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Hullabaloo


Saturday, March 28, 2009

 
Compromise

by digby

Fred Clarkson, doing his usual superlative job of tracking the religious right, has noticed a new approach to framing the abortion issue by some Catholic groups. It illustrates once again just how sophisticated the anti-abortion industry has become in shifting its marketing tactics to fit changing political circumstances. They operate strategically in both the long term and the short term, constantly reevaluating their tactics and tweaking them as necessary. (American business could learn something from them at this point.)

Clarkson has seen a new set of talking points emerge that builds upon some of the changing rhetoric on the culture war in the last couple of years as Democrats rushed to embrace the notion that they need to find a middle ground on abortion rights (and absurdly held that anti-abortion zealots would sign on to increasing access to birth control as a compromise.)

He writes:

I first encountered their screed in the form of an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper, which was promoted by the abortion reduction advocacy group, Faith in Public Life. Then it was featured on SojoNet and promoted in an e-blast to their national list.

This article is titled: "What Makes Liberals and Conservatives Angry? Abortion Reduction". In this article I learned that any of us who disagree with the authors are ipso facto, making "`the perfect' the enemy of `the good.'"

This is very clever stuff. They are piggy-backing on the Obama campaign's rhetoric of post-partisanship and are placing their position as being the common sense "middle ground" that conventional wisdom has been telling us for the last year is exactly what the people want.

Clarkson continues:

Common sense tells us that just because Gehring and Campbell claim to represent a moderate and responsible middle between two alleged extremes, does not necessarily mean that in fact they do. And indeed, the amount of invective they were able to cram into a short space in the service of their strawman arguments, should give pause to anyone who might be inclined to consider whether their views are, in fact, moderate or reasonable.

Here is a sampler of terms they use in discussing those of us who disagree with them: "malign," "righteous zeal," "absolutist devotion," "predictable to the absurd," "demonization" "hardened agendas" and - my personal favorite -- a "scorched earth rhetorical style."

They conclude with a call to the rest of us to "embrace a spirit of greater humility, compassion and critical introspection..."

It was not hard to figure out where I, (as one of those who has written critically about the politics of abortion reduction) fit on Gehring and Campbell's enemies list. I must be among that notorious lot of unnamed "liberal bloggers" who allegedly "slam Catholics and evangelicals working on this approach as radical 'anti-choice' hardliners cozying up to the Religious Right." I say "allegedly" because Gehring and Campbell offer no examples and make no effort to actually address any of our points.

They could have named me too. I do believe that Catholics and evangelicals who are working with the Religious Right to outlaw abortion are worthy of criticism. If they were operating in good faith, they would admit that.

I certainly don't oppose greater access to birth control and better sex education and income assistance. As a liberal I was for such things before they were cool. But you don't have to be clairvoyant to see that they believe this will lead to a "compromise" in which they agree to make birth control more accessible, and we agree that abortion should be illegal.

But that's not a compromise, it's a capitulation on a fundamental human right to control your own body for the opportunity to have something (birth control) that people should have anyway as a matter of common decency. Despite what Lord Saletan insists, the need for abortion is not just a matter of stupid, promiscuous girls not understanding the seriousness of unprotected sex. Its the result of the most basic human drive there is and will always be necessary even, sometimes, for women who do everything "right." And there is no judge on the planet, not even Will Saletan or the pope, who is in a position to judge which women those are.

This fantasy middle ground exists only for those who think that if only women would be responsible there would be no abortions. I think we already tried that. Before Roe vs Wade, unwed motherhood was verboten, female sexuality was considered dirty and women who got inconveniently pregnant were shunned. Society placed a very, very high value on female chastity and fidelity and women certainly weren't stupid or lacked understanding of the consequences. And yet millions of women had sex and got pregnant and had back alley abortions anyway.

Now we have legal abortion, unwed motherhood is practically the norm, female sexuality is open and accepted and birth control is advertised on television. And yet millions of women still have sex, get pregnant and have abortions. The difference is that they don't have to die in some seedy motel when they get one and they aren't shunned and treated like whores for doing something that every human animal on the planet is programmed to do.

Brazil still outlaws abortion except in the case of rape or to save the mother's life, as do a many other Catholic countries, with the predictably disasterous results:

The number of legal abortions of girls ages 10 to 14 more than doubled last year to 49, up from 22 in 2007, the Ministry of Health reported. That was out of 3,050 legal abortions performed last year in a country of more than 190 million. But the vast majority of Brazil’s abortions are not legal. The Ministry of Health estimates about one million unsafe or clandestine abortions every year.

Brazil’s abortion laws are among the strictest in Latin America. Only Chile, El Salvador and Nicaragua, which have banned abortion outright for any reason, are stricter, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights, which supports abortion rights.

In some parts of the region, most notably Mexico City, where first-trimester abortions are now legal, laws have been relaxed. But in other areas and countries, legislators have sought to toughen the restrictions on abortion.

