Abortion Developments: Two Views Print
By Austin Ruse and Dorothy Warner   
Friday, 25 February 2011

Editor’s note: Former Catholics for a Free Choice president Frances Kissling seemed to make some large concessions to pro-lifers in  recent Washington Post column. Our two commentators think there's less there than meets the eye.

The Great Kissling “Compromise” 

By Austin Ruse 

Francis Kissling, the former president of Catholics for a Free Choice, wants to compromise on abortion. Starting some years ago Kissling began talking about how her pro-choice allies need to show greater respect for what she calls “fetal life,” which she distinguishes from “human life.” She fleshed out her arguments this week in a column published in the Washington Post.

Kissling regrets that pro-abortionists have lost rhetorical ground to pro-lifers and that pro-lifers “have succeeded in swinging public opinion to their side.” She accuses her side of being mired in the arguments of 1973, that “abortion is a private decision and that state has no power over a women’s body . . . . Those arguments may have worked in the 1970's, but today, they are failing us.”

Kissling recognizes the abortion rights movement is in deep trouble: “The pro-choice brand has eroded considerably.” The segment of Americans describing themselves as pro-choice has dropped from 56 percent in 1995 to 45 percent today. And pro-life legislation is on the march across the country and in Congress.

According to Kissling, pro-choicers “can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible” and that “we must end the fiction that an abortion at twenty-six weeks is no different from one at six weeks.” She argues, “the fetus may not have a right to life, and its value may not be equal to that of the pregnant woman, but ending the life of a fetus is not a morally insignificant event.”

The prudent move and compromise now is: “to firmly and clearly reject post-viability abortions except in extreme cases. Exceptions include when the woman's life is at immediate risk; when the fetus suffers from conditions that are incompatible with a good quality of life; or when the woman's health is seriously threatened by a medical or psychological condition that continued pregnancy will exacerbate. We should regulate post-viability abortion to include the confirmation of those conditions by medical or psychiatric specialists.”

What caused such a change in Kissling? In a Bloggingheads interview last November with Slate’s Will Saletan, Kissling explained:

I know a number of people in the Catholic community who were moderately pro-choice that went over the edge and became completely anti-abortion in the wake of the last seven years debate over what was called partial-birth abortion and reacted very strongly to what they saw on the pro-choice side as a kind of absolute callousness towards fetal life. Those are the people, along with those who go back and forth, that I am interested in. There is either going to be a continuing battle between the extremes or a compromise is made that isolates one of the two ends of the pole that makes them inoperative in the political arena.

 Perhaps Kissling thinks this change is the right thing to do. That is what she says, anyway. She also sees a tactical advantage to being seen as moving to the middle. But is she moving to the middle? Are Kissling’s proposals, in fact, much different than the existing abortion regime?

In Roe v. Wade, the Court ruled that abortion must be permitted for any reason a woman chooses until the child becomes viable. After viability, abortion must still be permitted if an abortion doctor deems the abortion necessary to protect a woman’s “health.” Kissling is fully on board with this. Her “compromise” may touch on the definition of health.

On the same day Roe was handed down, the Court also ruled in the Doe v. Bolton decision that health is defined as “all factors – physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age – relevant to the well-being of the patient.” This overly broad definition gave us what can only be regarded as abortion on demand. Kissling seems to want to tighten this up – ever so slightly. 

Kissling and Saletan, however, consider this a remarkable breakthrough. And quite frankly, most pro-lifers would be happy to tighten up the health exception, even slightly. But it’s hardly a breakthrough, since there’s nothing concrete here that would restrict abortion at all. And one thing Kissling has not been willing to say is that in order to achieve even this slight change, the Court would have to overturn Doe. Is she ready publicly to say that? Now, that would be something.

Kissling is actually quite late to the pro-choice-let’s-care-about-the-fetus party. Fifteen years ago, pro-choice author Naomi Wolf made national news by proclaiming the fetus is “fully human.” Kissling doesn't even concede the Wolf position. She doesn’t believe the fetus is human life.

Here is what Kissling is looking at – and why she’s talking about “compromise.” Sixty-one percent of Americans say abortion should be illegal after the fetal heartbeat has begun, which occurs in the first month of pregnancy. Seventy-two percent say abortion should be illegal after the first three months of pregnancy. Eighty-six percent say abortion should be illegal after six months.

