Confronting The Truth About The Pro-Life Movement After Hellerstedt
It’s time — past time — to confront the failure of the pro-life movement.
It is a failure. True, pro-life groups have shepherded many laws limiting abortion. Polls tell us that we’ve persuaded the public against unlimited abortion. We’ve built networks of pro-life women who become active in policy making and advocacy. Yet, for all of our lauded pro-life advocacy, abortion thrives here. So much so that the United States Supreme Court declared this week that states overstep their bounds when they pass health regulations to protect their female population from injury.
Of late, the laws we manage to pass get vetoed or struck down. The public support only shows up in theory. Polls might show that about two thirds of the public supports limits on abortion, but politicians require heavy training and discipline to make even simple statements about abortion policy. They avoid the topic whenever possible because the media uses it to tar conservative politicians.
Even with our poll popularity, we could not manage a pro-life candidate for president. That president will design our highest court for the coming decades, and the pro-life movement has come to depend on the US Supreme Court, which has proven to be an epic miscalculation. The Court has been playing policy maker since the mid-century. Thus, while two thirds of the public might accept health and safety regulations on the procedure, five of the elite lawyers from Harvard and Yale think otherwise, and they have a “troubling tendency “to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue,”” said Thomas, dissenting in Hellerstedt.
How does a movement get out-maneuvered in the public arena when the issue polls so well?
If we want to protect women and their children, we must reassess how we advocate for them. Pro-life advocacy to date has focused on the baby. The movement has tried to make abortion repugnant to culture in general by calling the procedure murder and focusing on the death of the infants. This might have the virtue of being true but the limitation of being ineffective.
First, this strategy has a logic problem, one which the untrained candidate, Donald Trump, stumbled upon a few months ago when an interviewer asked if women should be criminally prosecuted for abortion procedures. He thought so. (Then he back tracked on that answer. And then he backtracked on the backtrack.) Trump’s confusion aside, he did illustrate that if pro-lifers insist that the procedure is murder, then logically, everyone who conspires to commit that murder is punishable.
But our compassion instincts do not want to prosecute most women for seeking abortion. They are not all hedonists using the procedure as birth control — nor are they all battered women, poor and pregnant for the fifth time in six years by their brute of a partner who doesn’t provide. Pro-life and pro-choice advocates tend to declare that women-seeking-abortion come as one or the other type. But non-partisans can easily see an entire spectrum of motives and of compassion in response. In many circumstances, it feels unjust to prosecute the mother, like adding insult to injury.
Second, pro-choicers prioritize women over their children by definition. This balancing of interests is logically obvious but something that few choicers will admit. Camille Paglia is one of the few pro-choice advocates who will confront, much less own this hierarchy. Most hide behind the notion of a clump of cells, that essential pretense that makes abortion palatable.
When pro-lifers talk about the baby, we not only imply the murder logic, but also we talk past those women who put women first. This makes them instantly defensive or deaf. To have a chance at persuasion, we need to talk about women. That’s where the weight of public concern is. Let us meet them where they are and talk about abortion’s impact on women. There is much to discuss. Pro-choicers routinely downplay both the physical risks and mental impact of abortion.
They cry back ally. We cry butchery. And unlike the back alley horrors, grisly clinics are not a memory. They exist now. In fact, the Gosnell clinic in Pennsylvania operated for years precisely because health inspectors did not inspect the clinic for fear of being seen as anti-abortion. When someone accuses us of sexism because we support clinic regulations like the ones the Supremes decreed away yesterday, we can answer, “Yet you would leave women vulnerable to butchers?” Or as an op-ed by New Wave Feminists put it, “SCOTUS abortion decision is misogyny in action.” Lowering healthcare standards is not pro women, and if we were talking about annual mammograms or pap smears then the outrage would flow the other way.
Unlimited support for abortion is the lefty feminist litmus test for supporting women, but resisting the butchery of women is our litmus test. Anyone who does not support clinic and medical standards is not serious about women’s health. It’s not debatable.