Apples and Oranges

The Media’s Abortion Blinders

IN the most recent Gallup poll on abortion, as many Americans described themselves as pro-life as called themselves pro-choice. A combined 58 percent of Americans stated that abortion should either be “illegal in all circumstances” or “legal in only a few circumstances.” These results do not vary appreciably by gender: in the first Gallup poll to show a slight pro-life majority, conducted in May 2009, half of American women described themselves as pro-life.

But if you’ve followed the media frenzy surrounding the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation’s decision — which it backpedaled from, with an apology, after a wave of frankly brutal coverage — to discontinue about $700,000 in funding for Planned Parenthood, you would think all these millions of anti-abortion Americans simply do not exist.


Conservative complaints about media bias are sometimes overdrawn. But on the abortion issue, the press’s prejudices are often absolute, its biases blatant and its blinders impenetrable. In many newsrooms and television studios across the country, Planned Parenthood is regarded as the equivalent of, well, the Komen foundation: an apolitical, high-minded and humanitarian institution whose work no rational person — and certainly no self-respecting woman — could possibly question or oppose.

But of course millions of Americans — including, yes, millions of American women — do oppose Planned Parenthood. They oppose the 300,000-plus abortions it performs every year (making it the largest abortion provider in the country), and they oppose its tireless opposition to even modest limits on abortion.

An anniversary of sorts quietly slipped by a couple weeks ago. January 22, 1973 was the day Roe v. Wade was decided. That was 39 years ago. I was 12 years old, in the seventh grade and hadn’t even discovered the joys of self-abuse yet. I was also still a member of one of those fundiegelical churches.

Abortion has been a political issue since the founding of Planned Parenthood in 1921. Some people thought Roe would resolve the issue. Some people are idiots. The issue of abortion is no closer to resolution now than it was in 1973.

Let me make clear that I am pro-choice. If you’re reading this chances are you are too. But I think that pro-lifers get a bad rap. Not all of them – anyone who would blow up a clinic or shoot a doctor deserves all the condemnation we can heap upon them.

But there are millions of pro-lifers in this country. Most of them are good, well-intentioned people. At least half of them are women. They are not caricatures.

The problem is apples and oranges.

The pro-choice argument centers around a woman’s right to control her own body. I agree with that position. We sometimes see it asserted that the pro-life position is the opposite of bodily autonomy – that pro-lifers (men) want to control women’s bodies.

While that may be true in some cases it is a fundamental (pun intended) misunderstanding of the pro-life position. The pro-life position is that human life begins at conception and that abortion is the killing of a human being.

I don’t agree with that position, but I know many people who sincerely do believe it. That’s where the apples and oranges thing comes in. The two sides are arguing totally different things.

Both sides are guilty of misrepresenting the others’ positions and motives. If we are ever going to resolve this issue we need to quit demonizing each other. I know, easier said than done.

We may never resolve this, at least not until medical science makes it possible to terminate a pregnancy without terminating the zygote/fetus. Even if they do, the moralizing and sexual prudery attached to the issue will probably still be around for a while longer anyway.

My position is simple – if you think abortion is wrong then don’t have one.

BTW – Full disclosure: I was a client of Planned Parenthood. That’s where I got my vasectomy.

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36 Responses to Apples and Oranges

  1. HELENK says:

    Ask a priest sometime ” if life begins at conception, why can he not baptize a miscarriage?”
    This is something they can not answer.

    being old enough to remember when girls would die from backroom abortions, I am glad that it is medically safe now.
    Do I think abortions should be used for birth control NO. If there is a medical reason for them YES they should be lawfully available.

    It is each woman’s decision. I do not live someone else’s life. I do not have the right to interfere with her decision.

    • JeanLouise says:

      My very Catholic friend did have the miscarried fetus baptized. It was a long time ago bt I know there wasn’t a funeral. I don’t know what was done with the remains but my friend told me that she wanted to be assured that her baby’s soul went to heaven. My argument was that there was no circumstance under which an infant soul would not to Heaven but she remained unconvinced.

