Monday, September 28, 2015

Abortion exceptionalism

The Norse goddess Freyja in her cat-drawn chariot, by Nils Blommér, with angels, not babies, 1851. Via Wiktionary.

Of course I've believed for a long time that most Americans think abortion is a bad thing that should probably be illegal or severely restricted with certain key exceptions, such as in the event of a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or one that endangers the pregnant woman's life or health or if the pregnant person is the respondent or the respondent's girlfriend, or wife, or daughter, in which case they obviously wouldn't want to have an abortion unless they had a pretty good reason, would they? I mean it's not like when one of those sluts wants one, is it?

In other words, they're against abortion except when it happens in the real world, in which case they have some understanding for what is going on. They're American abortion exceptionalists.

But I haven't really seen much in the way of solid evidence for this, except in the way the conservative faction tends to distort the data we do have, until over the weekend, when my favorite radio show broadcast an interview with a pollster, Tresa Undem, who has worked on the gathering of non-quantitative data on abortion, and explains pretty clearly that the poll questions are designed to obscure the ambivalence of individual subjects and force them into a doctrinaire position they don't believe in at all, and to to paper over the ignorance of vast numbers of subjects who have no idea what the actual legal situation is in their state. But it's not that they're dumb, either: a lot of the problem is that the average poll taker is too dumb to engage with how smart, nuanced, and reflective they can be.

One dude interviewed by Sarah Kliff for a splendid Vox story (from April) on the same research, explaining how he was pro-life and pro-choice at the same time:
"Abortion is killing a baby. But I'm not saying it's always wrong.... From my point of view, I believe all babies go to heaven," King told me when I asked him to explain how both labels fit his viewpoint. "And if this baby were to live a life where it would be abused ... it's just really hard to explain. It gets into the rights of the woman, and her body, at the same time. It just sometimes gets really hazy on each side."
I don't go into the heaven thing myself, and it's not the language a philosopher would use, but you see what I mean? But the characteristic question,
Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree with the statement: Abortion should be legal in almost all cases
is going to mark this guy down as an abortion opponent, when in any real-life case he comes across he will almost certainly support the woman's choice. As most do:
Our poll found that those who had talked to a friend or family member about an abortion experience or decision tend to be more supportive of abortion rights.
The best statistics say that one in 10 women will have an abortion by age 20 — and one in four by age 30. By age 45, one in three American women will have terminated a pregnancyTwenty-one percent of pregnancies in the United States end in abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
But most women don't talk to many people about their abortions, a habit that goes back to before it was legal.

Anyway, there you are, some evidence after all; most Americans are pro-choice but don't realize it, and the apparatus of public opinion sampling seems designed to keep them from finding out.

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