Falling down on the job

I’ve been writing up a list of ideas about abortion reduction to send to the Obama transition team, and unfortunately there are a few holes in my list.

I want to write “Work with pro-life, pro-contraception groups to maximize support for your prevention policies,” but I can’t. There essentially aren’t any.

I want to write “There are people who agree with your agenda for reproductive justice in every way except that we view abortion as violence against a human being. Talk to them; they have ideas that people in your circle might not think of,” — it’s true, but who can I point to?

This came to mind again when I read all the hand-flapping about Planned Parenthood of Indiana offering gift certificates.

The network of 35 clinics across the state announced it is offering holiday vouchers for basic health care services “or the recipient’s choice of birth control method.”

The organization decided to offer the vouchers because so many people are uninsured or are putting off health care because of prohibitive costs, said Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Nearly 800,000 Indiana residents don’t have health insurance, she said.

A few thoughts:

  • They’re not “gift certificates for abortions”, the way that many abortion opponents are breathlessly characterizing them. If you look at PP’s page, they’re not being marketed that way at all. They’re clearly meant for basic health care services and contraception. I actually agree with the PP spokesperson who says that although the vouchers can be used for abortions, she doesn’t think anyone would give them for that purpose. Whatever people’s political views might be, there aren’t a lot of people out there who celebrate abortion and would think of it as a fine holiday gift.
  • That said, someone will take a voucher that was given to them in the hope that they’d get necessary preventive health care, and use it to get an abortion. There’s no point telling ourselves otherwise.
  • All the blog posts I’ve seen about this (from “Planned Parenthood is selling gift certificates for abortions!” to “those Planned Parenthood-haters don’t want women to get health care!”) seem to be missing the bigger picture: that there are women for whom this might be the only way they can get a mammogram or a Pap smear. If I’m going to get outraged about something, I think it’ll be that, thanks.

I cordially invite pro-lifers who are outraged about this story to band together and start up their own clinics that provide reproductive health care and contraception, but not abortion. We have utterly, utterly fallen down on the job here.

Hitchens? Really? Nat Hentoff wasn’t available?

Lisa Miller writes about pro-life atheists in this week’s Newsweek. (h/t JivinJ) I was all excited — then I read the article.

Miller asserts, regarding atheists who are pro-life, “Few of them are.” This may or may not be true, but just try determining it from the evidence she offers:

Abortion has been a wedge for more than 30 years because its moral volatility has forced Americans to choose sides: religious vs. secular, right vs. left, traditional vs. progressive. Atheists have generally aligned with the left.

Which, I feel compelled to point out, does not necessarily translate into support for abortion.

In a three-year-old Gallup poll, nearly 40 percent of Christians who attended church weekly said they believed that abortion should always be illegal.

What does this tell us about what atheists believe?

Meanwhile, nearly 40 percent of people with no religion (not atheists necessarily) said that abortion should be legal in all circumstances.

OK. How do the other 60% break down? Miller doesn’t say, because she doesn’t know.
The poll she’s citing only analyzes those respondents who said that abortion should be legal “in all circumstances” or “in no circumstances”; many self-identified pro-choicers don’t fit in the former category, and many self-identified pro-lifers don’t fit in the latter.

Wallace is likely one of the very few atheists who voted against Barack Obama, largely because of his abortion views.

I don’t know how to parse this. Is she saying it’s likely that Matt Wallace voted against Barack Obama, or likely that very few atheists did? Either way, she could have found out instead of just making an assumption.

It doesn’t get better. Miller holds up Christopher Hitchens as an exemplar of pro-life atheistic thought. Hitchens, who thinks RU-486 is a solution because “that will make abortion more like a contraceptive procedure than a surgical one.” I can only hope that’s a misquote. Worst of all, Miller apparently considers Hitchens’s incoherence a feature, not a bug:

One of the most sympathetic and intriguing aspects of the Hitchens plank, as he outlines it, is how little the atheist talks about fetal science (terms like “viability” and “neural development” rarely come up) and how much he cedes to his squeamishness on the matter […]

It’s inconsistent and imperfect, for how is a pharmaceutical abortion any different from a surgical one? But as he says, “I’m happy to say some problems don’t have solutions.” In the abortion wars, such honest reflection is progress indeed.

Yes, it’s helpful to recognize that sometimes our most fiercely defended views are based less on carefully considered arguments than on emotion and pre-logical gut feelings. On the other hand, one reason it’s helpful to recognize that is so that we can use reason to check our emotions and gut feelings lest they lead us to positions that harm ourselves or others. Not only does Miller not demand that Hitchens take that second step, she applauds him for not doing so.

I don’t want to be completely negative. It really is good to see a departure, any departure, from the standard narrative that all opposition to abortion is motivated by religion. Still, this was disappointing.

(While we’re on the subject, allow me to take this opportunity to promote the Pro-life Nonbelievers group on Atheist Nexus.)