What Jim Wallis Hears When You Say “Reduce the Need for Abortion”

Amanda Marcotte

All Jim Wallis needs to know about you is that you have a womb that's got a zygote in it, and the "right" decision -- to carry your pregnancy to term -- is made.

Anti-abortion liberals
taking credit for the pro-woman Democratic party platform
— the irony just thickens. Pastor Dan recently
Christian Jim Wallis making what Wallis no doubt thinks of as a "pro-woman"
argument that is, in reality, condescending to a degree that causes the reader to think that Wallis is talking about pregnant houseplants instead of thinking women.

    Support for women caught
    up in difficult situations and tragic choices is a better path than
    coercion for really reducing the abortion rate. Yes, I agree there is
    never a "need" for abortion except in the case where the health
    of the mother is threatened. But until we can reach out to women who
    "feel" the need for abortion and support them in alternative
    choices, we will never change the shameful abortion rate that both sides
    seem content to live with while they just attack each other. It is time
    to move from symbols to solutions.

If Wallis thinks that women
who choose abortion only perceive a need that’s so clearly not a need
that it requires scare quotes, then I’m going to vow here and now
to call Wallis a "liberal" and a "progressive" only in scare
quotes. Or just "scatter" scare quotes "about" recklessly
when "writing" about "Wallis," so that "you" perceive that
"something" isn’t quite right about "his" views.

This is paternalism at its
finest. Jim Wallis knows better than you whether or not you really
want to terminate a pregnancy, even though he doesn’t know your name,
address, financial situation, number of children, relationship issues,
career issues, or desire to have more children than you have already.
All he needs to know about you is that you have a womb that’s got
a zygote in it, and the "right" decision is made. Any actual
information about your life is just a distraction from the "right"
decision about whether or not you should have a child — the decision
is yes. Your feelings don’t matter. The contents of your
womb are the only thing that really matters. The technical reluctance
to engage in coercion doesn’t rescue him from accusations of sexism,
since he clearly agrees strongly with the right about women’s lack
of intelligence and decision-making abilities.

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The GOP platform takes this
belief in women’s lack of intelligence to its logical conclusion and
supports the very mandatory
childbirth that Wallis claims to reject.

It makes more sense to swallow the unpleasant coercion, based on Wallis’s
beliefs that a) there is only one right decision for all women, regardless
of circumstances and b) women can be assumed to lack the decision-making
abilities necessary to take responsibility for their own bodies. Once you remove women’s
intentions and responsibilities from the equation, and reduce their
proper choices to a single choice, then why not force them? There’s
only one side of the road for all Americans to drive on, and believe
me, they aren’t handing out cookies to people for driving on the right
hand side. They’re issuing tickets for driving on the left hand
side. When only one choice is acceptable, only one form of enforcement
starts to make sense.

Wallis’s statements are the
sort of things that pro-choicers worry about when we embrace the idea
that "reducing the abortion rate" should be a goal, a middle ground
everyone could agree on. Turns out that not everyone really agrees
on this. Different people hear different things when you say "reducing
the abortion rate." A pro-choicer like myself hears "reducing
the number of unplanned pregnancies." But someone like Wallis
hears, "convincing the slow-witted women out there that they don’t
really want what they think they want." And of course, hardline
anti-choicers hear, "hide abortion away from everyone but the medical
staff working the septic abortion wards."

This paternalistic view of
women as minors who need to be firmly guided because they can’t make
the "right" decision is why the hardline anti-choicers kept disrupting the DNC. Well, it was partially because
they are starved for attention, but it’s also because they hear rumblings
from people like Wallis. The hardcore anti-choicers realize that
it’s not much of a leap from arguing that women have second rate minds
to arguing that women should be second class citizens with second rate
rights. If women don’t know what they really want, then the
discussion about whether to coax or force the right decision out of
them is purely an academic exercise, and force will eventually win out
because it wins on simplicity.

A better idea: instead of focusing
on a certain choice as a particular horror, let’s lament that women
have to be put in this stressful situation of making choices where all
the available ones are unpleasant at all. For instance, as lamentable
as the media frenzy on Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter’s pregnancy
can be, the occasion is a good chance to highlight how unintended pregnancy
should be the focus of our collective efforts, not pushing women around
about their choices after the unintended pregnancy is a fact.
For a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy, all choices have major drawbacks.
Luckily, we can, with a focus on prevention, help women avoid that situation.

Let’s quit confusing Jim
Wallis with this talk about "reducing abortion," which feeds right
into a paternalistic view of women as second class citizens. How
about "reducing unintended pregnancy," which forefronts women and
their intentions, desires, and lives? What’s so wrong about
making women’s intentions the central question? Let’s assume
women aren’t stupid as a class and that they can make up their own
minds about what they want, and build policy around the idea that society
should support women’s intentions and give women the tools to take

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