Monday, January 07, 2008

Is "Pro-Choice" the Same as "Pro-Abortion"?

I've written on abortion here a few times, most notably here (an ethical analysis of the phrase "abortion is murder") and here (an exegesis of Jeremiah 1:4-5, a verse often used as a proof-text to show that God is opposed to abortion). But I haven't written much on the subject lately, because I've found that while such posts tend to spike participation in the comments section, they don't actually generate good conversation. In fact, I all but vowed never to blog on abortion again. Arguments concerning abortion generate so much more heat than light.


Today I stumbled on this post by Frank Lockwood, the Bible Belt Blogger, and Religion editor at the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. In it Mr. Lockwood, formerly of the Lexington Herald Leader, while discussing whether or not "Mike Huckabee is destroying the old Reagan coalition," mentions "pro-abortion-on-demand party bigwigs" of the old GOP.

I shuddered. And not just at the notion that the Republican party could once have been said to be run by those who do not favor the criminalizing of abortion, though that would indeed be jarring news to a neophyte like me if I didn't have at least some grasp of recent political history. Mostly I shuddered because the descriptor "pro-abortion-on-demand" is, with the possible exception of "baby-killer," the least charitable (and in most cases, least honest) way to describe those of us who believe that abortion should be in at least some cases a legal option.

One commenter on the post, going by the handle UKLutheran, put it nicely:

It actually comes across as quite biased when you say "pro-abortion," suggesting that supporters of reproductive rights are members of the "voluntary human extinction movement" and favor abortion over childbirth.

In contrast, the term pro-choice suggests that one supports the constitutional right for a woman to choose: completely independent of whatever decision she makes. Even "pro-elective abortion" is misleading- not a few of the pro-lifers want criminalize even non-elective abortions (ie. abortions to save the life of the mother). Pro-choice implies support of freedom and rights, not a preference for any outcome.

On the other hand, many pro-choice people see abortion as an absolute moral wrong, but cannot see how government intervention, the abolishment of a right to privacy, and murder charges for desperate women (and doctors) will help matters.

To describe such people as "pro-abortion" is an absolute smear!

You need not be in favor of something (and can indeed be strongly opposed to it) without believing it should be a criminal matter or something the government should address (a sad fact that often gets overlooked in light of our increasingly large and meddlesome government).

That, as UKLutheran argues, many people who believe that abortion is in all or most cases morally wrong still oppose criminalizing it, shows one major problem with conflating "pro-choice" and "pro-abortion." That is, however, by no means the only problem.

Even those who believe that abortion is in many cases a morally permissible act are by no means best described as being in favor of it, as though they would jump up and shout "You go, girl!" whenever a woman makes the difficult and painful decision to terminate a pregnancy. It is quite possible to hold that a behavior is a viable moral option without being rightly labeled "pro" that behavior. Just War theorists, for instance, may hold that in certain circumstances military violence is a viable moral option. That would not necessarily make them "pro-war."

Beyond that, Mr. Lockwood did not describe the (mostly late, at this point) pro-choice wing of the Republican party as merely "pro-abortion"; no, they were "pro-abortion-on-demand." This communicates at best a certain casualness, as though they believed that obtaining an abortion was and should be a matter as simple as ordering a cheeseburger (not a morally or psychologically simple matter for me, a vegetarian, but I digress...) or a pay-per-view movie. Yet, pro-choicer that I am, I know of no one, regardless of their views on the ethics or legality of abortion, who treats actual instances of abortions casually. Yes, some people I know may be casual with their arguments (darn near careless, even). But I know of no one who thinks that an actual instance of voluntarily terminating a pregnancy is or should be casual.

Yes, I know people who think that it should be easier for a woman who has made the difficult decision to terminate her pregnancy to have access to a safe, legal abortion. I am such a person. The pro-life (perhaps a similarly misleading label, as many who advocate for criminalizing abortion are in favor of capital punishment and at least some wars, while also supporting economic and ecological policies that deal death daily) movement has succeeded in placing tremendous obstacles between many women and safe, legal abortions. I and others favor removing many of those obstacles. That hardly makes us "pro-abortion-on-demand."

I read Frank Lockwood's Bible Belt Blogger almost every day. Generally he is, so unlike the Faux News (aka Fox Noise) Network that placed this phrase in our collective consciousness, "fair and balanced." In this case, however - unless Mr. Lockwood has in mind particular GOP leaders who really believed that getting an abortion should be as easy as getting a Big Mac - I think he's guilty of a smear.

1 comment:

Amy said...

I think it's necessary to point out, as well, that "supporting choice" means much more than supporting legalized abortion. Being pro-choice means supporting education around issues of birth control and family planning, so that fewer people would feel an abortion were necessary. When we look at the abstinence-only education promoted by the supposed "pro-life" agenda, combined with their prohibition on aid to any health agency that distributes condoms and other forms of contraception to the poor, we can see that the "pro-lifers" are not just anti-abortion, for the most part. They have shown themselves to be against any methods that enable women's agency around the issue of child-bearing.