In the past week or two, an article entitled How Do You Change Someone’s Mind on Abortion? Tell Them You Had One has been making the rounds. The title is slightly misleading; the bulk of the article focuses on gay rights activism, specifically, the connection between personally knowing an LGBT person and increased support for same-sex marriage. But the article touches on abortion supporters’ attempt to stretch that reasoning to their own cause (emphasis mine):
Abortion is typically considered a moral concern, about the bounds of life, or a legal one, about the nature of rights and liberties. [Planned Parenthood marketer Dave] Fleischer hypothesized it could be understood instead as a matter of personal identity, and that resistance to abortion really is stigma towards the women who have—or could have—them. “My hunch is,” he says, “talking about real lived experience is extraordinarily helpful in developing empathy and support.”
If so, perhaps American society had just never been exposed to the sustained organic contact that Allport argued 60 years ago could begin to dismantle a deeply held prejudice. After all, whites with retrograde views on race find themselves working on the same factory floor as blacks; straight people learn a beloved cousin is a lesbian. But how often does anyone, particularly among those who consider themselves pro-life, learn that a friend or relative or co-worker has had an abortion?
The validity of that hypothesis is never examined. Perhaps that’s because, as one of Fleischer’s door-to-door canvassers puts it in the concluding line of the piece, it’s easy “to talk to strangers, because you don’t care what they really think.”
The irony here hits mind-exploding levels. “Those anti-choice strangers must think the way they do because they’ve never met someone who’s had an abortion and therefore don’t understand how women who have abortions really think and feel. At least, that’s our best guess; we haven’t actually asked the antis about their thoughts or feelings. But we totally understand how they don’t understand us.”
There’s a lot that could be said in response. Various veteran pro-life leaders have noted that this is just the latest in a long line of I-had-an-abortion-style “stigma-busting” campaigns that invariably fizzle out, that this is basically just a cheap copycat of Silent No More, etc. They’re right, and there’s no point in echoing them. So for this blog, I’d just like to give Mr. Fleischer a friendly tip.
I know pro-choicers despise slavery comparisons, but what I’m about to say is not comparing the moral wrongness of abortion to the moral wrongness of slavery, so hear me out. The debate about abortion has something in common with the debate about slavery: it pits family members, friends, and neighbors against each other. Some anti-slavery campaigners came from slaveholding families. (A semi-fictionalized exploration of this phenomenon can be found in the fantastic novel The Invention of Wings.) Things got messy. Things got emotional. Things most definitely got personal. But those complications did not deter abolitionists. Even if they wanted to support their slaveholding loved ones, they could not, because they saw the slaves.
And so it is with us: we see the preborn children. That is what we think and that is how we feel. We don’t hate you. We don’t see you as “less than” or consider having an abortion to be a “personal identity” that we reject. We don’t want to be in the conflict we’re in, but we are.
And if you ask me, a campaign that fails to even recognize the nature of this conflict is pretty much doomed from the start. The same-sex marriage model just doesn’t work here.