an After abortion

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Jodi Enda has a long, thoughtful, article in the April American Prospect Online about the current state of moral and public reflection on the abortion debate. It's called The Women’s View: The pro-choice movement has seen moral complexity as its enemy. But moral complexity is exactly why choice must be saved.

Enda believes that women speaking in public about how abortion was a poor choice for them are influencing the debate:

And now, when a right they’ve taken for granted is in jeopardy, virtually the only people speaking out about their choice to terminate a pregnancy are those who say they regret having made it.
This is an interesting claim, since it is surely true that Enda is aware of I'm Not Sorry and last year's "I Had An Abortion" t-shirt campaign. As I've said here many times, the stories at I'm Not Sorry and the Amy-Richards-I-don't-want-to-buy-Mayonnaise-at-Costco but I do want to wear an "I Had An Abortion" t-shirt are not presenting a picture of abortion that will cause moderate American voters to believe that abortion is good for women.

I'll offer the bold theory that Enda skips right over these voices of abortion because she knows that they will cause moderate people to be less supportive, rather than more supportive, of abortion.

Enda offers an abortion story in her article that she believes is the kind of abortion story that will swing public perceptions in favor of abortion rights. It's a story about a woman with two small children who is married to a crazy, abusive, violent, drug addict. After they have separated, he enters her house and rapes her. She becomes pregnant and decides on abortion. However, she doesn't have enough money to obtain an abortion. It takes her many weeks to scrape together the funds for her abortion but as the weeks go by, the price of the abortion keeps getting higher. Finally, she is able to get together enough money to have an abortion when her gestating baby is 20 weeks along.

Allow me to suggest that this story will not change people's views about the morality of late term abortions. What this story will make moderate voters think is:

"What's wrong with the pro-choice movement and abortion doctors? The pro-choice movement spends hundreds of millions of dollars advocating for abortion rights. Abortion doctors drive late-model cars, vacation in Jamaica and live in the good part of town. And they can't scrape together the funds or the compassion to help this woman who by their own oft-repeated rhetoric is just exactly the kind of person they allegedly want to help?"

Enda includes an interview with Georgette Forney. (Should I rename this blog "the Georgette Forney blog?)

Georgette Forney speaks frequently, publicly, and emotionally about her abortion on October 4, 1976: “I was 16 years old and living in Detroit. I didn’t want my parents or anybody else to know I was sexually active. I had a good-girl image. I thought I was big enough to take care of the problem myself. And I did. ... I remember driving to the clinic thinking, ‘This feels really wrong, but because it’s legal, it must be OK.’” During the procedure, Forney recalled, she felt violated. The stirrups bothered her. So did the “vacuum cleaner.” But she moved on. “I decided to pretend it didn’t happen,” she said. “I did that for 19 years.”

A decade ago, about ?ve years after her daughter was born, Forney said she was ?ipping through her high-school yearbook when she felt a jolt. “I had this sensation that my baby was in my arms. ... I had never allowed myself to think about what I had aborted. There I was, all of a sudden really facing what I had lost, and I was unprepared for that.” She sobbed to a friend that she’d killed her baby.

Forney started talking openly about her experience. She founded an organization, the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, to help women like herself ?nd ways to relieve their pain and gain forgiveness. (She’s also executive director of the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, which, along with Priests for Life, formed Silent No More.) As we talked and Forney repeated her story -- for the umpteenth? hundredth? thousandth? time -- she cried. In the past two years, she said, the Silent No More campaign had signed up more than 3,000 women to provide testimony at public gatherings and in TV commercials. “We don’t want other people to make the same mistakes we did,” Forney said. “The mistake is not just the abortion; it’s assuming the abortion will solve the problem. You think you’re going to walk out of the clinic and be relieved and done. You’re not prepared for when you go to bed that night and hear babies crying.”
Ms. Enda has joined the chorus of female voices (Sydna Masse and Patricia Beninato are the charter members) who are very, very annoyed when other women cry.

Enda slips up at one point:

Abortion opponents haven’t won yet -- Roe is still in place -- but they can take solace in numbers. Abortion rates have fallen, in part because of better birth control, but also because of state laws.
Um, abortion advocates are also supposed to be glad when the abortion rate drops.

Finally, there is a call to arms:

The good news, if there is any, is that women’s rights activists are waking up to their public-relations problem. "I think we have to face the reality that public support for abortion is eroding," said Martha Burk, chair of the National Council of Women’s Organizations. "I think we’ve clearly lost the terminology war. They keep coming up with very reasonable-sounding restrictions, and we are unable to counter that. … The movement is in a bind."
James Carville used to say, "It's the economy, stupid."

By this he meant, forget about terminology, forget about rhetoric...people in this election are voting on underlying realities.

The same thing is true in the abortion debate. It's not the terminology, Martha. It's the underlying reality.

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