Thursday, February 23, 2006

Abortion: Play to Win for a Change!

Let's talk about abortion, fellow liberals.  No, I mean really talk about it.  Without fear or shame.

Why is it that on the subject arguably that generates the most anger and energy among us liberals than any other, we continue to meekly tout the DLC line?

Why is it that we understand implicitly the damage that has been done to us by the aggressive frames and message discipline of the Luntzian rightwing, yet we can counter with no strong frames of our own on this terribly divisive issue?

Why is it that we understand just how hamstrung and betrayed we have been by every other cowardly DLC stance and are standing up on issues right and left, yet are too weak-kneed to escape DLC equivocation of this most fundamental of concerns?

We're losing the abortion wars, folks.  We've been losing for some time now.  And it's time to stand up on this issue as we have done on so many others and get aggressive.


That's the DLC line.  That's the Clinton line--both Bill and Hillary.  And it's deadly.

It's deadly because it starts AUTOMATICALLY from the presumption that Abortion is BAD.  That abortion is terrible, in fact.  That our society should be doing everything necessary to insure that abortion, like tobacco smoking, be eliminated.  And that we should all agree that that's a good thing.  Except that it's NOT a good thing.


That's the line we've been using to defend the practice of abortion--which we've already, through a cowardly "Safe, Legal and Rare" stance, have admitted is bad.  This too is deadly.

It's deadly because "Choice", as a word, bespeaks in the mind of the common man/woman equivocation.  It bespeaks entitlement.  "Choice" is a word people use to describe getting to pick Fruit Loops over Cocoa Puffs in the grocery aisle--and applying the same word to a medical procedure makes it sound flippant and careless.  When applied to issues related to sexuality, it bespeaks moral degeneracy--e.g., "Homosexuality is a choice, not a genetic attribute."  "Choice" also sounds like "I voted for it before I voted against it."

While "Choice" may mean to you that a woman has the right to do with her body what she wants--and that's an admirable sentiment--in practice that's not what Joe Q. Public understands.

Frank Luntz, celebrity Republican pollster and a cunning linguist if ever there was one (I know--I've spoken with him at length in person), laughs his way to the bank every time we use the loaded word "CHOICE."  Every time we use the word "Choice", the Republicans seem to attract another convert.

Finally, "Choice" is a laughable proposition for those who feel that the fetus is human--you might as well talk to a brick wall.  For them, calling the killing of what they believe to be a human being a "choice" sounds like Nazi insouciance.  

We've allowed ourselves to be snowed into an untenable position.  And we're playing to lose.

And eventually--unless we change course dramatically--we WILL lose.


In American football, the game Democrats have been playing with abortion is best likened to a "Prevent Defense."  A "Prevent Defense" goes like this: your team has the lead with time running out, but the other team has the ball.  So you sit on your heels, playing a passive deep zone, making sure the opposition doesn't make any big plays to gain a lot of ground, and hoping the clock will run out before they can score.

That's what we've been doing with Abortion.  We've been sitting on our heels, protecting our Roe v. Wade lead for all it's worth.  And we've been playing a passive game, hoping the anti-choicers don't gain too much ground.  Hoping that time will run out, that the wingnut fad will fade, that Democrats will get elected again and nominate liberal (sane) justices, and that America will come to its senses.

As any savvy football watcher can tell you, "The only thing the Prevent Defense does is prevent you from winning."  And anyone who has followed politics recently can tell you that this passive strategy is nothing but a pathway to disaster.


It's time to cut the equivocation, my friends.  It's time to attack for a change.  It's time for some NON-DLC TALKING POINTS:

1. Cut the "Safe, Legal, and Rare" Bullshit.

Begin by eliminating any and all forms of passive, defensive rhetoric.  As long as it's defenders are calling abortion essentially a bad thing, why should the general fence-sitting public stand by your side?  It's terrible rhetoric, and a terrible position that can only end in failure.

