Triumph of the shrill

May 4, 2010

How in the world did the anti-abortion fanatics get to be considered a part of the mainstream in the U.S. political spectrum, asks Danny Katch.

ANTI-ABORTIONISTS are the hallowed forefathers of the militias and tea baggers. Some of them probably sit on park benches complaining that, in their day, "We didn't have any Fox News or YouTube. Back then, if you wanted to get a TV interview, you had to scream at women outside a clinic for months! Maybe throw in a bomb scare or two."

These days, the movement has gone mainstream with corporate lobbyists and polished ad campaigns. But underneath the expensive suits are people with an idea as fanatical as any Michele Bachmann speech--that removing a lima bean-sized bundle of cells is the moral equivalent to murdering a woman, child or man.

Am I being overly simplistic? The conventional wisdom is that abortion is a terribly complicated issue. This is how Obama put it on the campaign trail: "I don't think you're ever going to get a complete agreement on this issue. If you believe that life begins at conception, then I can't change your mind."

I don't buy that. Of course, some sort of life begins with a fertilized egg. And it's awesome to ponder that a thinking, feeling human being develops from that microscopic little thing--precisely because the two are NOT THE SAME THING.

An anti-choice protester in San Francisco
An anti-choice protester in San Francisco (Steve Rhodes)

The bizarre notion that abortion is murder logically leads to the truly deranged idea that the one in three women who terminate a pregnancy at some point in their lives are murderers. Since this isn't exactly a mainstream view of humanity, the fertilized-egg saviors have to employ softer, gentler arguments to reach out beyond the hard core.

These arguments' only weakness is that they don't make sense. Take for example, "Abortion changes you." This is the name of a pseudo-counseling service running ads on New York City subways that show people with their heads in their hands and other very sad poses to demonstrate how they've been changed by having an abortion.

So, according to these folks, if you really don't want your life to change, have a baby. With that type of advice, it's not exactly shocking to read at the bottom of that "This site is not a professional counseling site."

ANOTHER LOGIC-impaired ad was the infamous Super Bowl spot football hero Tim Tebow and his mother, who chose to continue her risky pregnancy against the advice of doctors. The ad, paid for by Focus on the Family, attracted controversy because many felt that our country's most sacred holiday was not the place for Christian extremism.

Not enough was made of the silliness of the ad's main message: An abortion would have prevented Tim Tebow from being born and leading the Florida Gators to a national championship. (Football being football, there were surely Tennessee fans watching the ad complaining that they could have won it all too if someone didn't abort their great quarterback 20 years ago.)

But there are a million factors that could have prevented Tim from being born before his mother ever got pregnant. What events led Tim's ancestors to come to this country where his parents met and conceived him? Given that most people don't emigrate because they're travel buffs, his parents may have come here to escape wars or famines.

Should we celebrate these tragedies since they eventually led to the birth of Tim Tebow? Using this logic, I can proudly claim that if it weren't for the Nazi Holocaust, I would never have been born--although I'm not sure I could get my mom to do that ad with me.

It may be satisfying to poke holes in the logic of "pro-life" (Warning: this label does not apply to those suffering loss of life from the U.S. war machine, the criminal justice system, extreme poverty or a workplace accident). But the fact is that they're winning. Recent polls show that for the first time in decades, a minority of Americans identify themselves as pro-choice.

The problem we face is that while there are many groups who will take your donations to preserve the right to abortion, not enough will put people in the streets to fight for it. Many who used to lead those fights have disappeared into the smothering embrace of the Democratic Party, which promised us the world if we gave them a congressional majority, but instead gave us Bart Stupak.

Too often, the old leaders now talk like politicians, using cautious words like "choice" and "privacy." As a result, people who have come of age in the last 20 years have only heard the word abortion spoken by the people holding up doctored photos of the supposed "unborn."

This is not a complicated debate. We can trust women to make the choice--that was the simple slogan of the late abortion doctor George Tiller. Or we can trust the folks who scream at women, the folks who care more about fertilized eggs than Iraqi children, who think that having a baby won't change you, and that abortions are bad for the Florida Gators, and, oh yes, who supported the murder of Dr. Tiller.

These deluded people have somehow wandered out of their far-right corner of the room and into the mainstream of American politics. We need to escort them back where they belong.

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