The ‘A’ Word

November 28th, 2005  |  Published in old and busted  |  3 Comments

This might be my least favorite political topic for a few reasons:

  1. I’ve participated in pro-choice activism, and the people I met on “my side” ran the gamut from “good, sincere, concerned citizens” to “blinkered jane and johnny one-notes with a vicious disregard for abortion’s emotional effects.”

  2. I’m a man, which in the Mario Kart of political discourse makes me a magnet for those red shells that are able to turn around corners to get at you and that blue winged thing that descends from above and smashes you at random with no real recourse except to let go of the controls and use the brief period of flying through the air out of control to relax your acceleration finger.

But it has been coming up in private conversations over the past few weeks and months, mostly in the context of an article I read in a recent “New Yorker” regarding Pennsylvania’s Robert Casey, a pro-life Democrat, and his run against Rick Santorum. The article isn’t available online (near as I can tell), but the gist is one that’s been rumbling around for a while: Centrist Democrats are in the process of working out how to make the party’s overall position on abortion (and its attendant issues, like parental and spousal notification) more flexible so’s to chip at some of that middle ground electorate we’re all after.

So when Al shot me this link [from CNN]((http://www.cnn.com/2005/US/11/27/abortion.poll/index.html) this morning, I figured I’d stick it up here:

> Roughly two-thirds of the people questioned in a recent poll on abortion supported parental and spousal notification but opposed a constitutional amendment to ban the practice altogether. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted November 11-13 found that 69 percent of the 1,006 adults questioned were in favor of requiring minors to get parental consent to have an abortion, while 28 percent opposed that step.

The breakdown further down the story is more illuminating:

> Thirty-nine percent of the respondents said that abortion should only be legal in a few circumstances, 26 percent believe it should be legal in all circumstances, and 16 percent favor legal abortion in most circumstances. Another 16 percent said it should not be legal under any circumstances, the poll showed.

So if you look at it from the side, the weight is sort of toward the “abortion on demand” set (26 percent) over the “no abortion ever” set (19 percent).  The largest group of all, though, is the “only in a few circumstances” one, at 39 percent.

The union of  “mostly pro-choice and absolutely pro-choice” is at 42 percent, while the union of “mostly pro-life and absolutely pro-life” is at 55 percent.

My guess is that the large lump of “only in a few circumstances” people are a real mixed bag who are more willing to apply their personal moral/ethical sense of the issue to the laws in question without drawing in consideration of the secondary effects of the decision.   More willing than, say, people like me who’d timidly offer in mixed company that abortion isn’t “good” and is probably “bad,” but not as bad as the alternative.

As with the whole gay marriage issue, my sense is that a lot of peoples’ opinions about abortion are formed out of some measure of fear. Last year I wrote about how gay marriage is framed as a matter of the state reaching into churches and dictating some sort of equal opportunity law, which is a recipe for driving people already convinced of the wickedness of the world completely bananas.

Some people might be tempted to say “Good … let ’em be bananas … fuck ’em,” but that’s no way to run a democracy and it doesn’t work when there are enough people being driven bananas with fear to form a substantial, pro-Measure 36 voting bloc.

With abortion, I think the cleaving point is fear as well.

Which party will you get behind if you think abortion is not good but perhaps tolerable, but definitely think, for instance, that it’s not a decision you want your teenage daughter making without your awareness? The party that’s against abortion or the party that consistently stands behind a policy of “your teenage daughter getting knocked up then getting an abortion is none of your damn business, and we support making sure you’re kept in the dark”?

This is a case where the absolutists are doing the hard core of the anti-choice movement’s work for it where the unconvinced and uncertain middle ground is concerned.

We all know the reasons offered for opposing parental notification laws, and they tend to center on greater harm coming to the child as a result of the wrong sort of parent finding out. I think there’s room for discussion about that kind of law, and I don’t think I have an up or down answer on them. The sorts of compromises that come to mind sound naive before I even think all the words to spell them out, because probably every scared teenage girl would happily sign a form saying she’d come to physical harm if dad found out.

I’ve got even less of a compromise answer where spousal notification is concerned because I don’t feel any personal interest in compromising in that area: Wives shouldn’t be required to tell their husbands, and the more a woman feels compelled to keep an abortion a secret from her spouse, the less I think she should be compelled to disclose it.

As tricky as both those issues are (the former much trickier, in my mind, than the latter), I think they have to be open to discussion beyond the crappy “camel’s nose” rhetoric that’s dominated the matter to this point.

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