      • HELENK says:

        I asked a priest to baptize a miscarriage and was told, it is only a lump of tissue and could not be baptized.
        At that time the Catholic church preached that without baptism, a soul could not go to heaven , it went to Limbo.
        They also preached that a baby had a soul from the moment of conception.

  2. DeniseVB says:

    Even my fundiest of friends believe in safe, legal and rare, as I do.

    Speaking of pregnancy scares….

  3. foxyladi14 says:

    it should not be encouraged but should be available.

  4. 1539days says:

    Both sides have their logical fallacies. If a fetus isn’t a human life, is a preemie? If a miscarriage can’t be baptized, can a 25 week old pregnancy be delivered?

    America made that decision, by and large, by being pro-choice in the first trimester, pro-life in the third and extremely uncomfortable in the second. Abortion rights are about autonomy, but something with the potential for human life will come to an end. Even if it weren’t a right, it might happen anyway and two lives could end. No one has agreed on an good answer because there isn’t one.

    • elliesmom says:

      You’re right -there isn’t a good answer, but I think that the idea that a fetus in the first trimester isn’t a human life is a necessary construct for most people who support abortion on demand to have to reconcile themselves to the procedure. Believing that one is destroying a human life makes the decision to do it more difficult. I am personally pro-choice, but I think a woman who chooses to abort her child is doing just that – aborting a child, not a mass of cells. Unless the circumstances are grave, I don’t know how other women do it, but I don’t walk in their shoes, and I try not to judge.

      • myiq2xu says:

        Being judgmental of others is a great way to avoid dealing with your own failings.

        • elliesmom says:

          When I hear that a woman has terminated a difficult pregnancy, I understand. I’ve walked in those shoes, and while I chose to continue the pregnancy, if the scales had tipped differently, her choice is one I might have made. When a young girl is pregnant, and knowing that she is not ready to experience carrying a baby to term, chooses abortion, I wonder how I would have counseled my daughter. It didn’t happen so I didn’t have to work through my feelings over it. But I would understand why a woman would want to do anything it took to protect her daughter. Where I have a hard time is when a woman is on her second or third abortion because she hasn’t used adequate birth control. Then I want to shake her.

      • votermom says:

        Personally I go with the heartbeat. The fetus has a heartbeat, I have to think it’s a baby. Before that, not so much. I understand that other may people disagree.

  5. djmm says:

    My biggest problem with anti-abortionists is with the sub-set who are against contraception. I understand those who think human life begins at conception. But I do not agree they should make decisions for others.

    For example, candidate Gingrich’s idea that forcing church-affiliated universities which offer health care insurance to include contraception. This forces no one to choose contraception. But if they do, there might be a few unwanted pregnancies and abortions avoided. Many Catholic women use contraception.


    • JeanLouise says:

      It’s a rightwing urban myth that has been promoted for as long as I can remember. It is not true. There is no relationship between having an abortion and having breast cancer per the Guttmacher Institute.

      • votermom says:

        Although it is established that having babies and breastfeeding does decrease the risk of breast cancer.
        (Of course pregnancy & childbirth can kill you in other ways.)

  6. HELENK says:

    All I want to hear from a politician is

    Here is how I will work to help the economy
    Here is how I will work on foreign policy
    Here is how I will work to better the country

    I do not want to hear
    I will inflict my private beliefs on the country
    I will change laws to restrict freedom
    I will cater to any religion before the law or change laws for any religion

  7. gxm17 says:

    The pro-life position is that human life begins at conception and that abortion is the killing of a human being.

    Except, for one thing. The pro-life position ends there: at abortion. It doesn’t extend to the death penalty. It doesn’t extend to war. It doesn’t extend to “justifiable” killing in self defense. It is not a “pro-life” position. It is a pro-life-when-it-comes-to-zygotes-embryos-and-fetuses-only position.

    OTOH, I am pro-choice and truly pro-life. I would not have an abortion (and that’s not a “what if,” I dropped out of college to have my daughter). I am anti-war and anti-DP. I won’t deny that if someone was trying to kill one of my family members I would try to stop them (if I could) with whatever force required. Of that, count me guilty.

