The Talking Lion

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Not to take the focus of of Rove...

...but i just read this amazing post by The Liberal Avenger (heads up from BitchPh.D.) about reframing the debate on abortion (check out the video first):
Lauren links to a fascinating video (warning: a couple of possibly disturbing images are briefly shown). Basically, someone went out with a camera to an anti-abortion demonstration to interview the protestors, and asked them two questions: (a) do you think abortion should be illegal? and (b) if abortion were made illegal, what should the punishment be for women who have them?

All of those interviewed said that abortion should be illegal, on the grounds that it was a form of murder. However, few of them endorsed the conclusion that would seem to follow from that premise - i.e., that women who abort should be sentenced to prison. When asked (b), all of the demonstrators hemmed and hawed for a bit, and most of them refused to say what they thought the appropriate punishment for illegal abortion ought to be. Some said there should be no punishment at all - that it was between "her and God" - and a few eventually, and reluctantly, bit the bullet and said that these women should go to jail. Almost every one of them said something like "I haven't really thought about that." These were people who had been involved with the anti-abortion movement for years, and none of them had given any thought to this issue; they hadn't spent any time considering what the consequences of criminalizing abortion would be.

More amazing, to me at least, was that even these hard-core anti-abortion folks, who unhesitatingly labeled abortion 'murder', couldn't bring themselves to say that women who have abortions should be treated like murderers are - i.e., sentenced to lengthy prison terms. They hadn't thought through the consequences of their own position, and when confronted with them, they intuitively backed away from them.

So basically even some of the more ardent anti-choice activists balk at the desire to criminalize abortion. So he suggests: strikes me that the aforementioned video suggests a new, potent way of framing the abortion debate. Presently, the abortion debate is framed mostly in terms of 'choice'. Our side is 'pro-choice'; their bumper stickers tell us that "it's a child, not a choice." I don't think this is a terrible way of framing the issue, but watching the video makes me wonder if we wouldn't be better off by characterizing the opposition not as 'anti-abortion' or even 'anti-choice' (certainly not 'pro-life') but rather as pro-criminalization. Instead of talking about how the religious right wants to make abortion illegal, we should be talking about how they want to criminalize it. This might seem like a small point, but I think that psychologically there's a world of difference - as the video (assuming it is fairly representative, as I believe it is) seems to confirm. These people had absolutely no problem saying that abortion should be illegal, but they couldn't bring themselves to view women who have abortions - even in a hypothetical scenario where abortion was illegal - as criminals.

A fair number of people seem to support the idea of banning abortion in the abstract. But they need to be forced to confront the concrete implications of this - i.e., throwing women in jail. It's one thing to endorse a ban in the abstract, and quite another to support treating women as criminals.

So repeat after me: They aren't 'pro-life'; they're 'pro-criminalization'. Republicans don't want to prevent abortion; they want to prosecute and imprison any woman who gets an abortion. To paraphrase Ted Kennedy, the religious right's America isn't just a land where women would be forced into back-alley abortions, it's a land where women would be sitting in jail cells for doing so.

It's interesting food for thought. It's convincing to me after seeing that video, and I would be very interesting how it would poll in focus groups. I think I will join this re-framing until there is strong evidence that it's ineffective. So welcome to the last time I will say this: pro-life, anti-choice.


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