Pro-life legislation is on the march across the country and in Congress. Kissling is the in the middle of a giant tsunami and she is reaching out for any flotation device to keep her entire enterprise from drowning. Pro-lifers should happily accept her latest offer – and move on to the next steps.

Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washinton, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.


“More Visible Than Ever” 

By Dorothy Warner 

There is such a thing as a slippery slope, and Francis Kissling is on it.

As Austin Ruse notes above, Kissling – former head of the so-called “Catholics for Choice,” but now a visiting scholar in bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania – has recently conceded that “the 'pro-choice' brand has eroded considerably.” Leaving aside the implication that a life-and-death moral issue is akin to a marketing strategy, the woman has a point. A nation that was once majority pro-abortion is now majority pro-life.

The pro-abortion side, Kissling despairs, is “stuck in a time warp,” acting as though what they knew in 1973 still applies in 2011: “The fetus is more visible than ever before, and the abortion-rights movement needs to accept its existence and its value. It may not have a right to life, and its value may not be equal to that of the pregnant woman, but ending the life of a fetus is not a morally insignificant event.” Kissling concedes what most Americans have known all along: “Abortion is not merely a medical matter, and there is an unintended coarseness in claiming that it is.” 

But what does it mean to say that the fetus is “more visible then ever before”? Kissling does not elaborate – and for good reason. We can assume she means that ultrasound technology has made it possible for a pregnant woman to see her pre-born child. And you don’t need to visit self-proclaimed pro-life websites to learn about how quickly – and marvelously – a fetus develops. Even straight secular sources such as the National Geographic Channel website allow provide “in-the-womb” pictures of fetuses at six weeks. There they are, large as life, rapidly forming into recognizable human babies. They are not “blobs of tissue,” as we’ve often been told, at all. They never were. 

And for young men and women now of childbearing age, in utero pictures are not just on websites. Many of those men and women were born after such technology became widely available. Their mothers had ultrasound images taken and printed. And their mothers kept those images, and put them in baby books or keepsake boxes. So these people have seen in utero images of themselves. This glimpse of ourselves at the earliest stages of life is not an abstraction – not an erosion of pro-abortion branding – this is reality. The blurry image on that old shiny scrap of paper is now a walking, breathing, twenty-something human being.

These days the “visibility” even goes quite a bit further. Visit the social networking page of almost any expectant mom and there will be ultrasound images. Visit the page a few months later, and there are baby pictures. Kissling is spot-on: “abortion is not merely a medical matter.”

The visiting scholar in bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania has apparently discovered that post-viability abortions are no longer justifiable. Or maybe they are. The arguments either way seem deliberately ambiguous for an alleged expert in bioethics. She wants to “firmly and clearly” reject post-viability abortion in all but the extreme cases: “when the woman's life is at immediate risk; when the fetus suffers from conditions that are incompatible with a good quality of life; or when the woman's health is seriously threatened by a medical or psychological condition that continued pregnancy will exacerbate.” For this, “medical or psychiatric specialists” would provide professional confirmation.

Kissling here is caught in the usual pro-abortion web: That is to say, late term abortions are not to be allowed, except when they are allowed. And, of course, there is no comment on the training, perspective, or profit motive of the “specialists.” 

Women seeking second-term abortions, she says:

generally have special needs and would be helped by more extensive counseling than that available at most abortion clinics. Women who discover their fetuses have anomalies, teens who did not recognize they were pregnant, women who could not make up their minds - these are not routine circumstances. Mandating and funding non-directive counseling on all options is a good thing.
Now, “non-directive” counselors appear, but from where? And don’t we already know from sad experience where such “non-directive” counselors usually direct people under duress. Were this not such a grave moral issue, one almost has to chuckle at the thought that women “who cannot make up their minds” fall into the category of “not routine.”

But in the end, there is reason for pro-lifers to welcome Kissling's comments. She and her allies have not been converted. They’re running scared. The pictures are there for all the world to see: “The fetus is more visible than ever before.” 

Dorothy Warner is a writer and homeschool mother living in Rockville Maryland.
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