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Saturday, August 31, 2019

Does a New Poll Prove an Old Pro-Choice Claim?


With a new poll out from two organizations called Supermajority and PerryUndem, Jill Filipovic says she has come to the conclusion that pro-lifers are pro-life because they want to control women.

In order for that to be a valid conclusion, the following pieces all have to fit together in the way that Filipovic says they do:

  1. The polling results that she relies on have to be accurate and fair. 
  2. Those polling results (showing, for instance, that pro-lifers tend to be less favorable toward the #MeToo movement) have to translate into the attitude Filipovic claims they do, "[pro-lifers] do not want women to be equal players in society." 
  3. The "they do not want women to be equal players in society" attitude has to translate, as Filipovic claims it does, into the position "Abortion should be illegal in all or most cases."
Let’s look at that sequence.

1. The polling results that she relies on have to be accurate and fair. 

"The survey was conducted among a total of n = 1,912 likely 2020 voters nationwide from July 3 through 14, 2019 using YouGov’s panel," the poll says of its methods. "YouGov’s panel" is the pool from which the respondents came. In statistics, I am a layman. But it would seem that a lot of our trust in the results of this survey would have to depend on whether the respondents who thought "Abortion should be illegal in all or most cases" and thus became identified as pro-life were really representative of pro-lifers in terms of their answers to other questions in the poll (e.g., “Do you feel favorable toward the #MeToo movement?").

If in fact there was any room in the methods for any sleight of hand regarding that representativeness, then I would worry about accuracy and fairness, when I look at the make-up of Supermajority. Cecile Richards came to Supermajority fresh off a job at Planned Parenthood where she had overseen the killing of 3.8 million unborn babies in ten years. Another of the six women included in Supermajority’s leadership list is still a senior adviser of the PP Action Fund. If we wanted to psychoanalyze motivations for discrediting pro-lifers . . . but let’s leave it at that. Let’s have some pro-life or neutral organization try a similar poll and see if they can replicate those results.

2. Those polling results (showing, for instance, that pro-lifers tend to be less favorable toward the #MeToo movement) have to translate into (reveal) the attitude Filipovic claims they do, "[pro-lifers] do not want women to be equal players in society." 

The survey posed ten questions purportedly designed to expose "inegalitarian views." Let’s take the example that I have already used of those ten questions: "Do you feel favorable toward the #MeToo movement?" The survey shows a tendency for those who identify as pro-life to answer the question negatively. But I find it hard to translate that possible tendency into "they do not want women to be equal players in society." In other words, if anyone does not want women to be equal players in society, I think that would not likely be an important cause, and certainly would not be a necessary cause, for responding "I feel unfavorable toward the #MeToo movement." A more likely cause might be loyal viewership of a news outlet that harps on the excesses of the #MeToo movement. I would definitely go along with the idea that unfavorable responses would likely correlate with affiliation with the Republican Party. But in determining the cause of those unfavorable responses, I don’t think we should look seriously at "not wanting women to be equal players in society." We should mainly look elsewhere.

Pro-lifers' responses to some of the other nine questions, on the other hand, I find more worrisome. And to tell the truth, even without this survey I would have suspected there to be a little truth in the statement "In the population of those who identify as pro-life, there is a statistically significant tendency not to want women to be equal players in society" – at least if equality is defined entirely in terms of money and political office, as Filipovic seems to define it. A great many pro-lifers are Christians, and among some Christian denominations ideas such "Wives, submit to your husbands" are still alive.

Let’s keep in mind, however, a point made on the SPL blog by one commenter:
There’s no evidence listed that pro-choice people are less likely to abuse or discriminate against women (rather, they just know how to give the politically correct answers to the survey questions) or [more] likely to vote for a well-qualified female candidate with good ideas. 
I said above, "at least if equality is defined entirely in terms of money and political office, as Filipovic seems to define it." Much could be said, for which there is no space here, about what I would call the pro-choice side’s one-dimensional definition of equality, and quality of life.

