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Tilting at Windmills

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August 11, 2009

A TALE OF TWO POLLS.... In mid-May, Gallup released a poll that found 51% of Americans calling themselves "pro-life" and 42% "pro-choice." It was the first time a majority of U.S. adults had identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking the question. Last week, however, Gallup released a follow-up poll showing the pro-life lead evaporating, dropping from nine points to one, 47% to 46%.

What prompted the shift? It's hard to say with certainty, but as we talked about on Thursday, it's likely the May poll was just an outlier.

Ed Kilgore had a good item on this on Friday

Even aside from the essential emptiness of self-descriptions like "pro-choice" and "pro-life, those of us who thought the May poll was an outlier seem to have been right. But I bet you're not going to hear nearly as much about it....

Similarly, Scott Lemieux predicted we'll hear "a lot less" about the August results than "we did about the May outlier."

Did this prove to be true? You bet it did.

In mid-May, the Gallup poll showing surging "pro-life" numbers generated a huge amount of media attention, including a lengthy AP story that appeared in papers across the country. The poll also generated stories in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the LA Times, and the Washington Times. The poll also got plenty of play on the cable news networks.

And what about last week's Gallup poll, showing relative parity between "pro-life" and "pro-choice"? Major news outlets ignored it almost completely. The Associated Press pretended it didn't exist. The number of articles published in major newspapers? Zero. Blogs mentioned it, U.S. News did an online item, and UPI ran a piece. That's it.

So, to review, Gallup results showing strong "pro-life" numbers are a huge story, even though the results were dubious. Gallup results showing weaker "pro-life" numbers are a non-story, even though the results made sense.

The "liberal media" strikes again.

Steve Benen 10:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (34)

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Comments

t'aint just christianity that's imbued with misogyny in this country, right bob herbert?

Posted by: neill on August 11, 2009 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Is Mika still claiming this as some sort of proof that the public supports Sarah Palin?

Posted by: Allan Snyder on August 11, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Proves once again that media is owned and controlled by rich Republicans! The myth of "liberal media” was obviously created with the aid of the media itself.

Posted by: Captain Dan on August 11, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

p.s. Can't someone be pro-life personally but still support a woman's right to make her own decisions, even if they oppose it? I don't see why not. Did the poll ask about that?

Oh, and someone can be pro-life and support sex ed and birth control as well, which I don't think many Palin type wingnuts would support. Even when it's been proven that abstinence only ed doesn't work.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on August 11, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

This is probably less a result of political bias than it is the result of novelty bias: the sudden surge of pro-life sentiment (as polled) to a supposed pro-life majority was novel. The return to parity is not.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on August 11, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

Consider who owns the "liberal media" - "follow the money" works every time for explaining all kinds of things, like why AP says "how high"? on the way up when their master Rupert Murdoch says "jump!"

Posted by: TCinLA on August 11, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

The use of the term "pro-life" very much stacks the issue in favor of that side. It implies that the other side is "anti-life." We should avoid this terminology so we won't be playing in their ballpark.

The correct way of framing this question is to ask, "Should abortion be legal or illegal?" If the question were framed in this way, I suspect the percentage favoring legal abortion would be higher than we usually see in these polls.

I refuse to use the term "pro-life." I refer to that side as "abortion prohibitionists," which I think is an accurate, non-emotional characterization of their position. I describe myself as a supporter of legal abortion.

Posted by: Virginia on August 11, 2009 at 10:51 AM | PERMALINK

Captain Dan nails it.
Out of all the myriad lies of the right, the Publicans, and the corporatocracy, the "liberal media" meme is the biggest, the most important, and the most successful (for its progenitors), because it's the one that enables and supports all the others. (Also the most insidious, for the same reasons.)
I'd despaired for along time of our ever being able to reduce the impact of that lie, let alone reverse it and replace it in the zeitgeist with the painfully obvious truth that the mass media are now, and have for decades been, the literal propaganda arm of the corporatocracy, and of the Publicans that are equally owned and operated by the firms and the most-wealthy.
Then came that story in which the fealty of the most right-wing media to the Publicans was made most blatant and undeniable -- the release of the notes from various "news" outlets to the So. Carolina Gov. (Sanford?) offering to help support his lies (about his affair, news of which was then breaking). I was hoping bloggers, at least, would start using FoIA requests to bring additional smoking guns to light. Hasn't happened (not yet, anyway).
It would be really helpful if someone wanted to take that on - and more so if a lot of someones (bloggers) did so (as it's very clear the NYT, WaPo, NPR, etc, will never do so). Still waiting.

Posted by: smartalek on August 11, 2009 at 10:53 AM | PERMALINK

Every day we see issues like this one, where the powerful entities who own and run the media from the standpoint of getting out their preferred message continue to do so.

They trumpet 'Americans against health care reform' when that isn't the case; they spotlight 'Americans are leaning pro-life' when that is no longer the case (if it ever was).

Talk about out of touch. They want to create their own reality, reality notwithstanding. It's really quite breathtaking. And more than a little disheartening for those who recognize what they're trying to do.

But given how entrenched these interests are, what can we really do other than blog and organize now and then? Is this a fool's errand?

