Abortion Groups Could Accomplish More By Working Together
9 February 2001 By Stentor Danielson
"Bipartisanship" is Washington's newest buzzword. President Bush bills himself as a "uniter, not a divider." The Senate created a power-sharing agreement to cope with the fact that the Republicans are the majority only by virtue of Vice President Cheney's tie-breaking vote. But a mere two weeks into the new administration, the nation has seen three trips to its most divisive issue: abortion.
Among Bush's first actions in office was to reinstate the "Mexico City" rule banning U.S. foreign aid to organizations that promote abortion. Then, the fight over Attorney General John Ashcroft's confirmation focused on his strong pro-life stance. Congress is doing its part too, as Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and Rep. David Vitter (R-La.) prepare a bill that would require doctors prescribing RU-486 (the "abortion pill") to be legally authorized to perform abortions and have admitting privileges at a hospital.
These actions have, naturally, enraged pro-choice activists. On the other hand, had Republicans not taken such action, pro-life groups would have been outraged at their betrayal by their political allies. The blame for the divisiveness of the abortion issue lies not with the politicians who raise it, but with the activists on both sides who fail to see that their agreements are more significant than their differences.
You are free to denounce me as either a baby-killer or a tool of the patriarchy as you see fit. But I will insist, for what it's worth, that I am neither pro-life nor pro-choice. Conservatives have done no better in convincing me that the fetus's right to live outweighs the mother's right to a good life than liberals have done at convincing me of the reverse.
For the most part, the two sides talk past each other, taking their assessment of the relative strengths of the rights involved as given. It comes down to the question of when a fetus qualifies as a person. Personhood requires a soul, so until such time as I receive a clear answer from God regarding when the soul comes into existence, I will remain undecided. This nonpartisan viewpoint has highlighted the absurdity of our modern abortion debate.
Both sides of the abortion debate seem mired in antagonism. Pro-lifers paint their opponents as baby-killers and are, in turn, cast as abortion doctor killers. However, both sides agree on one basic premise: fewer abortions would be better. They simply disagree on whether abortion should be available as a last resort. In their focus on that difference, abortion activists have missed the chance to make a more lasting difference in the lives of unwanted children and their mothers.
The fight over abortion has become a war of attrition. For every dollar Right To Life spends to overturn Roe v. Wade, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) must spend a dollar to defend it. For every hour Planned Parenthood spends promoting abortion, Birthright will spend an hour condemning it. Each of those dollars and both of those hours are wasted, because they only cancel each other out.
That money and time doesn't have to be wasted. If pro-choice and pro-life organizations could work together, they could set their sights on a world in which the legality of abortion is irrelevant, because too few women want or need abortions for their situation to register on the national radar.
People who care about abortion need to focus their energies on the causes of abortion, not the final act of terminating the pregnancy. Women consider abortion because they have been raped, because contraceptive measures (including abstinence) were not available, because motherhood would put too large a burden on their already difficult life or because they cannot provide a decent future for their child. Having an abortion is so traumatic for the mother that frivolous abortions are extremely rare. Mothers get abortions for good reasons and fighting over whether the abortion should ultimately be legal detracts from attention given to those reasons.
I sincerely doubt that anyone, from the most ardent pro-lifer to the most dedicated proponent of choice, thinks that rape or poverty is a good thing. It would make sense for both sides to work together to end these kinds of problems. I don't mean to say that these issues are ignored, but that the extensive resources expended arguing the legality of abortion would do more good directed to the causes of abortion.
Opponents of abortion would benefit from a decrease in rape and poverty, because mothers would be less likely to consider an abortion, or even have a pregnancy to abort. This would be more effective than simply banning abortion. Under a ban, demand would remain high, spawning a black market in unsafe abortions (much like the black market in illegal drugs). The fetuses would still be just as dead, whether killed legally or illegally.
Proponents of abortion would benefit as well. Not getting pregnant in the first place is certainly preferable to having a traumatic and expensive abortion. Furthermore, decreases in poverty and rape present significant advantages to women even if they do not affect pregnancy.
However, I do not expect this joining of forces to occur. It would require a good faith agreement by both sides. Otherwise, one side would take advantage of the other's withdrawal from the legality question as a concession of defeat, and exploit the opening for all it was worth.
Indeed, an agreement such as that would require negotiation. Advancing plans for any sort of discussion of cooperation would be interpreted by supporters as weakness, as giving in. One of the reasons abortion is so divisive is that both sides refuse to compromise. Congress might be able to create a tax cut plan that's big enough for Republicans and small enough for Democrats, but there is no way for abortion to be a little bit legal and a little bit illegal.
Abortion is America's most divisive issue and will not be resolved in the foreseeable, or even imaginable, future. That is a shame, because we would make great gains if both pro-life and pro-choice activists focused their attention and resources on the areas where they agree -- eliminating the factors that drive women to have abortions.
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