Obama said it in the last debate, just as countless apologetic ‘pro-choice’ politicians have before him: ‘No one is “pro-abortion.”’ Probably Obama has to say things like this if he wants to win, and certainly I’ll take his Supreme Court nominees over McCain and Palin’s any day. But it is a strangely illogical stance for someone who supports abortion rights to take. Think about it: arguing that abortion should be legal but rare implies that, while we think it shouldn’t be against the law, there is definitely something wrong with it. It’s a sort of ‘pro-choice-but-anti-abortion’ position, which preserves the legality of choice only by insisting that abortion is a horror that should be avoided at all costs.
In terms of logic, this obviously makes no sense. If you accept the pro-life position that the abortion is murder, then why should it be legal? If, on the other hand, you accept that the fetus is not a person but in fact a collection of cells inside an actual person’s body, then why should abortion be more any more problematic or ‘rare’ than other kinds of elective surgery? Of course it’s not ideal to undergo elective surgery: it’s expensive, it requires recovery time, and it involves some health risks. But surely the culture that brought us breast implants and the use of neurotoxins to fight wrinkles has made its peace with the downsides of elective surgery?
In fact, I think the ‘legal but rare’ stance probably serves Obama well precisely because it reflects a view held by many pro-choice voters. This is a stance that accepts the legality of abortion but shrouds it in secrecy, guilt and shame. It’s a view more common than you would think, even among Lefties who would never take a publicly anti-abortion stance. Just try substituting the words ‘my abortion’ for ‘my hernia operation’ or ‘my caesarean section’ in conversation with a group of progressives and see what kind of reaction you get.
The blogger over at ‘What To Expect When You’re Aborting’ (WTE) recently found out the high cost of foregoing the usual guilt and shame. (Many thanks to my friend JW for bringing this blog to my attention.) This witty, foul-mouthed and clever young woman referred to her abortion as Best. Period. Ever. and, in one of my favorite posts, compared the photo that came up when she searched a stock-image bank for ‘abortion clinic’ (a sad looking woman sitting in a darkened hospital room, holding her head in her hands) with a photo illustrating how she expected to feel after her abortion: like Judd Nelson at the end of The Breakfast Club.
Although I don’t always agree with the WTE blogger (I think she should lighten up on Planned Parenthood, for one thing), WTE did a great job of calling the bluff of people who say they’re pro-choice but still expect abortion to be a guilty secret, with predictable results. Here’s a sample response from Nerve.com:
She’s gleefully blogging the countdown to her abortion, and she’s nicknamed her fetus “the tumor.” Though there’s nowhere to leave feedback, there is an email address, and she swears she’s received mostly supportive comments. We’re tempted to call shenanigans on this whole blog, but if it’s real, it’s kind of amazing. And by amazing, we mean horrifying. We’re pro-choice, but on this, we’re conflicted. And if you’re not, you’re surer of your ideals than we are.
And WTE’s characteristic response:
Horrifying? Gleefully? You know if my iPhone was waterproof I would go wrist deep and take a picture of the former zygote’s malicious wiggling toes. And then an after picture of me in the recovery room busting the “this guy” move.
In a way, Nerve.com hits the nail on the head: the WTE site requires that you are sure of your ideals. It assumes that if you think abortion is fine, you actually do think it’s fine, rather than thinking it’s sort of OK provided you skulk around like you’ve been branded with a scarlet A, acting all weepy and guilty. It assumes that if you are really pro-choice, you (unlike the noxious Juno) don’t really give a fuck if the zygote has toenails or not, because the fetus is not a person and the woman getting rid of it is.
In fact WTE had to pull the archives of her site for a few weeks after some other, non-anonymous women bloggers were accused of having secretly authored it. These other women received death threats, so WTE locked the site in order to protect them. (See the perfectly named post ‘I am Spartacus’ for details.) She’s recently unlocked the archives but hasn’t yet provided details about the decision.
For me, WTE is a reminder of what we lose when we compromise in order to win people to our cause. Yes, presenting abortion as something most women will reject themselves if given the choice probably brings some people into the Democratic fold. Yes, the stakes of this election are so high that I understand why Obama has taken this road. But the pro-choice-anti-abortion position in effect argues that, although abortion is evil, it’s OK that it’s legal because women will recognize this evil for themselves—and either reject abortion or feel self-loathing about having one. When she provokes readers with her joy that her ‘tumor’ has been removed, WTE points out the way that the legal right to abortion comes attached to an implicit demand that women act like dutiful, responsible vessels for unborn children, even when they’re deciding not to have them. She shows up the ideology that makes abortion technically legal while insisting that women who have one view and represent themselves as secret criminals. As Leftists from Marx onward have reminded us, you don’t need the law to stop people from doing something if you can convince them to stop themselves.