Thursday, February 10, 2005

let the cockroaches debate it when we're gone

Rockridge has an article by OB/GYN Lisa Littman that uses George Lakoff's parental political models -- Strict Father and Nurturing Parent -- to explain why we're not winning the abortion argument, and how we can. As my post's title implies, I think this bad boy isn't going anywhere in the near (or distant) future, but Littman's piece is persuasive, compelling, and clearly argued. It also demonstrates the (already self-evident) potential in Lakoff's work for progressive messaging.

Here's the basic thrust of Littman's argument.

This debate is how we approach the issue of unintended pregnancy: Prevention or Punishment. The Prevention Approach is about supporting policies that prevent unwanted pregnancies and decrease abortions while the Punishment Approach is about supporting policies that increase unintended pregnancies and increase abortions in order to punish people for having sex. The difference in approach reflects the difference in our values.

By defining the abortion debate terms of our values, we can show the difference between Prevention and Punishment values, policies, and goals. This will allow us to steer the discussion back to the relevant abortion question and allow us to have an honest debate. An honest debate is the kind that we can win.

I think that Littman's suggested method, to define the policies and values associated with prevention and compare them with the policies and values associated with punishment, is an excellent way of reclaiming some ground on this debate. In particular, it offers a calm and respectful way for us to demonstrate how little use conservatives have for the basic human rights of women, and allows us to tie that to the abortion debate without having to jump too deep into the dangerous waters of gender politics or religious orthodoxy.

Okay, so is it possible to convince the American public that the real abortion debate is not about who chooses when life begins, but about what to do with unintended pregnancy? Murder, and its righteous revenge, have a lot more political draw than the acknowledgment and confrontation of unseemly social problems. And when conservatives can harness the blight of "unwanted pregnancy" to minority, low-income, inner-city women, they've got the American electorate right where they want it: in that hypocritical pocket that makes us vote to punish something we're afraid of, something that might affect us if we're not careful. As in, "If we just vote it away, then at least we have a public record of our immunity." A reasoned debate about current abortion policy simply cannot compete with the magnetic draw of that expiatory opportunity.

Which is not to say that Littman's wrong. I just prefer to read her suggestions about a "debate over what to do with unintended pregnancy" as a call for us to directly confront American women with the realities of the problem, and make all the ways in which it affects them abundantly clear. I think we have to follow the Republican model and systematically divorce it from other segments of our public platform (i.e. discontinue arguments about abortion as an aspect of equal opportunity), and instead fight the war on the ground and in the churches, schools, and healthcare facilities. At the same time, we can systematize our message to make abortion an issue of responsibility, of SOCIETAL responsibility, that will carry more weight than arguments of free choice or equal opportunity.

People need to accept that this argument, like flag-burning, will be around forever. True reproductive rights, on the other hand, are in immediate danger of extinction. And preserving them means maintaining and increasing the electoral draw of pro-choice policy, not retreating from it. We're not going to win this argument, ever, but we have to participate.

No comments: