Abortion activists seem to be launching a (sort of) new strategy: Telling as many people as possible that they personally have had an abortion. Bloomberg Politics published a lengthy cover story titled “How Do You Change Someone’s Mind About Abortion? Tell Them You Had One.” And Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men, just published a review of activist Katha Pollit’s new book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights entitled “Abortion is Great.”
I was at first a bit surprised to see that this was a “new” strategy, considering the famous photo of Gloria Steinem, arms lifted in victory at the defeat of her hapless fetus, wearing a t-shirt labeled “I had an abortion.” Further, the left has proven brilliantly manipulative at conflating actions with people over the last several decades—on almost every issue, they have attempted to neutralize criticism by claiming that condemning specific actions or behavior means condemning people in their entirety.
The Bloomberg piece profiles long-time political activist David Fleischer, who claims to have made the discovery that people who know someone gay are less likely to oppose same-sex marriage, and that as such, gay canvassers should be recruited to go door to door and change public opinion on the issue. This strategy, Fleischer believes, would also work very well for the abortion movement:
Fleischer had his eye on another social issue on which opinions seem irreconcilably stubborn. On the left, it has become a source of frustration that the swift acceptance of gay rights has not been accompanied by a broader liberalization of sexual attitudes, particularly around reproductive issues. “That’s where the anti-abortion side has succeeded,” says Fleischer. “They’ve made people feel that to speak up and say something positive about abortion is something where you risk disapproval, then you’d be suggested to a certain amount of stigma. This is even truer around abortion than it is same-sex marriage.”
Fleischer approached Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, whose CEO had served on the board of the anti-Prop 8 campaign, to let the LGBT Center manage its canvassing program. After fighting a series of statewide ballot initiatives over parental notification, Planned Parenthood’s leadership concluded that its “traditional messaging strategies didn’t work,” according to Sue Dunlap, the CEO of the Los Angeles chapter. Instead, many in the pro-choice movement concluded, they needed to find fluency in the language of values understood by those who might be persuadable on the issue. “People are complicated and their emotions are often in conflict,” says Dunlap. “We’re making space for people to have complicated, complex feelings and still move forward.”
Abortion is typically considered a moral concern, about the bounds of life, or a legal one, about the nature of rights and liberties. Fleischer hypothesized it could be understood instead as a matter of personal identity, and that resistance to abortion really is stigma towards the women who have—or could have—them. “My hunch is,” he says, “talking about real lived experience is extraordinarily helpful in developing empathy and support.”
If so, perhaps American society had just never been exposed to the sustained organic contact that Allport argued 60 years ago could begin to dismantle a deeply held prejudice. After all, whites with retrograde views on race find themselves working on the same factory floor as blacks; straight people learn a beloved cousin is a lesbian. But how often does anyone, particularly among those who consider themselves pro-life, learn that a friend or relative or co-worker has had an abortion?
Well, pretty often, actually. I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone in the pro-life movement who didn’t know someone who had had an abortion. Many people in the pro-life movement have had abortions themselves, and it was that experience that propelled them into the movement in the first place. There are entire pro-life organizations of people who have had abortions and are dedicated to sharing the truth of that experience with others.
My colleagues and I have found that on the streets, personal experiences are very powerful in building connections with people, and that speaking with people one-on-one in a loving and truthful manner brings many people, including many people who have had an abortion, into the pro-life fold. What I suspect Fleischer is encouraging people to do here, rather, is conflate supporting abortion—a human rights violation—with supporting the girl or woman who had the abortion. This strategy has worked well for the abortion movement in the past, and could work to a certain degree now. Subjective appeals to emotion are often the most powerful last resort of a movement that relies on trash science and shoddy philosophy to make its claims.
Katha Pollit’s new book, it seems, makes the exact same case. Hanna Rosin of Slatebegins her review with a statement so blunt it caught me off-guard:
I had an abortion. I was not in a libertine college-girl phase, although frankly it’s none of your business. I was already a mother of two, which puts me in the majority of American women who have abortions. Six out of 10 are mothers, which makes sense, because a mother could not fool herself into believing that having another baby was no big deal.
I start the story this way because Katha Pollitt, author of Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights, would want it this way. In fact any woman who’s reading this piece and has had an abortion, or any man who has supported one, should go in the comments section and do the same thing, until there are so many accounts that the statement loses its shock value.
Pollit’s case, as Rosin summarizes it, is basically that pro-lifers are opposed to abortion mainly because it restricts the sexuality of women, or because we think women only have abortions for frivolous reasons. Showing that many sane, perfectly ordinary women—even mothers—have abortions, will apparently do much to sway pro-lifers from their position. Much time is also spent on pro-lifers who think that there should be exceptions when making abortion illegal, with Pollit and Rosin accurately pointing out that believing that abortion kills a child but that it’s ethical to kill some children is illogical.
I’m unimpressed with these arguments, which seem to boil down to this: “If we tell someone we did something, surely their opposition will disappear.” While this may sway a few people, the vast majority of pro-life people I know oppose abortion because it is a human rights violation, not because of some patriarchal-sexuality-restricting myth the Sexual Revolutionaries have conjured up. Yes, we do point out that abortion hurts women, but that is not exclusively why we oppose it. Yes, some pro-lifers do make exceptions in their opposition to abortion, but that logical inconsistency does not invalidate the case against abortion. And yes, almost all pro-life people know and love people who have had abortions. Many pro-life people are people who have had abortions.
Pollit and Fleischer get one major thing right: This battle will be won or lost based on personal contact, and the willingness of activists to get out on the streets, out on the university campuses, and walking door to door to spread the message. That’s why my colleagues and I take to the streets every day, conversing with people about abortion, forming personal connections, and showing them that we aren’t “anti-choice radicals” but rather young people concerned with the physical destruction of the youngest people. Abortion activists keep on pointing out new strategies that will supposedly make us give up and, as I’ve heard so many times, “get on with our lives.” But the blunt truth is this: We’ll get on with our lives when everybody has the right to theirs.