Posted by: terraformer on August 11, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

Virginia, I tend to see re-branding an opponent's self-identification as an act of bad-faith. "Pro-life" accurately describes their position and is, interestingly, about as precise as "pro-choice".

The most accurate term to describe the pro-life side is arguably "anti-abortion". But they probably see that as hyper-specific—from their point-of-view, protecting life is their main impetus.

"Pro-abortion" is, of course, not very accurate as a description of the pro-choice side because, as pro-lifers often fail to understand, a large portion of pro-choicers don't really favor abortion in general, but only the legal opportunity for an individual to have one. No doubt, they'd claim that the difference is very small—but a lot of pro-choicers feel very differently. And, anyway, in the same way that that pro-lifers see the issue of "life" as central to their position, pro-choicers see the issue of "choice" as central to their position. Because of this, I believe both terms are accurate and fair.

Some pro-choicers have decided to regularly term pro-lifers, "anti-choice". This is correct from their point-of-view, but it invites the equally correct (from the pro-life point-of-view) use of the term "pro-death" to describe pro-choicers. As someone who is pro-choice, I find being called "pro-death" insulting and inaccurate. I don't doubt that pro-lifers feel the same way about "anti-choice".

I think as a general rule, even when self-identifications are propagandistic, it's best to accept and use the term that others use to identify themselves. It's civil, it invites the same consideration in return, and it avoids going down the counter-productive path of playing elaborate and ever-more distorting words-games with one's political opponents. Look at the stupid "Democrat Party" thing for an example.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on August 11, 2009 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

The correct way of framing this question is to ask, "Should abortion be legal or illegal?"

How about whether or not Roe v. Wade should remain the law of the land? I guess it's basically the same question, but last I checked, those supporting it still outnumber the ones who want it overturned.
Isn't that really the bottom line, regardless of one's personal beliefs? Like I said above, you can be pro-life or anti-abortion personally, but still believe that it's a decision for the individual. You know, personal choice, keep the government out of my life, those kinds of "conservative" principles.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on August 11, 2009 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, did you ever actually cover what used to be quaintly called "news"? From this sorta post, it's hard to start with lessons too basic:

When a dog bites a man, that's not news. It happens all the time. When a man bites a dog -- THAT's news, because it doesn't happen very often.

So Keith Ellis is right -- the emergence of a pro-life majority in even one poll, was news, precisely because it was unexpected, like a man biting a dog.

You're under the delusion that reporting "news" is about a continuous narrative of what is true, rather than a constant effort to report what is new -- which may or may not be accurate even at the time it is reported, and often proves to have been un-true as facts become known later.

But a man biting a dog is still the paradigm for "news", while a dog biting a man is not.

Yanno, this is why the famous insight that reality has a liberal bias is so easily countered by the way news is spun: you guys are fundamentally confused about what news IS.

Posted by: theAmericanist on August 11, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

keeping the gov out of women's lives and choices is exceedingly important.

keeping the opinions of dweebs like you and me, mr. snyder, is only slightly less so...

Posted by: neill on August 11, 2009 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

The most accurate term to describe the pro-life side is arguably "anti-abortion". But they probably see that as hyper-specific—from their point-of-view, protecting life is their main impetus.

Regardless of how they see it, it probably is the more accurate term, because a large percentage of "pro-lifers" are also pro-death penalty and raised absolutely no concerns over Bush's war of choice resulting in untold civilian deaths.
They want Roe v. Wade overturned, and they want to control women's sex lives(hence their corresponding opposition to birth control and sex ed), but they are hardly "pro-life" in general, and it's highly misleading and dishonest for them to use the term. Death penalty opponents and pacifists who support abortion rights are just as much "pro-life" as rightwing fundamentalists.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on August 11, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

You're under the delusion that reporting "news" is about a continuous narrative of what is true, rather than a constant effort to report what is new -- which may or may not be accurate even at the time it is reported, and often proves to have been un-true as facts become known later.

And you're under the delusion that when a "news" story of man biting dog turns out to be phoney or a hoax, that it shouldn't receive as much air time? Interesting. When something "new" turns out to be false, it shouldn't be reported. The People's Daily wants to talk to you.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on August 11, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Modern journamalism is done the way I did my lab reports in 11th grade chemistry. You draw your curves first, and then plot your data. If you want a really good grade, you draw your curves first, then you plot your data points, and then you take your measurements -- so you know what the values have to be.

They have a story, and they're sticking to it.

Posted by: Davis X. Machina on August 11, 2009 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK
Regardless of how they see it, it probably is the more accurate term, because a large percentage of "pro-lifers" are also pro-death penalty and raised absolutely no concerns over Bush's war of choice resulting in untold civilian deaths.

Yeah, but they could, and do, make the same arguments with regard to "pro-choice". To the degree that pro-choice is associated with liberalism, and liberalism is associated with big government, then—these folks would argue—there are numerous examples of how "pro-choicers" are not "pro-choice".

And, indeed, speaking as someone who's pro-choice myself, there's a whole lot of things with regard to which I don't favor choice. Yet I argue, and I'm sure so do you, that "pro-choice" is accurate with regard to the central issues involving abortion that pro-choicers are concerned with. Just so, "pro-life" for the pro-lifers.

