Abortion and activism
November 9, 2005 2:04 PM   Subscribe

People pay too much attention to abortion. I generally agree with this; however, I find myself championing the pro-choice perspective on a red-neck campus in southern Alberta. I am helping out at an impromptu table demonstration tomorrow and I need some ideas. What kind of info should I include on my posters? What questions should I be prepared to answer? Please don't answer if you are trying to engage me in abortion polemics, I will have more than enough of that tomorrow. Please do answer if you have serious issues you think pro-choicers should address, that could help me formulate my position.
posted by arcticwoman to Society & Culture (45 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Single mothers working 3 craptastic jobs trying to get by.

Babies crying throughout the night.


Statistics on low-income areas ~ crime rates?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:09 PM on November 9, 2005

Probably some statistics concerning how rare "partial-birth" abortion actually is, and why it's done? People are bound to come at you with the "sucking the baby out and crushing it's skull" thing.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 2:11 PM on November 9, 2005

They will probably also talk about adoption as an alternative - I always remember the phrase, "Adoption is an alternative to parenting, abortion is an alternative to pregnancy.

Also, some statistics about how often babies actually get adopted, especially if they're not lily white and from high economic brackets.
posted by agregoli at 2:18 PM on November 9, 2005

Oooh, and information about contraceptives and Plan B - a lot of people characterize them as "abortificants" when they really aren't.
posted by agregoli at 2:19 PM on November 9, 2005

How about trying not to mention the word abortion as much as possible and try to be more vague and abstract using terms involving women's health, a woman's right to manage her own health, etc. Growing up around pro-life people taught me they will instinctively react negatively to any type of coherent abortion debate. Pro-choice people are guilty of this too -- there's just too much emotion involved. You need to really go for the woman's health angle.
posted by geoff. at 2:20 PM on November 9, 2005

I have the impression that most pro-lifers (anti-abortionists, whatever) think that those who are pro-choice are pro-abortion. Abortion is a terrible, terrible thing, and you're not going to convince a pro-lifer that it's not murder. My reasons for being pro-choice are entirely practical (i.e., for the reasons that PurplePorpoise cites above and the health consequences of illegal abortions). Plus, there a huge women's rights issues here. Effectively, pro-lifers are telling a woman that they know what's best for her and more or less forcing her to have a baby.
posted by lunalaguna at 2:21 PM on November 9, 2005

Taking on the incredible rarity of so-called "partial birth" abortions is important. Oh, and insist on calling them by their real name -- "partial birth abortion" is not an actual medical term or procedure, it was a phrase the anti-choicers invented.

Also, I think you want to be very clear about pre-legalization abortion methods and statistics -- that is, how many women per year sought abortions, how many died and/or were injured, and how they resorted to doing it -- to show what it actually means when abortion is outlawed.

Rhetorically, be prepared for the gambit that the anti-choicers will likely throw at you in response to this: "just because everyone does something [i.e., "just because" women seek abortions whether they're legal or not] isn't a reason to condone it!" They'll likely think this is a very clever response that says something deep about morality, when in fact they're missing the point entirely about the central issue of safety.

Also, this may be different because you're in Canada (though I'd be surprised if the historical situation was dramatically unsimilar), but I've found that it's quite persuasive when speaking with middle-of-the-road/on-the-fence people to point out that here in the US, the movement for legalization of abortion actually came in part from some religious groups (moderate-to-liberal Protestant and Jewish). I believe there had been a University of Colorado study in the late '50s or early '60s about the occurence of abortion (and the numbers of deaths resulting from it) that had been the impetus.
posted by scody at 2:22 PM on November 9, 2005

I would again, suggest not talking about what agregoli suggests as far as contraceptives are not abortificants. You must realize that after the sperm and the egg meet, many pro-life people immediately think life. If the fertilized egg cannot attach to the uterus or whatever the contraceptive does -- many consider that an abortion. I'm a little rusty on what contraceptives do what, but you're not dealing with medical opinion but what people think is an abortion.
posted by geoff. at 2:22 PM on November 9, 2005

I agree with the rarity of partial-birth abortion. You can also get numbers comparing mortality rates of pregnant women who got abortions pre- and post-legalization.

Most of the challenges I've gotten, or seen given involve the whole abortion-as-murder thing, and the question over whether a life is being ended. Of course, these are the hardest challenges to argue; I generally say that it's not my belief that life begins at conception, and that while abortion is always a hard decision to make, sometimes it's the best or only course of action.

That seems to be the biggest misconception that needs fighting - you're not forcing women to get abortions, nor are you handing out "get abortion free!" cards willy-nilly. You're simply asking that each women be allowed to decide for herself.

