Maddow Guest Harris-Lacewell Describes Abortion Providers as 'Termination Services'

That's odd, those describing themselves as pro-choice usually aren't this candid when it comes to abortion.

On her MSNBC show Thursday night, Rachel Maddow spoke with Princeton professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell about Republican Senate candidates Rand Paul, Sharron Angle and Ken Buck opposing abortion, including for pregnancies conceived through rape or incest.

Harris-Lacewell said this in response to a question from Maddow --

MADDOW: So what would be the consequences of having a whole bunch of new sitting senators, elected to the US Senate, who are opposed to abortion not just in all regular cases but also cases in which the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest?

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, I mean, I think we've already seen the consequences of having a significant portion of even one party, even the party out of power, with a very strong anti-reproductive choice agenda. We saw it for example in the health care fight where somehow, you know, abortion became the central issue in a comprehensive health care reform bill, the central issue became controlling women's right to choose, controlling women's fertility, not giving women the ability to control their own, but having the government do it.

So, I think clearly every time we move more aggressively against women's reproductive rights, the more that we will see the consequences show up in everything from health care policy to, you know, potentially actually moving towards reducing the opportunities for women to, uh, you know, actually find healthy, safe termination services.

As a conservative you get used to liberals euphemizing on abortion, to the point that when a left winger speaks with something resembling clarity, it's enough to make you catch your breath.

Naomi Wolf, author of "The Beauty Myth" and "Fire With Fire: The New Female Power and How It Will Change the 21st Century" and as staunch a feminist as you're likely to encounter, lamented her fellow pro-choicers' tendency toward evasion in a widely read 1995 essay in The New Republic titled "Our Bodies, Our Souls: Rethinking pro-choice rhetoric."

Among the passages I've highlighted --

At its best, feminism defends its moral high ground by being simply faithful to the truth: to women's real-life experiences. But, to its own ethical and political detriment, the pro-choice movement has reliquished the moral frame around the issue of abortion. It has ceded the language of right and wrong to abortion foes. The movement's abandonment of what Americans have always, and rightly, demanded of their movements -- an ethical core -- and its reliance instead on a political rhetoric in which the fetus means nothing are proving fatal. ...

Clinging to a rhetoric about abortion in which there is no life and no death, we entangle our beliefs in a series of self delusions, fibs and evasions. And we risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of life.

In the following pages, I will argue for a radical shift in the pro-choice movement's rhetoric and consciousness about abortion: I will maintain that we need to contextualize the fight to defend abortion rights within a moral framework that admits that the death of a fetus is a real death ...

Many pro-choice advocates developed a language to assert that the fetus isn't a person, and this, over the years, has developed into a lexicon of dehumanization. Laura Kaplan's "The Story of Jane", an important forthcoming account of a pre-Roe underground abortion service, inadvertently sheds light on the origins of some of this rhetoric: service staffers referred to the fetus -- well into the fourth month -- as "material" (as in "the amount of material that had to be removed ...") ...

In one woman's account of her chemical abortion, in the January/February 1994 issue of Mother Jones, for example, the doctor says, "By Sunday you won't see on the monitor what we call the heartbeat ..."

How can we charge that it is vile and repulsive for pro-lifers to brandish vile and repulsive images if the images are real? ...

We would be impoverished by a rhetoric about the end of life that speaks of the ill and the dying as if they were meaningless and of doing away with them as if it were a bracing demonstration of our personal independence. ...

After Harris-Lacewell's brief lapse into candor, however, she reverted to form, blaming the economic downturn for what she decries as harsher criticism of abortion from Republicans (click here for link to segment on Maddow site; Harris-Lacewell's remarks quoted below start at 2:32) --

HARRIS-LACEWELL: You've been doing a lot of history tonight and so I just want to pause and maybe do a quick history lesson here and remind your viewers that what's happening is, we're in a period of deep economic anxiety and often when America is in a period of economic anxiety, it starts looking around for individuals to blame. And sometimes the very best place to start asserting control is right in the middle of a woman, in her uterus.

... the search for scapegoats also extending to the first minority candidate of either major party, thereby ensuring his defeat in November 2008. No, that didn't happen either, nor does economic malaise account for shifting public sentiment against abortion (as embodied by Paul, Angle and Buck), a dynamic that long preceded the recession.

(After I mentioned Harris-Lacewell's remarks to a friend, he sent me a link to a great piece at The Onion, titled "U.S. Out of My Uterus," that dovetails with Harris-Lacewell's views.)

In May 2009, eight months after the economic slump began, Gallup found that more respondents described themselves as pro-life than pro-choice, and by the substantial margin of 51 to 42 percent --

This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

The new results, obtained from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50 percent were pro-choice and 44 percent were pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46 percent, in both August 2001 and May 2002.

Would less than a year of economic insecurity account for the shift? I suggest three other causes extending over the past decade, including one that occurred in the same timeframe as the Gallup polling -- increased use of ultrasound technology that revealed unborn babies to their parents as never before, widespread revulsion and a Supreme Court ruling against partial-birth abortion, and finally, Sarah Palin.

In a provocative Weekly Standard article in April 2009 titled "Honor Killing, American-Style," Sam Schulman elaborated on the "reaction of horror -- visceral, immediate, and continuing -- to the Sarah Palin phenomenon of last fall" --

We can understand it if we think of one particular affront that Palin presented to the best among us: flamboyant nubility. Sarah Palin decided to carry her Down Syndrome baby to term. Bristol Palin not only decided to give birth to her illegitimate baby, but may have been encouraged to do so by her mother. Babies are born in these circumstances every day. But in the judgment of our most worldly women and of our most persnickety men, these births, however commonplace, offend propriety. To have one such baby may be regarded as a misfortune; to have both seems like carelessness.

The unapologetic fertility of this ordinary Alaska family became an obstacle that prevented many from thinking clearly about anything that Sarah Palin might have touched -- John McCain, free trade, low taxes, the war on terror. A kind of honor-rage descended, and those whom it touched ran amok. And why not? In the language of honor, the fertility of the Palin women, mother and daughter, was shameless, and Palin didn't have the decency to be ashamed. (emphasis added)

That same Gallup poll found an even split among those most dug in on abortion -- 23 percent opposed in all circumstances, 22 percent not wanting any restrictions. Thus, a majority of respondents fall into "the mushy middle," as described by pro-choice defector Norma McCorvey, better known by the legal pseudonym of "Jane Roe" in Roe v. Wade.

"McCorvey still supports abortion rights through the first trimester -- but is horrified by the brutality of abortion as it manifests more obviously further into a pregnancy," Wolf wrote in her New Republic essay. " 'Have you ever seen a second-trimester abortion,' she asks. 'It's a baby. It's got a face and a body, and they put him in a freezer and a little container.' "

A "mushy middle" that discerns a moral difference between the single mother with too many mouths to feed who contemplates abortion after unexpectedly becoming pregnant -- and the teenage girl who wants a late-term abortion so she can fit into her prom dress. A broad swath of the populace leaning more toward the ever popular Palin and away from abortion apologists.

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts