Sunday, May 17, 2009

Feminists Losing Debate on Abortion

Feminists are Losing the debate on Abortion.

Most Americans now "Pro-Life"

A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves "pro-life" on the issue of abortion and 42% "pro-choice." This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995. The new results, obtained from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50% were pro-choice and 44% pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46%, in both August 2001 and May 2002.

A year ago, Gallup found more women calling themselves pro-choice than pro-life, by 50% to 43%, while men were more closely divided: 49% pro-choice, 46% pro-life. Now, because of heightened pro-life sentiment among both groups, women as well as men are more likely to be pro-life. Now nearly half, 49%, of women are pro-life, only 44% are pro-choice.

Men and women have been evenly divided on the issue in previous years; however, this is the first time in nine years of Gallup Values surveys that significantly more men and women are pro-life than pro-choice.

How did feminists lose the debate on Abortion? I think they failed to recognize the moral complexities involved in abortion, making it only an issue of a women's choice, with no recognition of another life involved. Even most women do not reduce abortion to just the women's choice. There is another life involved, and abortion is KILLING a human life.

As an atheist, humanist, and yes a feminist, I support the legal right of women to end a pregnancy under some circumstances, but even I cannot ignore the moral cost of abortion in all circumstances. I oppose the right-wing attempts to make all abortions illegal. It is essential that women have the legal right, and the ability, to end pregnancies when it affects their health and well-being.

However, the argument for keeping abortion legal and safe cannot ignore the moral issue of the life of the fetus. Like most liberals and progressives, I consider myself "pro-life" in the sense that I think it is a moral imperative to support life in all situations. I oppose war and the death penalty (why aren't the "pro-life" Catholics and religious groups protesting those??)

I don't have all the answers, politically or morally, but there is something wrong with the mainstream liberal feminist approach to abortion that has failed to address the moral issues involved in abortion. They have tried to ignore completely that abortion is taking a life, and by not wanting to face that issue head on, they are losing the moral and political debate on abortion, even among women.

LET ME REITERATE--I support women's reproductive rights, including abortion. I have been in protests supporting abortion rights, and have escorted women at abortion clinics. I'm concerned about how to make a more effective moral and political argument to keep abortion legal. Abortion cannot be simplified as just the right of the fetus vs. the right of women to choose. We have to find a way to change the debate.

UPDATE: Good discussion in the comments section on this.. I'm re-evaluating my argument/view on this...

Here's another point of view:
Why "Choosing Life" is a False Choice

Isn't is possible to be "pro-life" and "pro-choice" ?


Myron said...

I am too pro choice and pro life, but it is really hard with abortion. You do not want to take a life that has developed, but you cannot keep it if you cannot support it. If it is still in its earliest stages I see nothing wrong with abortion, but later on after the fetish is developed I think is where I begin to have problems.

Oh and counter argument pro-life conservatives give for war and death penalty is that those are
"just causes" to fight evil. They say abortion is not killing an evil being but an innocent one.

against ignorance said...


Watch out for the trap. Anti-abortion ideologues have tried to change the ground of the debate by making it only a question of the "rights" of a fetus (and even of a single-celled embryo!), which they define as a human life and you unfortunately repeat this fallacy. They don't want a woman's life and living conditions even to be considered. Feminists who try to conciliate by reconciling these two competing "moral" claims inevitably allow the "right to life" of a fetus to trump the woman. I appreciate your pro-choice activism and escorting, but your philosophical confusion is not consistent with your political actions, which undermines your pro-choice effectiveness.

We need to confront head-on the reality of what the anti-abortion movement is about. It is not about protecting life. It is about imposing a reactionary, theocratic, anti-woman, anti-gay, pro-capitalist agenda on the whole world. Genuflecting to that agenda's "pro-life" propaganda only weakens our ability to resist it. There are some people who honestly believe it, but they are part of a well-funded, government-sponsored program (though the current administration has decreased that sponsorship) that even funnels money to phony "crisis pregnancy" clinics that lie to women.

Has the feminist movement made mistakes regarding the abortion debate? Yes, but not for the reason you give. In fact, the reasoning you give is one of the problems, not the solution. You forgot to mention that a big part of the problem is mainstream feminist groups tying themselves too closely to the mealy-mouthed Democratic Party, which gives lip service but does not present a forceful pro-choice message to the public, which is exposed to a very one-sided message from the Right.

For a more thoughtful discussion, see Abortion debate intensifies. Also see
Abortion ban vs. freedom and Abortion rights battles continue".

Anyway, don't make sweeping conclusions based on minuscule evidence. Check out this column by Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune. Zorn compares a number of different polls and finds no long-term trend. He concludes:

Looking at all these numbers and how they've oscillated over the past decades causes me to doubt we're seeing a meaningful shift in the always muddy, always conflicted public opinion on abortion.

It's hard to guess what, aside from sampling error, would cause the Gallup's pro-choice number to drop 12 points in less than four years and to be 7 points lower this spring than Quinnipiac University's nearly contemporaneous pro-choice number.

Gallup writes:

"The source of the shift in abortion views is clear ... The percentage of Republicans (including independents who lean Republican) calling themselves 'pro-life' rose by 10 points over the past year, from 60% to 70%, while there has been essentially no change in the views of Democrats and Democratic leaners...all of the increase in pro-life sentiment is seen among self-identified conservatives and moderates; the abortion views of political liberals have not changed. It is possible that, through his abortion policies, Obama has pushed the public's understanding of what it means to be 'pro-choice' slightly to the left, politically. While Democrats may support that, as they generally support everything Obama is doing as president, it may be driving others in the opposite direction."

It's interesting to note that one of the biggest leads for "pro-choice" over "pro-life,"  54 percent to 38 percent, came in August of 2005 when President Bush was in the process of putting two new and presumably conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

And it's not clear to me what these terms mean to Gallup's respondents, given that 75 percent of them in the current survey say that abortion should be legal in some circumstances.

Nor do I know how to square these results with the results of another new poll:

CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll. May 14-17, 2009                   
The 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?
Yes, Overturn   30%
 No, Not Overturn 68%        

The pure pro-choice "legal under any circumstances" percentage (22) is almost exactly what it was 34 years ago (21); ditto the pure pro-life "illegal in all circumstances" (23 today, 22 in 1975).

Looking at all these numbers, this issue,appears to be almost exactly as intractable and polarized as it's always been. It's no closer to settlement  or consensus now than it was in August, 2005, when it looked like a pro-choice rout was on.

Jim Maynard said...

thanks for the comment, good points.

I agree that the "pro-life" (sic) side has been far more guilty of over-simplifying the issue (life v. choice) than the feminist/pro-choice side.

It's actually a FALSE choice, I'm posting a link that makes that point.