And if you're feeling really subversive, get stats on how many Catholic (and presumably pro-life) women have gotten abortions. It's something like 40%.
posted by kalimac at 2:24 PM on November 9, 2005

Many people are very vague on birth control though, and the misinformation out there is huge. Preventing abortions is the best slant pro-choicers can take, in my opinion. At least this is ground you can share with pro-lifers.
posted by agregoli at 2:25 PM on November 9, 2005

Argh, I should've previewed. Everyone gives much better advice on dealing with abortion-as-murder, contraceptives, etc. Listen to them!
posted by kalimac at 2:27 PM on November 9, 2005

I always try to ask pro-lifers why they don't work harder to secure better, cheaper, safer birth control; help women learn about and use birth control; and support measures to educate women about their fertility and family planning; and support more sex education for adolescents. Progress in any of these areas would reduce the number of abortions, where displaying misleading pictures of dead fetuses really doesn't. It always seemed to me that if you want to see fewer abortions in this country, you should help women avoid getting pregnant when they don't want to or can't have a child.
posted by Miko at 2:35 PM on November 9, 2005

If they are against birth control pills/morning after pills because they consider them abortifacants, then point out that by that logic, everyone should be compelled to use IVF fertilization because fewer zygotes are killed that way than the natural way.

Otherwise, try to reach common ground with abortion opponents by stressing that if they're truly committed to life, then they should also be committed to more general measures of social support which 1) allow women to care for children; and 2) allows access to birth control.
posted by footnote at 2:35 PM on November 9, 2005

You're simply asking that each women be allowed to decide for herself.

Yes -- and keep on this response (or something similar -- such as "that's between each woman and her own conscience," etc.) when the anti-choicers start trying to bait you some "well, when do you say life begins?" off-topic screamfest. Don't take that bait.

And be prepared. Things can get nasty. I remember once doing a clinic defense against Operation Rescue in New Jersey in which a woman was going into Planned Parenthood to get a pap smear, and she had her child (maybe 4 or 5 years old) with her. The OR nutcase physically grabbed the kid and screamed, "honey, don't let your mommy kill your little brother or sister! She tired to kill you, too, but we stopped her!" It was the most vile, vicious, loathsome thing I think I've ever seen.
posted by scody at 2:35 PM on November 9, 2005

The Last Abortion Clinic is a PBS Frontline special.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 2:42 PM on November 9, 2005

arm yourself with facts. naral.org and plannedparenthood.org can help, as well as the excellent frontline special recommended above.
posted by judith at 3:06 PM on November 9, 2005

> What questions should I be prepared to answer?

Perhaps none.

Some people, though very smart and well-informed, just are not good debaters. If there is a group of you, determine who the best (least shakeable, most experienced, etc.) talkers are and make them the focus of all adversarial talks. If you're not one of the best talkers, try to always be with someone who is one, and make sure they do the talking while you sit out the debates and use your energy otherwise -- handing out materials, engaging in friendly discussion, and learning the ropes. You'll hurt the whole deal if you let your weak talkers go up against crazed, experienced, expert anti-abortion campaigners who have done this many more times than you have and who know the right tactics for winning street arguments and maybe even winning a convert or two away from your side.
posted by pracowity at 3:07 PM on November 9, 2005

Wow, thanks for all the awesome ideas so far, keep them coming!
I only have tonight to prepare (and I'm in classes until 9pm) so if anyone knew of any sources for that info I would really appreciate the help.
posted by arcticwoman at 3:10 PM on November 9, 2005

Just wanted to pop in to say good luck. Keep calm - you'll want to scream at some of these people but your arguments will be far more persausive if you stay collected and steady.
posted by blag at 3:14 PM on November 9, 2005

You aren't going to convert anyone. The anti-choice "movement" operates under different axioms. Your logical worlds do not intersect, there is nothing to talk about.
posted by phrontist at 3:44 PM on November 9, 2005

If the denizens of the campus do not take pride in the term "redneck", I would avoid thinking it. Being the last or only person to treat your opponent as an equal worthy of respect can go a long way -- particularly when there are likely to be observers.
posted by gnomeloaf at 3:49 PM on November 9, 2005

Debating abortion never ends well. Just remain calm, make your points, and don't get angry at people who disagree with abortion rights.
posted by gyc at 4:04 PM on November 9, 2005

phrontist and gnomeleaf both make good, related points.

First, barring the unforeseen, you're not going to convert any hardcore anti-choicers. Your aim is A) to speak to moderates who are open to hearing a well-informed pro-choice argument, and B) to provide a public face of the pro-choice movement to other students or staff who are already pro-choice but might have otherwise felt isolated.

Second, don't call anyone a redneck (or other names). No matter how much you get baited, no matter what names you get called (and you will, in all likelihood, be called a babykiller and/or a whore at least a couple of times), strategically you don't want to stoop to that level.
posted by scody at 4:11 PM on November 9, 2005

It depends what you want to achieve. If you want to inform people about it, then give them the pro life side as well- say that if you believe life begins at conception then abortion is wrong. Then you can say that for others, abortion is one option. Stress that reduction of unwanted pregnancies, better sex-ed in school, widely available contraceptives etc are on the right track.

