Friday, April 20, 2007

Framing the Debate [Jay]

This article in the New York Times online I think expresses some of the views many of us have about the ban being upheld. All of my favorite debaters, including Scott Klusendorf, will tell you that whoever frames the debate will ultimately win. Every politician that has ever run a successful campaign will tell you that the goal is to stay on your message and not allow your opponents to get you talking about what they want you to talk about.

First, I acknowledge that given the language of the decision and the alternative methods of abortion, the elimination of this procedure does not necessarily reduce the number of abortions in the United States at all. As Serge and Lydia discussed in earlier comments here, the overall landscape of the abortion world is relatively unchanged.

This decision does help us to start to frame the legal discussion in a new way. It opens up the opportunity shift the discussion from the “precedent trumps all” language of Planned Parenthood v. Casey to an evaluation of the current practices of abortion in the United States based on the morality of the procedures/lethal action against human fetal life. I specifically like this quote:

What the court really did, said Anne Hendershott, a professor of sociology at the University of San Diego, was reframe the debate about how abortion should be discussed.

The court did not talk about big concepts and issues like privacy, but about the small, gripping details of how abortion works, said Professor Hendershott, author of “The Politics of Abortion” (Encounter, 2006).

Focusing on such details, she said, is how so-called “incrementalists” are trying to chip away at the availability of abortion. These opponents try to make women, doctors and other health professionals talk more, in some cases a lot more, about the actual consequences and mechanics of abortion.

Getting past the editorial aspects of her determining the “big” concepts versus the small ones, the core issue is a strong point. For the first time the legal argument is shifting away from the question of “reproductive rights” and moving toward a new question. “What the heck are we doing?” Once that becomes the question, once we frame the legal debate on what are the unborn and what are we doing to them, we start to win


  1. Thanks for your detailed answer Serge,

    I have some more questions. Clinton said “Today's decision blatantly defies the Court's recent decision in 2000 striking down a state partial-birth abortion law because of its failure to provide an exception for the health of the mother.” Is Clinton flat-out incorrect? Could we say that it is not true that there is a failure to provide an exception for the health of the mother? Could we say “…the law [DOES] makes that [if her presence in her mother’s womb poses a SIGNIFICANT threat to her mother’s LIFE] notable exception.”? Does that mean that partial birth abortion is allowed if there is a significant threat to the mother’s life? Clinton seems to be saying that the new ruling does not have a health exception. Is Clinton, etc., talking about psychological and emotional health? Do we (pro lifers) mean that there is a health exception because there are other ways to save the mother’s life besides partial birth abortion? I’m still confused about this.

  2. There's a life of the mother exception but not a more general health of the mother exception. It could be argued that there is therefore no exception even if the method were somehow "necessary" (which it never is) to avoid danger to the woman's physical health which was not also a significant threat to her life. Of course, as you note, it would also not allow all the silly psychological health junk.

    I shd. note however that Kennedy's opinion seemed to invite litigation before a judge to allow a health exception on a case-by-case basis. That, at any rate, is my impression of what he said, though I'm open to correction. That isn't going to satisfy the pro-aborts, anyway, who want a blanket health exception with the abortionist to decide what counts on his own authority.

  3. Thanks Lydia,

    You seem to be saying that “There's a life of the mother exception but not a more general health of the mother exception” in the new ruling. Specifically, what is this life of the mother exception and what CAN be done (legally now) to save the mothers life because of the life exception? Are you saying that the new ruling does allow for “partial birth abortions” if the life of the mother is at issue? I’m trying to figure out what you mean by “There’s a life of the mother exception” because that statement seems to contradict what Clinton said. Let me put it this way. Would it be correct for us to say: If there is a significant threat to the life of the mother, the doctor can kill (legally now) the baby as long as the baby is not killed by “partial birth abortion?” Is that what we mean by “There’s a life of the mother exception?” I’m still having difficulty understanding this. Thanks for your patience.

  4. There is, I believe, a life of the mother exception *in the law*, meaning that even a PBA cd. be performed to save the life of the mother. As far as I know that had always been in the law. I know it was in our state PBA ban. But a life of the mother exception is not the same as a health of the mother exception, which was Clinton's point. Does that clarify?

    If people were honest, btw, the life of the mother exception should be pointless, because a PBA is never required to save the life of the mother. Even if someone argued that an abortion was required to save her life, that method wouldn't be. I'm pretty sure though that the life exception was stuck in the law from the outset.

  5. Lydia,

    You did clarify that for me. I appreciate that.


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