Furthermore, it's really not fair to equate pro-lifers with those who favor capital punishment. After all, a big impetus for the pro-life movement is Catholicism, which is officially against the death penalty and, I don't doubt, so are quite a few American Catholics who are also against abortion.

Sure, the protestant Christian Right in the US can be fairly said to combine anti-abortion with favoring the death penalty. But I don't think it's really fair to characterize the nature of the pro-life movement on the basis that numerically a certain demographic dominates it. Similar claims could be made about the pro-choice side and then, from that generalization and equation, claims of hypocrisy could be made. I don't think that would be fair, and I don't think it's fair to my opponents.

Indeed, this trend of claims of group hypocrisy is unfortunate and unfair. We create caricatures of our enemies based upon a conglomeration of positions that individuals take, then ascribe those positions to some abstract "enemy", and then point our fingers at that enemy's hypocrisy and then equate the caricature with actual individuals and conclude that each of these individuals are hypocrites and arguing in bad-faith. When both sides are doing this, it's very hard for any productive discourse to follow.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on August 11, 2009 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

Snyder is simply wrong to argue that 'anti-abortion' is a more accurate description than 'pro-life' "because a large percentage of "pro-lifers" are also pro-death penalty and raised absolutely no concerns over Bush's war of choice resulting in untold civilian deaths. "

For one thing, this is a bullshit weasel characterization, "a large percentage". It's flexible enough to mean anything you want, from "some" to "a lot", but not "most", which is doubtless why Snyder used it: a habitual failure of clarity rooted in his unchallenged personal biases.

But on THIS planet, the largest single identifiable (and organized!) group associated with the pro-life movement is the Catholic church, which has something on the order of 65 million followers in the US, more or less: and THAT group is decidedly anti-death penalty and its leadership spoke up strongly against Bush's war in Iraq.

But you guys don't much like reality when it challenges your comfortably self-righteous assumptions.

Ellis writes: "I don't doubt that pro-lifers feel the same way about "anti-choice"."

Not quite so, methinks.

The thing about 'pro-life' vs. 'pro-choice' as framing, is that each side wants to structure the question so it favors their view. ANY alternative framing that seeks to re-define the structure is going to necessarily impose a new one, which is pretty much impossible to do without bias. It's not like this ground hasn't been plowed from every conceivable angle.

So it is certainly a distortion of the pro-choice view to characterize it as 'the party of death', as Ponnuru did.

But it is not exactly a distortion to characterize pro-life folks as opposing choice, because the essence of the pro-life position is that killing a baby is NEVER a proper choice.

That's why the bumper sticker reads: Choose Life, after all. It's a strength of the pro-life position that it is not afraid of what it is -- a choice, if you like, but what KIND of choice? Recognizing that someone can choose to do something evil (kill a baby), so choosing NOT to do it is an even more valid act of choice, is far stronger than the usual contradictory reply from the other side.

Pro-choice folks react, not so often by defending the choice, as by attacking that framing: it's not a "baby", it's a "fetus", etc.

That's the weakness of the pro-choice framing, and the origin of most of the wide shifts that can be seen in abortion polling over these many decades: overlapping majorities are "pro-choice", and yet oppose "abortion on demand", etc.

It is better, but less common, to find pro-choice folks (like me) who frame it not as "baby/not-baby" but rather as: who decides?

Even the original Roe framing poses a substantial and growing anti-choice bias as the "fetus" becomes "viable", which is what used to be quaintly known as "a baby". So the idea that "pro-choice" = Roe v Wade, is flat-out wrong, when it isn't an outright lie.

That's why Snyder is not just wrong, but offensively so, when he characterizes pro-life folks who want "to control women's sex lives (hence their corresponding opposition to birth control and sex ed)..."

Actually, the pure pro-life view recognizes that life and death are not things that humans get to control, in any ultimate sense -- as Tolkein has Gandalf put it in LOTR, there are many who live that deserve death, and many who die that deserve life: can you give it to them?

Sure, there are lots of techniques that give the illusion of control, and sometimes marginally deliver it: various methods of contraception, elaborate techniques of jurisprudence to ensure not only that just the guilty are executed, but that it is done fairly, somehow (like a lottery?), or even the Constitutional weirditude that surrounds the war powers.

But like some of us said about the Iraq war before it began, these things are easier to start than to finish.

Posted by: theAmericanist on August 11, 2009 at 11:42 AM | PERMALINK

@Allen Snyder If one is personally against abortion but supports a woman's right to decide, that is the DEFINITION of "pro-choice".

No one *wants* abortions - not even the women who get them. They are a necessary evil, like risky bypass surgery or amputating gangrenous limbs. It's dangerous, a huge loss, and always traumatic. Sometimes, it's also necessary.

Posted by: olivia on August 11, 2009 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

Starting today, I'll be using "right-wing media" to accurately and generally describe the MSM. The right wing has gotten away with calling it "liberal" for too long. We need to tell it like it is.

