What do Downton Abbey, Wendy Davis, TED Talks, and President Obama have in common? They are uncomfortable talking about abortion.
It’s been an interesting week in the ongoing discussion on abortion rights in the United States.
(Spoilers in this section!)
It started with Downton Abbey giving one of its main characters an unplanned pregnancy. The script featured stark language about what a woman’s “choice” entails – the “killing of a child.” It also painted “doctors” who perform the procedure in a bad light, questioning their medical ethics.
Pro-life viewers praised the show for its honesty. But in Time, Lily Rothman pointed out that the show was true to its setting and shouldn’t be considered a pro-life position. After all, abortion was illegal in England in the 1920′s, and dangerous. Rothman’s article implies that had abortion been safe and legal, then the character may have chosen a difficult outcome.
But pro-life viewers lauded the show’s refreshing honesty in admitting there are two people’s destinies at stake in this discussion: the human in distress, and the human in the womb.
Should a human in distress take the life of the other human in question? This is at the center of the abortion debate. For the pro-life side, it is a question of human rights, and human rights trump reproductive freedom.
Interestingly enough, Rothman’s article points out that Downton’s decision for the character to keep the baby adds more drama and opens up new windows for the storyline. Just like Juno. Just like a number of television shows.
It’s commonplace now to see fictional women face the abortion choice and almost always choose life. You kill the baby, and you kill the story. Which, in some ways, is a further reinforcement of the pro-life position.
Rothman even describes the Downton character’s choice as “less of a realization about the beauty of motherhood, and more a recalculation of her own strength.” Wow. According to Time, it seems the woman who chooses life is stronger than the woman who asks a doctor to stop her baby’s heartbeat.
In the middle of the week, Wendy Davis, candidate for governor of Texas whose claim to fame was filibustering a bill that would have banned abortions after 20 weeks, moved back to the center. She claimed that she would have supported a 20-week ban had there been more exceptions provided. This is a political way of saying, I don’t like late-term abortions either; I just want to make sure women still have the right to choose. It’s not a position-change, but Davis is clearly pivoting to the center.
Even if this flip flop doesn’t have much substance, pro-life advocates should take heart. Her pivot implies that late-term abortion is a losing issue. Aaron Earls writes:
Every time a pro-choice politicians tries to frame further restrictions as draconian or extreme, we can now say, “Even Wendy Davis supports a ban on abortions after 20-weeks.”
We have changed the shape of the discussion to the point that strident supporters of unfettered abortion have to – at the very least – pay lip service to wanting abortion to be “safe, legal and rare” or, in Davis’ words, something we prefer not to happen.
It is at this point that the entire argument for abortion crumbles. If the life inside the womb is of no real importance, if it is not a person worthy of our protection, why would it matter that abortion be kept even rare? Why would we prefer it not happen in any circumstances?
If the decision is only about the woman and her rights, then none of these other facts should be considered at all. Davis should be refusing to support any kind of ban on abortion no matter at what point in the pregnancy it is.
But that’s not what she’s doing, because that’s not the case. Texans (and most Americans) recognize that there is more to the discussion than merely “a woman’s right to choose.”
By the end of the week, the abortion conversation had shifted to TED Talks. Organizers of the TEDWomen conference claim that their decision to never address abortion is because it doesn’t fit into “wider issues of justice, inequality, and human rights.”
Pro-choice feminists went to blogs to protest. It has everything to do with human rights, they say. Pro-life advocates, surprisingly, agree. It’s just that human rights extend to the child too.
The TED controversy brings up the relationship between feminism and abortion. Jessica Valenti made it clear:
“Being pro-choice is not the sole qualification for feminists—but you can’t be a feminist without supporting abortion rights.”
Really? Cue Susan B. Anthony’s grave-roll.
How terribly demeaning to imply that the only way for women to be equal with men is to have access to an invasive, life-taking procedure! Since when is the highest and most sacred aspect of women’s rights the choice of a mother to take the life of her child? As I’ve written before, an accurate assessment of the abortion debate is that this is a war between women, not a war on women.
In response to TED’s decision, Dawn Laugens of Planned Parenthood writes:
Abortion isn’t just about abortion. It’s about a woman’s power to determine her own destiny, to plan her own life.
Good grief! If women’s autonomy is at stake in abortion, then why stop at birth? The newborn who needs feeding every three hours is getting in the way of my wife’s power to determine her own destiny right now. Having three kids makes it hard to plan our Valentine’s Day evening. Can we call a doctor and have these little distractions done away with? Of course, not. That would be infringing on the rights of children.
TED doesn’t want to talk about abortion because no one wants to talk about the third party in this decision. There is the “doctor,” the woman, and another human being.
Maybe this is why President Obama’s statement on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade never mentions abortion. The ugly procedure is hidden behind clever euphemisms. Here is Obama’s statement, with my commentary added:
Today, as we reflect on the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, we recommit ourselves to the decision’s guiding principle: that every woman should be able to make her own choices about her body and her health. (Agreed. What does this have to do with abortion?)
We reaffirm our steadfast commitment to protecting a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care and her constitutional right to privacy, including the right to reproductive freedom. (Including the right to have her unborn child dismembered and extracted from the womb?)
And we resolve to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, support maternal and child health, and continue to build safe and healthy communities for all our children. (All children, except for the ones we don’t want.)
Because this is a country where everyone deserves the same freedom and opportunities to fulfill their dreams. (Not everyone, unfortunately. The right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness only applies to those who have the right to life.)
In response to recent restrictions on abortion, the abortion evangelists are out in full force, making their case in public and pressuring TED to include abortion as one of their ideas worth spreading. I say, “Go for it!” Let’s have an honest conversation about what takes place in abortion clinics. Because when we do, the majority of Americans will see that abortion is an idea worth stopping, not spreading.