On matters of policy, the election of President Obama has been a decisive setback for the pro-life cause. On the rhetorical front, however, he may provide some indirect benefit. Because he promises to hold the line on the legal front, Obama provides a cover for pro-choice advocates to express their moral qualms about abortion. For example, both Slate and Salon.com have recently published articles by morally serious pro-choice advocates expressing reservations about the culture of abortion-on-demand.
On the Human Nature blog at Slate, William Saletan connects the dots between late-stage abortions and infanticide:
This is the danger of denying that what you’re carrying is a developing baby. Is your denial based on the undeveloped state of your pregnancy or on a determined refusal to see what you don’t want to see? If it’s the former, then at some point, if you continue the pregnancy, you’ll start to see a baby. But if it’s the latter, you might not. Your denial might extend all the way to birth or even beyond it.
That’s one reason why, if you’re unhappily pregnant, you should look at an ultrasound of what you’re carrying. That goes for the potential father, too. Nobody can make you look, nobody should make you look, and you certainly should ignore bogus “information” scripts like the one concocted by a bunch of U.S. senators two years ago. But there’s nothing bogus about an ultrasound. It will make you face what’s growing inside you and the urgency of deciding whether to terminate it, even if termination is still the right choice. Otherwise, you risk sliding into the mentality of denial. And there’s no telling where that ends.
Similarly at Salon.com, Frances Kissling, a visiting scholar at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, worries about the effect of ceding moral arguments about abortion in favor of rights-based discourse:
But tough questions come up more frequently than they did in the first years after Roe, as more is known about the choices some women and couples make, and fetuses have become as visible as women. Sex selection is only one of many tough issues. Abortion when the fetus has mild disabilities—or even when the fetus has no disability—is another. What about deaf couples who do not want a hearing child? Or as Ayelet Waldman reported on DoubleX, the woman in her support group who had an abortion because her fetus’ hands were deformed. These things should make us pause and think hard.
While Saletan is content with encouraging people to simply acknowledge that the choice they are making might be killing a human being, Kissling is willing to admit that some abortion choices should be actively discouraged: “I think it’s important for us to be able to say: When a fetus reaches the point where it could survive outside the uterus, is healthy, and the woman is healthy, and she has had five months to make up her mind, we should say no to abortion.”
Kissling also admits, “There’s always been a fear in the choice movement that if we deal with “morality” we are going to lose.” The reason for such fear is well-founded. The choice movement—as even the name implies—relies on a rights-based rhetorical ploy that shifts the focus away from the morality of abortion to the legal question of individual autonomy. When pro-choicers are forced to deal with the morality of abortion they invariably lose—for even they know the practice is morally questionable. (This is why even the most ardent abortion rights advocate will claim that no one is for abortion.)
But while this shift in focus from rhetoric to morality will ensure that the pro-choice movement will lose ground, it does not necessarily mean a win for the pro-life cause. A primary reason is that the number of morally serious pro-choicers willing to confess in public to harboring such qualms remains discouragingly small. Even more importantly, the bar for what constitutes moral seriousness has been set so low for the pro-choice cause that people like Saletan and Kissling can admit that a viable fetus is a living human being yet still maintain that people should have the legal right to kill them.
Nevertheless, pro-choicers expressing pangs of conscience is a trend that should be encouraged. Pro-choice apologists may be able to live with the cognitive dissonance, but others who are forced to face the morality of abortion may choose differently. And in the Age of Obama, that may be the best we pro-lifers can hope for.