Thursday, February 02, 2006

Is Abortion Icky?

Sam Rosenfeld points us to this Slate debate between Lord Saletan and Katha Pollitt.

I'll say first that basically I endorse Rosenfeld's take on the issue. I've never really understood that expressing the view that the "abortion is icky but it should be legal" is the right politics. I don't know why our side always needs to run from the abortion issue even thought it's one of our most popular issues.

Most people think abortion should be legal. There are people who think that to be true and but who else think that abortion is icky. So, if you give them any kind of out by asking questions such as "should abortion be legal in this circumstance? in this circumstance?" they'll tend to answer no on at least some of them.

I've had exchanges with quite a few people in the "abortion is icky" crowd. I sympathize with them, and they're certainly welcome to their moral beliefs on the subject, but I've also never understood just what they want other than bringing people like me around to their view. They're welcome to try to do that, but it's not clear just how "abortion is icky" translates into public policy.

There are those who think that the public policy it translates to involves caving in on those wedge issues the Right invents - fake scary names for abortion procedures, parental notification, chipping away at late term abortions generally, etc. - but I think that just involves a complete misunderstanding of the tactics the anti-abortion crowd is using. There are an infinite number of ways to chip away at abortion rights by trying to appeal to the "abortion is icky" crowd, providing an infinite number of test cases to send to the Supreme Court. It will never end. Chip chip chip. Usually lost in the debate about the fake "partial birth abortion" issue is that the reason it's unconstitutional is that there's no health exception. That's it. Republicans wouldn't vote for a version which included a health exception. So, how can any pro-choice person support signing on to such a thing just to appeal to the "abortion is icky" crowd, especially when the next plan to further restrict abortion rights will come out the following week.

The real issue is making the abortion icky understand in their hearts what they do understand intellectually - that the issue is simply who gets to make the decision. That's it. It's the same issue as with Schiavo. The question was not whether it was the right thing or the wrong thing to remove the feeding tube, the question was simply who had the right to make that choice. Even the abortion is icky crowd doesn't really want Bill Frist or Tom DeLay making that decision for them.

Again, I really don't know why we talk about this issue as if it is a political loser. It isn't. I think code phrases like "safe, legal, and rare" are quite fine for politicians to use as they throw a bone to the icky crowd, and I certainly don't expect politicians to adopt my "safe, legal, and rare just like appendectomies" modification, but running around saying "abortion is bad, bad, bad but it should be legal" will always lose to "abortion is bad, bad, bad, and it should be illegal" if that's how the debate is framed.