Ross Douthat's New York Times column today reacts to an MTV reality show depicting a young couple who aborted their child. He credits the show as a "victory for realism," in a media culture that exalts "choice," but actually tries to avoid talking about what is being chosen. Douthat begins the column:
The American entertainment industry has never been comfortable with the act of abortion. Film or television characters might consider the procedure, but even on the most libertine programs (a “Mad Men,” a “Sex and the City”), they’re more likely to have a change of heart than actually go through with it. Reality TV thrives on shocking scenes and subjects — extreme pregnancies and surgeries, suburban polygamists and the gay housewives of New York — but abortion remains a little too controversial, and a little bit too real.
Douthat here is getting at an important point in the debate over abortion: the pro-choice side loses whenever actual abortions are discussed, while the pro-life benefits.
Take the phrase "pro-choice." Not only do advocates often fail to address what choice they are talking about, but the mainstream media joins in this odd omission.
Look at the leading abortion lobbies and PACs:
- Planned Parenthood is almost Orwellian in its name, as preventing and ending parenthood is much of its goal. Those Planned Parenthood facilities that try to help with family planning while refusing to abort get kicked out of the club.
- The National Abortion Rights Action League officially changed its name to NARAL Pro-Choice America.
- EMILY's List has generally been fairly straightforward that it is about raising cash to protect legal abortion, but somehow it gets classified as just being a women's rights group. For instance, the Washington Post carried an article about the PAC, describing its mission as electing "progressive women candidates," and omitting talk of abortions. OpenSecrets.org explicitly leaves EMILY's List out of its "pro-choice" category, putting instead under "women's issues." The PAC, apparently getting on message, announced its new head in a press release that never used the word "abortion."
The pro-choice side talking about "reproductive freedom" or "our bodies, our choice," sounds to me like Southerners who want the discussion of the Civil War to end at "states' rights." They're avoiding the substance of the matter.
Talking about -- and especially reporting on -- actual abortions is good for those who want abortion to end. Often I think nearly any discussion of abortions -- whatever the tone -- helps make people more repulsed by them.
Comedian Daniel Tosh has a segment he does of abortion jokes. It starts with talk about the morning-after pill, which has killed some of the women taking it along with their nascent baby. "Talk about two birds," he says. He later explains about his girlfriend, "she's not pregnant, she's pro-choice."
I may be wrong, but when I watched this with my wife -- and both of us are pro-life -- I thought to myself, "even this helps our side."