A Choice Strategy
The abortion industry has hit on hard times. Over the last two decades, the number of providers and abortions has fallen by 33 percent and 25 percent, respectively.
For a billion dollar a year enterprise, that’s a lot of lost revenue; and if recent polling is any indication, the slump hasn’t hit bottom yet.
According to data released by the Pew Center in August, the gap in public sentiment about legalized abortion has closed. After years of supporters enjoying the clear edge, “now Americans are evenly divided on the question.” Pew also reports significant gains in attitudes that abortions should be not only fewer in number, but more difficult to obtain.
Remarkably, this was registered during the most pro-choice administration in history, despite 40 years of pro-abortion legislation and marketing and lobbying by powerful, well-financed special interest groups.
Times are tough and they’re getting tougher, but with over 1 million U.S. abortions annually at risk, industry stakeholders will waste no time applying their energies to reverse the downturn. One strategy that has worked well in the past is “controlling the terms of the debate.”
Rights and choice
In the court of law, the pro-choice lobby pitched abortion as a constitutional right of individual privacy. In the court of popular opinion, it was promoted as an issue of sexual equality and reproductive choice (“My body, my choice”), with assurances that what was being destroyed was not a human being, but a clump of cells, a mass of tissue.
Then, when medical science confirmed that a genetically complete and unique human being was created at the moment of conception, the distinctive was switched to “persons”—the category of beings entitled to rights by virtue of abilities possessed in a measure deemed sufficient by (pick one): the State, the physician, the mother, (?).
But as the abortion industry grew, something was happening in clinics across the country that signaled its inevitable downturn: Patients were referring to the life within them as “my baby,” not “my fetus” or “my embryo.” Increasingly, women voiced misgivings, regret, and guilt over their decisions—like this woman: “I was completely pro-choice until I had an abortion at 17. Now I would do anything to go back and give someone else the chance to give my baby what I was not ready to give him. My selfishness will haunt me for the rest of my life.” Women were feeling the furies of what J. Budziszewski calls “what we can’t not know.”
The rhetoric of rights, so effective in winning the battle for legalization, was losing the war against conscience. Fearing that the tsunami of guilt would send the movement back to the days of back-alley rooms and rusty coat-hangers, proponents scrambled to address the spiritual dimension pressing upon women. To ease troubled consciences, providers shelved talk of reproduction rights, referring instead to the decision as an “act of love,” even a “sacrament.”
Doing God’s work
As early as 1992, feminist writer Ginette Paris was calling for holy rituals. In her book The Sacrament of Abortion, Paris writes, “Our culture needs new rituals as well as laws to restore abortion to its sacred dimension, which is both terrible and necessary...a sacrifice...a sacrament for the gift of life to remain pure.”
One group of providers heeding Paris’ call began offering patients pink hearts signed “Mommy” (as a sign of forgiveness, love from their aborted child?) and a macabre form of “baptism” involving the dismembered remains of the aborted infant.
A religious group crafted a liturgy célèbre to affirm a woman’s “good and holy decision to have an abortion,” following the form in The Book of Common Prayer; complete with Preparation, Invitation, Prayer, Reading and Blessing.
Even doctors began referring to the “sacred” dimension of their reproductive services.
As reported in WorldNetDaily, the one-time OB-GYN of Hillary Clinton, Dr. William Harrison, referred to embryos and fetuses as “luckless human souls.” Then when asked whether abortionists ever grieve over the destruction of life, he replied: “Anyone who has delivered as many babies as I have, and has seen hundreds of living and dead embryos and fetuses being spontaneously aborted as have I, knows exactly what we are doing when we provide an elective abortion for our patient.”
What they are doing, Harrison concludes, is “God’s work.” It sounds eerily familiar to a recent comment by President Obama.
Hoping to shore up support from the religious community for his healthcare bill that, despite denials to the contrary, would have funded abortion, if indirectly, the President told a group of Jewish leaders, “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death.” As I recall, that’s a supremely higher pay grade than he was willing to acknowledge during his candidacy.
The President’s comment was in context with the rabbinical prayer he quoted: “On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die...” Critics of Sarah Palin take note.
Then there’s LeRoy Carhart, whom Newsweek described as “The Abortion Evangelist.” Dr. Carhart, you will remember, gained national attention for his opposition to banning partial-birth abortion, the grisly procedure in which a child, a few inches from birth, has its skull crushed, or is dismembered in utero, before being discarded as medical waste.
Concerned over the dearth of doctors performing late-term abortions (up to and including full-term!), Carhart shared his evangelistic strategy with Newsweek: “I think the only thing I can do…is just train as many doctors as I can to go out on their own and provide abortions and get enough people providing them…That makes [the anti-abortion activist’s] job 10 times harder because there are now 10 times more of us.”
Annoyed over negative public perceptions, Carhart insists, “Abortion is not a four-letter word,” adding, “I’m proud of what I do.” Pride! That’s what Planned Parenthood has been trying to infuse into the movement from its inception; most shamelessly with its proud promotion of the “I Had An Abortion” T-shirt a few years ago.
Others, frustrated over the declining market share, are urging for a more public, mobilizing effort.
Dreaming of the day
Taking a leaf from the gay rights movement, ethicist Jacob Appel says it is time for an abortion pride movement. After curiously quoting a biblical warning against pride, Appel notes, “[But] the political and social reality today is that pride is a necessary prerequisite for acceptance and equality.” It is also a source of vice and social injustice, as the reference Book he dismisses points out.
Appel grumbles that women who bear children they’re not ready to bear are lionized for their faith and courage, while women who chose to abort “are rarely encouraged to take pride in their decisions.”
I’m guessing it’s because we sense it’s not pride they need, but love and forgiveness.
So what would Mr. Appel like to see? The day when women, who make that difficult and courageous decision, can “hold their heads high in the streets.”
Concluding like Martin Luther King at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Appel whips up a rousing vision, “I dream of the day when women are not afraid to walk the streets with pins reading, ‘I had an abortion and it was the right decision,’ and when station wagons bear bumper-stickers announcing, ‘Thank me for having an abortion when I wasn’t ready to be a parent.’”
Lapel pins, bumper stickers, and wordy jingles aside, I dream of a day...
When abortion is not rare, but non-existent.
When “family planning” clinics go the way of drive-in theaters; and their practitioners, the way of keypunch operators.
When every child is welcomed into this world, regardless of her condition or her parents’ preparedness.
When a large family is praised and encouraged, rather than frowned upon because of its environmental footprint.
When every child has a family with a mother and father to love her, care for her, and nurture her into healthy, mature adulthood.
That is my dream.
Regis Nicoll is a freelance writer and a BreakPoint Centurion. His "All Things Examined" column appears on BreakPoint every other Friday. Serving as a men’s ministry leader and worldview teacher in his community, Regis publishes a free weekly commentary to stimulate thought on current issues from a Christian perspective. To be placed on this free e-mail distribution list, e-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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