Follow-Up on the Princeton Abortion Conference

December 1, 2010

Earlier this year, we noted that Princeton University would be hosting a conference on abortion, “Open Hearts, Open Minds and Fair Minded Words,” with the goal of approaching the topic from different sides and looking for common ground. Frances Kissling has written a piece for Salon, How to Think About Abortion, on her experience of the event (Kissling was one of four organizers, and is the former President of Catholics for a Free Choice). She writes:

The singular focus of each side, one on women and the other on fetuses, was a complicating factor in achieving understanding at the Princeton meeting. It is perhaps an eternal divide, but it is becoming a richer and less polarized division as more partisans recognize that there are blind spots on both sides of the divide.

Kissling, essentially, indicates that we need to hear and think more about *both* the “value of fetal life” and the “coarseness toward women that has developed among those opposed to abortion as they pursue efforts to make it illegal.”

Amanda Marcotte has a fiery response to Kissling at RH Reality Check, calling arguments that anti-choice folks aren’t really anti-contraception and anti-woman “dishonest.” Marcotte writes:

It is understandable that anti-choicers would rather front like they’re pro-fetus instead of anti-woman, since the latter just doesn’t poll as well. But we can’t simply take people on just their word and leave it at that. We have to look at the whole picture, and if we do that, we have to see that their agenda is about far more than their concerns about the sufferings of pre-conscious fetuses. The actual actions against contraception, the actual rhetoric that casts grown women as children who need to be forced into motherhood for their own good, and the actual willingness to employ lies and other nefarious tactics for their ends should be considered.

Meanwhile, William Saletan at Salon seems to argue that all that’s needed for more peace, love, and understanding about abortion is for the pro-choice to just concede more extremely contentious ground. Backing up the suggestion of one conference attendee, Saletan writes:

Imagine a deal…in which pro-choicers accept restrictions on second-trimester abortions in exchange for pro-life support of contraception. Both concessions would hurt, but that’s what makes the deal fair. Many stalwarts on both sides would reject the trade—most notably, the Catholic Church—but their cooperation might prove unnecessary. Abortion would remain safe and legal, but it would be rarer. And in exchange for a 12-week deadline on elective abortions, women would get better options for avoiding pregnancy.

Or, you know, we could work on giving women better options for avoiding pregnancy while not stripping them of their right to be the ones negotiating their own choices about their bodies and pregnancies. But it’s probably easy to bargain away that decision-making power when you don’t have a uterus.

Saletan’s other suggestions for pro-choicers for achieving “common ground” include “Treat[ing] contraception as a moral practice,” “Reclaim[ing] stigma,” and “Target[ing] repeaters.” In his parallel piece for the anti-choice, he also urges them to “Trade abortion for contraception.” Yeah, right. As one of the bloggers at Abortion Gang points out in an open letter to Saletan, “these recommendations are not ‘common ground,’ but points of debate and contention.”

I couldn’t agree more. Positions on stigma and morals are going to be exceptionally polarized, not easy areas for finding common ground. The “offer” to trade a 12-week limit for better access to contraception would be a tremendous fight, and ignores a whole host of relevant factors, including access to providers and geographic constraints, mandatory waiting periods, time off from work and access to childcare, contraceptive failure, intimate partner abuse, rape, and more. The Abortion Gang writer urges Saletan to explore these factors by spending time actually talking to women, and learning about how informed consent scripts, forced ultrasounds, health insurance coverage, and other issues – aside from simple contraception access – influence the debate.

These are the real trenches in the abortion fights. Before talking about common ground between pro-lifers and pro-choicers why not spend some more time figuring out what these so-called unimportance nuances actually mean?


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