Saturday, March 5, 2011

Stern Advice for Pro-Choice Advocates

In his book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? Michael J. Sandel discusses concepts of justice that have been proposed over the years and concludes with his own view.
“Justice is inescapably judgmental.....questions of justice are bound up with competing notions of honor and virtue, pride and recognition. Justice is not only about the right way to distribute things. It is about the right way to value things.”
Sandel states that you cannot define justice independently of the moral weights that people assign to certain concepts. He discusses the issues surrounding the contentious abortion arguments. The pro-life view claims that a fetus at any stage of growth represents a life, and an abortion is always a termination of a life—infanticide. The pro-choice argument appears as a way to dodge addressing this moral issue by arguing that the government should not get involved in making decisions that women should be allowed to make on their own. At the heart of the pro-choice argument is the notion that one cannot determine exactly when life begins so the government should not get involved. Sandel points out that this approach is not working, and that it shouldn’t work because it is a cop-out. He believes that if you want to argue a moral issue you have to address the moral issue. The concept of pro-choice avoids explicitly addressing it.

In a recent Washington Post article, Abortion rights are under attack, and pro-choice advocates are caught in a time warp, Francis Kissling makes a similar argument. Frances Kissling is the former president of Catholics for Choice and a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kissling points out that the pro-choice movement is losing ground rapidly and must change its approach if it is to avoid even greater losses to its opponents.
“The "pro-choice" brand has eroded considerably. As recently as 1995 it was the preferred label of 56 percent of Americans; that dropped to 42 percent in 2009 and was 45 percent in 2010, according to Gallup polls. And abortion rights are under attack in Congress. The House passed a bill on Friday that would strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood, one of the most important providers of reproductive health services for poor women. Another proposed House measure would make it impossible to buy private insurance covering abortion. Anti-choice Republicans are so secure that Rep. Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, a leader of this wing, has introduced an act which will allow hospitals to deny an abortion even if the pregnant woman's life is at risk. Meanwhile, 29 governors are solidly anti-abortion, while 15 states passed 39 laws, most of them restrictive, relating to abortion in 2010 alone.”
She states that the path forward must start with the realization of where public sentiment truly lies.
“The public is ambivalent about abortion. It wants it to be legal, but will support almost any restriction that indicates society takes the act of abortion seriously.”
Times have changed since the 70s, and medical and popular understanding of the viability of life has also changed.
“We can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible. We can no longer seek to banish the state from our lives, but rather need to engage its power to improve women's lives. We must end the fiction that an abortion at 26 weeks is no different from one at six weeks.”

“These are not compromises or mere strategic concessions, they are a necessary evolution. The positions we have taken up to now are inadequate for the questions of the 21st century. We know more than we knew in 1973, and our positions should reflect that.”

“The fetus is more visible than ever before, and the abortion-rights movement needs to accept its existence and its value. It may not have a right to life, and its value may not be equal to that of the pregnant woman, but ending the life of a fetus is not a morally insignificant event. Very few people would argue that there is no difference between the decision to abort at 6 weeks and the decision to do so when the fetus would be viable outside of the womb, which today is generally at 24 to 26 weeks. Still, it is rare for mainstream movement leaders to say that publicly. Abortion is not merely a medical matter, and there is an unintended coarseness to claiming that it is.”
Kissling says the movement must shed its defensive posture and adopt a plan that will put it on the offense. This means utilizing the state to achieve well-conceived goals rather than viewing the state as an intruder in women’s affairs. Her idea of an agenda sounds similar to the proposed approach articulated by Obama: abortion should be legal but rare. Her initiatives demand that if the state wants to eliminate as many abortions as possible there are some things it must do.
“We need to fight to get government to provide resources that women need, from subsidized birth control to better prenatal care. We also need a real effort to reduce maternal mortality and pregnancy complication rates in this country, which Amnesty International has called ‘shocking’."

“If the state wants to weigh in with advice and information on abortion, the least it can do is emulate the European system, which has some regulations but then pays for women's abortions and offers good alternatives such as child care, parental leave and health care. We have been demanding that the state mind its own business. That lets government abdicate all responsibility for funding reproductive health care.”
Pro-choice supporters must face reality and compromise on previous positions.
“We need to firmly and clearly reject post-viability abortions except in extreme cases. Exceptions include when the woman's life is at immediate risk; when the fetus suffers from conditions that are incompatible with a good quality of life; or when the woman's health is seriously threatened by a medical or psychological condition that continued pregnancy will exacerbate. We should regulate post-viability abortion to include the confirmation of those conditions by medical or psychiatric specialists.”

“Those kinds of regulations are not anti-woman or unduly invasive. They rightly protect all of our interests in women's health and fetal life.”

“Even abortions in the second trimester, especially after 20 weeks, need to be considered differently from those that happen early in pregnancy. Women who seek abortions in the second trimester generally have special needs and would be helped by more extensive counseling than that available at most abortion clinics. Women who discover their fetuses have anomalies, teens who did not recognize they were pregnant, women who could not make up their minds - these are not routine circumstances. Mandating and funding non-directive counseling on all options is a good thing.”

“We need more responsible and compassionate state policies. But respect for fetal life also requires that men and women take every step possible not to create fetuses they will have to abort. Too often, the movement sounds as we think women have only rights and the state has only responsibilities.”
She ends with this prediction.
“For too long, abortion has been treated in black and white. Any discussion that deviates from legal or illegal, women or fetus, faces criticism from the twin absolutes of choice or life. If the choice movement does not change, control of policy on abortion will remain in the hands of those who want it criminalized. If we don't suggest sensible balanced legislation and regulation of abortion, we will be left with far more draconian policies - and, eventually, no choices at all.”
Kissling makes excellent and reasonable suggestions. Unfortunately, the pro-choice people are not dealing with reasonable people. While the public as a whole might be ambivalent about abortion, the people they have elected are not. How can you limit unwanted pregnancies when legislators who are against abortion are also against birth control? Recently, laws have been proposed that would make it legal to kill a legal abortion provider, and that would deem a miscarriage to be a form of murder. These are not people one can reason with. Perhaps the best one can expect is a better-conceived holding action to buy time until the crazies are deemed crazy enough to be thrown out of office. Good luck with that!

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