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60Reply to Matthew Franckhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/05/reply-to-matthew-franck
Tue, 14 May 2013 14:18:45 -0400
Why Pro-Choice Advocates May Have the Strongest Reasons to Demand Gosnell’s Deathhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/05/why-pro-choice-advocates-may-have-the-strongest-reasons-to-demand-gosnells-death
Tue, 14 May 2013 05:00:04 -0400
]]>Debating Roe’s Legacy: Response to Daniel Williamshttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2013/01/debating-roes-legacy-response-to-daniel-williams
Wed, 30 Jan 2013 00:23:00 -0500 In response to recent claims (including my own in
aided pro-lifers in unexpected ways, Daniel Williams argues that such views are mistaken. The decision, according to Williams, neither hurt pro-choice momentum nor breathed new life into a fledgling right-to-life movement. Instead, it cut off public discussion over competing constitutional claims regarding the rights of women and unborn human organisms. In other words,
has no pro-life legacy.
I agree with Williams that
was not a blessing in disguise for pro-lifers, and did not mean to suggest otherwise. Instead, I tried to show how a decision that created an expansive constitutional right to abortion nonetheless offered some important compensating benefits. Like many pro-lifers, Williams seems wrongly to regard
as an unmitigated disaster. That is a mistake.
Consider trends in public opinion. Williams neglects the fact that pro-lifers were losing badly in the court of public opinion before they lost
in the Supreme Court. According to surveys from the National Opinion Research Center, pro-choice sentiment exploded between 1965 and 1973 before suddenly stabilizing in the aftermath of
In 1965 a mere 22 percent of the public agreed that abortion was acceptable in cases of economic hardship, but 53 percent of Americans did so by 1973. Likewise, while only 16 percent of the public approved of abortion when married women sought to limit the size of their families in 1965, some 48 percent of Americans did so just eight years later.
During this same period support for the abortion of disabled fetuses rose from 57 to 84 percent. Thus, pro-choice sentiment grew substantially year after year prior to 1973. Indeed, it grew at a much faster rate than support for gay marriage has since 1996, as a recent Pew study makes clear.
Why did pro-choicers stop winning the war
for the hearts and minds of Americans in 1973? Of course, we can never know for sure why pro-choice sentiment suddenly ceased its meteoric climb in the very same year that
was decided. That would require us to rerun American history without the
decision. The most plausible explanation, however, points to the collapse of a grassroots, pro-choice movement working for radical changes in public opinion and policy. If this is right, then
did in fact halt some considerable pro-choice momentum.
, after all, seemed to end the dramatic liberalization of abortion attitudes and the movement that sustained it.
It is true that the pro-life movement was well organized in many states prior to 1973. But there is little question that the pro-life movement grew in subsequent years and reached new constituencies, especially conservative Protestants. More importantly, though,
compelled pro-lifers to engage in a far larger and more diverse campaign of moral suasion. As right-to-lifers turned their focus away from state legislatures and toward the broad American public, it discovered new and innovative ways of reaching ordinary citizens. Pro-lifers built thousands of crisis pregnancy centers, found really creative ways to engage millions of college students, and got better at talking to ordinary citizens outside abortion clinics. Today, there is nothing comparable to these efforts inside the pro-choice movement.
is a big part of that story.
How much such differences continue to matter is, of course, very hard to say. Yet it is striking that public opinion may be shifting once again in a pro-life direction. Young Americans are suddenly less pro-choice than older Americans. That is, they are more likely to find abortion unacceptable in the so-called soft cases, such as economic hardship, than their elders. In the latest edition of
Understanding Public Opinion
, Clyde Wilcox and Patrick Carr report that young Americans are not only less pro-choice than any other age group, but they are also markedly less pro-choice than any young cohort in any previous decade.
This development represents a profound shift from trends in the early 1970s when young Americans were far more pro-choice than their elders. Given the fact that young Americans are both less religious and more supportive of gay rights than their elders, we also would expect them to be the most pro-choice age cohort. Yet they are not. The future implications of this development could be great. As Wilcox and Carr conclude, the long-term stability in abortion attitudes may be about to change.
also changed the way abortion is debated. Williams laments that it ended a serious constitutional debate over competing rights claims. But, if Im right,
may have also broadened the public discussion. Prior to
, much of the public debate centered in state legislatures and courthouses. Now it is centered in local communities and engages more citizens in discussions about abortion. The most popular varieties of pro-life activism happen in face-to-face relationships in ordinary American communities, rather than in the corridors of Washington or in state capitols. Moreover, the creation of these many islands of democracy below the level of the state itself has been especially welcome in an era in which partisans of all stripes have lamented the erosion of civic and democratic life.
