Too Many Pro-Choice Talking Points Border On Propaganda

Too Many Pro-Choice Talking Points Border On Propaganda

There’s a way to be a principled pro-choicer, with concerns about state intrusion and the criminalization of a widely used procedure, but this ain’t it.
Liz Wolfe
By

Pro-choicers are not nameless, faceless automaton enemies to me. They’re not hard to imagine because they’re right in front of me.

I know plenty of women who have had abortions; ones who’ve opened up to me about their fears and their lack of regret, about how it felt, about whether they’d do it again. Most say yes, and I don’t doubt their conviction. Some say they’ll do it again when that day likely comes (these things happen, they tell me).

When I talk about abortion with people I care about, I feel a sense of resigned sadness and the weight of deep depravity—a pain that’s dulled over time, been desensitized with familiarity, quietly tucked away within me. I don’t want to say it’s common, having friends open up to me about their abortions, but it’s not uncommon either. I appreciate the trust and vulnerability, even if I wish I could run away. I feel powerless to help, and small.

My compassion is not in short supply here. People are not monoliths; they’re not cold and soulless as they make decisions like these, although some are. My compassion does begin to run out, though, when I see these people—people I respect, people I value—spout what can generously be described as marketing, perhaps more appropriately called propaganda. There’s something deeply broken with our minds if we can’t muster even a morsel of intellectual honesty to properly represent the views of the other side.

Most people don’t think about it in these terms, but there’s something called the Ideological Turing Test, which I think is a useful litmus of good faith and marker of base-level competence. Passing it, according to Bryan Caplan, means “to state opposing views as clearly and persuasively as their proponents.” Caplan quotes J.S. Mill in his post on the matter, who said, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” Mill remains right, time and time again.

There are few areas in which we fail to pass Ideological Turing Tests as severely as the abortion debate. On the whole, we’re despicably bad at communicating the views of our opponents in a way they’d agree with. Here are a few examples:

 

This isn’t a “women aren’t deserving of basic rights” issue. I think pro-choicers know that but, then again, I’m not sure.

I know it complicates the narrative, but my pro-lifery is not rooted in misogyny, internalized or otherwise. It never has been. It also didn’t originate from a religious belief, though I know that’s an easy thing to pin it on.

This a) fundamentally misunderstands how our legislative system works, and b) if this were just about the body parts of women, not beings with distinct DNA that we disagree about the worth of, that rely on a mother-host’s body for sustenance, this all would be a whole lot simpler.

Furthermore, and this feels almost too obvious to point out, are people who share this view aware that the Supreme Court, when Roe was decided, consisted only of men? Most of the time, when people point that out, they’re trying to take a cheap shot at their opponents.

It is a question worth considering, though: Are men supposed to speak up on this issue, or not? Are they entitled to moral and ethical opinions, and do those opinions have the same weight? Will we be saying their beliefs cannot, by nature of their sex, be valid only when we disagree with the outcome, or also when we agree? I get whiplash from trying to figure out what the cogent view is before realizing there might not be one.

The strangely beachy, tiki bar graphics almost distract me from the substance: I can absolutely disrespect somebody for doing what I see as killing a fetus, a distinct being who is innocent and worthy of life and protection. I will not treat her poorly; I will not say they are beyond the pale or unable to seek forgiveness. But I don’t have to respect somebody for doing something I consider heinous. Nor do you.

“You can’t take away that choice from women because you don’t like it” isn’t the crux of the issue, nor is this about my emotions or anyone else’s. If we merely didn’t like when people abort, this would be a far less time-consuming issue. It’s that we abhor it, the same way you all abhor when people do things you consider to be deeply morally bankrupt.

I wish it were as simple as me not liking it. Don’t misstate the issue, here. (As an aside, you don’t have to respect other people’s rights if you find them fundamentally immoral. Many people on the left threaten to revoke, erase, or drastically morph our Second Amendment rights because they find gun use and ownership immoral and something that leads to terrible ends—a tradeoff they’re uncomfortable making.)

This is a bit of a non sequitur, but more importantly, the “don’t like abortions, don’t have one” talking point falls flat. As Louis C.K. notes, one side sees abortion as murder, while the other side sees it as akin to going to the bathroom (relatively inconsequential, with very little moral weight). If you believe the first, an “oh yikes, guess that’s okay for some people to do” approach doesn’t really make sense when confronted with fundamental injustice and innocent lives at stake.

The other side either misunderstands or is intentionally trying to mislead us. If it were a completely innocuous medical procedure of no moral weight, we would’ve all figured this out already.

There’s something deeply scary about the gaslighting that’s going on with abortion. Many pro-choicers claim anti-abortion legislation is nothing but a ploy to control women—their bodies, their purse strings, their heads, their futures. I think it’s easier to frame this as a “Handmaid’s Tale”-type dystopian struggle, instead of what it really is: We cannot come to a scientific or moral consensus on when life begins and whether young life is worthy of protection the same way older life is.

We all have a different line we draw, and most of us have a sense of visceral, unshakable discomfort with abortion after a certain point (this is why polling shows many more people are in favor of first-trimester abortions than third-trimester abortions). Maybe it looks too much like a baby; maybe the viability point makes it real for some. Maybe the capacity to feel pain plays an important role. Maybe, like in the movie “Juno,” the presence of fingernails underlines the humanness of the fetus inside, or some other arbitrary body part’s development speaks to us.

There are a lot of valid reasons to be pro-choice, none of which I agree with. Some people believe the autonomy and rights of the mother trump the rights of the fetus and recognize that it is likely killing, but that’s a price they’re comfortable paying.

Some people believe more people being born into poverty is a net bad for our society, and that being relinquished to the foster-care system, for example, is worse than never being born. Some people believe the harms of banning things tend to outweigh the costs—a belief I’m sympathetic to. I fear second-order impacts and the havoc wreaked by prohibitions. I am not sure how to square that with my belief that human life deserves protection, other than the semi-cop-out that we need a vast cultural pivot toward valuing human life again.

I don’t think we should expand the carceral state and potentially imprison women for something that has been widely accepted in our society for so long. I’m morbidly curious about how laws that penalize abortionists, but not women, would deal with women who self-abort.

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the intentional distortion of what pro-lifers believe, other than the blatant intellectual dishonesty, is that it means we can’t actually talk about the most interesting cracks and crevices in the abortion debate—areas of technological advancement that might mean we can sidestep the bloodletting altogether.

For example, mail-order abortion pills might render abortion bans pointless, and make it impossible for abortion to ever be truly obsolete. This potentially renders back-alley abortion concerns more trivial, given that abortion technology has changed so radically.

I’m not sure which side that helps: on one hand, pro-choicers have less of a reason to turn to grisly imagery (although that hurts the hustling and bustling propaganda machine, in its quest to churn out the most fearmongering graphics possible). On the other, pro-lifers might be attempting to pass relatively futile legislation, and the ability to abort might be cemented by technology, up to a point.

There are a lot of interesting ethical dilemmas presented by abortion, and deeply rooted moral disagreements that change how we evaluate this issue. But I’m not sure propaganda helps us achieve any sort of lasting consensus or understanding. It’s beginning to make me believe that we’re not only failing Ideological Turing Tests, but effectively saying they don’t matter and never did.

Liz Wolfe is managing editor at The Federalist, based in Austin, Texas. Follow her on Twitter.

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