Posted by: cyb1851 on August 11, 2009 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK
No one *wants* abortions - not even the women who get them. They are a necessary evil, like risky bypass surgery or amputating gangrenous limbs.

I've come to quite dislike this sort of rhetoric not only because it's not really true, but also because it's partly a concession to the pro-life lobby.

There are many people, including many women, who don't find abortion so abhorrent as to equate it to "risky bypass surgery or amputating gangrenous limbs(!)". It is unarguably more unpleasant and intrusive than other birth-control methods, but to compare it to amputation is grotesque and unwittingly plays into pro-life rhetoric.

This is why I often call myself "pro-abortion". I've known women who have had abortions without a second-thought or the typical media portrayed emotional trauma. Certainly, many women experience it as both physically and emotionally traumatic. But to claim that all do and that—more to the point—that it is necessarily and inherently so is inaccurate.

If you want to express this as your own personal view, and as part of your nuanced support of abortion rights, then go right ahead. But stop speaking for all women while doing so.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on August 11, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

Allen Snyder If one is personally against abortion but supports a woman's right to decide, that is the DEFINITION of "pro-choice".

but I don't think the poll and the conclusions drawn from it took that into account, which was my point. And I think that this thread proves that everyone has their own subjective definitions of what these terms mean. I happen to agree with yours, btw.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on August 11, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Snyder: "when a "news" story of man biting dog turns out to be phoney or a hoax, that it shouldn't receive as much air time? Interesting. When something "new" turns out to be false, it shouldn't be reported..."

LOL -- I love it when you guys prove me right about how gobsmacking stooopid you are.

The news story cited was a mid-May Gallup poll, conducted like every other Gallup poll for the last God knows of how long, which was properly reported as reflecting an evident surge in Americans who identified themselves as pro-life.

Among a lot of others, Steve B argued at the time that this poll was simply an outlier -- that is, that it WAS a valid poll (properly conducted and weighted, etc.), but that through the predictable biases of polling it happened to exceed the ordinary swing of the pendulum, as is bound to happen in such work, sooner or later.

Snyder evidently doesn't know that this is what MAKES it valid -- not a "phony", nor a "hoax".

But that doesn't stop him from insisting -- in a remarkably fascist manner -- that it shouldn't have been reported in the first place. Why not? Because, presumably, people like HIM knew that it was false.

Except, ya see, it wasn't.

That's not how reporting the news works. In the olden days, reporters were expected to play it straight: if a guy bit a dog, you reported it, with the evidence -- here's the guy with dogbreath and fido fur in his mouth, there's the pooch with square teeth marks in a small half circle on his ear, and no doubt there would be some neighbor to say: "he was a quiet sort, always kept to himself..."

If the editor wanted a feature about it, the ASPCA would provide reliable quotes about, I dunno, the need to muzzle people, and surely somebody could be found to defend the inalienable and Constitutionally protected right of of humans to bare teeth.

Like I said to our host upthread, you're under the delusion that news reporting is a continuous narrative of what is true. That might be philosophy (from the evidence, I doubt it), but it sure as hell ain't journalism.

When Gallup's next poll found that the original surge of pro-life identification had subsided (although, significantly, it was still present) so that there was no longer, if there ever had been a pro-life majority, that was simply NOT news.

If you still really can't tell the difference, try actually thinking about it, for once, in terms of the limited amount of space in the paper: if the next poll had confirmed a pro-life majority, that would indicate a reaction piece -- here are two polls showing you're losing, NARAL: how does that make you feel?

And if the next poll had shown that the original surge had evaporated or even gone the other way, that would indicate an anti-Gallup trend -- are there OTHER ongoing Gallup projects which show similar swings, unsupported by competing polls?

Um, nope.

So you're left with something remarkably like a wash: one poll showed a pro-life surge, made newsworthy by the indication that, for once, there might be a pro-life majority in this country; the next poll showed a smaller pro-life surge, but not a majority.

A NEWS editor would move down the list, looking for Ben Bradlee's famous "holy shit" story -- like the famous fighting finches of Shelton, Connecticut.

Posted by: theAmericanist on August 11, 2009 at 12:02 PM | PERMALINK
Ellis writes: "I don't doubt that pro-lifers feel the same way about "anti-choice"."

Not quite so, methinks.

You're probably as little "anti-choice" as I am "pro-death". That is to say, while you may oppose choice in the specific case of abortion, you are not opposed to choice in general, just as I am not in favor of death, in general.

Furthermore, the use of the term "anti-choice" is not intended to apply exclusively to the subject of abortion. It's intended to imply that the pro-life movement is generally against choices available for women, above and beyond abortion. I happen to agree with the claim that most pro-lifers are more generally anti-women's rights but I don't use the term "anti-choice" for the reasons I described previously. Similarly, if a pro-life person describes a pro-choice person as "pro-death" they are quite deliberately intending that this be taken as implying something beyond the specific case of abortion—you can see this in how it relates to the claims made that the Democratic Party is the "pro-death" party.

