She spoke in a soft voice, this stout black woman in the next chair.
Mother of 11, she had agreed to be interviewed for a fundraising video that I was asked to help produce, years ago, for a crisis pregnancy center. She told me she had undergone six abortions and also gave birth to five children alive–thus the total of 11. Government social workers in Philadelphia had directed her to a town in Central Pennsylvania, because, they said, it was easier to get assistance there. Social workers in that town had passed her on to my town.
I asked her if she was alone among her Philly friends in having multiple abortions.
“No,” she said, there were others.
I asked if she and her friends ever talked about the abortions. She said they did. I was trying hard to let her tell the story, and to avoid reacting, or imposing my own views on the conversation. (I’m paraphrasing here from a memory that may never leave me.)
“When you talked, what kind of things did you talk about?” I asked her.
Her face was placid, her voice, matter of fact.
“O, well, like if he was ugly,” she said.
“What do you mean?” I thought I knew, but I wanted her to say it. She said she meant what I thought she meant. They talked about whether the father of the baby was ugly. In case I was as dense as I seemed to be, she added that nobody wants to have an ugly guy’s baby.
“What else did you talk about?”
“Like, where am I gonna get the money?” At that time, she said, they needed about $200 for an abortion.
I was really fishing here, but I couldn’t get her to say what I thought was the obvious topic when it comes to abortion. I finally asked.
“Did you ever talk about whether it was right or wrong, or anything like that?”
She squinted at me like I had asked her to solve a quadratic equation, or had suddenly begun babbling in Urdu. The question made no sense to her.
“No,” she said, and I imagined she wanted to add, “How would that ever come up?”
That conversation came back to me recently when I read an op-ed in the Washington Post, headlined “Stop Calling Abortion a Difficult Decision.” The author, Janet Harris, is the former communications director for Emily’s List, a PAC that supports female pro-abortion Democratic candidates for office. No, I didn’t mean to write “pro-choice,” because it’s clear from this article that Janet Harris views abortion-on-demand as a positive, healthy alternative to a life ruined by an unwanted child. In fact, she’s trying to help her friends in the movement get away from the term “pro-choice” with its awkward moral dimension.
Give Ms. Harris her due: She’s honest in ways you rarely hear from the Planned Parenthood and NARAL advocates.
For example, she blandly acknowledges that the majority of abortions are elective because the pregnancy was inconveniently timed, unintended and unwanted. The percentage performed to save the health of a mother, or because the baby is defective, is negligible (4% in the former case, 3% in the latter). She notes that only 1.5% of aborted babies spill from the wombs of women who claim to be victims of rape or incest.
Because of these facts — which pro-lifers typically tout — Ms. Harris says folks should quit the “hand-wringing” about what a “heart-wrenching” decision pregnant women face on the doorstep of the abortion clinic.
Abortion rights groups are struggling to expand their message from “pro-choice” — which they say no longer resonates with voters as it once did — to more broadly encompass women’s health and economic concerns. The movement needs such recalibration precisely because it was drawn into a moral debate about the fetus’s hypothetical future rather than the woman’s immediate and tangible future. Once these groups locked themselves into a discussion of “choice,” terminating a pregnancy became an option rather than a necessity. Pro-choice groups would be a lot stronger, more effective and more in sync with the women they represent if they backed away from the defensive “difficult decision” posture. — Janet Harris
Here, she echoes my interview subject by noting that the difficulty of the situation has to do with the “failure in judgment” that led to the pregnancy, the cost of an abortion, and the difficulties of finding a nearby clinic, running the gauntlet of pro-lifers near the door, and (for teens) of acquiring parental consent where mandated. The abortion itself is “a simple choice and often the only practical option.”
Janet Harris says she had an abortion at 18, because she was too immature to “exert more control” over a boyfriend who frequently pressured her to have sex. She didn’t wrestle with “Should I or shouldn’t I?” but merely “How quickly can I get this over with?” It was not a difficult decision then, and it shouldn’t be now.
Pro-choice advocates use the “difficult decision” formulation…so as not to demonize women. It also permits pro-choice candidates to look less dogmatic.
But there’s a more pernicious result when pro-choice advocates use such language: It is a tacit acknowledgment that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue requiring an ethical debate. To say that deciding to have an abortion is a “hard choice” implies a debate about whether the fetus should live, thereby endowing it with a status of being. It puts the focus on the fetus rather than the woman. As a result, the question “What kind of future would the woman have as a result of an unwanted pregnancy?” gets sacrificed. By implying that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue, pro-choice advocates forfeit control of the discussion to anti-choice conservatives. — Janet Harris
Are most members of the Democratic Party, or so-called moderate Republicans, ready for a candidate who speaks in these terms?
Can “pro-choicers” jettison their pleas on behalf of hard-pressed women in jeopardy, and come out with this truth: Abortion is an awesome lifestyle option, a decision easier to make than choosing a shade of nail polish?