Are You Sure You Want to #Shoutyourabortion?

Pro-abortion activists in Washington, D.C., January 2014. (Alex Wong/Getty)

Over at HuffPost Women, Nina Bahadur explains a rather peculiar hashtag. “Women on Twitter,” Bahadur reports, “are sharing their stories to help end the shame and stigma surrounding abortion.” By using the “#shoutyourabortion” tag, “women who have had abortions” are hoping to “show support for a woman’s right to choose” and to “share how their lives have been impacted by” the procedure

I shall not waste any time today re-litigating the question of abortion per se; on this, my views are clear. Instead, I shall observe that this approach represents a dramatic rhetorical departure from the “safe, legal, and rare” standard that obtained during the 1990s and for most of the first decade of the 21st century, and that this matters a great deal. That conceit, as far as I understand it, had three key parts: 1) That an unborn child does not constitute a meaningful “life” until it has reached a certain point in its development, and that killing it is therefore not “murder”; 2) That, even so, to elect to do so is generally undesirable and is often a tragedy for the mother; 3) Therefore, abortion should remain legal in certain circumstances, but on the understanding that the procedure will be used sparingly and without celebration. Depending on who is making the case, the emphases accorded and the justifications given may change, as may the specific policy being advocated. But the tone does not. Abortion, this view holds, is not a positive in and of itself, but a necessary evil, and it must be kept legal not because it is nice but because the alternatives are worse.

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The country at large is not as comfortable with abortion as is NARAL and the pro-choice caucus within the Democratic party.

Whatever one thinks of this approach — and, as a pro-lifer, I’m opposed to it, naturally — it should be clear that it is entirely incompatible with the injunction to “shout your abortion.” There is a reason that, for the past three decades or so, pro-choice politicians have hidden behind comfortable-sounding euphemisms such as “women’s health,” and “reproductive justice.” That reason? That the country at large is not as comfortable with abortion as is NARAL and the pro-choice caucus within the Democratic party. “On abortion rights,” the New York Times’s David Leonhardt observed back in July of 2013, “both parties have a claim on public opinion. Maybe more to the point, both can make a strong case that the other party has an extreme view.” Translation: If you want to sell Roe to a generally skeptical public, you’d better not pretend that abortion is pleasant.

#share#Recent polling from Gallup revealed that 61 percent of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in the first trimester. After that, though, “support drops off sharply, to 27%, for second-trimester abortions, and further still, to 14%, for third-trimester abortions.” Thus it is that the average voter is opposed to the overturning of Roe v. Wade – and in favor of banning abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. Thus it is that America’s moderates believe that women should enjoy a short window during which to make a decision, and that after that point the government should step in. Thus it is that the practice carries with it a serious stigma – even in the eyes of those who believe it must remain available. Should the “shout your abortion” contingent somehow manage to persuade the country’s leading pro-choice politicians to speak about the phenomenon as if it were a mere trifle – or, perhaps, even to praise it — they would be entering new and untested ground — ground, I’d venture, on which they may begin to lose. As my colleague Ramesh Ponnuru has argued convincingly, the perceived aggressor in any culture-war dispute is likely to be the ultimate loser. Might there be a good reason that the pro-choice crowd has remained reticent?

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To understand how this might work in practice, imagine that the “shout your . . . ” movement were addressing not the summary execution of an unborn child, but another controversial question in American life: the right of self-defense. This is an imperfect analogy, of course. In a self-defense killing, the victim has done at least something to deserve his fate; in an abortion, the victim is entirely innocent. But the manner in which the advocates of each policy make their case to middle-of-the-road voters is somewhat similar. Wannabe heroes to one side, most proponents of expansive Lockean self-preservation rights argue correctly that they do not want to kill or to hurt anybody, but that the world can be a dangerous place and that the government should have their backs if they are forced to fight back. In practice, they demand two things: first, that there be few limitations on the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms; and second, that if they are taken to court after having defended themselves, the law should be structured in such a way as to privilege the defender and not the invader.

#related#As of today, most Americans agree with this conceit — indeed, if anything, support for a robust set of self-defense rules continues to grow. But what do you suppose might happen if, instead of selling the Castle Doctrine and the Second Amendment as grave necessities in a fallen world, their champions began to see each and every act of self-defense less as a tragedy and more as a good thing. What if, instead of a shocked homeowner saying, “I had to shoot him to protect my wife,” he took to social media and began a proud hashtag: #shoutyourjustifiablehomicide? What if it were not only the most interesting and instructive cases of self-preservation that gained media traction (93-year-old war vet fights back!), but all such acts — human sorrow be damned. In such circumstances, I daresay that the public might begin to rebel — put off, perhaps, by the transformation of something grave into something exhibitionist. Careful, “#shoutyourabortion,” you don’t know what you’re wishing for.


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