Years ago, in my late twenties, I briefly dated a woman who had once worked in a clinic that performed abortions. She told me that what had struck her the most during that period was the number of women who would emphatically stress that they were personally opposed to abortion while they were in the process of arranging to have one. She told me that they would assert that abortion was immoral, then explain why their case was different, why they were simply in an extraordinary circumstance. I imagine that it never occurred to most of them that for every other woman who gets an abortion, it’s in some sense an extraordinary circumstance. I imagine that it never occurred to them that once you accept the logic of their stated exceptions, you accept it for everyone.
People enraged over being required to wear a mask or get a vaccine shot are surprised over the number of people opposed to forced pregnancies.
I think people often cite the extremists on the left who want abortion up to the date of birth. I moved in reproductive rights spaces and I have never met a woman who thinks that just deciding you don't want a baby at 38 weeks gestation is a real world scenario. There are extreme cases where a fetus that a woman might lovingly be expecting is just not suitable for life, at that point she might seek to terminate. Even in those exceptionally rare cases, there is a total of one abortion provider in the US who will perform third trimester abortions.
John Oliver showed a Republican politician the other night who supported a total ban until he started hearing from local women and doctors about how the ban was impacting pregnant women who wanted to have their babies but were denied medical care when they needed it most, close to term. He then started learning more about how the health of women with certain medical conditions who couldn't carry to term was being impacted, etc. and his mind began to change.
I've always been extremely pro-choice too and have had a surgical abortion myself (for an ectopic pregnancy, the kind of exception that the extremists know is necessary as they can kill the mother, but would still deny us). We are not the extremists.
On the whole, I think that "let people do what they want" is a pretty powerful high ground in American politics. Freedom is still a powerful idea for many people. I think progressives suffer the most when conservatives are able to frame progressive positions as being restrictive of various freedoms. And conservatives lose when progressives are able to frame conservative positions as restrictive.
This doesn't really materialize as support for libertarianism, because people care more about the vibes of freedom than a more intellectually rigorous construction (not to say libertarianism is the only way to rigorously construct freedom). For instance "keep the government's hands off my medicare" is a weirdly resonant position for many people. But "you can get an abortion if you want it" vs "you can't get an abortion" is pretty cut and dry freedom vs unfreedom to most people, and freedom has a big natural advantage, at least here in the US.
From the book "Promises I Can Keep," a really interesting book where the authors interview single mothers:
"As sociologist Kristin Luker shows, many middle-class women view abortion as a personal choice arising from a woman’s right to control her body and her life. Yet most mothers who live in the Philadelphia area’s bleak core typically share a radically different view. Though most concede there are circumstances desperate enough to warrant an abortion, most still view the termination of a pregnancy as a tragedy—perhaps unavoidable but still deeply regrettable. Virtually no woman we spoke with believed it was acceptable to have an abortion merely to advance an educational trajectory. Something else, they say, must be present to warrant that decision—the desertion of the child’s father, an utter lack of support from the young woman’s own mother, rape or incest, an uncontrollable drug or alcohol addiction, homelessness, or impossible financial straits."
Great piece, but I wouldn't say that women only get abortions in extraordinary circumstances - many just don't want to be pregnant. Pregnancy is an enormous physical, financial, and emotional burden, no extraordinary circumstances required.
Before you conclude that only the Republicans are extreme I suggest you delve into or at least discuss late term abortion which is supported by many in the Democratic Party.
Yes, abortion after 20 weeks is only about 1% of abortions (based on the administrative data that CDC collects from the subset of states that report it). But annually that's at least 6,000 fetuses who are or are quite developed little human beings--even if you don't want to call them people--when they are killed, dismembered and removed from their mother (look up the procedure codes if you don't believe this is how it happens or reach out and I will give them to you). Some people argue that it's ok to kill late term fetuses because some of them have disabilities (Guttmacher has a report indicating that many are not disabled, but rather just inconvenient). In any case the women don't want them. But really, is there no point at which we'll ask the woman to do something very inconvenient (birth) to avoid actively killing a tiny human? Why is it ok to kill up to birth but not if your stuck home with a dead phone and no one but a wailing newborn? Yes birth is tough but so is fighting war and attending school and people who don't want to do those things are routinely forced to do it. Also no is one is actually "forcing" the woman to birth. Birth is going to naturally happen. Restrictions just make it so you can't kill your fetus, just like there are restrictions on killing your kid once they're born (but parents still occasionally do it).
There are many on the left and in Democratic circles who say there should be no limits on abortion--Sen. Fetterman comes to mind which is particularly ironic because fetuses who have had strokes (like my child) are targeted for abortion. Talk to parents whose children were identified as having a disability before birth. There is generally a fair bit of coercion, unless you're at a Christian hospital system. Medical providers ("genetic counselors" and ob-gyns) pressure would-be parents and scare the hell out of them about what it is like to have a child with substance exposure, Downs, cerebral palsy, or other disabilities (babies with the predominant genetic defects actually usually die before birth or shortly after, the fortunate ones snuggled in their parents arms as they pass). So when people say it should be up to the woman whether she births a disabled or otherwise inconvenient fetus or kills it, they should take into account that there's medical coercion-- which may be particularly powerful for the people who do not know that there are some --but often not enough--government supports for families experiencing disability.
That corporate hacks support aborting inconvenient and expensive fetuses doesn't surprise me. But I am genuinely confused why so few progressives--even the vegans who won't eat their grandmas fishstew--don't call for some protections for at least late term fetuses. What about standing up for the marginalized and powerless? If you want to focus on the woman, how about at least speaking up about medical coercion and stigma for being poor and having a child or having a child with a disability?
