Choice Language: Abortion Is a Right That Ends in Sorrow. Democratic Rhetoric in the Future Must Acknowledge This Fact

By Blustain, Sarah | The American Prospect, December 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Choice Language: Abortion Is a Right That Ends in Sorrow. Democratic Rhetoric in the Future Must Acknowledge This Fact


Blustain, Sarah, The American Prospect


OK, I'VE UNLISTED MY PHONE NUMBER, CHANGED MY NAME, and moved to a different (red) state. Now I can safely say it: The Democratic defense of abortion makes me cringe.

It's the stridency, the insistence, the repetition of a "woman's right

to choose." It rubs me the wrong way--and I'm one of those classic 30-something, northeastern, educated, pro-choice women who believes the message. I'm tormented by the idea that even as I support Democratic candidates--and, yes, on this issue--I'm turned off by their abortion rhetoric.

I'm not alone. Poll after poll shows that a majority, albeit a slim one, of Americans favor access to abortion. An ABC News/Washington Post poll from May of this year found that 54 percent of those asked said they thought that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Similarly, 55 percent told a Time/CNN poll in January 2003 that they favored the Supreme Court ruling "that women have the right to have an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy." And yet, as out most recent election made clear, some percentage of those poll respondents obviously support anti abortion candidates. Put more precisely, fully one-third of pro-choice Americans voted for George W. Bush, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. So the question is, how can Democrats soften their rhetoric while maintaining their support for safe, accessible abortion?

As long as I can remember, the tone of the liberal message on abortion has been defiant, sometimes even celebratory, It's an attitude that reflects the victory of legal abortion over back-alley dangers three decades ago--a success that many who remember it still experience with deep emotion. It also reflects a certain well-deserved panic: Due to the rising tide of anti-abortion sentiment, abortions are available in only 13 percent of counties in this country, according to Medical Students for Choice; in his first term, Bush appointed more than 200 new anti-abortion federal judges.

Still, for those of us who came after Roe v. Wade, there is a significantly different reality. The context has changed. Back alleys and coat hangers are not part of our visceral memory. To this generation, the "choice" of a legal abortion is no longer something to celebrate. It is a decision made in crisis, and it is never one made happily. Have you ever talked to a woman who has had an abortion? Even a married, intentionally pregnant woman who has had a "D and C" for a dying or dead embryo? A college student whose birth control failed? I promise you, such a woman does not talk about exercising the "right to choose." You may accuse her--and me--of taking such rights for granted, and maybe you'd be right. But mainly she will tell you how sad she is, how she wished she hadn't had to make that "choice," how unpleasant the procedure was. She is more likely depressed than defiant.

That's why liberalism's vocabulary of "rights" when it comes to abortion rings a little hollow. It's constitutional, intellectual and not nuanced enough to absorb the emotional or even legal complexity. "There is no organizational apparatus for the middle ground," Cynthia Gorney, author of "Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars" and a member of the faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, told me. "The way that the advocacy groups have organized them selves ... has been all or nothing." After all, abortion is a right that ends in sorrow, not celebration. It's not like women's suffrage or the equal access to public accommodations, rights whose outcome is emotionally unambiguous. The vocabulary that was so powerful in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s means something different today. The national debates--on welfare, on affirmative action, and, yes, on abortion have un derscored the nuances. The question no longer seems as simple as, "Are you for or against?" We are for. But how are we for, to what extent, and at what cost?

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Choice Language: Abortion Is a Right That Ends in Sorrow. Democratic Rhetoric in the Future Must Acknowledge This Fact
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?