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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Democratic National Convention: Pro-Choice, or Pro-Abortion?

Screenshot: Ilyse Hogue, who is the president of NARAL and the mother of an aborted baby,
speaks at the Democratic National Convention 
[Today's guest post by Acyutananda is part of our paid blogging program.]

Ilyse Hogue is said to have made history on July 24, 2016 as the first person to talk about her own abortion in a political party’s convention:
Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path. I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time. I made the decision that was best for me—to have an abortion— and get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community. [clapping and cheering] . . . You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are best for us. [clapping and cheering] 
Before I discuss the response of the convention attendees, which is my main point, let’s devote a minute to Ilyse Hogue’s rhetorical processes. First of all, she didn’t want a family at that time, a situation we are meant to sympathize with and that we can sympathize with. But does it follow from that that the best decision was to get an abortion? Had she had a problem about her pregnancy, she might have had an argument that the best decision was to get an abortion. But her problem was about a family, and carrying a pregnancy to term does not equate to having a family. It only equates to being compassionate toward the tiny child one has brought into being. There is adoption, there are safe-haven laws. So why she got an abortion is not explained by the family factor alone.

"It’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families." True, it is not. But then, who ever said it is? I have never met a pro-lifer who demands that any girl have a family. All the pro-lifers I know respect people who do not have children, as long as they don't kill a human being.

Now we want to look at what that convention crowd was applauding. And first let’s note that it is hard to estimate how many of the attendees were clapping and cheering. If there were two thousand in the audience, then it was not all of them, but it was significant. Certainly no one booed, though one in three rank-and-file Democrats (probably under-represented among the delegates) identify as pro-life. We don’t know individually of anyone who clapped or cheered, because the camera stayed on Hogue. Did Hillary Clinton clap? Barack Obama? Tim Kaine? Joe Biden?

Anyway, we can certainly say that Hogue’s remarks were enthusiastically received. But what exactly was the crowd applauding? The first burst of applause that followed Hogue’s remarks about the "tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path" might be chalked up to support for abortion "choice."  Some Democrats, in the past at least, have notably said that they personally oppose abortion, but that women should have the choice because of back-alley abortions, or bodily rights, or for the sake of "not imposing beliefs."

But what of the applause that followed Hogue's proclamation that women like her make the "decisions that are best for us"? Did the crowd applaud the decision-making power (choice), or did they applaud the idea that abortion is often for the best (as Hogue claims it was in the case of her own pregnancy)? Well, if they applauded choice, it was not choice because of back-alley abortions or bodily rights or "not imposing beliefs." It was choice because choice is likely to result in "the best" decision—it was because abortion is often for the best, or specifically the best for the woman, regardless of what it means for anyone else. That is what they were applauding.

When I hear a crowd cheering for a fatal outcome in a one-on-one contest—not a sober acceptance of the outcome, but cheering—I can only be reminded of the gladiator movies I have seen. But of course, that moment at the convention was in many ways unlike a gladiatorial fight. Unlike in those days, on this occasion the bigger contestant, the one who recounted her story, had not risked losing her life. An element of suspense was missing. But she convinced the crowd that she had risked losing what was "best for me." What she recounted to the crowd was a victory for "me." That 5 foot 6 inch gladiator had obtained compassionate care in her community—that is, the assistance of a squad of highly-trained adults armed with advanced weaponry. She had "faced the challenge" and won, and she announced to the audience and the nation that winning was best for her. The unarmed inch-long gladiator had lost; had not been invited to the convention; and could not be contacted for comment. What the Democratic crowd seemed to applaud was that the person who was one of them had secured what was best for her. History is written by the winners.

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