Monday, January 31, 2005

lived long enough

Andrew Sullivan has weighed in on Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent speech to a group of abortion rights supporters. You can get the article on his web site for free or you can access it on The New Republic's site if you subscribe. I agree with Sullivan about as often as he agrees with Hillary. But as he points out in his opening paragraph "if you live long enough . . ."

Of course, this puts a wrinkle in my earlier posts about the speech. I have been in (my version of) a tizzy about the possibility that Hillary was wimping out on the issue of abortion rights. But Sullivan has helped me to see the error of my ways.


Sullivan argues that Democrats need to stop fighting the battle for abortion rights from a "godless" perspective and, instead, need to acknowledge the "immorality" of abortion. The strategy, he says, is as follows:

"Acknowledge up-front the pain of abortion and its moral gravity. Defend its legality only as a terrible compromise necessary for the reduction of abortions in general, for the rights of women to control their own wombs, and the avoidance of unsafe, amateur abortions. And then move to arenas where liberals need have no qualms: aggressive use of contraception and family planning, "

Here is where I agree (and you really do need to read his article). Supporters of abortion rights HAVE tended to "trivialize" the moral dimensions of abortion. The very real and horrendous moral struggle that women who terminate their pregnancies must contend with is kept quiet because it does not have a place amidst the political and legal rhetoric. We are meant to celebrate the "choice" that we have made when we are more inclined to mourn the loss of a child we will never get to cherish. I think that there is a place in the dialogue for this reality to be let out into the open.

I also agree with Sullivan's parenthetical comment that you would be hard pressed to find anyone who disagrees with the goal of limiting the number of abortions. While Sullivan suggests that Clinton's emphasis on the need to limit the number of abortions is novel, those of us who support a woman's right to choose have always believed that we are "pro-life". We exist in that "arena" that Sullivan believes we should. We push to make contraception more readily available. We argue for the need for comprehensive sex education in our schools. We speak out against health plans that do not cover the cost of birth control pills. We support programs that empower women to refuse unprotected sex and to make wise decisions about family planning.

But having said all this, I still feel like this middle ground that Hillary professes to be aiming to reach is fictional. How do we acknowledge the moral pain that a woman must experience without allowing others to call her a murderer? Sullivan seems to think that we can safely and emphatically state that "the ability of a woman to control what happens to her own body will always and should always be weighed in the balance against the right of an unborn child to life itself," yet still appeal to those who view abortion as an immoral act. I just do not see how that can happen. Sullivan also questions the strategy of Democrats who support the legality of third term abortions. But it seems very clear to me. It is the same strategy that is employed when we come out against fetal homicide laws. It is the same strategy -- different issue -- that gun advocates are using when they come out against common sense gun control legislation. If we give an inch, they take a mile . . . That sounds rather callous, I know, when the "inch" that I am talking about is the unrealized life of a child, but it is political strategy and nothing more.

How can we confidently tiptoe toward the middle ground when we know that they can use this to destroy us?

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