Thanks for reading!
The thing to be cautious about revealed preferences is that you have to keep in mind the constraints that consumer choices operate within. For example, it's very easy to make a revealed preferences argument that Americans love cars, that they can't get enough of cars and any attempt to make our communities less car-dependent is going against the obvious revealed preference of Americans who love cars. This obviously ignores that the reason everyone has a car in this country is that we *have no choice*.
I don't think the point Freddie is making about abortion has that issue though.
Abortion is probably a game changer for low turnout elections that feature a disproportionately high percentage of political partisans.
In 2024 turnout will be higher and the number of normal voters worried about the economy will be higher as a result.
The other issue I would raise is that by next year the issue will largely have been settled. All Dobbs did was kicked the decision back to the individual states and what you see now is those states coming to equilibrium on the issue. Once CA decides on its abortion policy what is there to drive Californian abortion activists to the polls? A desire to change the law in Texas?
How, given the abundantly clear revealed preference you describe above, can you not see that the overturning of Roe is exactly what the country needed? As long as abortion was excluded from the normal democratic process (i.e., vote for legislators who will enact your policy preferences), Roe was a curse that would never lift. I cannot think of a better demonstration of the value of relying on legislators rather than Supreme Court justices to enact policy choices. The political triumph of abortion rights resoundingly confirms the wisdom of our current Supreme Court majority.
I've heard this argument a lot and I've never found it very convincing (not that it matters, I am pro-choice anyways). . There were ~20,000 murders last year (as in actual murders, not "murders" of a fetus) but no one argues that this shows a revealed preference for legalizing extrajudicial killings. I wouldn't assume a thief is against the concept of property rights or that an adulterer wants to abolish the concept of exclusive relationships. Why should I think of hypocritical pro-lifers any different than others that sometimes break laws or taboos they generally support? Many people commit crimes without wanting to legalize the crime.
We live in a world of declining fertility and coming major population loss. Future generations will look at out industrialized slaughter of the unborn and they wouldn't be able to comprehend how such barbarism was allowed to exist. In general, child sacrifice is usually frowned upon by history.
This is an extraordinarily perceptive piece with implications far beyond the recent surprises of pro-choice politics. Yes, we do have one set of ideal preferences and another set of revealed preferences. I can recall the 1960s conservative patriots who supported prosecution of the Vietnam War but wanted their sons to remain exempt from the draft. Their boys were “different.”
But aren’t there other permutations of this paradox? We “knew” that socialist politics were a non-starter until Bernie appeared on the scene and drew the support of many, and not only young, people. Now we presumably “know” that such authentically socialist proposals as expropriation of the most oppressive or monopolistic private industries (finance capital, insurance, pharmaceutical, Amazon etc) have no popular support; therefore the Left including the DSA must gag itself or risk losing popularity. Placing those authentically socialist proposals at the center of political discourse might bring surprises. At least, it would change the terms of opposition and make our use of language more honest. I might be wrong, but how will we ever find out with such a timid, purely nominal Left?
"I’m sure pro-life women who get abortions are very sincere in their theoretical attachment to that moral position."
Sincerity in your theoretical attachment to a moral position and $3 will get you a small coffee at Starbucks.
I'm sorry, but that's just not how morality works. "Theoretical attachment" doesn't mean jack squat unless it's backed up by action, and a moral code that you follow only when convenient is not a moral code. People understood this all the way back to Biblical times: "Faith without works is dead." If I have a theoretical commitment to treating others kindly and decently, but I *behave* like an asshole toward everyone I meet, I am an asshole.
Please note, I am pro-choice, and my advice to those women is not "well you shouldn't have an abortion then," it's "recognize that you do not, in fact, have a commitment to preserving the life of an embryo/fetus, and that's okay. While you're at it, recognize that you shouldn't try to stop other women from having abortions."
You're absolutely right that support for abortion is a winning political issue for Democrats, for the same sort of "you can't tell me what to do" American gut instinct for freedom and autonomy that also has driven support in this country for legalized drugs or opposition to gun control and vaccine mandates.
Of course, as you have eloquently written about with regards to mental illness and disability rights, an emphasis on autonomy can easily lead to the abandonment of those who are in fact unable to be autonomous, those who are too weak physically or mentally to be left to their own devices and fend for themselves. Autonomy is to a certain extent an illusion for anyone who lives in community with others, as we have seen with the COVID pandemic. Those who exercised their autonomy by refusing to wear masks or get vaccines ended up endangering the health and even causing the deaths of others - their decision was not a merely personal one but one which had profound impact on other people. I want a society that cares for the weak, for the least of these, a society that can care for the weakness of both babies and mothers, for the weakness of both immigrants and refugees and native-born Americans. It's a shame that neither major US political party is interested in that, but I will continue to work towards that in my own small way.
I had never heard the term 'revealed preferences,' but it's handy. Everything is different when it's you in the previously untenable position, and the things you vehemently opposed suddenly become a need.
Disability insurance, being unhoused, medicare, assisted suicide, abolishing police, food stamps (SNAP)...I'm sure there are many more ways for life to go wrong and reveal an unexpected preference (or so often, need.) It's why one of the most important parts of building an argument is to think of the exceptions. I don't understand the unwillingness of many people to do the mental exercise of placing themselves or a loved one in the position of being an exception.