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Old 06-28-2009, 07:51 AM
mmacklem mmacklem is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 140
Default Re: Two Men, No Uteruses (Steven Waldman & William Saletan)

Originally Posted by bjkeefe View Post
I don't completely disagree when you put it like that. Certainly, repeatedly chanting this line and/or using it as an opening statement or playing it as a trump card is not likely to be helpful if you've got a group together that is sincerely looking for ways to find common ground.

However, I don't agree with you regarding this line as heard by "anyone in the middle." One important thing to keep in mind is that many who are anti-abortion, and most who are prominent in that camp, have an absolutist view -- they would like abortion banned in all or almost all circumstances. Also, they are not interested in seeking a compromise position -- e.g., they view a blastocyst as a full human being -- and even worse, they tend to oppose policies that would decrease the need for abortions in the first place, like contraception and proper sex education. On the flip side, almost all pro-choice people are quick to acknowledge that of course abortion isn't an unqualified good thing, that it has to be recognized that it can be an excruciatingly painful decision for some women, and that there is a common emotional queasiness, particularly concerning late-term abortions.

In other words, the center of mass of the anti-choice side is located at a position that is both more extreme and more welded in place than the center of mass of the pro-choice side. The anti-choice side, to a first approximation at least, is not interested in politicizing with the goal of finding compromise solutions; they are interested in chip, chip, chipping away. Every legislative, judicial, and administrative event that falls in their favor is only counted as another step in what they hope ultimately to achieve, and is rarely or never seen as any reason to ramp down the pressure.

Therefore, saying "the anti-choice crowd believes life begins at conception and ends at birth" is a vivid and simple introduction (or reminder) to the people "in the middle" of the imbalance in the opposing views on the issue. It gets attention, for one thing; it is largely accurate (if simplistic and too sweeping), for another; and it makes at least some of those "in the middle" realize (1) what the consequences of allowing the anti-choice side to have their way would be, and (2) why it is futile to hope that "if we just give them this, this, and this, they'll be content and we can move on to other matters."
I would respond with the following thought: if the anti-abortion side holds such an extreme view, why are they considered a reasonable part of the debate? I would claim that the reason for this is because they are able to frame their arguments around the idea of claiming a monopoly on the viewpoint of abortion being a tragic outcome, one which is certainly shared at least peripherally by people who have not themselves had to deal directly with this issue but who think that they care enough about it to vote based on the candidates' view on it.

Taking "partial-birth abortion" as a sample case, it is easy to describe the procedure to make it sound horrific and inhumane, it is more difficult to discuss the medical circumstances in which this procedure arises and to describe why it might be medically necessary (one of the reasons I've found Andrew Sullivan's recent blog posts on this issue illuminating and heartbreaking). Given this dynamic, on rhetorical grounds alone, it is a small step to paint the side that argues for the need to keep this procedure legal as supporting acts which are essentially murder. In the face of that dynamic, Frank's formulation is an insufficient response -- glibness is not an appropriate statement in an argument with that dynamic.

I guess this is my fundamental problem with Frank's formulation: it responds to the pro-life side of the abortion issue by responding to the dynamics of the conservative movement overall. As an example, which goes to the overall point I was trying to make in my previous post, let's say that I consider myself pro-life but not fiscally conservative, but that I consider the abortion issue to be one of my primary voting issues. Within the abortion debate, I see pro-life politicians arguing against abortion using standard tragic rhetoric as has become standard, which I find convincing as an argument for limiting access to abortion; and on the other side, I see Frank's formulation in response arguing against fiscal conservatism (and yes, I know that he's arguing against the simultaneous holding of the two views, but the central criticism in that argument is based on the fiscal conservatism). That response doesn't even seem to be trying to address the abortion issue, and it falls into the stereotype presented by the pro-life side, of pro-choice politicians not appreciating the moral dimensions inherent within abortions themselves.

I agree with everything you've said about the anti-abortion side, and I think that it would benefit the entire debate considerably to force that side to really come out with their entire platform within the larger debate of abortion reduction and family planning. But I really don't see how Frank's formulation helps do that. It just seems like a cheap-shot. A true cheap-shot, but a cheap-shot nonetheless, and an unhelpful one at that.
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