Both "pro-death" and "anti-choice" are unfair because they are deliberately intended to say something beyond the specific subject of abortion.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on August 11, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

There are sorta two themes in this thread, which might be usefully distinguished: one is the silly idea that because a May poll that showed a pro-life surge had reached a majority got a lot of news coverage, the next poll that showed a smaller pro-life surge that was short of a majority should ALSO have gotten a lot of newsplay.

Folks who think this don't know much about the news biz -- and not in any ideological sense, neither. True story: many years ago, I worked for a Major National Figure, who said to me sorta casually one day that she had always wanted to confront Peter Jennings on the air about why he had not, at that time (he did later) become a US citizen. As it happens, Jennings had a pretty good reason he hadn't naturalized, and it was his private business, anyway, but I filed this away under Things the Boss Wants to Do.

Then one day, ABC called me to get her live on World News Tonight on a day the Boss was making a major announcement. I couldn't frigging believe it -- she was going to get her chance, on live TV, to challenge a major TV anchor quite literally on his patriotism. Visions of sugarplums danced in my head -- I honestly thought it would have been sort of unfair of her to do that, but I also believed it was between the foul lines, anyway, and besides she was the Boss, and, oh, hell, I'll admit it: if I managed to get her on the air to actually DO it, it would not have been a bad career move.... for ME. ("Yeah, I'm the guy who set up Peter Jennings on his own show, it just happened, really, and I was soooo surprised at the controversy: I mean, who expected an Emmy for the guest....")

The live interview was set for 6:35 on a Tuesday night.... until 4:30 that afternoon, when Mickey Mantle announced he had cancer. Somewhere, someplace, there is somebody with a similar story about Michael Jackson's death... or any of the zillion other quirks of modern media coverage.

So I know something about what "news" is, and what it ain't. A Gallup poll that shows a pro-life majority is news. One that doesn't, isn't.

Comparing and contrasting two polls MIGHT be news, as in an anti-Gallup story, or if there was a trend, e.g., if the first showed a big surge, and the second a small surge, and then (perhaps) a third showed the surge was continuing -- and then, guess what? You guys would all be bitching that Gallup (and the media) was missing the "truth" (a pro-choice majority) by reporting the news (a pro-life surge, sustained over three polls.)

But the other theme of the thread swirls around the language used to hide an unexamined premise: "most pro-lifers are more generally anti-women's rights".

I think that's a simple bias. At a minimum, to be "generally" against women's rights would require, I think, opposition to votes for women, equal pay, affirmative action, must-bust domestic violence laws and probably support for various forms of discrimination against women, e.g., health research that funds more for this than for that.

I think those are hard cases to make against the pro-life movement generally.

What you probably meant, if I had to guess, is the implication that pro-life people generally applaud the primacy of the role that women play in child-bearing, which tends to extend to a larger role in child-rearing.

The curious thing is how this undifferentiated bias (cuz that's what it IS, yanno -- a genuine bias against women who choose to interrupt their careers to stay home with kids) actually plays out politically, e.g., Dodd's Family Leave Act, which was for a very long time more or less an unwanted stepchild (to really mix metaphors) for the feminist organizations that defined themselves as founded on "pro-choice" ideology.

Another odd fact about it is the built-in Get Out of Responsibility Card Free that the pro-choice side carries for the often unmentioned FATHERS of the babies about whom the proverbial "choice" is to be made. It is an axiom of the pro-choice movement that it is the WOMAN's choice, and it is hard to see how it could be otherwise -- if the guy (who used to be quaintly called "the father") had any say in whether she had an abortion, then the bedrock (and essentially ANTI-Roe) ideology of the pro-choice movement evaporates.

But in practice, as zillions of pro-life folks have observed, this has tended to absolve men of responsibility for the choices that THEY make, placing the burden solely on the women involved. IF there is no marriage, no lasting relationship resultiong from the pregnancy -- well, that's HER fault, not his: after all, it was HER choice.

When contraceptives fail, or are not used, SHE is the one who still has a choice to make -- and to the extent he is not involved in that choice, he is not responsible for what she chooses to do.

Buy the pro-choice ticket, take the anti-choice ride. I know a new blues song "sometimes it's the baby that makes the man."

Angriest I ever got in an online flamewar was with a guy who insisted that men should have the right to "financial abortion", by which he meant that if a guy fathered a child with a woman who refused his advice to abort it, he should be legally allowed to refuse all child support.

But one thing that is never mentioned by the pro-choice side, are the fathers who who NOT want their babies aborted, but who have literally no legal standing in the matter (and their moral standing is not admissible, because, after all, this is a debate about rights, not responsibility) -- because, as Keith Ellis argues, the pro-life position itself is assumed, despite all evidence, to be against women's rights generally. Only the 'pro-choice' side is presumed to be FOR women's rights, generally -- and yet, damned few babies are conceived without men.

So what "choice" does a father have, in the 'pro-choice' view?

Posted by: theAmericanist on August 11, 2009 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK
What you probably meant, if I had to guess, is the implication that pro-life people generally applaud the primacy of the role that women play in child-bearing, which tends to extend to a larger role in child-rearing.

No, I meant exactly what I wrote.

I think those are hard cases to make against the pro-life movement generally.

