Kissling: Abortion Advocates Must Evolve Or Fail

Frances Kissling, who made her career and her reputation by sticking a finger in the Catholic Church’s eye for decades as head of the inaccurately named “Catholics for Choice,” has written a piece for the Washington Post in which she argues that abortion leaders are inflexible, change-resistant ideologues who are stuck in a timewarp and are using outdated, myth-based arguments that have caused them to lose ground, ground she says they cannot recover, and that they risk losing the abortion fight entirely.

Let’s hope she’s right!

Especially about that inflexible change resistance leading to losing the abortion fight entirely. That’s the best part.

Unfortunately, she hasn’t seen the light and switched sides. She’s urging them to be less inflexible and more reality-acknowledging in their approach—so that they can avoid total failure as a movement.

Some excerpts:

[T]he opposition to legal abortion has increased dramatically. Opponents use increasingly sophisticated arguments - focusing on advances in fetal medicine, stressing the rights of parents to have a say in their minor children’s health care, linking opposition to abortion with opposition to war and capital punishment, seeking to make abortion not illegal but increasingly unavailable - and have succeeded in swinging public opinion toward their side.

Meanwhile, those of us in the abortion-rights movement have barely changed our approach. We cling to the arguments that led to victory in Roe v. Wade. Abortion is a private decision, we say, and the state has no power over a woman’s body. Those arguments may have worked in the 1970s, but today, they are failing us, and focusing on them only risks all the gains we’ve made.

The “pro-choice” brand has eroded considerably. As recently as 1995 it was the preferred label of 56 percent of Americans; that dropped to 42 percent in 2009 and was 45 percent in 2010, according to Gallup polls. And abortion rights are under attack in Congress. . . .

Pro-choice advocates have good reason to oppose legislation that restricts abortion in any way, but unfortunately we’re not going to regain the ground we have lost. What we must do is stop holding on to a strategy that isn’t working, and one that is making the legal right to abortion more vulnerable than ever before.

We can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible. . . . We must end the fiction that an abortion at 26 weeks is no different from one at six weeks.

These are not compromises or mere strategic concessions, they are a necessary evolution. The positions we have taken up to now are inadequate for the questions of the 21st century. We know more than we knew in 1973, and our positions should reflect that.

The fetus is more visible than ever before, and the abortion-rights movement needs to accept its existence and its value. It may not have a right to life, and its value may not be equal to that of the pregnant woman, but ending the life of a fetus is not a morally insignificant event. Very few people would argue that there is no difference between the decision to abort at 6 weeks and the decision to do so when the fetus would be viable outside of the womb, which today is generally at 24 to 26 weeks. Still, it is rare for mainstream movement leaders to say that publicly. Abortion is not merely a medical matter, and there is an unintended coarseness to claiming that it is.

We need to firmly and clearly reject post-viability abortions except in extreme cases. . . .

Those kinds of regulations are not anti-woman or unduly invasive. They rightly protect all of our interests in women’s health and fetal life.

Even abortions in the second trimester, especially after 20 weeks, need to be considered differently from those that happen early in pregnancy. . . .

We should also work to sensibly regulate abortion facilities - not to prohibit access, but to ensure safety.

Kissling also has a bunch of recommendations to advance the abortion cause, things like cozying up to the government, getting funding for abortions for those in the military, handing out a lot more contraception, focusing on the plight of poor women as a way of keeping abortion legal for rich women, etc.

She concludes:

Some of my colleagues in the abortion-rights movement will resist even this modest shift on post-first trimester abortions, fearing that any compromise reflects weakness. Give the opposition an inch and they will take a yard. I believe most in the movement share my concerns and hold more moderate positions on abortion than their rhetoric or silence implies. These shifts I am suggesting are not about compromising or finding common ground with abortion opponents. Compromise assumes that there are two parties prepared to give up something in return for settling an issue. Neither opponents nor advocates of legal abortion are willing to do that. But, for pro-choice advocates, standing our ground will mean losing ground entirely.

For too long, abortion has been treated in black and white. Any discussion that deviates from legal or illegal, women or fetus, faces criticism from the twin absolutes of choice or life. If the choice movement does not change, control of policy on abortion will remain in the hands of those who want it criminalized. If we don’t suggest sensible balanced legislation and regulation of abortion, we will be left with far more draconian policies - and, eventually, no choices at all.

I have to say that I’m with her colleagues who would view fear that her proposals reflect weakness. They do.

And she’s right that the less extreme abortion advocates are, the less out-of-alignment-with-reality their position would be. The less out of alignment a position is with reality, the harder it is to attack and the easier it is to defend. That’s why successful lies always contain elements of truth. Otherwise they wouldn’t be believable.

Frances, may you be heeded by your fellow abortion advocates the same way that Cassandra was heeded by the Trojans. You deserve no less. You’ve been involved in an epic tragedy that has taken far more lives than theirs.

Readers: What do you think her chances are?