Packaging Abortion

English: Andrew Cuomo, 11th United States Secr...

Despite earlier reports, it now looks like Governor Cuomo’s attempt to expand access to late-term abortions in New York may be given separate legislative consideration from the rest of the “Women’s Equality Act.” One way or another, it should all play out by Friday. If you wish to understand what pro-lifers find objectionable about this proposal, see Cardinal Dolan’s brief but clear comments Cuomo’s bill, as well as this more comprehensive post by Ryan Williams of Domus Porta Fidei that clearly outlines how the changes Cuomo desires would make even the abortion of viable fetuses effectively unpunishable.

In this post, however, I do not wish to get into the particulars of Cuomo’s proposal, but to instead target the general trend in American politics of “packaging” abortion with other, less controversial issues. This happens both in legislation, as well as in the debate about legislation. It is, I submit, a trend that ought to be discontinued.

For a legislative example of this, simply consider Gov. Cuomo’s proposed Women’s Equality Act. As Cuomo originally envisioned the Act, abortion (or as Cuomo prefers to call it, “a Woman’s Freedom of Choice”) is bundled in with 9 other issues including sexual harassment, human trafficking, pregnancy discrimination, et al.

For an example of how a similar packaging happens in debates about legislation, see Ezra Klein’s repost on “What Planned Parenthood Actually Does.” Armed with a pie chart provided by none other than Planned Parenthood, Klein argues that since only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services have to do with abortion, Planned Parenthood itself “isn’t about abortion.” Klein is by no means alone in this; similar lines of argument are constantly advanced by Planned Parenthood’s defenders to suggest that pro-life protestors are emotional terrorists and to cast any opposition to Planned Parenthood’s reception of federal funding as a “war on women.”

Such argumentation, by the way, is morally absurd. Perhaps less than 1% of a serial killer’s life involves killing innocent people. Should we then say that he is not a serial killer, since he also eats, sleeps, and walks puppies at the local animal shelter? Or should we say that a man who only commits adultery once or twice is not an adulterer? Obviously not–some actions are more morally serious than others, and good or neutral actions do not “make up for” or simply paper over our responsibility for evil deeds. Even if you happen to think abortion is morally unobjectionable, you do not contribute to clear and reasonable public debate when you suggest that an activity that others view as a human rights violation is morally irrelevant to consider, given all an organization’s other activities. One way or another, the 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities that revolve around abortion are the most morally significant, and so should rightly be the focus of a truly reasonable debate.

No, the fact that abortion constantly has to be packaged with other issues, either in debate or in legislative measures, suggests that something is not right here. The fact that 97% of Planned Parenthood’s services have nothing to do with abortion–if we may trust Planned Parenthood’s calculus in this regard–actually suggests a different legislative proposal for anyone who is truly serious about women’s health: get Planned Parenthood out of the abortion business. That way there would be far less debate about directing public funds toward it, and low-income women would not have their vital health services jeopardized. Or in terms of the situation in New York, it suggests doing exactly what the New York state senators are going to do: advance the other aspects of Cuomo’s proposal around which there is moral consensus, and make the consideration of abortion its own separate bill.

Yet this happens so rarely. And in regard to Planned Parenthood, few if any suggest that the organization should be required to extricate itself from the abortion business in order to receive public funding; Why? Precisely because supporters of abortion know they must keep abortion from ever becoming the direct and sole object of debate. Abortion shuns the light, which is prima facie evidence that it is morally problematic, even aside from the more decisive question of the human status of the fetus.

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6 Responses to Packaging Abortion

  1. RW says:

    This is why America needs philosophers. This articulation of the presentation of abortion in our country is the clearest I have yet read. The point about serial killers is a great analogue for untying the confusion that is latent in the arguments in favor of public funding for planned parenthood; the term “serial killer” is also well used for its direct import, as it is the “toe tea in eye nigh” of planned parenthood. (Those who have ears should read it out loud.) To wit, targeting a victim based on age and residence and then killing them in a repeatable fashion in a compulsory way–hey, if it smells like a duck, we should call the BAU from Criminal Minds. Thanks Philosopher for this post. RW

  2. gotdewy says:

    I want to “like” RW’s post, but there’s no option for it. So consider this comment my “like”.

    Your analogy is coherent and I really like it!

    Do you think that this debate will ever be settled given the problem that I see needing to be resolved: 1. The lack of agreement of first principles?

    • alexanderschimpf says:

      Good point about the first principles problem.

      I don’t hold out hope for societal agreement on abortion, but the lack of forthright discussion of the issue annoys me (obviously). There’s no hope to even realize that we disagree on first principles unless people are willing to address the issue of abortion directly.

      • Tanaista says:

        In truth, addressing the issue directly will not produce agreement. There are varied stances on the subject and all of them are passionate and often backed by both information and personal religious belief. The very fact that there will be disagreement is part of the problem, it is not a universal subject or stance. Simply holding personal moral or ethical standards as correct, or any religious groups stance as the only position, does not make it the final answer. Not saying at the moment that any stance is preferred, personally I disapprove of anyone holding anyone else to their religious, moral, or other standard even when I actually agree with said standard. I understand that many will not agree with me. That however, is my point – there will remain disagreement.

      • alexanderschimpf says:

        Good point, and I will clarify: I want the issue addressed directly for its own sake, not in the hope that this will “solve the problem.”

        I agree with you that disagreement will remain, at least for the foreseeable future (i.e. during my life, at least). Disagreement is just the price one pays to live in a pluralistic society, especially in regard to tough issues.

        My disagreement with you is that I don’t see how it is possible not to hold others to one’s own standard–legally, that is. I like the idea of live and let live, but the law seems like a zero-sum game to me: someone wins, someone loses.

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