    But I have no patience with the womb police who think that they have any business telling a woman what to do with her body. None. Get to work on the death penalty, war, and the starving masses. Once the womb police have those life-and-death issues fixed, then maybe we can address crisis pregnancies. Oh, and hey, I’ve got an idea, how about we make birth control, including Plan B, stigma-free and readily available. What’s that you say, the womb police don’t like that idea either? Well then the womb police can just piss off. Because, at this point, the problem they have with abortion has nothing to do with “life” and everything to do with viewing a woman’s body as public property subject to their control. FWIW, this is the same attitude that makes people like Andrew Sullivan think obsessing over Sarah Palin’s womb is perfectly okay and normal, as opposed to the sick and disturbed behavior it really is.

    • 1539days says:

      A lot of Catholics and Christians are pro-life in all those cases. Ron Paul is against war in most situations. I’m not sure about the death penalty. The Republican Party platform is the one with the moral ambiguity.

      • gxm17 says:

        Perhaps. But the church leaders aren’t threatening to excommunicate politicians who support the death penalty or war. The moral ambiguity is thoroughly embedded in the religious institutions, as well.

    • Three Wickets says:

      Andrew Sullivan needs his head examined for his pathologic womb obsession. Although, his blog following does provide a convenient way to track misogynist activists. When it comes to womb obsession and misogyny, progressive men can be just as proficient as fundie wackos.

  8. JeanLouise says:

    I think that most people (and all women) who have come over to the anti-abortion side since Roe are there because they’ve succumbed to the advertising campaign conducted by the leaders of the movement. No reasonable person looks at a zygote and says “ooh, look at the baby!”. But pictures of dissected fetuses are very disturbing to anyone and the anti-abortion forces have managed to conflate zygotes and eight-month-old fetuses

    But the leaders of the movement are the real demons. They’re not concerned about babies. They, like Rick Santorum, are determined to control women in this society and the best way to do that is deny them control over their wombs.

    • elliesmom says:

      I don’t look at a zygote and say “there’s a mass of cells that I can flush away without giving it a second thought”. I look at a zygote and say there’s a child being formed. I’m a reasonable person, and I’m an atheist. No right wing advertising has affected my opinion. I still support your right to kill it, though. And I understand why you have to believe that there’s a difference between a zygote and an eighth month old fetus. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be as able to be as cavalier about killing it. The problem is that that there are really three groups of people. The pro-life group, the pro-choice group, and the pro-abortion group. The pro-abortion group doesn’t really understand us pro-choice people. We respect your right to choose to kill your unborn child, or zygote if you prefer, but we are not pro-abortion. To us, abortion should be the choice of last resort.

    • WMCB says:

      (and all women) who have come over to the anti-abortion side since Roe are there because they’ve succumbed….

      Do you even realize how fucking condescending that statement is to the WOMEN of whom you speak?

      Disagree all you want, but don’t for one second believe that all (or even most) of the WOMEN, who think abortion is the taking of a real human life, only think that because the poor dears just don’t know their own minds, and must have been deceived by some wily men (who are evidently ever so much smarter than than their gullible little selves.)

      Say they are wrong all day long if you want, but at least give them some goddamned credit for having a) thought long and seriously about the issue, and b) having come to their own honest conclusions, from their own brains and their own feelings.

  9. driguana says:

    “…we need to quit demonizing each other”….this is the crux of the matter and while more and more of us are saying this, the solution is not easy because it requires respecting each other’s differing points of view. When the issues is considerably perplexing such as abortion, race relations, or creation vs. evolution, for example, most people are still not able to view the opposing point of view with respect. I still contend that it has much to do with not having “dialogue” or really good and deep discussions on these issues but having, as we do in the main stream media, arguments about who is right and who is wrong. In America it has come down to “proving” you are right and the other side is “wrong”……with that attitude, of course, we are a nation in turmoil.

  10. Lulu says:

    “My position is simple – if you think abortion is wrong then don’t have one.”
    And if I want one it is no one’s fucking business why I want one, my thinking processes of how I came to that conclusion, my religion or lack of it, my physical health, who my partner is, what the sonogram looks like or if I want to look at it, if I was raped, my sociology-economic status, if I am single, married, divorced or widowed, if the biological father gives a shit or not, and you can keep your magical, spiritual thinking about the “miracle” of a biological function that applies to all living things to yourself.

