I’m no extremist.
I am among the 86% of Kansans and 88% of Americans who do not believe abortion should be illegal in every circumstance. These percentages aren’t from an organization like Planned Parenthood — they’re from a Fox News survey in 2018.
Even among people who share my Catholic heritage, 78% do not believe abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, according to data from various polls. This is likely an acknowledgement that the church’s stance that life begins at conception is religious dogma rather than established science.
Yet those of us who express views consistent with the 88% national majority are often labeled abortion fanatics, indecent people, abhorrent, baby murderers or monsters.
So why does this demonization of the majority view work?
First, through repetition. Loud voices in policy debates and in the media defend extreme positions as American, patriotic and morally superior, while treating the views of the vast majority as perverted, treasonous and turpitudinous. This happens in political campaigns from the top of the ticket to the bottom, and in legislative bodies on every issue from immigration to guns to abortion to health care.
Second, many of us, especially if we’re from a pro-life tradition, are squeamish about trying to thread the needle on this nuanced and deeply personal issue. Any pro-choice position is dismissed as “pro-abortion.” Those of us who speak out are called murderers and treated as if we lust after abortions like a blood sport.
Most significantly, this rhetoric relies on reducing abortion to a something that’s black or white, good or evil, a single-issue cheat sheet for voters at the ballot box.
Abortion does have a black and white dividing line, but it is not set where the pro-life movement would have everyone believe.
The meaningful break is between those who want no legal abortion option for any woman in any circumstance and those who occupy a spectrum of views on choice.
Pro-choice is Anita who didn’t do pre-natal testing because she personally wouldn’t choose abortion but who believes safe, legal and rare abortion, combined with efforts to reduce unwanted pregnancies, is the moral public policy.
Pro-choice is Linda, a devout Methodist who believes that life begins once the fetus is fully developed enough to live outside the womb without extraordinary medical measures being taken.
Pro-choice is a female OB-GYN I know who believes that reducing the rate of abortions achieves higher moral ground than jailing women and their doctors.
Pro-choice is Laney, a small government Republican who despises the idea of having state, local and federal government “in the room” with a woman and her doctor as difficult personal decisions are made.
Pro-choice is David, who fears that a woman impregnated during a rape will be forced to “prove” to a court’s satisfaction that an incident with no witnesses and no definitive physical evidence occurred.
Pro-choice is Gayle, whose daughter’s life was at risk while pregnant, and who shudders at the thought of having the courts decide whether her life was in “enough” risk for a legal termination.
Pro-choice is Bill, who suffered the devastating blow of his wife’s troubled pregnancy and recognizes that his pain would have been exponentially worse if he’d had to justify the decision he and his wife made to satisfy the state Legislature to get their permission.
While the pro-choice majority occupies a diverse tent, what unites this 88% of Americans is that we are all on the other side of that bright hot dividing line between pro-choice and no-choice.
So what is pro-life?
According to the postcards now filling mailboxes, pro-life is Kansas House Bill 2218, which requires that pregnant women must carry to term a fetus with anencephaly, a fatal birth defect.
Pro-life is Ohio House Bill 413, which states “to avoid criminal charges, including murder, for abortion, a physician must … attempt to reimplant an ectopic pregnancy into the woman’s uterus,” a procedure that’s dubious at best and may even be medically impossible, and in any case would place the pregnant woman at serious risk.
Pro-life is Mississippi’s Prop 26 declaring that every fertilized egg is a person, a designation that would ban all abortions, the morning after pill, and some contraception.
We have another choice.
We can choose a future in which we will be able to jail women and their doctors but abortions will not stop — the rate of abortion is actually higher in countries where abortion is illegal and those abortions are likely to be unsafe.
Or we can opt to retain abortion as a legal choice and work to continue the 16-year trend of reduction in unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
The majority’s squeamishness about making our views on abortion known has allowed lobbyists and politicians to create an evil strawman abortion fanatic to run against, and the success of that strategy has secured leadership and legislative control for the extreme minority view on abortion.
Voters need to consider that a pro-life vote, however nuanced it may be, is interpreted as a mandate to make abortion completely illegal.
I’m no extremist, and I will not vote like one.