Thursday, December 13, 2007

Incremental Approach on Abortion Abandoned?

A report compiled by Statenet suggests that pro-life activists across the country are abandoning the incremental approach used in the last few years to create some restrictions or disincentives on the right to an abortion (parental notification, informed consent, support for adoption programs, etc.) and are instead focusing on efforts to get various states to adopt constitutional amendments granting the right of "personhood" to babies from the moment of conception. If so, they will be rejecting an approach that has successfully stopped some abortions in favor of an approach that will stop none.

The more radical approach, which allows for a significant amount of moral chest thumping on the part of its advocates, is the wrong path to take for any number of reasons. First, it is unlikely to be successful in the vast majority, if not all, states. Second, even if it were to be successful, it would be unlikely to pass a constitutional challenge, and another Supreme Court ruling upholding Roe v. Wade is hardly in the interest of the pro-life movement. Third, this approach fails to recognize that the fundamental need of the pro-life movement is not political, but personal. The pro-lifers cannot win the argument on capitol hills until they win it on main streets across the country, and while most Americans express a certain amount of discomfort with the subject of abortion and agree with some restrictions on it, most are not willing to go along with the sorts of bans favored by most pro-life groups (in all instances in which the mother's life is not in danger).

Pro-lifers -- many of whom spend most of their time only talking on the subject to one another -- may underestimate the degree of disdain in which they are held by the political class (Note: I am pro-life, but my professional dealings with politicians are on other types of issues and, as a result, I hear comments that are not often made for public consumption). Of course, those in favor of abortion rights are critical of the pro-life movement, but even many of those who publicly side with the pro-lifers (or at least their allies) wish that the issue would go away. In that sense, abortion resembles the slavery issue of a century and a half ago (which also was a debate over property rights versus human rights). In that debate, a fifth of the country favored emancipation and a similar percentage favored the extension of slavery. The remainder mostly found the subject uncomfortable and resented those who insisted on bringing it up. Americans ultimately waged a bloody war to resolve the slavery debate; fortunately, while the abortion debate will remain contentious, it will not be settled in the same way.

Pro-lifers -- like abolitionists -- cannot allow the subject of abortion to go away. However, their primary battle is not in state capitols. They must win the battle of ideas by engaging the public at large and convincing them that this is a fundamental civil rights issue, not merely a religious one. To do that, they must get their message beyond both churches and statet capitols, and into other venues.

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