December 24, 2004

"Nuance" in Abortion

I'm not sure if it got promoted to the main page or not, but this Daily Kos diary discusses the possibility that abortion is not, in fact, as emotionally traumatic an experience for women as commonly thought. That hasn't been my experience—or rather, the experience of those I know—but I'm not going to generalize from such a tiny set of people.

Anyways, as the LA Times recently noted, a debate is supposedly raging on about how big a deal to make of the emotional trauma of abortion—acknowledging that abortion is "icky", as Atrios once rather derisively put it. Obviously there's no sense in simply making abortion A Grave and Serious Thing that needs to be talked about with downcast eyes. In fact, as Kameron over at Alas a Blog explained, stashing the whole issue up in the attic can do a great deal of harm to the pro-choice movement.

But even beyond that, I'm beginning to think that Sarah Blustain may have gotten it wrong, and that taking a "softer tone" on abortion may not be the trump card she thinks. Yes, quite a few women do suffer some emotional trauma after abortion. But that's not a problem with abortion per se. A lot of everyday events can turn out badly—being short in middle school can be traumatic (believe me)—and while no one wants to trivialize that reality, accentuating the negatives never really helps. Ideally, abortion services in the U.S. would provide more consulting and support services—as in Britain, France, Finland, etc. where a woman needs to see two doctors beforehand—but in a health care system like ours, this would only make abortion more unaffordable. (As well, for various cultural reasons, American doctors would probably lean more heavily towards dissuasion than they should, optimally.)

Anyways, I suspect that most of the "nuance" in message here wouldn't be aimed at people who have actual experience with abortion, or know someone who has. It would have to be aimed at people who have no experience at all with abortion.

By and large, these are the people who need reassurance—and unfortunately, it's hard to see how addressing their fears and concerns would lead at all to better abortion policy. (I'm obviously excluding here those who oppose abortion for religious reasons—I just don't see how to arrive at any sort of common ground with these people.) So I'm not sure the Democrats even could go down Blustain's road without ceding actual, substantive ground to pro-life opponents—plumping for overly strict parental notification laws, say, or caviling on senselessly about partial-birth abortion. Or worse.

So Atrios and Blustain really just disagree about audience—are we comforting the experienced or pandering to the ignorant? More focused polling could settle this question pretty quickly.
-- Brad Plumer 1:00 PM || ||