Twenty years ago, Brazil had just one center to perform abortions. Today, beyond the 55 clinics that can perform them, another 400 or so treat patients that have been sexually abused.

If anyonee belives that every one of those one million illegal abortions could have been prevented with better access to birth control, I want to know what they're smoking.

That story, btw, is actually about this, which renders the church unqualified to make moral judgments about any of this in my view:

While much of Brazil has been riled by the case of a 9-year-old girl who aborted twins this month after claiming her stepfather raped her, her ordeal was an all too familiar one at the clinic.

The girl’s story of rape and pregnancy at such a young age seemingly caught the nation off guard, reviving a tense debate over reproductive rights in a country with more Catholics than any other. But doctors, clinic workers and other experts say her case is symptomatic of a widespread problem of sexual abuse of under-age girls — one that has long been neglected and may be getting worse.

“Unfortunately, this is becoming more and more common,” said Daniela Pedroso, a psychologist who has worked here for 11 years.

Weighing just 79 pounds and barely four feet tall, the 9-year-old girl, from Alagoinha, a town in the northeast, underwent an abortion when she was 15 weeks pregnant at one of the 55 centers authorized to perform the procedure in Brazil. Abortion is legal here only in cases of rape or when the mother’s life is at risk.

The doctors’ actions set off a swirl of controversy. A Brazilian archbishop summarily excommunicated everyone involved — the doctors for performing the abortion and the girl’s mother for allowing it — except for the stepfather, who stands accused of raping the girl over a number of years.

“The law of God is above any human law,” said José Cardoso Sobrinho, the archbishop, who argued that while rape was bad, abortion was even worse.

The storm intensified when a high-ranking Vatican official supported the excommunications. But then a conference of Brazilian bishops overruled Archbishop Sobrinho, saying that the child’s mother had acted “under pressure” from doctors who said the girl would die if she carried the babies to term, and that only doctors who “systematically” performed abortions should be thrown out of the church.

Finally, the Vatican’s top bioethics official, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, also criticized the initial stance, saying the “credibility of our teaching took a blow as it appeared, in the eyes of many, to be insensitive, incomprehensible and lacking mercy.”

Seriously, if they had this much trouble sorting out the correct moral stand on that, then I honestly don't see how they can possibly have any credibility on this subjectat all. (You are, of course, allowed to believe whatever you want ...)

Clarkson goes on to point out that the second of these new talking points is to frame the issue as between religious and non-religious, which is incorrect of course. Abortion rights are supported by a majority of Americans and a very large majority of Americans describe themselves as being religious. Anyone can do the math from there.

The third new talking point is that "President Barack Obama has made abortion reduction a priority of his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships." That's not correct. The Democratic platform went a different direction, which I wrote about here, and changed the emphasis to reducing unwanted pregnancies and therefore, the need for abortion. As Clarkson points out, this "reflects the view that under the law, the Constitution, the party platform and the view of the vast majority of Americans, abortion is a legitimate 'need.'"

I prefer the language of civil liberties myself, but the fact is that the Democrats pulled back from the brink and stopped talking about the need to "reduce the number of abortions" and I hope we hold them to it. Reducing unwanted pregnancies is a laudable policy, and I support that 100%. I also know that it will never result in a 100% reduction in the need for abortion. Life is not that simple.

Finally, Clarkson reports that these new talking points claim that liberals are angry about the idea of reducing abortions. That's drivel, of course. Nobody thinks that way. Pro-choice liberals simply live here on planet earth rather than in some clean utopian world where accidental pregnancy never happens and pregnant women are always thrilled at the prospect of either a lifetime commitment or giving their offspring up for adoption --- as if all these things are simple, easy decisions compared to the moral darkness of the ugly alternative. On planet earth abortion reduction is a hopeful side effect of the reduction of unwanted pregnancy, not a goal in itself.

I don't buy that passing out birth control will eliminate the need for abortion, which is quite obviously where these people want us to grant that this "middle ground" leads, and which obviously leads to a ban on the practice. (And anyway, if access to birth control were what they truly cared about, we wouldn't have any need for abortion today. Condoms are available in every 7-11 in America. )

This is just another in a long line of very slick tactical moves by the anti-abortion movement. They are quite good at moving the debate their way in small increments, as they've been doing for decades now. And unfortunately, some in the Democratic party have all too often been their willing pawns particularly in their needy propensity to appear "reasonable." It's that neediness to which these talking points are designed to appeal (and sadly, which are being exploited by certain factions within the coalition who seek to expand their influence by being mediators.) Let's hope the Dems have learned their lessons and don't fall for it.

The shrill, unreasonable people are those who think the state should intrude on the most private, intimate matters of personal human sexuality and biology on the basis of certain religious beliefs. Reasonable people hold that everyone has a right to their own beliefs on these private matters but that the state cannot make just decisions on something so complicated and personal. Within that reasonable, if imperfect, framework a compromise was worked out long ago. It's called Roe vs Wade.


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