    • elliesmom says:

      While I respect your position, and I would never personally try to restrict your access to abortion, will you at least open your mind long enough to understand that there are a lot of women out there who believe that an abortion is the killing of an innocent human life and who see that innocent human as needing an advocate? They are never going to stand down, and if you believed that hundreds of thousands of children were being killed in this country every year, neither would you. It’s not about punishing women. It’s about protecting the child. I get it that you don’t agree with them. You’re entitled to your beliefs, too. The middle ground is to work to together to keep abortion safe and legal, yes, but rare as well. I can persuade my anti-abortion friends that sometimes an abortion is the right choice, but I will never be able to convince them that abortion is an acceptable method of birth control. We also need to recognize that most men on both sides of the issue have different agendas over abortion then women do. Restricting a woman’s access to any health service she needs removes some of a woman’s power while easy access to abortion relieves men of much of the responsibility in a sexual relationship. But as long as women refuse to listen to each other, we will never stand together, and the men who make the laws will decide for us depending on which men are in power at any given time.

      • jjmtacoma says:

        Does anyone actually use abortion as birth control? I know I’ve heard this idea passed off as a reasonable concern since I was a teenager in the 80’s.

        I’ve heard that abortions are very physically painful. Having an abortion is also more expensive than buying contraceptives or even plan b.

        I think “abortion as birth control” is very likely a meme in line with welfare queens owning a beautiful home and a Cadillac. It defies reason that anyone would have frequent abortions rather than take birth control pills or use other methods of prevention. I suppose it could happen but any woman who would put herself through frequent abortions probably isn’t competent to be a parent anyway. In any case, I am sure it isn’t common as a first choice.

        • Lola-at-Large says:

          Yes, women do use it as birth control. Not in any planned sense, but getting caught up in a sexual moment, especially when very young and/or very poor, it’s hard to be prepared for that. Also, a lot of men are unprepared and convinced that condoms, a good choice for last minute birth control, detracts from their pleasure. It’s not entirely womens’ fault when this happens, but because of the consequences for them as opposed to the males, it’s incumbent upon them to take greater responsibility.

          A woman I have known since I was 18 has had five abortions in the 20+ years we’ve known each other. She just gets caught up, and the rest of her life is completely chaotic. So addressing the occasional pregnancy via abortion fits with her lifestyle better than being prepared from day-to-day. I know a lot of women who’ve had multiples. Being sexually responsible is something that is difficult for some to learn.

      • Lola-at-Large says:

        Wow, great comment, EM. You really hit on a bunch of the nuance, especially the concern that women today use abortion as BC, which is really proven in the statistics. Most women who have abortions are not getting their first abortion; they’re getting their second, third, etc. Here’s another stat that people don’t really think about enough: only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s budget goes to abortion services. So? If that 3% of money still represents the largest number of abortions, that’s going to make PP a target and the 3% number doesn’t even belong in the equation. It’s like saying, “But we murder on the cheap!”

        I also very much think that abortion serves men far more than it serves women. In addition to your comment, I would suggest people look at the women who are getting abortions: they are largely poor or working class women. We have a real problem in our culture that feminism, being an elite women’s movement, never discusses: that we treat women differently sexually based on economic class. Poor and working class women are reserved for the sex class, while more economically secure women get to escape some of that fate. It’s been this way since time immemorial; just look at all the bastard strewn around England’s service class through the centuries.

        That these women can and do now get abortions might be great for them, except it affords them no more greater economic opportunity. They still return to their sex class, where they are likely to get pregnant again, requiring another abortion. If we had spent 25% of the money fighting to keep abortion rights–which have not eroded, but expanded, contrary to popular belief–on birth control education and economic empowerment for poor women, we probably wouldn’t even need the volume of abortion services we now consume, and all women would likely be a lot better off.

        Finally, the flip side of Lulu’s comment (whose opinion I respect, ftr) is how I now feel: I never needed an abortion, so fight for your own and leave me out of it.

  11. That girl in the ad is so skinny, her baby will probably starve before she can even get to the Planned Parenthood clinic.

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