a fetus is not alive is inaccurate, and this somewhat vampiric idea paints Pro-choice in a bad light in the eyes of the middle ground population that might be convinced to support their cause.
It’s also worth pointing out that although openly acknowledging that abortion takes a life may seem, by today’s standards, uncommon among pro-choicers, it’s not a new development. Early advocates of legal abortion like Judith Arcana and, more recently, Princeton professor Peter “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all” Singer are two such examples of those who make no attempt to tapdance around the question of whether abortion destroys a life.
For that matter, even Planned Parenthood at one time admitted that “abortion kills the life of a baby after it has begun”.
Pro-choice must recognize that abortion is destruction of life, but is still a justified thing. Parallels must be drawn between abortion and other justified destruction of life. It is ironic that the conservatives who are the greatest detractors of abortion are often also the greatest supporters of war, and in so are the greatest supporters of killing. To be a supporter of war and then to claim abortion cannot be justified because it is killing a life is a very bad argument, and the weakness in this position must be capitalized on.
This inartful comparison between abortion and war is rather beside the point, as the opinions of a particular group of abortion opponents has no bearing on what abortion actually is and what it does to the unborn. But since he brought up the issue of killing in war, one wonders if he would share the sentiments of those like Eileen McDonagh who argue with a straight face that abortion is justified precisely because a fetus—far from being innocent—is a “powerful intruder” guilty of “kidnapping” a woman.
Toward the end, though, Fogelson makes a noteworthy point:
While I am as Pro-Choice I have ever been, I have met far too many wonderful intelligent caring people who happen to be Pro-Life to continue to believe that their position is fundamentally wrong. Their beliefs are completely logical given the premises they learned as children.
Patronizing though his remarks are, Fogelson’s interactions with many “wonderful, caring” pro-lifers underscore the importance of always sharing the pro-life message with love and compassion, as these sorts of interactions may be the thing that, more than intellectual arguments, helps bring him around in the end.