There is a lot of discussion in these here comboxes as well as all over the ‘net about the “failure” of the pro-life movement’s strategy over the past 35 years and the need for a new “strategy.”
Sometimes this assertion is made of the pro-life movement in general, other times of the Catholic bishops’ approach to the issue.
“Prioritizing the overturning of Roe has failed,” it is said. “There are still a million abortions a year in this country. It is time to rethink this strategy of putting criminalization at the center of the pro-life movement.”
Let’s talk about that. And once again, school-marmish-like, I will slap down a rule.
You have to be specific. If you’re going to say that the US Bishops have put overturning Roe at the center of their efforts, you have to give evidence that shows that this is true. If you’re going to say that the pro-life movement in general has wasted time and resources on this at the expense of other, more directly helpful, measures, show us the money. Break it down and show us how that happened.
My initial thoughts:
*The anti-abortion movement has many facets, some of which are in intense disagreement with each other. ALL exists for a reason – Judie Brown didn’t like the NRLC approach and started her own group. Operation Rescue and the Pro-Life Action League are, to say the least, not beloved by all other elements of the movement. Crisis Pregnancy Centers that try to take a non-sectarian approach are queasy about other CPCs that count how many decisions for Christ have been made alongside how many ultrasounds have been performed. Secular state Right-to-Life groups have, on occasion, conflicted with Catholic bishops and state Catholic conferences on legislation.
My point? I’m not sure I even see a “strategy” in all of this at all.
Perhaps there is an “assumption.” The assumption that abortion is the taking of an innocent life and should be illegal in most, if not all circumstances.
But the “strategy” I see when I look at when I consider the movement is one centered on trying to save lives, both short and long term.
*So what I am asking then, is for some sort of evidence-based description of a cohesive pro-life “strategy” and what would be an improvement. Specifically. What’s wrong and what should be changed?
*Those who say “the political/criminalization strategy hasn’t worked” – does that mean you believe that abortion should be completely unregulated, that law has no role to play in the matter?
Because I really do think if you say, “Well, no, abortion should be regulated to some extent. 13-year olds shouldn’t be able to get abortions without their parents knowledge or permission. George Tiller should be shut down. Yes, tighter and more-regulated system that many European countries espouse would not be ideal, but would be better…”
…well, if you say those things, you have immediately flung your hat back into the political ring. You’re back looking at laws, which are made by people who are elected and enforced by other people associated with political parties and so on.
I would really appreciate addressing this issue. Because it is one thing to say “abortion politics has failed” and another thing, it seems to me, to specifically explain what the alternative is.
Because if you even suggest that “Well, sure parental consent is reasonable..” then, as I said, you are back on the floor of your state legislature talking about this, fighting over it, associated with some politicians and battling others.
(Not that something like parental consent breaks down on GOP/Dem lines, especially in the states. But the point is – start talking law, you’re talking votes, lobbying, meetings and elections.)
*A commentor made what seems like a reasonable point about working for consensus before attempting law. The counter-arguments include the Civil Rights movement, but that goes without saying. The argument includes Prohibition (on the general failure of an unsupported, unwanted law) and, more recently, and more specifically on the consensus-building issue, no-smoking laws. I want to take that last one.
It’s not a perfect example because it’s not true that no-smoking laws have been uncontroversial or generally accepted where ever they have been proposed. But it works, to the extent it does, because today, in 2008, it would be unimaginable to get on a plane in the US and encounter cigarette smoke – or sit in a stadium or walk through an airport or sit in a restaurant. Attitudes have changed a great deal.
But how did this happen? Did it happen simply because no-smoking zone advocates quietly made their case, unsupported by other institutions or forces?
Smoking has attained this level of social unacceptability -
(Wait – I don’t mean a general level of social unacceptability. Plenty of people still smoke, including young people. The unacceptability, I think, applies to smoking in public places and does not extend, any more than it did 40 years ago, to the personal choice to smoke. )
- this level of stigma because:
-health professions, ranging from physicians to fitness advisors have defined smoking as a Very Bad Thing. For decades, cigarette packages have been labeled with warnings. Patients are advised not to smoke, and physicians do not hesitate to list the perils of smoking. It is assumed that smoking is an unhealthy act, an assumption supported by every conceivable authority, disputed by none.
…Is that is the attitude of health professionals, both individually and joined in professional associations, about abortion? Is the health profession united in warning patients against abortion? Is abortion presented as a negative choice?
No. Fewer and fewer doctors are performing abortions, it is true – and I have heard it said that if abortion ends in this country it will be in large part because there will hardly be any doctors to perform them.
