The Corner

A Strange Abortion Argument

These sentences from Hanna Rosin make no sense: “The reason we’re not [at peace with abortion], according to [Katha] Pollitt, is that we have all essentially been brainwashed by a small minority of pro-life activists. Only 7 to 20 percent of Americans tell pollsters they want to totally ban abortion, but that loud minority has beaten the rest of us into submission with their fetus posters and their absolutism and their infiltration of American politics.”

The number of people who wish to ban abortion in all instances is not small; it amounts to, as Rosin notes, about one in five Americans. The flip-side proposition is held by about one in four Americans — until you start talking specifics, in which case it falls down to about one in ten. The majority of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in some cases, but they also support significant restrictions beyond those currently enacted in law. The actual “absolutism” — the unrestricted abortion license through the third trimester — is in fact a distinctly minority inclination, held by about 10 percent of the population.

Which is to say, the majority of Americans are on the pro-life end of the spectrum relative to where the law actually is, largely because a “loud minority has beaten the rest of us into submission” with their phony wire-hanger mythology backed up by magical pronouncements from mystics in black robes consulting esoteric scrolls.

In any case, one could certainly believe that abortion is gruesome and distasteful, and that it should be regulated, without believing that it should be illegal in all circumstances. In fact, that is a pretty common position — it was, for example, George W. Bush’s position, and the polls suggest that most Americans are far closer to that than they are to Rosin’s daftly bloodthirsty proposition that abortion is a “social good.”

Brainwashing? Rosin never seriously considers the question of why those “fetus posters” are so disturbing, and so effective, and why the vast majority of people believe that abortion should be illegal in the latter part of pregnancy: It is because even those generally inclined toward support for abortion rights are not completely morally dead, and they recognize an act of violence when it is right in front of their eyes. People can convince themselves of anything, so long as they do not have to look at it. But the human animal recognizes another human animal, and the metaphysical dodge of “personhood,” which may be effective in a courtroom or MSNBC, is in fact powerless in the face of biological fact and the evidence of our eyes. Nobody has to explain to anybody why what is shown in those placards represents evil. Human beings instinctively recognize it. 

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