No and yes. I didn't claim that the pro-life movement is necessarily and intrinsically against women's rights. What I wrote was that I believe a majority of pro-lifers are (at least somewhat) opposed to women's rights.

That may be an overstatement and perhaps I should amend it to something more like "a majority of pro-lifers are opposed to feminism".

I think there's a bunch of evidence for this, not the least are the political affiliations of both anti-feminists and pro-lifers.

Having said that, I make it a point of not arguing with pro-lifers as if they are anti-feminists. I agree that many pro-choicers do this...but then, many pro-lifers argue with pro-choicers as if pro-choicers were depraved baby murderers.

From my perspective, I acknowledge the anti-feminist motivations of pro-lifers when I talk with my fellow pro-choicers because a) it is a fundamental assumption of most pro-choicers; and b) it's useful to keep in mind when trying to understand the other positions that correlate with being pro-life—being against contraception availability, for example. Or having regressive attitudes about child raising, as you have.

However, when discussing abortion with pro-lifers, and also when trying to get my fellow pro-choicers to have more productive conversations with pro-lifers, I make a very deliberate and strong effort to take pro-lifers at face value and not see them as, or portray them as, being anti-feminists. I do this for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I, unlike (apparently) many pro-choicers think that the assumption underlying the pro-life position is an assumption that deserves to be taken seriously. Secondly, I do this because arguing with someone on the basis of all one's notions about one's opponents presumed biases and motivations is a great way of having a completely unproductive conversation.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on August 11, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing nefarious here -- it's simply dog bite man v. man bites dog.

Posted by: Disputo on August 11, 2009 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

LOL -- Keith, you're a posturing hypocrite, and illiterate, to boot.

So, you change what you say, depending on who you talk to -- because otherwise they'd be too stupid to see through you?

What a crock -- you're ADMITTING you're an asshole, viz., "I acknowledge the anti-feminist motivations of pro-lifers when I talk with my fellow pro-choicers because a) it is a fundamental assumption of most pro-choicers..."

Um -- and when it turns out to be wrong, what makes you so different from the average bigot?

Nothing, in fact -- because (as it happens) you also think "there's a bunch of evidence for this..." such as: well, what exactly? The "political affiliations" of pro-life vs. pro-choice folks?

God, when ignorance hits $100 a barrel I want drilling rights to your head.

The single most significant political fact about the largest bloc of pro-life voters in the country, election after election, is how torn they are between the priority they put on voting for pro-life candidates (who are almost never Democrats), and voting FOR people who agree with them on virtually every other issue (who are nearly always Democrats).

And you've never even fucking HEARD of this???

Face it, the reason you have experience with 'completely unproductive conversations' is because you're too chicken to tell pro-life folks that you consider them BY DEFINITION to be anti-feminist, so you pretend to be open minded -- and not particularly persuasively, either.

And of course, on the other hand you flatter pro-choice folks, by respecting their own biases -- for example, your hallucination that opposition to contraception is (again, by definition: you've literally never thought about it) is anti-feminist, not to mention that -- well, somebody like me, who stayed home to raise our son must (obviously) have "regressive" views on child-rearing.

Dayum, even by the standards of these threads, you're a sanctimonious knucklehead.

What I ACTUALLY said, for the ephemeral record, is that most pro-life folks (not the weaselly "a large percentage": more than half) are also conflicted by, if not flat-opposed to the death penalty, and the largest and best organized parts of the pro-life movement were also publicly against the Iraq war.

That's not a difference of opinion, nor interpretation: you stated things that are WRONG, and I corrected you.

Likewise, when I noted that you claimed that "generally" pro-life folks are against women's rights, I pointed out a fistful of examples that demonstrate that in this, too, you are WRONG: to be "generally" against women's rights would require opposition to women voting, running for office, equal pay, affirmative action, and so on. I noted that it would be a difficult case to make against the pro-life movement, generally -- and I further note that when challenged, you didn't even bother to make it, merely -- and without a shred of self-consciousness -- demonstrating that you like to talk to people in terms that (you figure) they want to hear.

And I'm sure folks appreciate your condescension for precisely what it is worth.

Again, what I pointed out wasn't a matter of MY personal opinion -- neither on what would "generally" constitute anti-feminist views, nor the primary role women have in child-bearing (um -- you weren't actually disputing this, were you? Wouldn't want you to miss the chance to show us how skilled you are at fawning to folks who make sense by making distinctions), which really does often extend to an unequal role in child-raising.

LOL -- and as for your hallucination about "regressive" views: the reference to Dodd's Family Leave Act went right over your head, didn't it? Hint: he introduced it back during his first term -- when I worked for him.

The truth is, as noted before, there are overlapping majorities on abortion in the US, as has been demonstrated by every poll done since before Roe: a solid majority thinks women should make the choice, AND a solid majority is uncomfortable with the "abortion on demand" consequences of that choice.

There is a very large, generally progressive group of Americans who are not happy with the unilateral nature of the "choice" that pro-choice folks defend, as if the fathers were not part of the conception and, accordingly, have no moral (much less legal) standing in the choice: a baby or an abortion?

When anybody speaks up about that, the most common pro-choice reaction is more or less what we see from Ellis here: open bullshit that reveals a bias toward the shallow framing of one side.