If you want to actually argue with pro-lifers about it, then don't talk about a woman's right to choose. The logical, non-fundamentalist pro-lifers (and there is a logical, non-fundamental side to it) wont accept that a woman's right to choose enables her to take an innocent child's life. Instead, discuss the different issues and try to show them that at the heart of it both sides are trying to be compassionate and caring. They differ in what they think the best way to be caring is, and in whether or not the unborn child is a person that deserves as much concern as the mother.

Try to stress that you want to offer choice, not force abortion on every mother. It's an option, a last resort, but the lesser of two evils. Accept that the unborn child is a valuable life -abortion is not an easy option, you don't just have it and go back to work the next day. It's more than just taking a few cells out of your body. Accept that it's valuable, but say that at that point in time the life of the mother is more valuable because she has an established life/career/relationship/etc that will could be harmed if she gave birth.

Good luck.
posted by twirlypen at 4:13 PM on November 9, 2005

How many people died from illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade

I'm afraid it's not very compelling evidence.
posted by designbot at 4:25 PM on November 9, 2005

One interesting statistic:

This research consistently demonstrates a high rate of unrecognized pregnancy in woman who are just a little late for the menstrual flow. Some studies report a total pregnancy loss rate (non clinical plus clinical) of more than 50% (1 in 2).

In other words, more than half of all pregnancies may end in natural, spontaneous abortion (often without the woman even realizing she was pregnant). It's a natural part of the reproductive process.

The choice is not between "every fertilized ovum must live" and "killing babies." Even if you never get an abortion, chances are good that you have, at some point, fertilized and then discarded a partially developed embryo.
posted by designbot at 4:33 PM on November 9, 2005

You need to really go for the woman's health angle.

I second this. Re-frame the debate. It's not a political issue. It's a womens' health/public health issue.
posted by afroblanca at 4:52 PM on November 9, 2005

In other words, more than half of all pregnancies may end in natural, spontaneous abortion (often without the woman even realizing she was pregnant). It's a natural part of the reproductive process.

That's true. It's also entirely irrelevant, to both sides. I'd suggest you not use that "argument."

To a pro-lifer, the fact that some humans die naturally through spontaneous abortion does not justify murder.

To a pro-choicer, the right to choose an abortion would be no less of a right if spontaneous abortion were rare or nonexistent.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:58 PM on November 9, 2005

That's true. It's also entirely irrelevant, to both sides. I'd suggest you not use that "argument."

I'd agree that it's not logically decisive one way or the other.

However, I think it does chip away significantly that at the concept that every fertilized egg, no matter at what stage of development, is a sacred entity, guaranteed to become a human being and entitled to full human rights.

Fertilized embryos get sloughed off all the time, and don't even register a twinge on the moral compass. Dozens of embryos are created and frozen in fertility clinics every day. To a logically consistent fundamentalist pro-lifer, these acts should represent just as much of a tragic loss of human life as abortion. Intent does not make it any more or less a loss of life.
posted by designbot at 5:18 PM on November 9, 2005

designbot, most pro-lifers have a serious problem with those fertility-clinic embryos. It's just harder to drum up rhetoric for that than OMFG KILLING TEH BEBEZ!!!!1111!1
posted by S.C. at 7:15 PM on November 9, 2005

In talking to conservatives about abortion, one of the strongest points that is persuasive follows the principle of limited government. The government that governs best governs least. The libertarian brand of conservative agrees with the general proposition that the government should leave people the hell alone.
posted by megatherium at 7:23 PM on November 9, 2005

Emphasise that legality and morality are two different things. Would I have an abortion myself at this point in my life? Probably not. Do I believe that every woman has a right to make up her own mind bearing in mind her age, history, health and economic reality? Absolutely.
posted by fshgrl at 8:34 PM on November 9, 2005

kalimac and Miko make excellent points - abortion isn't necessary (in the vast majority of cases) if proper barrier contraceptive measures are used.

Bypasses the sperm+egg=soul thing, except that the really rabid will say that interferring with sperm reaching an egg is ungodly/immoral/whatever. One way to counter this is that the majority of sperm+egg unions are non-viable. They'll probably throw "god's will" in your face, though. Maybe, "Perhaps god *doesn't* want more babies sucking up the limited resources of this world."?

Stats [real stats] on the efficacy of condoms in pregnancy preventation may be helpful, and backup information to debunk "condoms don't stop HIV" bullshit may very well prove useful as some may tangent and attack you from that angle.

