Monday, November 9, 2009

Frances Kissling Gives a History Lesson on Abortion and Morality.

How have we gotten to a place where abortion is morally repugnant? Frances Kissling, former president of Catholics for Choice, explains in an article for Salon:

We started down this road in 1976 when the Hyde Amendment passed and when, in 1980, the Supreme Court upheld the principle that the federal government had the right to enact policies that favored childbirth over abortion by restricting funding for abortion. Most Democrats saw that giving antiabortion taxpayers greater moral standing than women who choose abortion was a political power play. After all, taxpayers don't get any other say in how their taxes are used. Pacifists' dollars support war; anti-bailout Americans saw their taxes go to banks just this year. Except on the issue of abortion, if you want to be a tax resister, the only thing to do is not pay your taxes and go to jail.

Clearly, the antiabortion right was using poor and powerless women as surrogates for their inability to control all women’s access to abortion. Sadly, a few pro-choice Democrats agreed with the antiabortionists that abortion should be legal but was morally repugnant, and should not be supported with federal dollars. Joe Biden, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore (who later changed his mind) were in that camp.

While efforts to overturn Hyde from 1976 to 2004 were sporadic and unsuccessful, at least some legislators tried. Most pro-choice legislators and advocates continued to agree that it was immoral to deny public funding to poor women for a service that was legal. All that changed with the Democratic defeats in 2004, which led the Democratic Party to falter seriously in its commitment to choice. Party leaders courted antiabortion Democrats as candidates for the House and Senate in conservative districts and states.

Howard Dean, then party chair, initiated an outreach plan to integrate anti-choice Democrats into the party. In fact, they were able to hold their press conferences in the Democratic National Committee building. Democrats for Life has proved to be radically antiabortion, and its members have been congressional ringleaders of the effort to exclude abortion coverage in health insurance reform. The party stopped calling them anti-choice and adopted the language they preferred, “pro-life." In many ways, the message was sent that being pro-choice and antiabortion were equivalent, morally and politically. Deeply held beliefs were not to be critiqued, they were simply to be accepted so that Democrats would be seen as sensitive to religious values.

Religious groups that were broadly in alliance with the positions of the Democratic Party, but disagreed with the party on abortion, stepped up and began to “advise” the party on how to talk religion and gain the votes of the small percentages of anti-choice Catholics and evangelicals who are progressive on other issues. Democratic operatives promoted the new antiabortion progressives with deep-pocket party donors who were searching, post-2004, for new groups to support to reach out to "people of faith." Most of those same groups have worked for the Stupak amendment, including Sojourners, Catholics United and Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. They are now among the religious voices listened to on the Hill and in the White House.

Obama himself contributed to the rehabilitation of the immoral positions on abortion and poor women taken by these groups when he adopted the common-ground approach to abortion. The president chose to emphasize the “good will” and deeply held beliefs of those opposed to abortion and funding for poor women as opposed to a clear critique of the immorality of restricting a woman’s right to decide whether abortion was a moral decision for her, personally. The White House pushed pro-choice leaders to acquiesce to this form of diplomacy by creating a “dialogue” among all players, with no reference to the merits of various positions on abortion, simply a so-called shared commitment to “reducing abortion.” The president presented his own pro-choice position as just one view among many.

Common ground was featured and promoted even on Web sites devoted to choice, when dedicated a special site to providing a platform for both pro-choice and antiabortion views, further legitimating the idea that the legality and morality of abortion rights were debatable. We were treated to glowing descriptions of the “good” pro-lifers like Alexia Kelly of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, who compared abortion to torture and capital punishment, as well as the “bad” old pro-lifers like Doug Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee and the Catholic bishops. Following the vote on the Affordable Health Care for America Act, Catholics United issued a press statement in which they allied themselves with the bishops: “We are proud to stand with the US Catholic Conference of Bishops, the Catholic Health Association and other Catholic groups who have lent their unified support to this bill.” (How any progressive Catholic group can be proud to stand with a religious institution that just opened its doors to every homophobic and misogynistic Anglican to come on over and join our church is beyond me.)

Some pro-choice leaders warned that the party’s strategy, in the name of morality, muted the moral justice inherent in the pro-choice position. Former NARAL president Kate Michelman argued with Chuck Schumer and Howard Dean about anti-choice Democratic candidates to no avail. Party leaders were reassuring and adamant: If we could get a Democratic majority and a Democratic president, we would save choice.

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