Honest, it really does help, now and again, to challenge your own assumptions: the first Gallup poll was news, because it was evidence of something unexpected. The second was not, because it wasn't.

Haven't you guys even noticed how thoroughly you've begun to ape the right wing, with the idea that "the media" is out to get you?

Posted by: theAmericanist on August 11, 2009 at 5:35 PM | PERMALINK

You're not doing your side any favors, theAmericanist. You're getting all agitated on the basis of a couple of things I wrote and then indulging yourself in name-calling.

You really believe that a majority of pro-lifers wouldn't also oppose affirmative action for women and equal pay legislation? I think you've not been paying attention to the people you're in bed with.

Note that I raised the matter of Catholics being against capital punishment before you did.

Also note that I've made it crystal clear that I, unlike you (as revealed by how you use me and your caricature of pro-choicers interchangeably), can tell the difference between making an assertion about the beliefs of the majority of people who hold a certain position and making an assertion about all individuals who hold a certain position. Many pro-lifers are, without a doubt, not anti-feminist. Maybe you're one of them. Congratulations.

While I believe that a majority of pro-lifers are anti-feminists, I do not assume that any given pro-lifer I converse with on this issue is anti-feminist. As a social movement, pro-life is deeply entwined in anti-feminism just as pro-choice is deeply entwined in feminism. But just as any individual pro-lifer isn't necessarily an anti-feminist, any individual pro-choicer isn't necessarily a feminist. Understanding the relationship between feminism and abortion rights (or the fight against them) is necessary to understand the whole context of the debate.

Let's look at it from your point-of-view...maybe you'll find that less threatening. When looking at the pro-choice movement and many particular examples of it, the relationship with feminism is obvious and important. Indeed, I don't think you could understand why there's such a powerful resistance among pro-choicers to even acknowledging the possibility that the status of the fetus could be of primary importance without seeing this intransigence in the context of political feminism. However, that this is the case doesn't mean that you could, or should, assume that any given pro-choicer you meet is a feminist.

As for what is clearly your personal hobby horse—the father's status vis a vis abortions—I don't have much to say other than I agree it's a problem but that I don't think it's of nearly the importance that you so obviously do. Frankly, it strikes me as self-interested agitation for so-called "men's rights" which I find tiresome in the context of how entrenched male privilege still is in our society. No doubt, this will incite you to more name-calling.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on August 11, 2009 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

Not at all -- you've established that what you say is not to be taken at face value.

But consider what you've said, anyway: the very idea that there is any other person involved in the "choice", i.e., the baby and the father, makes you mutter darkly about "entrenched male privilege".

Don't suppose you've noticed how you're digging a transverse hole, yourself: you're so grandly sure that you understand the pro-life position, that you've never noticed the rather large and growing contingent of younger pro-life women whose objection to abortion-on-demand is PRECISELY that it institutionalizes male irresponsibility?

Note that you've announced -- rather proudly -- that you shade what you say, and how you say it, depending on the degree of condescension you feel is warranted: to pro-life people, for example, you kindly hide what you really think about their anti-feminist ways, and to pro-choice folks, well, you happily encourage their most biased views since, after all, you share them.

Note, too, that I TWICE gave you the chance to actually speak to the particulars you so blithely passed over, namely what opposition to women's rights "generally" looks like, and a very specific (and on-point, which escaped you) political example, the way self-proclaimed "feminist" organizations took a walk on Dodd's Family Leave bill for a very long time.

So there's no need to add anything more derogatory to what your own posts have established.

Posted by: theAmericanist on August 11, 2009 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK
Don't suppose you've noticed how you're digging a transverse hole, yourself: you're so grandly sure that you understand the pro-life position, that you've never noticed the rather large and growing contingent of younger pro-life women whose objection to abortion-on-demand is PRECISELY that it institutionalizes male irresponsibility?

These "younger pro-life women" who object to abortion not because they believe the fetus has a right to life but because they believe that "abortion on-demand" encourages male irresponsibility exist mostly, if not exclusively, in your head. They do not constitute an argument for anything other than your need for clinical psychological care.

Posted by: Keith M Ellis on August 11, 2009 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

Dude, you need to get out more.

Most human beings have multiple motivations and layered perceptions, and most observers are comfortable with that, although evidently you're not one of 'em, doubtless because actually OBSERVING is beneath you -- suffice to note that there is nothing remotely incompatible about a young woman believing that conception = baby, AND that as a rule, conception requires the active participation of a man and a woman.

From that set of startling insights, evidently new to you, most folks recognize that when two people choose to act together, they share responsibility not only for the act, but for its consequences.

Going too fast for you, Keith? Any part you object to, so far? Do let us know.

As noted above, the pro-choice axiom is that only the woman decides whether conception = baby. Even in these threads, it is truly astonishing that it never occurred to you that mandating that women have the SOLE responsibility after conception is a two-edged sword -- and of course it is simply your ignorance that has kept you from the zillions of polls, articles, research papers, etc., documenting that there is a pro-life feminism which objects to the free ride for men that many find results from the culture surrounding abortion.

