What “Pro-Choice” Means (And Courting The Evangelical Vote)

Ken AshfordElection 2008, Women's IssuesLeave a Comment

From a Salon interview with author Amy Sullivan ("The Party Faithful"), a Christian evangelical who is a Democrat:

You’re pro-choice. Does that interfere with being an evangelical?

Well, I don’t like the [pro-choice] label. I guess the reason I wrote about abortion the way I did in the book is because I have serious moral concerns about abortion, but I don’t believe that it should be illegal. And that puts me in the vast majority of Americans. But unfortunately, there’s no label for us.

There is a label for people who have serious moral concerns about abortion, but who believe that women have the right to decide what to do with their bodies.  It’s called "pro-choice".  That’s what "pro-choice" means.

"Pro-choice" isn’t a euphamism for — I don’t know — mandating abortions.  It doesn’t mean that one has to view abortions as "moral".  It just means that each woman gets to make those moral decisions, not the government.

I run into this a lot — people who say, "Well, I’m pro-life.  I think abortions are immoral and wrong.  But I don’t think they should be made illegal, and that women should be sent to jail for it."  Those people, although they can’t bring themselves to admit it (probably because they feel they will be demonized), are pro-choice.

Pro-choice and pro-life are not opposites.  One can be both.  In fact, like Amy Sullivan says, most people probably are. 

UPDATE:  Kevin Drum ponders the Amy Sullivan interview and adds this:

In the rest of the interview, she basically suggests that about 60% of the evangelical community is politically conservative and won’t ever vote for a Democrat. But the other 40% will, and those 40% are worth trying to appeal to. And one way to appeal to them is to acknowledge their moral qualms about abortion even if you don’t happen to share them yourself. Like this guy:

I think that the American people struggle with two principles: There’s the principle that a fetus is not just an appendage, it’s potential life. I think people recognize that there’s a moral element to that. They also believe that women should have some control over their bodies and themselves and there is a privacy element to making those decisions.

I don’t think people take the issue lightly. A lot of people have arrived in the view that I’ve arrived at, which is that there is a moral implication to these issues, but that the women involved are in the best position to make that determination. And I don’t think they make it lightly.

That’s Barack Obama, likely the next Democratic candidate for the presidency. All he’s doing is acknowledging the moral dimension of abortion, while remaining solidly in favor of abortion choice, reducing unwanted pregnancies, and encouraging responsible sexual behavior.

UPDATE:  More of the same, from Shakesville:

Here’s the thing: I agree that pro-choicers need to develop a dialog with people who consider themselves pro-life, but really could be convinced that abortion should remain legal.

But the way to do that is not by saying, "Well, pro-choice doesn’t describe me, because abortion is all icky and stuff." The way to do that is to focus on the term, "pro-choice."

As it seems to need to be said over and over and over again, pro-choice is not the same as pro-abortion. I know many, many people who personally would not have abortions, but nevertheless believe it should absolutely be legal for those who would. Pro-choice means believing that women should have the right to make their own moral decisions on abortion, even if you disagree with those decisions.

I, like many people, have my own personal opinions on when abortion is right and when it is wrong. I just don’t believe my views should be translated into government control. If I was a woman, I might even have the opportunity to act on those opinions — or find that they’ve changed once the situation wasn’t a hypothetical anymore.

That’s the essence of choice — saying that you trust women to decide. Sullivan can have "serious moral concerns" about abortion all she wants to. She can voice them, explain why she feels that way.

That’s a pro-choice position. The way to convince those fence-sitting evangelicals is not to say, "Well, I’m not pro-choice like those angry feminists are." The way to convince them is to say, "I have my problems with abortion, too. But I’m still pro-choice, because I think it’s a choice that’s up to a woman based on her morality, her religion, her situation." People who are willing to come over to the pro-choice side are going to be receptive to that message. People who are not receptive to that message are going to stay Republican. Let them.