Good luck, and tell us how it went!
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:48 PM on November 9, 2005

I don't know if this is helpful, but as a pro-choicer these are the questions that always occur to me...
"Say a 13-year girl is raped by her father. Would you deny her an abortion? Yes? Good on you; I applaud your moral steadfastness. [If it's murder, G-d damn it, it's murder!]
"What if the pregnancy is guaranteed to kill the mother, and not save the `baby'? How about 90%? 10%?
"In the Bible, killing a child over one month outside the womb is punishable by death. Less than one month, no. Why do you think that is?
"Why does G-d kill over half of all souls created, before they have a chance to be born?
"What about cases where the `baby' will definitely die, and render the mother infertile afterward?"

More usefully though, I feel like the emphasis should be questioning whether a law making it impossible in all cases is the way to go. Sure, it should be discouraged, alternatives should be made attractive, etc. But making a hard, fast, inflexible law?

Please do tell us how it goes!
posted by Aknaton at 12:11 AM on November 10, 2005

Just add me to the camp regarding your use of the word 'redneck'. The fact that you can't engage the group without assuming they all fit the profile of a redneck, well, you can't really blame them if they're close minded now can you?
posted by justgary at 1:20 AM on November 10, 2005

The always excellent Bitch Ph.D. has two long posts on abortion (the comment count says 0, which is not true):
Do you trust women?
posted by hannala at 4:55 AM on November 10, 2005

Watch out with the "abortions mean less crime" argument suggested here. I suppose on a redneck campus in Alberta that might work, but it comes awfully close to "Kill the black babies before they kill us". I go to school at Wayne State University in Detroit that has a strong pro-life group on campus that has made abortion a racial issue; wherever there are African Americans, you need to consider the importance of the Baptist Church (and related denominations).
posted by dagnyscott at 6:50 AM on November 10, 2005

Accept that it's valuable, but say that at that point in time the life of the mother is more valuable because she has an established life/career/relationship/etc that will could be harmed if she gave birth. - twirlypen

Some related stats: Over half of women obtaining abortions already have children. And many of them cite economic reasons for choosing abortion. So in some cases, women are having an abortion so they can better support the kids they already have.
posted by raedyn at 7:03 AM on November 10, 2005

While I know you are in Canada, it would be in your best interests to read the majority opinions in the cases Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey to help formulate some arguments. In Roe, Blackmun's opinion will be particularly helpful - if memory serves correctly (and it had better, I've got a test on this stuff in a few hours, natch) he had the most medical knowledge of anyone on the SCOTUS after representing the Mayo Clinic.
posted by kuperman at 7:03 AM on November 10, 2005

dagnyscott - it's Alberta. There are more First Nations people than of African origin (sorry for the snark).

Being raised under economically disadvantaged circumstances has no ethnic boundries. As Williams states in Enter the Dragon, upon viewing the ghettos of Hong Kong, "Man, ghettos are the same wherever."
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:09 AM on November 10, 2005

Raedyn: thanks for those stats, I've bookmarked that link and I'll make a handout from it for next time.

I really appreciate all the ideas from everyone, I feel much more comfortable being here, and I feel like I know what I'm talking about.

Thanks for all the support! I'm sitting at the table right now and everything is quiet (but it's only 10am - and it's a long weekend tomorrow so a lot of students are gone). So far nor problems, the pro-life camp is set up right net to us with a big flashy display, but we have had quite a few people - men and women - come up to us and thank us for being here.

I'll keep you posted as the day goes on.
posted by arcticwoman at 8:56 AM on November 10, 2005

dagnyscott - it's Alberta. There are more First Nations people than of African origin (sorry for the snark).

I acknowledged that. However, consider whether you really want to encourage racism just to push your agenda. Personally, my pet peeve is promoting one vice to defeat another, like when a police officer said "It's OK to lie to your friends if it means staying off drugs"
posted by dagnyscott at 12:52 PM on November 10, 2005

Septic, incomplete surgical abortion performed by unlicensed "practitioners" using non-sterile instruments is an issue that everyone who wants to ban abortions should know about.

If the idea of women dying after a few days of intolerable pain doesn't faze people, point out how much it costs (maybe $100,000 per) to put such women in the ICU and manage their illness. That's your (and your conversation partner's) tax dollar at work.
posted by ikkyu2 at 1:23 PM on November 10, 2005

It went really well today. All civil, no name-calling (except for one email, meh) and we had overwhelming support from the university community. Like various people suggested, our best speaker was our spokesperson and she was even interviewed by the TV station. It looks like a ratified pro-choice group may be a reality for our campus.

Thanks to everyone for all the suggestions, I'll keep them all in mind for later actions. I haven't chosen a best answer yet, but I will.
posted by arcticwoman at 4:41 PM on November 10, 2005

Congrats, arcticwoman -- I'm delighted to hear it was a success!
posted by scody at 8:05 PM on November 10, 2005

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