The (somewhat rationalized, but nevertheless orthodox) standard Catholic position that largely (but not exclusively) defines the pure pro-life position is that to be legit, sex has to include two functions: the unitive (two people who love each other get together), and procreative (the possibility that this union will trigger the conception = baby dynamic).

That you reject this out of bone-deep ignorance doesn't mean it ceases to exist, yanno. A smarter guy -- much less somebody with actual integrity -- would BEGIN your 'conversations' with pro-life folks not with the condescending 'Oh, I know you're anti-women but I won't say so because that would put you off', but with actually understanding what pro-life folks think, and why.

As noted above, humans don't get to entirely control the whole life and death thing. We have a certain amount of influence over it -- a true lifelong celibate won't pass along his or her DNA f'r instance -- but beyond the moral questions of contraception or fertilization techniques, the death penalty and suicide, it is simply a fact that technology cannot guarantee life nor prevent death.

Some folks find a moral truth in that: but apparently, this too is news to you. (Hell, the Gandalf reference whizzed right past you.)

So because most folks -- with a bit more brains and integrity than you bring -- recognize shared responsibility for shared choices, it has long been observed that there is a substantial and growing, younger group within the pro-life movement that regards abortion rights as a cover for men exploiting women.

LOL -- honest, you've never heard of this? Perhaps you should stop condescending to the pro-lifers you talk to, and actually LISTEN. It's not like this is news.

Hell, it was commonplace amongst mainstream feminist groups (NOW under Patricia Ireland, for example, NARAL under Kate Michelman) starting as early as the 1980s to object to the new generation of feminist women whom they felt were not sufficiently devoted to their particular image of women's rights -- who actually believed that the gains women have made since getting the vote, and equal pay rules, and affirmative action, etc., were not incompatible with marriage and raising a family.

LOL -- man, you really are a twit. You STILL haven't figured out why I mentioned Dodd's Family Leave Act, introduced in the early 1980s?

Posted by: theAmericanist on August 12, 2009 at 8:32 AM | PERMALINK

Continuing with your public education, there, Keith, here:

"Second, students are pro-abortion not because they don't believe a fetus is a human life, but because they're terrified. Every student to whom I put the question directly seems to know in her bones that abortion is killing. But for those who are pro-abortion, the alternative, having a baby, is unthinkable — they don't want to be pregnant, they don't want to be in labor, and they don't want to be a parent...."

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/feminism/fe0026.html

Kate Michelman, the former head of NARAL, still objects that Serrin Foster, the head of Feminists for Life, uses Michelman's own story as her inspiration. (Michelman was a single mother of I think three kids without any savings, income, insurance or a car when she found herself pregnant a fourth time, in the early 70s: she had to get her ex-husband to declare she was mentally incompetent to have an abortion.)

Foster's pitch is pretty straightfoward: don't women deserve better than THAT?

But ya see, Keith: you don't even know that people like Serrin exist, nor that there is a TON of polling data, going back decades, that place her firmly in the mobile center of the issue -- much less that her position represents the majority of kids from 16-20.

Bone-deep ignorance.

Why don't you know? You said so yourself -- you consider pro-life folks to be anti-women, but you're too condescending to be honest with 'em, so you don't listen, and guess what? You don't hear, either.

Posted by: theAmericanist on August 12, 2009 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

(snicker) Just cuz I'm feeling mean about Ellis's ignorance, actual polling data about youth attitudes toward abortion from 2006 http://www.religioustolerance.org/abopoll6.htm:

"When is abortion OK: The poll was far more complete than similar polls among adults. They proposed various scenarios and asked whether they supported a woman's right to choose to have an abortion:

88.9% supported a woman's right to choose if the pregnancy was a serious threat to her health.
80.9% if the pregnancy was the result of rape.
49.2% if the woman was under 18 and unmarried.
48.2% if the baby would probably have a serious birth defect.
39.8% if the family was poor and could not afford another child.
28.5% if the woman was married and didn't want another child.
Fewer than 20% of students supported the right to abortion in all six scenarios."

Got that, Ellis? Less than a fifth supported abortion on demand.

Even more telling, the Hamilton College researchers who conducted the poll (along with Zogby), concluded that the kids track adults pretty well: "the majority also regards abortion as morally wrong and would not concede a woman’s legal right to abortion except in extreme circumstances..."

So what's the difference between younger respondents and older ones on abortion? Older folks tend to be still fighting the 70s -- ya know, all that unthinking "regressive ideas on child rearing" crap that you carry in your head.

Younger folks tend to recognize that the abortion culture places the burden of "choice" on women -- which, startling thought, isn't how these situations arise.

Like I keep pointing out, there is a very large middle on abortion, which does not track well with the pro-life/pro-choice dichotomy -- less than a fifth of the class of 2006 polled by Hamilton support abortion on demand, yet about half describe themselves as pro-choice.

That's pretty much exactly where Feminists for Life and similar organizations live, because they add responsibility for men into the dynamic: and yet, condescending ignoramus that you are, you don't even know these people exist.


Posted by: theAmericanist on August 12, 2009 at 10:06 AM | PERMALINK
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