Monday 7 March 2011

There can be common ground between pro and anti-choice movements - another Myth-Busting Monday

Every Monday EFC busts common abortion myths. Todays Myth-Busting Monday explores the concept of a common ground between members of the pro-choice and anti-choice movements that some people are on a quest to discover. While the prospects for finding the legendary common ground look bleak in the US it may not be too late in Britain, if only we could agree on just a couple of things...

Pro-choice advocates have been on the back foot in the US for some time. Many are tired of the war of attrition against abortion rights being waged in state legislatures around the country; they are concerned for the wellbeing of women attending clinics who have to run the gauntlet of angry, aggressive protestors and of those who stand in silent vigil and in judgment on them;  they are fearful for the lives and safety of clinic staff and for the future of reproductive health services. The response of some, including Obama, has been a call for an exploration of the ‘common ground’ in the abortion discussion, posing the possibility of a new kind of discourse on abortion. Explicit in this concept is the hope that a new kind of conversation could take place between pro and anti choice groups, one that is safer and more respectful of the others’ views; that shuns the polarisation of the debate; that is kinder and more productive; most importantly, one that would marginalise and disempower the crazy and scary outliers of the anti-abortion movement.

Recently some 'self-defined' pro-choice advocates in the US have been falling over themselves to try to make concessions to the anti-abortion lobby: calling for abortion to be ‘safe but rare’; challenging the common pro-choice wisdom that later abortions are necessary and legitimate; calling out their own colleagues for not sufficiently addressing the moral dimension of abortion, and thereby damaging the ‘pro-choice brand’; and, importantly, colluding in the use of  the term 'pro-life'. There has recently been a conference to bring together abortion providers and pro-choice advocates with anti-abortion lobbyists and activists to help increase mutual understanding. Many in the pro-choice movement are asking whether it is possible to be pro-choice and simultaneously to be prepared to concede chunks of women's abortion rights. Others are asking what they are getting back in exchange.

What has been marked during this time is that while the pro-choice movement has searched for a language that is conciliatory, there have been no discernible changes in language from the anti-abortion lobby. There has been no decrease in false advertising by crisis pregnancy centres; no support for women to receive evidence-based information on pregnancy options; no acknowledgement of a moral dimension to the pro-choice position; no fewer threats to abortion providers; no support for politicians properly to invest in support for parents who are poor, young, single or otherwise disadvantaged. Most markedly there has been no support for making abortion rarer by lobbying for funding of contraception services. In fact, as we have seen with attempts to defund planned parenthood’s sexual health and contraceptive services in the past week, quite the opposite is true.

If there can be any common ground surely it is that of information and pregnancy prevention. If the anti-abortion movement is not willing to support provision of contraception and can't even agree on the need for evidence-based medical information on which women can reflect in the decision-making process, many feel it is hard to see where else the two movements can meet.

Luckily the abortion debate in the UK is less heated. Maybe the anti-abortion lobby here would like to make some concessions to avoid it becoming so, and to join us in calling for brilliant evidence-based education and information on pregnancy prevention and abortion, and well- funded sexual health and contraceptive services for all. Then I will truly believe in the legendary, and elusive, ‘common ground’.

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