Abortion as a Poor Choice

Interview With David Reardon of the Elliot Institute

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SPRINGFIELD, Illinois, MAY 13, 2003 (Zenit.org).- As one familiar with the effects of abortion on women, David C. Reardon finds the rhetoric of "pro-choice" particularly hollow.



Reardon is director of the Elliot Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching the effects of abortion on women and society.

In this second part of his interview with ZENIT, the author of "Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation" (Acorn Books, 1996) tells why "pro-choice" needs to be re-labeled "poor choice." Part 1 of this interview appeared Monday.

Q: Why should pro-life activists start to use the term "poor choice"?

Reardon: First, this term accurately describes abortion. Abortion is a poor choice. Framing it in that sense reminds listeners of that fact. As noted earlier, the vast majority of people already see abortion as a choice that is riddled with emotional land mines and produces little, if any, benefit to women.

Second, abortion advocates learned long ago that if the discourse was allowed to center on abortion itself, they would lose ground. Their market research led them to realize that their appeals for support were stronger when they focused on the abstract idea of "choice" rather than the reality of abortion.

In essence, they have been arguing, "Don't worry about looking at abortion too closely. If each woman is free to choose, she can make her own evaluation of the risks and benefits."

This "pro-choice" appeal has proven to be especially powerful in our democratic and consumer oriented culture. But it only works as long as it serves to distract people from the question of whether the choice being offered is ultimately good or bad, helpful or harmful.

Using the terms "poor choice," and "poor-choice advocates" presents a direct challenge to abortion advocates to defend abortion as a good choice, which in turn provides us with opportunities to show that it is a bad choice.

Third, "poor choice" has an especially strong rhetorical value because it sounds so much like the phrase "pro-choice." It is memorable. It creates a mental link between "pro-choice" and "poor choice" that quickly erodes the value of all the "pro-choice" clichés. Who wants to be in favor of a bad choice?

I discuss how and why this poor choice rhetoric can be used in greater detail at our new Web site, www.PoorChoice.org. We also have Poor Choice fact sheets on the site that make it easy to show others why abortion is a bad medical choice.

Q: How will abortion advocates counter "poor choice" rhetoric?

Reardon: It's too early to tell. They might argue that a poor choice is better than no choice. But it's hard to imagine that they could gain much ground in the public debate with that approach. They might also try to show examples of women who will say their abortions were a good choice. But this is just anecdotal evidence, and we have just as many women, if not many times more, who would say their experience was just the opposite.

In fact, many of the post-abortive women who now work to stop abortion will also testify that for many years they too thought they had been benefited by their abortions. On average, it takes about 10 years for a woman's emotional defenses to collapse under the weight of her repressed grief.

But I don't think the professional abortion advocates will want to open up the debate to a comparison game. On an emotional level, the stories of women's grief are more compelling than those of the women who are satisfied with her abortion. On the scientific level, opening up the debate to a rigorous review of the scientific literature on abortion complications will lose them support, not gain it.

Refusing to discuss abortion's dangers has always been their main line of defense. This is why the poor-choice rhetoric label is especially effective. It is a quick, two-word challenge that we can insert at every place in the abortion debate. When we do this, the public's repeated exposure to phrases like "poor choice" and "poor-choice candidate" will erode the mind-numbing power of their "pro-choice" catch phrase and properly call attention to the facts poor choice advocates want to ignore.

Q: How effective has the use of different rhetoric such as "pro-abortion" or "anti-life" been in shaping public opinion in the abortion debate?

Reardon: I do believe there are some people, a small minority, who truly are anti-life and pro-abortion. These are either mercenary abortionists or zealous population controllers who don't care if women get hurt by abortion as long as they are either making money or reducing targeted populations of the poor.

That said, however, most of the people who describe themselves as "pro-choice" really dislike abortion but accept it as an "evil necessity" because they think it helps women. Or at the very least, they've bought into the idea that they should respect the freedom of each woman to decide for on her own.

When such a person hears pro-lifers talk about "pro-abortionists," they feel misjudged and resentful. The "pro-abortion" phrase may intimidate them into silence, but it doesn't call them to reflection. Our polls show that many people in this group will actually acknowledge the idea that abortion is a poor choice. Exposure to this phrase will not turn them into pro-lifers overnight, but it will encourage them to reflect more deeply on abortion and will open their hearts to regulatory laws to restrict abortion.

For example, I think this approach will result in widespread support for laws that would hold abortionists responsible for failing to screen women for factors that place them at higher risk for abortion complications. Since most women have numerous risk factors, such laws could radically reduce abortion rates. Most immediately, the assembly line abortion mills would shut down because they can't do proper screening in the five to ten minutes allowed for processing abortion patients.

It is my belief that in the short run our top priority should be to build a public consensus that abortion should be avoided as a poor option and allowed only when doctors know it will be safe and beneficial to women.

Since abortion is inherently dangerous and there is no medical evidence that it is ever beneficial, such a reasonable effort to protect women's health would effectively result in doctors no longer performing abortions. We would still have decades of post-abortion counseling ahead of us, but abortion will end if doctors are held fully and properly accountable for their decisions to abort.