A Tactical Pro-Choice Plan: Seduction Over Semantics
Want to politically-protect abortion access? Change public perception. Many pro-choice liberals have an awful appearance in public and in the media. Abortion advocates come across as irreverent and dionysian, whether antagonizing pro-lifers in public with verbal assaults, barking, or obnoxious music or profaning the magnitude of abortion for millions of women (The passion is commendable but counterintuitively weakens public estimation of the movement). Liberal politicians and media stars come across as pedantic and detached from the average American at best and contradictory and overly emotional at worst. In contrast, conservatives curate an air of respectability and craft slogans with simple potency.
If pro-choice activists want to make genuine advances protecting abortion access nationwide, they need to reframe their arguments and fix their public perception. Modern pro-choice arguments are generally unappealing, two-faced, and rely on assumptions and ideas easily challenged by those who see abortion as a moral wrong. In this brief article, I hope to sketch out a more classically-liberal line of reasoning that might suit liberals better on the national stage regarding abortion access.
There are hundreds of arguments against abortion. However, the average voter isn’t tuned in to the complex philosophical minutiae that compose academic footnotes or trite PhD theses on the legality and morality of abortion. The average joe doesn’t care about the scientific studies on epinephrine and its contribution to beginning consciousness, nor a Lockean approach to the ethicality of third trimester abortions in a Yale political science journal. Pro-choice activists must remember that seduction matters more than semantics. Votes, not supreme philosophical arguments, win elections and expand abortion access. If Democrats are going to advance in state legislatures and control the national narrative, they need to make certain concessions and focus on optics. Knock down the ivory tower and build a commons. That process begins with understanding the logic that typifies the average anti-abortion voter:
- A fetus is alive from conception.
- All human life ought to be protected.
- Abortion should be outlawed or severely restricted.
Although this might be controversial, I think that pro-choice activists should concede the first premise and try to answer the second. Sure, a fetus is alive at conception. America lacks consensus on the foundational premises concerning abortion. It makes dialogue toxic, and it’s not an easy point to argue against. Life is a difficult thing to precisely define, and although it's a twistable and circumnavigatable definition if you can manipulate academia, pro-choicers shouldn’t try to nitpick this point. To the typical voter, it’s doublespeak to proclaim unicellular organisms alive and not extend the property to a fetus. If pro-choicers choose this hill to die on, they’ll continue to get slaughtered in national debates on the subject.
Now, how to attack the second premise, “All human life ought to be protected.” Seems unassailable in the public mind. Pro-choicers must draw a distinction. Abortion isn’t the mere murder of life that cannot protect itself but rather is the severance of the life-sustaining connection between a mother and the fetus in her womb. That distinction matters, and it's precisely how to reframe public abortion debates. Our pro-privacy proponents need to cleave off the pro-abortion rhetoric concerned with trying to separate murder and abortion by arguing a fetus isn’t life or is a negligible life. Pro-choicers (now referred to as pro-privacy proponents) have to follow a new line of reasoning: the state has no right to supersede an individual’s right to bodily integrity (the right to control one’s organs and their products). If a woman wants to sever the connection between her and her fetus, she has every right to have an abortion to do so. Here’s how they should argue:
- All people have a fundamental right to bodily integrity (the right to control one’s organs and their products).
- A pregnancy concerns a fetus using the biological products of the mother to grow and sustain itself.
- Women don’t lose the right to bodily integrity when they become pregnant.
- An abortion concerns the termination of the consent of the mother for an enwombed fetus to use her biological products and subsequent removal of the fetus through medical or surgical means.
The logical path from the classically-liberal evictionist approach to abortion is much more seductive. If liberals can tap into their classical roots, their arguments become more potent. If you want to win the public, align with the values of the Founding Fathers: advocate privacy from a tyrannical government. Abortion should not be an act concerned with murder but with privacy. Change rhetoric around the abortion fight to a noble, limited government appeal: the state has no right to legislate how someone dispenses their organs or biological products. Champion privacy. Liberals must reformat their argumentation from “Keep your hands off my body, I have the right to terminate a fetus that isn’t worthy of full human dignity or value” to “Keep your hands off my body, you have no right to legislate on how I can use my biological organs or products, and I can remove beings that use said organs or products without my consent through abortion.” Is it wordier? Yes. More appealing? Yes. Could there be greater consensus? Yes.
This logical line changes abortion from a socioreligious issue to privacy concern. Rather than attempting to challenge the pro-life (often religious) values of abortion detractors, this approach circumvents individual social values and transcends the issue to the acceptable scope of government in personal life. In America, the average voter is going to be much more receptive to a liberty-privacy based argument than a value-of-life argument.
In short, pro-privacy proponents need to change their optics to ensure abortion access is protected nationwide. Avoid the religious aspect of anti-abortion arguments by making abortion a private, personal issue (personal to decide how to employ one’s biological products, not how to determine the value of life). Tap into the American tradition of skepticism of greater government control of sovereign individuals. America’s heart bleeds for liberty. Infuse it behind pro-privacy arguments, and I have little doubt the national abortion movement will continue to pick up steam.