Even if I am correct, there is no gainsaying the fact that
was a remarkable political victory for the pro-choice movement. That is well established. Happily for pro-lifers, however, its legacy is more complicated than that. And if my disagreements with Williams demonstrate anything, untangling
s legacy remains a knotted and difficult question some forty years later.
Jon A. Shields is associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College.
]]>Roe's Pro-Life Legacyhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/01/roes-pro-life-legacy
Tue, 01 Jan 2013 00:00:00 -0500Roe v. Wade
did far more than create a constitutional right to abortion—it crippled the pro-choice and energized the pro-life movement, creating one of the largest campaigns of moral suasion in American history. Even while nationalizing abortion politics, the Supreme Court’s decision also localized and personalized the issue by pushing it almost entirely out of legislatures, giving an unexpected opening to the pro-life movement to affect the culture, and in turn the wider political debate, in ways no one expected.
, the pro-choice movement was truly a
: It organized letter-writing campaigns, subverted restrictive abortion laws through underground networks of clergy and doctors, and eagerly sought opportunities to debate pro-life advocates. After
, obviated by its near-total victory, the movement almost collapsed. It has never fully recovered its former strength and energy.
Sarah Weddington, the lawyer who famously argued
itself, confessed that she “missed the energy of our pre-
, “our energy and contributions sagged and we seemed only to plod forward . . . . When we talked about the importance of organizing and pro-choice voting, people tended to think, ‘Now, really, I’m so busy. And after all,
Roe v. Wade
decided the matter.’”
was threatened in the late 1980s, the pro-choice movement did rebound modestly, as it has done occasionally since in response to nominations of conservative judges to the Supreme Court. Yet these sporadic legal battles and confirmation struggles never demanded anything like the sustained, grassroots mobilization that characterized the pre-
campaign. In a few instances, pro-choice citizens did participate in large national marches, but such protests primarily offered a reminder to the nation—and pro-life opponents—that the movement could flex a bit of muscle, if it ever actually needed to do so.
The pro-choice campaign is now a largely conservative one defending the status quo. Pro-choice activists have become so cautious and conservative that they are often reluctant even simply to debate right-to-lifers. The Pro-Choice Action Network has said: “Along with most other pro-choice groups, we do not engage in debates with the anti-choice.” The movement was never so reluctant in the pre-
years, when it was desperate to change public opinion and revolutionize abortion policy.
bred apathy and conservatism in pro-choice ranks, it energized many pro-lifers. With the Supreme Court having removed abortion from the political process and deprived pro-lifers of normal avenues of political influence, some decided to blockade abortion clinics instead. Between 1977 and 1993, pro-life radicals orchestrated some six hundred blockades, leading to more than 33,000 arrests.
Most pro-life activists, however, dedicated their lives to changing the hearts and minds of their fellow citizens, rather than simply obstructing them from procuring abortions. The more Americans who opposed abortion on moral grounds or were offered practical alternatives to abortion, such activists reasoned, the fewer abortions, whatever the laws of the land. These pro-life advocates quietly began countless conversations with ordinary citizens and continue to do so in great numbers.
Some target college students. Groups such as Justice for All and the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform have reached students at more than one hundred college campuses across the country. Campus activists use large graphic images of aborted embryos and fetuses to provoke philosophical discussions over the moral status of the embryo.
They further draw on well-honed arguments developed by pro-life intellectuals, such as Robert George and Patrick Lee. In this way, the divide between the academy and Christian activists is not always as large as elites on both sides of the culture wars assume.
I observed many such conversations at a Justice For All outreach event at the University of Colorado at Denver. Pro-life activists frequently pointed curious students to an exhibit panel that showed human life at various stages of development from conception to birth.
The students were then asked at what point human organisms acquire rights. When students ventured various answers, the activists would ask why such development markers were significant enough to distinguish rights-bearing humans from disposable ones. Through such conversations they elevate abortion politics above the shallow sloganeering that many presume are all the culture wars offer us.
Campus activists also help puncture the popular myth that pro-lifers offend the norms of a deliberative democracy by defending abortion on religious grounds. In fact, they generally seek just the opposite goal: They highlight the philosophical case against abortion so that the pro-life position is not dismissed as merely a religious issue. Pro-choice activists insist that the abortion question is inherently a religious one, and therefore safely beyond serious philosophical reflection or public debate.
Other groups focused on moral suasion take a more practical approach, suited to the needs of working-class citizens. Today, some three thousand pregnancy help centers, with tens of thousands of staffers and volunteers, provide over 2.3 million women in difficult pregnancies with alternatives to abortion by offering them resources and moral support. Pregnancy help centers are now more numerous than abortion clinics.
