William Saletan is, like, really worried about viable fetuses. So much so that he’d rather plunge pro-choice activists into philosophical debates about the sanctity of post-viability fetal life than grapple with extremist right-wing legislation that threatens women’s access to first-trimester abortion. A few days ago, Saletan published a round-up of pro-choice responses to his question about the morality of unrestricted abortion in the wake of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s indictment. He asks:
Gosnell stands charged with abortions beyond the 24-week gestational limit prescribed by Pennsylvania law. … I agree with you on most abortion policy questions. Contraception or abstinence is best, emergency contraception is next best, early abortion is next best, and we should make these options more accessible, not less. But we’ll still be left with some women who, for no medical reason, have run out the clock, even to the point of viability. Should their abortion requests be granted anyway?
Several feminists answered Saletan—a majority of whom firmly asserted their continued “absolutism,” as Saletan’s previous Gosnell-related piece deemed the opinions of those who advocate for abortion sans restrictions. I was disheartened to see Jill Filipovic’s reply, to a certain extent, fall into step with Saletan’s opposition to late-term abortion. But, unlike Saletan’s other respondents, Filipovic’s contribution speaks directly to the criminal justice system’s handling of Dr. Gosnell and reflects her legal training. Nevertheless, she poses an important question to Saletan:
If you agree that accessibility and contraception access and education are all key to decreasing the number of second-trimester abortions, why aren’t you doing the legwork of advocating for those things, instead of challenging pro-choicers to debate largely theoretical questions whose answers don’t have much real-world impact anyway?
In turn, he smugly hyperlinks to five or six articles he’s authored about the right’s aversion to contraception and promises “to stay on this topic” because “a pro-life concession on contraception would prevent way more abortion than a pro-choice concession on second-trimester restrictions.” Admittedly, I’m not entirely familiar with Saletan’s oeuvre, and I’m sure as heck glad that he’s on board when it comes to non-procreative sex. But, last time I checked, we’re at war, as evidenced first and foremost in the world of social media by Sady Doyle’s second round of Twitter take-down via #DearJohn. So, remind me again: Why are we wasting precious time arguing about a procedure that’s already illegal?
(Not that I think it should be. In my oh-so-absolutist opinion, the line in the sand is birth. Because I trust women, and I value women’s lives and their bodies and all of the painstaking responsibility, privilege, joy, and outright bullshit that comes down on you when you’re born with the capacity to gestate babies.)
As it stands, “pragmatists” like Saletan have their way. But, apparently, that’s not enough. And it likely won’t be enough until “absolutists” bow down to the “no-brainer” notion that 24 weeks is the most sensible line in the sand.
In light of this stalemate, I have a very simple request. LET’S PUT IT ASIDE FOR NOW. PLEASE. Basically, I’m imploring “pragmatist” allies to use their powers of moral outrage for good instead of evil. It’s really not hard to see that H.R. 3 is totally fucked up. So get on over to Tiger Beatdown and read Sady Doyle’s action plan, load your Twitter feed and join the virtual protest, contact your representative and tell her or him to vote “no” on H.R. 3. For new Twitter users, I recommend Deanna Zandt’s beginner’s guide to using #DearJohn.
If Saletan means what he writes, if he believes in accessibility and worries about slippery slopes, then he and others like him should be with us, not against us.