Monday, February 6, 2006

Forced Childbirth Versus Pregnancy Shouldn't Be Punishment

Over at Pandagon, Amanda argues that the anti-abortion stance should be reframed as "forced childbirth." Let me say that I agree: the anti-abortion position is forced childbirth. However, I don't think the issue should be framed that way–I suggested the slogan "Pregnancy shouldn't be punishment":

The reason I bring this phrase up is that the standard Saletan-esque “safe, legal, and rare” line implies that the woman did something wrong (funny how the man is never castigated to the same extent). Given the high number of preganancies that end in abortion (and my guess is that there have always been many abortions, even centuries ago–abortion is discussed in the Babylonian Talmud), I think this would resonate with many women and men: there are just too many abortions for the Saletan school to chalk it up to ’sluttiness.’

And, besides, pregnancy shouldn’t be used as punishment: the consequences and responsibilities of a pregnancy carried to term are just too high. That argument will quietly resonate with many people in light of the number of abortions.
While several posters disagreed with me, I think this is the way to frame the debate. Before I explain, let me be clear: we–and I do mean we–are not trying to reach either the blastula liberationists, or, for that matter, the staunch pro-choicers. The former will not change their minds, and the latter are already with us.

Onto the explanation. A couple of weeks ago, Joshua Holland at Gadflyer described three instances where the woman he was involved with had an abortion:
  1. The woman had been told she couldn't get pregnant.
  2. The birth control didn't work.
  3. "One pregnancy was entirely our fault - it was one of those hot and sweaty mistakes young people sometimes make when stupefied by lust and caught up in a moonlit moment."
Many people would accept abortion for the first two reasons without much difficulty. But many people are bothered by the third reason. The prejudical response is "stupid rich slutty college girl"–that's where the whole "abortion on demand" canard stems from. Do I think the 'stupid/slutty' exception is idiotic?

Yes. And it does not matter one damn bit what I think, because I'm not the one who needs convincing.

Unfortunately, many people who by bad luck and/or bad judgement got a raw deal in life let their frustration smolder, rather than using it to strengthen their sympathy for others. To such people–and one only has to look at the success of the Republican fear- and hate-based politics to realize that there are a lot of them out there–the "forced childbirth" frame just won't work. It will sound like someone bemoaning her stupidity: "Hell, it's her own damn fault" (for the record, I find this a reprehensible view). Like it or not, in the abstract, too many will simply blame the woman for an irresponsible decision (again, personally, I don't agree with that sentiment).

I think the "pregnancy shouldn't be punishment" frame works better, especially when it is coupled with the idea that the responsibility of raising a child is too important. After all, you wouldn't want the kid to wind up in foster care, would you? (The heart of the angry voter is a very dark, bitter place).

In the short term, I don't think the "forced childbirth" frame works, except in one narrow area: health. Forced childbirth can be very dangerous or deadly for some women: the "life of the mother exception" is an utter canard. Do I think the long-term groundwork should be laid with the forced childbirth frame? Absolutely, and for all the reasons Katha Pollitt lays out. But for certain audiences–and the Republicans, in a dark, evil way are very good at tailoring messages for specific audiences–forced childbirth will be a non-starter, whereas "pregnancy shouldn't be punishment" just might reach those audiences.

Of course, the two ideas aren't mutually exclusive; what we're talking about is the best way to change the debate.

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