Thanks to the first systematic survey of these centers, by Laura Hussey of the University of Maryland, we know a lot more than we used to.
These pro-life centers are heavily dependent on volunteers: The average center has about one employee for every six volunteers. Though centers do not ask any financial contributions from their clients, many do expect them to participate in at least one class on parenting, health, or budgeting.
The women they serve are overwhelmingly poor and without full-time jobs, and so centers devote much energy and many resources to meeting the economic needs of their clients. The vast majority of centers provide clothing, car seats, strollers, and other baby items for new mothers and children. Some even provide resources for children older than five. Nearly all centers also help connect clients with welfare services by collaborating with departments of health and social services. In some cases, social workers even hold office hours in pregnancy help centers.
Pregnancy centers do especially important work at a time when the cultural divide between middle-and working-class America has widened. And they remind us that the culture wars do not merely address the interests and needs of the high-minded middle class by centering politics on symbols, values, and lifestyles. They address the material needs and aspirations of the poor, too.
The impressive efforts of pro-life citizens suggest that
did not render them powerless, as both liberals and conservatives sometimes assert. Yes,
effectively disenfranchised pro-life citizens by denying them the right to vote over the basic contours of abortion policy. But it also decimated the pro-choice movement and cleared the way for a massive campaign of moral suasion. Much like women in the nineteenth century, pro-life activists have found ways to shape our culture and politics without the franchise.
Skeptics might reasonably question the influence of the pro-life movement, especially since abortion opinion has hardly changed since
was decided. That fact alone, however, may indicate the power—not the weakness—of the pro-life movement.
While the country has become far more socially liberal on a large range of questions since
, abortion opinion has remained a strange outlier. In fact, pro-choice sentiment stopped increasing after
altogether, even though it had grown dramatically in years prior.
represented an end to the rapid liberalization of abortion attitudes, perhaps in part because of the utter collapse of the pro-choice movement. Recent surveys find that young Americans are less pro-choice than their elders, even though they are more secular and more likely to support same-sex marriage.
Abortion rates, meanwhile, have steadily declined by nearly a third since peaking in the early 1980s. Those rates would almost certainly have been higher absent the pro-life movement’s massive campaign of moral suasion.
With even more certainty we can conclude that the countless conversations cultivated by pro-lifers in front of abortion clinics, on college campuses, and in pregnancy centers were far more inclusive and democratic than the pre-
debates in state legislatures between lobbyists and elected representatives. The creation of these many islands of democracy below the level of the state itself has been especially welcome in an era in which partisans of all stripes have lamented the erosion of civic and democratic life.
And they should remind us that
did not simply nationalize the abortion controversy by moving it from state capitols to the Supreme Court. After all, the most popular varieties of pro-life activism happen in face-to-face relationships in ordinary American communities, rather than in the corridors of Washington or in state capitols.
Many pro-life activists fervently pray for
’s reversal. Yet
’s reversal would hardly represent a decisive victory for the pro-life movement. In fact, it would almost certainly revitalize a genuine movement for abortion rights. Pro-lifers need not make peace with
to recognize it has brought certain benefits.
Jon A. Shields is associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of
The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right
]]>Abortion Coverage at the New York Timeshttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2012/11/abortion-coverage-at-the-new-york-times
Tue, 06 Nov 2012 00:13:00 -0500 Nearly twenty years ago, the judicious James Davison Hunter noted that journalistic reporting on abortion is remarkable for its superficiality since it rarely explores the deeper issues and implications of the abortion controversy. Maybe it is simply the partisan heat generated by a close presidential contest, but abortion coverage appears to be getting worse, not better. Just consider the mendacious, slash-and-burn
New York Times Magazine
story by Emily Bazelon on Charmaine Yoest, the director of Americans United for Life.
Bazelon begins by underscoring the truism that Yoest, a professional pro-lifer, is no moderate: She leaves no room for exceptions in the cases of rape or incest, for example. But what Bazelon didnt say is that Yoests extremism is also the price of philosophical consistency. In other words, if one truly believes, as Yoest clearly does, that all human organisms possess a right to life, then one cannot make exceptions for hard cases, such as rape.
This is why no pro-life philosopher has
accepted the view that the circumstances by which an embryo comes to be influences the rightness or wrongness of its destruction. If leaders such as Yoest
embraced these sorts of exceptions, then Bazelon and other journalists would rightly call them unprincipled. Given the inevitability of either charges of extremism or incoherence, leaders such as Yoest hardly can be blamed for being willing to accept the former.