(Ah, but by then it might not matter, if legislation is passed in more states permitting physician’s assistants and nurse practioners to perform surgical abortions and prescribe Mifepristone. But then…we’re back to the law again. Politics.)
I digress – Specific doctors might not want to bloody their hands in abortion, but there is absolutely no widespread movement among health professionals to discourage abortion as a medical procedure.
-Smoking has also been stigmatized, to some extent, by health education in schools, although the impact of that is always questionable, as it is with drug and sexuality education. But - the point is, the ethos is there, in the schools, that smoking is a negative and hurts you.
When can we hope that the anti-abortion perspective, which includes not only presenting the immorality of abortion as well as its dangers as well as emphasizing the personhood of the unborn child – will find a place in health textbooks?
-Smoking’s negative cred has been highlighted by numerous lawsuits against tobacco companies, not just for health impact but for advertising issues which have had the important effect of revealing the dishonesty of the industry and its disregard for truth and safety (which should go without saying…). The media – both the news media and popular media – have presented these cases in ways sympathetic to plaintiffs, demonizing the tobacco industry.
(Deserved, btw, imho!)
Does the abortion industry bear this same scrutiny by the news media and popular culture?
My point is not to completely blow of the “build consensus” model. It is simply to ask – given that most institutions that work to shape consensus in this country are arrayed against the pro-life perspective…what does that mean?
What – specifically and realistically – can the pro-life movement do that it doesn’t already?
(I’m not saying there isn’t room for change and growth. I’m saying that I think it’s one thing to say, “Well, we need to educate more” and another to look at the realities of a culture in which mainstream institutions make it very difficult to do exactly that. )
I think that’s enough to get you going.
I am not saying that the pro-life movement is perfect, by any means. (No one in the movement would tell you that) I am not saying that it doesn’t need development, creativity and outside-the-box thinking.
-A change in strategy, it is said, should naturally involve more support for women and children, including structural changes in the way health care is delivered and paid for, parental leave policies and so on.
I agree, to some extent. But again..I also see some easy assumptions and vague ideals being tossed around. So let’s talk strategy.
A great number of abortions occur among women in college. Walk around a campus of 20,000 people and tell me how many pregnant students you see and then tell me that they’re all incredibly successful contracepters.
What would it take to discourage women in college from aborting their children? Would it take better health-care plans and access? Perhaps, for some. Parental leave? Can’t really see the impact there. Day care services? That would probably help for some. A few..
But honestly. Are any of these reasons – lack of health care, parental leave and day care – the most frequent reasons that an unexpectantly pregnant college student turns to abortion?
Of course not. The most frequent reason is, “There goes my life, shot to hell. What do I do now? And do I really want to be tied to that guy by a baby?”
The answer to that young woman’s dilemma will be multi-faceted, dependent on her family, her own values and flexibility. But, as pro-lifers aware of this problem, a decent strategy would be to do what we can to establish support systems for pregnant college students, offering concrete support both before and after birth, support that is offered by the Nurturing Network and promoted by Feminists for Life and others.
Such places do exist. But the strategy can only be piecemeal unless a college or university makes space in an explicit sort of way, for the idea that carrying a baby to term is an acceptable or even praiseworthy choice for a college woman.
How soon is that going to happen?
And then – read Dawn Eden’s piece, based on the blog of a med student who spent a day at Planned Parenthood. There is something at work here beyond concerns that social programs address.
I’m not saying those matters aren’t important – I say at the beginning of this section that they are. But I do think that anyone who has spent serious time in a CPC knows that the concrete assistance we can give changes some minds, it can’t budge others, because none of that is the issue anyway. All I’m saying is that it’s not “the” solution.
So. strategy. I’m particularly interested in those who assert the failure of politics here. My problem with your assertion is:
1) I disagree that political concerns have determined in a dominant fashion, how the resources of the pro-life movement have been spent over the past 35 years.
2) When it comes to talking about the reality of abortion, its present and future in the US, you can’t get away from political considerations. If you don’t want teen-age girls having abortions without permission, if you don’t want your tax dollars going to pay for abortions, if you don’t want all health-related institution in the country to be required to provide or refer for abortions or abortifacients, if you think that the US should try, even a bit, to rein in the abortion license…how can you avoid “politics” as a part of your strategy?
3) The issue of the GOP will come up – as it should. If we’re going to critique pro-lifers “yoking themselves” to the GOP , we might want to realistically explore the alternatives.