Or, reason #62 of Why I Hate The Democrats.
I'm referring to the drive to "reframe" the debate on abortion. George Lakoff's ideas on how to present abortion in terms supposedly more palatable to the mythical center, though well meaning, are regressive and dangerous. If we fight on the other side's turf, with their language and their weapons, we can only lose.
As many of you know, I stand unapologetically on the militant end of the pro-choice spectrum. (Yes, I hate babies! Abort them all!) Abortions are a necessary medical procedure. In all societies, but especially in one without access to affordable, reliable contraception, many women will need an abortion at some point in their lifetimes.
I say "need" and not "choose". Yes, it is technically a choice, in the same sense that taking antiobiotics for strept throat is a choice, or using insulin is a choice when you have diabetes. Splitting hairs, everything is a choice. One could choose to refuse all modern medication, as some religions dictate. That's a choice, but most people don't exercise it. Unintended pregnancies, like strept throat, are a fact of life. Most women choose abortion in the sense that people choose antibiotics.
Women need abortion, just like they need reliable birth control, affordable prenatal care and child care. Not every woman will need all of these. I don't have children, so I don't need child care. Women who don't have sex don't need birth control. But these are all part of women's general reproductive needs.
Many women who need and choose abortion, by the way, are Christian conservatives who campaign for restrictive abortion laws and picket clinics. But that's another story.
The Democrats could stand up for American women. They could say, the government has no place making these intimate decisions for its citizens. Period. They could say, anyone who chooses not to have an abortion, that is their choice, but women must be free to choose abortion. Period. They could say, without access to safe, legal abortions, women die, and that is unacceptable.
The Democrats could stand up. They could walk proudly. Instead, the party of "reframing" runs alongside the conservative Christian agenda, panting and dehydrated, frantically trying to catch up. In sports, this is called running the other guy's race. It's what losers do.
Katha Pollitt addresses this in her recent column in The Nation.
In the wake of the 2004 election, Democrats have embarked on an orgy of what the linguist George Lakoff calls "reframing"--repositioning their policies linguistically to give them mass moral appeal. Prime candidate for a values makeover? Abortion, of course. It's as if the party, with its longstanding, if lukewarm, support for reproductive rights, were a family photo with Uncle Lou the molester right in the middle. Maybe if we cropped it to put him way off to the side? Or Photoshopped a big shadow onto his face? Or just decided to pretend he was nice Uncle Max?Please read the full column here.
In "The Foreign Language of Choice," posted on AlterNet, Lakoff writes that he doesn't like "choice"--too consumerist. In fact, he doesn't even like "abortion"--too negative. He wants to "reparse" abortion in four ways. Dems should talk about it as an aspect of personal freedom from government interference, and as the regrettable outcome of right-wing opposition to sex ed and contraception. They should reclaim "life" by talking about the fact that "the United States has the highest rate of infant mortality in the industrialized world," thanks to poverty and lack of healthcare, which are the fault of conservatives, "who have been killing babies--real babies...[who] have been born and who people want and love" and damaging their health through anti-environmental policies that put toxins in mother's milk. Finally, they should talk about the thousands of women each year who become pregnant from rape: "Should the federal government force a woman to bear the child of her rapist?"
George Lakoff is really smart and eager to help, so why does this way of talking about "medical operations to end a pregnancy" make me want to reparse myself to a desert island?
. . .
Perhaps I'm naive, but I keep thinking that reframing misses the point, which is to speak clearly from a moral center--precisely not to mince words and change the subject and turn the tables. I keep thinking that people are so disgusted by politics that the field is open for progressives who use plain language and stick to their guns and convey that they are real people, at home in their skin, and not a collection of blow-dried focus-grouped holograms.
. . .
Still, reframing proceeds apace. Hillary Clinton talks about abortion as sorrow, while calling on Republicans to join her in passing the Prevention First Act promoting contraception and, with Patty Murray, going after acting FDA head Lester Crawford for failing to make emergency contraception available over the counter. Howard Dean says he wants the "pro-life" vote, and before you know it anti-choice Democrats get the nod to run for the Senate...
. . .
There's a word that doesn't show up much in the new abortion frames: women. [Emphasis mine.] Maybe it doesn't poll well. "Reframing" abortion is actually a kind of deframing, a way of taking it out of its real-life context, which is the experience of women, their bodies, their healthcare, their struggles, the caring work our society expects them to do for free. Lynn Paltrow, the brilliant lawyer who runs National Advocates for Pregnant Women, thinks the way to win grassroots support for abortion rights is to connect it to the whole range of reproductive and maternal rights: the right to have a home birth, to refuse a Caesarean section, to know that a miscarriage or stillbirth--or simply taking a drink--will not land you in jail. The same ideology of fetal protection that anti-choicers wield against abortion is used against women with wanted pregnancies.
And please remember, as always, this blog is not a forum for debate on abortion. If you want to discuss the immorality of abortion, please do so elsewhere. Thank you.