3. The "they do not want women to be equal players in society" attitude has to translate into (cause), as Filipovic claims it does, the position “Abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.” 

I have conceded above the likelihood that "they do not want women to be equal players in society" correlates in some limited way with "Abortion should be illegal in all or most cases," but step 3 is a causal claim, and to get from correlation to causation requires positing some plausible causal mechanism.

Filipovic's argument for a causal mechanism is:
If women can’t decide for themselves when and whether to have children – if having sex can mean being forced into motherhood – women also won’t be able to decide our own futures. . . . [Thus] If you don’t want women to be equal, a great way to force that ideal is to strip women of our rights to our own bodies and reproductive decisions. 
So to Filipovic, what causes people who do not want women to be equal players in society to adopt a pro-life stance is those people's belief that their pro-life stance will force women into motherhood, which will in turn prevent them from deciding their own futures. Has Filipovic discovered what would have to be named "the mother of all conspiracies"?!

No. The problem is that "motherhood," as Filipovic has used the word (see the context), means raising a child. Yet "Abortion should be illegal in all or most cases" says nothing about raising a child. Forcing anyone to raise a child is not part of the pro-life agenda. Filipovic is assuming that abortion and parenthood are the only options, but the pro-life movement has been vocally promoting adoption for decades! Thus even if some religiously conservative pro-lifers do not want women to be equal players in society, almost the entirety of Filipovic's argument for this third of the three claims on which her case hinges is based on a serious misunderstanding that she harbors of the pro-life position. Thus that claim becomes implausible. And all of the claims must be true in order for her case to succeed.

There is nothing in the polling data or in known facts about the pro-life movement to indicate that pro-lifers want to increase the incidence of unwanted motherhood, in the sense of raising a child. 

Now, it is true that pro-lifers do insist that pregnant women complete their pregnancies (and then, most of us hope, become way more careful next time). And pregnancy certainly has some non-zero effect on women’s decisions about their futures. But nine months of pregnancy is not the equivalent of raising a child until the child is eighteen. One or two pregnancies in a woman’s lifetime would not have the supposedly-desired effect of preventing women from being equal players even in a patriarchal society. (And they would not have even a trace of such an effect in the pro-life feminist society that many pro-lifers are trying to build: a society in which pregnancy, and child-rearing as well, are given all the rewards and respect that are obtainable in any profession.)

I think Filipovic’s "motherhood" mistake, taken together with the possibility that some pro-choicers simply know how to give politically correct answers, largely invalidates her argument. But even if we could not put our finger on the flaws in her argument, I would still feel certain that something must be wrong somewhere. Because I know many pro-lifers. And even those pro-lifers I know who would not consider themselves feminists are not pro-life because they are misogynistic. They are pro-life because when they see an unborn baby about to be ripped into shreds by a team of highly-trained adults, armed with advanced weapons and talking about "I'm gonna crush above, crush below," they want to stand up and fight for that little child's life.

Now let’s get to some underlying stuff. Even if Filipovic were right about pro-lifers wanting to control women, why did she say it, exactly? Why did she write the article? Is she an academic psychologist, a student of attitudes? No. As whenever pro-choicers have claimed that pro-lifers want to control women, or are anti-sex or whatever, the subtext is obviously "The pro-life position is wrong and the pro-choice position is right."

But in relation to that claim, Filipovic’s piece is nothing but an ad hominem argument. To establish that the pro-life position is wrong and the pro-choice position is right, you have to deal with arguments, not personalities. And even if it were possible to show that the pro-life position is wrong by showing something about its proponents (i.e., even if there can be any validity in an ad hominem argument), what you would have to do would not be to establish something negative about pro-lifers as a population, but to establish something negative about the very purest person who advocates the pro-life position – you would have to successfully impugn the character of the Mildred Jeffersons, not of the Roy Moores.

[Today's guest post by Acyutananda is part of our paid blogging program.]

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