Analysis

Memo to Congress: Don’t let pro-aborts use Pain-Capable bill’s abortion exception backlash to redefine ‘reasonable’

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The most striking thing about the abortion lobby’s collective freakout over the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act’s House vote is that it isn’t even slightly fazed by the bill’s various concessions to pro-choice complaints.

Women generally “need” abortions? H.R. 36 leaves the first five months of pregnancy perfectly free to get one for any reason. Five months somehow isn’t enough time for rape victims to abort? H.R. 36 makes an exception for rape. A basic law-enforcement confirmation that a rape actually took place is somehow too much to ask when seeking permission to kill someone? Under the version the House voted on, now rape counseling 48 hours beforehand will suffice (with the documentation requirements broad enough that presumably any Planned Parenthood with a medical license would qualify).

If any of the hatred and fear mongering routinely aimed at pro-lifers were sincere, appeasing it would dramatically alter pro-aborts’ reactions. There’d be no sneering about “taking women back” or temper tantrums about “disgustingly cruel” pro-lifers from the leaders of the opposition. Barack Obama, who claimed he was running to move politics beyond partisan division, wouldn’t call pro-lifers “disgraceful” for meeting him halfway. Jezebel wouldn’t claim such a fundamentally moderate bill is a sign politicians are “working harder than ever to make themselves the dictators of our bodies.”

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All of this is wildly disproportionate to the bill’s results, but it’s nothing compared to the way they’re specifically trying to spin the finalized rape exception. Salon’s Katie McDonough insists nothing was “fixed” and instead it’s the “same odious garbage.”

ThinkProgress’s Tara Culp-Ressler says “the GOP will never be able to craft a rape exception that’s truly sensitive to survivors of sexual assault — let alone any other woman who may need abortion care for a different and equally valid reason.” So you’re admitting rape isn’t a more valid reason for abortion after all, Tara? Then why are we even having this conversation?

At Slate, Amanda Marcotte explains (I use the term loosely) how H.R. 36 still presents “unnecessary hassles”:

And a woman can’t start the clock by going to her abortion provider: She has to find someone else—another doctor or counselor—to begin the 48-hour period. Which means more paperwork and more money to shell out, which will likely extend the waiting period past two days for many women, who have to do their jobs and live their lives while also filling out pointless forms and running around to make-work appointments. Guess rape victims should have thought about that before they got raped.

I hate to be a broken record. Really. But all of this is totally undermined by two single-syllable words: FIVE. MONTHS. Someone has no problem waiting more than 150 days to get an abortion, but suddenly another two is a crisis? Way to carry on the “reproductive justice” movement’s proud tradition of infantilizing women, Amanda.

Virtually no corner of the pro-choice movement has given H.R. 36 or its authors and supporters a shred of credit for compromising with them, despite pro-lifers’ intense anguish over agreeing to leave victims of early-term and rape abortions unprotected. So why do we bother anymore? I first began wondering that when the uproar over this bill began, and since then it’s only become harder to deny that it’s time to re-strategize.

Granted, the basic driving force has not changed; the thought of rape survivors having to give birth is simply an emotional bridge too far for most voters. Polling shows that’s still the case. But the “save some now and the rest later” tradeoff only works if we’re working to bring the public closer to saving the rest while we’re at it. Does it look like that’s happening here?

If anything, it looks like the abortion lobby is working overtime to do the opposite. With the constant barrage of hysterical new claims that a concession to their desires is manifestation of right-wing anti-abortion extremism, they’re trying to reorient the Overton window of abortion thought so that the new “center” is further left than ever before. And judging by how many Congressional Republicans demonstrated that hiding and groveling were their first instincts, it seems to be working.

So again, why bother? If we’re doomed to carry the “extremism” label no matter how far we bend to prove we’re not—if, as Culp-Ressler inadvertently admits, we’ll “never be able to get it quite right” to the demagogues’ satisfaction—then why should we continue to preemptively surrender ground? After all, it’s a basic tenet of negotiation that parties should start out by asking for more than they expect to actually end up with.

The only way to counter this is to start working the Overton window ourselves. It’s time to be more aggressive and proactive in challenging the conventional wisdom on which abortion policies are reasonable and which are extreme. It’s time to risk some political waves to make the case that our fellow Americans conceived in rape are people too—not just in the blogosphere, but on the floors of Congress.

Make that case with a straightforward, unapologetic clarity that forces the mainstream media to take notice and expose their audience to the compassion and rationality behind a position they’ve previously only heard spoken of in caricature. This isn’t asking pro-life lawmakers to oppose or abandon good legislation for being imperfect—it’s simply asking them to orient their efforts to a pro-life victory more comprehensive than saving their own skin.

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