Spin Control


Note: This commentary was delivered by Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.

Although many abortion advocates would never admit it, this is a vulnerable time for their movement. Several issues, including the passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, have people thinking seriously and rightly about the beginning of life. Two recent articles in the online magazine Slate reveal that the pro-choice ranks don’t feel too comfortable with that situation — especially since not all of them are sure how to respond.

In an article called “Face the Fetus,” William Saletan writes that the pro-choice camp — of which he is a member — has severely harmed its cause by refusing to acknowledge a fetus as human. He points out, “Each time pro-lifers have tried in recent years to treat the embryo or fetus as a person . . . pro-choicers have responded by treating the fetus as a nonentity.” It’s no wonder, he concludes, that people identify more with pro-lifers who call the fetus a human being than with pro-choicers who in some cases won’t even use the word fetus. (As Saletan reminds us, the failed Feinstein amendment to the Unborn Victims Act spoke only of “pregnancy,” not of “fetuses.”) After all, most of the American public, even those who are ambivalent on abortion, have sense enough to realize that you can’t be pregnant without a fetus being involved.

Saletan, by the way, is the author of the new book Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War — a title that tends to raise skeptical eyebrows among pro-lifers, but one that tells you just how uneasy many pro-choicers are feeling these days.

In another article for Slate, Liza Mundy reports that certain technological developments — such as embryonic research, improved fertility procedures, and better ultrasound technology — are contributing to abortion advocates’ unease. For instance, parents now have a much clearer view of their unborn children. Pro-choice activist Kirsten Moore says this has “prompted us to realize [that] . . . our movement’s messages [stink].” Meanwhile, Mundy writes, “As more and more women find themselves in fertility clinics, veteran pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood are reconsidering the old paradigms. What does it mean for their approach, their pitch, and their priorities that a woman desperately hoping for a positive pregnancy test has a whole new attitude toward the embryo?”

The solutions people are proposing to these problems are a sign of just how morally bankrupt their worldview is. For instance, Saletan thinks that acknowledging the humanity of the fetus doesn’t have to mean that pro-choicers abandon their cause. As he puts it, “Such consideration need not override Roe‘s central principle that a woman’s privacy rights trump the legal value of a pre-viable fetus.” And the activists that Mundy interviewed agree that they need to find ways to make their message more palatable to people who aren’t buying the old arguments anymore.

I’ve got news for them: If your message is rotten at the core, all the spin control and image-polishing in the world can’t fix it. If the unborn child is really causing that much trouble for pro-choice activists, perhaps they too ought to take a fresh look at just what they’ve been treating so callously all this time. They’ll find it’s one of us — a living human being who deserves protection.

For further reading and information:

Liza Mundy, “Hazy Conceptions,” Slate.com, 5 February 2004.

William Saletan, “Face the Fetus,” Slate.com, 29 March 2004.

Read more about Saletan’s new book, Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.

Francis J. Beckwith, “Choice Words,” Touchstone, January/February 2004. See responses from Terry SchlossbergDavid Mills, and Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Charles A. Donovan, “Good Things to Life,” BreakPoint Online, 15 April 2003.

Johannes L. Jacobse, “Women Are Abortion’s Second Victims,” BreakPoint Online, 22 January 2003.

Gina Dalfonzo, “No Choice,” BreakPoint Online, 25 July 2002.

See the “Worldview for Parents” page “Big Business.”

BreakPoint Commentary No. 031001, “Pretty Stones and Dead Babies.”

BreakPoint Commentary No. 031007, “Antics with Semantics.”

Peter Kreeft, Three Approaches to Abortion (Ignatius Press, 2002).

Teresa R. Wagner, Back to the Drawing Board: The Future of the Pro-Life Movement (Dumb Ox Books, 2003).

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