When, in the 2008 presidential campaign, pro-lifers suggested that Barack Obama’s abortion radicalism made him “pro-abortion,” Obama had a ready response. “I don’t know anybody who is pro-abortion,” he’d say, and that would usually end the discussion.
Of course, some extremists do consider themselves “pro-abortion.” But Obama’s assertion highlighted the discomfort even many of the most passionate abortion advocates have with abortion, and the growing unwillingness of many to be associated with the gruesome practice.
On Friday, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, America’s largest breast cancer charity, backed down from an announcement days earlier that it would cut ties with Planned Parenthood. Since 2005, the abortion giant has received nearly $700,000 annually from Komen to perform breast cancer screenings and mammogram referrals.
Komen’s original decision to end funding was met by a hailstorm of criticism from abortion advocates, and the debate continues over the final status of that funding. But one thing seems certain: Komen’s initial decision to part ways with Planned Parenthood was due to its desire not to be associated with the abortion provider.
Komen officially stated that it cut ties because of a new policy of not associating with groups under congressional investigation. Planned Parenthood is under congressional investigation to determine whether it improperly used public funds to finance abortions.
But sources with Komen told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that the congressional investigation rule was passed specifically to give the foundation cover for cutting off Planned Parenthood. As if to reinforce Komen’s uneasiness over being associated with the taking of innocent human life, Komen also recently announced it will cease funding embryonic stem cell research centers.
Few Americans want to be associated with abortion. Over the last decade, the abortion industry has experienced severe declines in the number of medical students training to perform abortions and the number doctors performing abortions in their practices.
A 2011 Obstetrics and Gynecology article reported on a survey of more than 1,000 practicing OB/GYNS. It found that while 97 percent said they had encountered women seeking abortion, but just14 percent were willing to perform them. Many medical schools have stopped teaching abortion or offer it only as opt-in training.
Pro-abortion politicians are increasingly hesitant to raise the issue. “Democrats don’t love to campaign on [abortion],” complained MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow recently. “Being pro-choice is not a litmus test for the Democratic Party the way that being pro-life is for the Republican Party. …Democrats who are not opposed to abortion rights have not been very willing to stand up and say that, much less to campaign on being pro-choice.”
The stigma of abortion is most evident in its supporters’ unwillingness to use the word “abortion.” Instead, they use words like “reproductive rights” and a woman’s “right to choose.”
Even abortionists know better than to talk about babies or fetuses. They instead use euphemisms such as “uterine contents” and “products of conception.” And they disguise what they do by naming their facilities “Women’s Health Center” or “Planned Parenthood.”
Using more realistic terms like “abortion” or “baby” might offer those involved a glimpse of what actually happens in an abortion.
Whatever they call abortion, most Americans are not confused about its morality. A 2011 Gallup poll found that only 39% of American find abortion “morally acceptable.” Polls suggest about half of Americans consider themselves “pro-choice.”
Combine these polls, and one concludes that there are millions of Americans who support abortion rights but still consider it morally wrong. These are the people phrases like “products of conception” and “reproductive rights” are meant to hold sway.
Efforts to de-stigmatize and normalize abortion have utterly failed. Most social movements have organizations devoted to proudly declaring the goodness of their cause. Think gay pride, black pride, etc. But there is no abortion pride movement to speak of.
A new campaign called My Abortion, My Life pledges to “end the silence surrounding abortion one story at a time.” Based in Cleveland, the campaign attempts to start the “long process of de-stigmatizing abortion in our society” by placing ads on city buses.
But this effort will probably fail. It reminds me of the woman a few years ago who began selling T-Shirts with “I had an abortion” written on them as part of an effort to allow women to “own up” to their choices. She sold only a few shirts and the campaign attracted more criticism than support.
Instead of an abortion pride movement, there is an established and growing network of groups of women who have aborted and regret their decision. Belonging to groups with names like Silent No More, these women have found their voices and are speaking out to end, not extol, abortion.
Abortion remains “normal” in one sense: about one in three women obtains an abortion at some point in her life. But abortion will never be natural or ordinary or something to cheer about. It will always carry with it a taint so profound that it compels its fiercest advocates to avoid acknowledging its reality.