And while Bazelon is correct to identify Yoest as a radical, she distorts the radicalism of American abortion laws at nearly every turn. For example, Bazelon correctly reports that many states passed new regulations on abortion clinics after the 2010 midterm elections, including mandatory waiting periods and informed consent laws. But Bazelon doesnt tell her readers that these hard-hitting regulations still leave American abortions laws far more permissive than any other western democracy, with the possible exception of Sweden and the Netherlands. The vast majority of western democracies limit abortion access to the first trimester and many impose more onerous regulations.
In anti-Catholic France, for instance, abortion is legal only in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy, and only after counseling and a one-week waiting period. Waiting periods range from 7 days in Italy, to 6 days in Belgium, 5 days in the Netherlands, and 3 days in Germany. By way of contrast, waiting period are generally 24 hours in the twenty-six American states that impose them. Given the relative conservatism of abortion laws in Europe, the
New York Times
might consider redirecting its concern abroad.
While Bazelon acknowledges the reality of abortion after the first trimester, she reminds readers that such cases are rare, since they account for only 10 percent of all abortions. Its a figure that suggests American practices are not that extreme after all. However, she doesnt tell readers that this works out to about 120,000 second- and third-trimester abortions every year. Its odd to say that anything that happens every 4.4 minutes is rare. Pregnancy is uncommon if measured as a percentage of reproductive sex acts, but who would say that pregnancy is rare? The vast majority of sex is consensual, but who would say that renders rape rare?
In other places, Bazelon gives the false impression that the ban on partial-birth abortions ended late-term abortions altogether. She begins one paragraph: Congress passed a late-term-abortion ban in 2003. The Supreme Court upheld the law 5 to 4 four years later. In fact, the Supreme Court only upheld a ban of a particular procedure that was never very popular among abortionists, and only developed in the 1990s. Today, abortionists simply destroy second-trimester fetuses in the usual way: Physicians dismember fetuses one limb at a time while theyre still inside the womb.
Given such distortions, it is hardly surprising that few Americans actually know much about the uniqueness of American abortion law some four decades after
was decided. Usually
is described in ways that give the impression that its scope was rather modest, just as Bazelon does. The result has been mass legal illiteracy, as Hunter bluntly put it years ago.
Finally, Bazelon reports
that Yoests woman-centered rhetoric represents a deft reframing of the abortion debate. Its also a diversion since Yoests real goal, Bazelon tells us, has nothing to do with helping women, and everything to do with banning abortion.
Once again, Bazelon gets some facts right, yet misses the larger context. Yes, Im sure Yoests main goal, as director of Americans United for Life, is making abortion access more difficult. But focusing on Yoest misses the ways the pro-life movement is genuinely woman-centered and has been so for a very long time. For example, the most popular wing of the pro-life movement is populated by thousands of pregnancy-help centers that provide material aid to pregnant women.
As the first survey of these centers by political scientist Laura Hussey demonstrates, these centers do a lot more for these women than provide diapers and baby wipes. And because the vast majority of the low-income women these centers serve never considered getting an abortion in the first place, its safe to conclude that their staffers and volunteers are actually interested in helping women, not simply ending abortion.
Moreover, it is certainly possible that modest restrictions on abortion would help women in ways that would please Bazelon. As the pro-choice economist Phillip Levine found in
Sex and Consequences
, modest restrictions on abortion reduce contraceptive risk taking and therefore the number of unwanted pregnancies. But to be attuned to these possibilities, one needs to look beyond the talking points of pro-choice activists.
Yoest is especially good at sounding reasonable rather than extreme, Bazelon charges. She never deviates from her talking points. Its a truism that could be leveled against any capable cultural warrior. Sadly, it is also a good characterization of Bazelons essay and so many journalistic treatments of abortion politics.
Elite venues, such as the
New York Times
, can do far better. They should aim to raise the discussion of abortion politics above the sloganeering of jostling activists. More than ever we need a serious and elevated conversation in public fora that are as visible and respected as
The New York Times
Jon A. Shields is associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of
The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right
(Princeton, 2009). His work on abortion politics have appeared in the New Republic Online, Public Discourse, The Weekly Standard, and Wilson Quarterly.
]]>The Myth of the Falwell Insurgencyhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2007/07/the-myth-of-the-falwell-insurg
Mon, 02 Jul 2007 00:00:00 -0400Although Jerry Falwell’s legacy will remain a contentious issue for some time to come, partisans on all sides agree that he helped launch the Reagan revolution by mobilizing disaffected evangelicals. As the
New York Times
put it after his death in May, the Moral Majority was the "organization [that] mobilized the Christian right into a political force that eventually helped elect Ronald Reagan." Meanwhile, the
credited Falwell and the Moral Majority with "the biggest realignment in modern history."
Such claims are so uncontroversial that they could have been lifted from the boiler plate in history textbooks.