2. Embryos are NOT HUMAN BEINGS.

This is incredibly important.  When most people hear the word "fetus", they think of a third-trimester infant, almost ready to be born.  As our good friend Maryscott OConnor so eloquently pointed out to her mother, the right-wing deception on this issue has been gigantic in misleading and lying to the public about what an abortion actually means, and what it actually does.

As many others have shown, let's be very clear about what we're talking about here:

This is an embryo at 3 days.  It's a pathetic clump of cells.  If the GOP thinks Joe Sixpack is going to believe that this thing has a soul, they're deluded.

This is an embryo at 7 weeks.  It looks like a shrimp.  Or an alien.  I honestly wouldn't have any problem watching Sigourney Weaver slaughter that thing.  It ISN'T "human" in any sense of the word most people are accustomed to.

This couldnt be clearer, visually.  Yet we are afraid to just come out and say it, politically.  WHY?


Gasp!  Heresy!  Political suicide!  But it's true!, as our own Caliberal can attest in her excellent post.  And haven't we learned--above all--in attempting to fight against our right-wing oppressors, that the truth will set you free?

Not only is it true, but it's true in MANY DIFFERENT WAYS. All the statistics you will ever need are right here in a Powerpoint put together at Dartmouth University.  Some excerpts follow:

"Risk of death from a legal abortion is 0.4/100,000.

Risk of death from a term pregnancy is 9/100,000."


Not only that--but legal abortion is much safer than the alternative:

"In 1940, 1407 died from complications of induced abortion.

In 1987 (last year of available data), there were:

12 deaths from spontaneous abortion

6 deaths from legally induced abortion

2 deaths from illegally induced abortion"

"Global perspective:WHO estimates 20,000,000 illegal abortions world wide annually

50,000-100,000 deaths annually

250-500/100,000 mortality rate

(0.4/100,000 in United States)"

This one's a no-brainer folks.  


The biggest problem with the whole "Safe, Legal and Rare" business (as well as the "Choice" business, by the way), is that it makes abortion sound like SMOKING: "I have the choice to smoke or not smoke.  Smoking should be safe--and it should be rare, because it's bad.  But it should be legal."

But abortion is not like smoking at all--Abortion is like Chemotherapy.

The only thing wrong with abortion is that it's a failure of prevention.  With better prevention, there would be no need for an abortion.  (And of course, the wingnuts are the biggest opponents of the very policies that would encourage prevention, because they aren't pro-life--they're pro-punishment.  But that's another diary.)

An unwanted embryo is no different from a cancer--and it can destroy a life just as easily. Safe sex is like getting a regular mammogram: an ounce of prevention goes a long way.

Abortion only becomes necessary when prevention fails--just as chemo only becomes necessary when prevention fails.  If we use this frame, we will win this debate.


This is going to be most controversial, I know.  But it just has to be done.

Murder is not a choice.  Our task is to convince the masses that abortion is not murder--because it isn't.

Chemo is not a choice.  It's a necessity when prevention fails.  And we have to put it in those terms for the public.

Getting rid of unwanted body tissue is not a choice.  It's a medical procedure, and it needs to be called just that.


I will some of you will disagree with me.  And if you don't like my frames, please feel free to pick your own.

But for the love of all, fellow liberals--stop playing prevent defense.  You've eschewed DLC frames on every other issue, so STOP USING DLC FRAMES ON ABORTION!

Unless you want to keep losing, of course.  But I sure don't.


Blogger Mike the Mad Biologist said...

I found this at Daily Kos. I agree although the phrase I came up with was "Pregnancy isn't punishment" You're absolutely right: legal, safe and rare is foolish. It's also unrealistic given the number of pregnancies that result in abortions.

7:22 PM  
Blogger thereisnospoon said...

thanks mike.

This won't be popular with many Democrats, and won't make the rec list on Kos.

But it needed to be said, nonetheless.

Hopefully, these ideas will gain some traction in time.

8:06 PM  
Blogger KEvron said...


i prefer "self-determination"....


5:34 PM  

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