The sun rises. The world turns. A prominent liberal upsets The Weekly Standard.
Texas State Senator (and aspiring governor) Wendy Davis earned the ire of the myopic, reactionary rag this week after telling The Valley Morning Star that she’s “pro-life.” But not that kind of pro-life. Davis is pro-life, as in: “I am pro-life…I care about the life of every child: every child that goes to bed hungry, every child that goes to bed without a proper education, every child that goes to bed without being able to be a part of the Texas dream, every woman and man who worry about their children’s future and their ability to provide for that future.”
How dare she.
Ordinarily, earning the impotent wrath of a dying conservative magazine would be an unremarkable rite of passage for a rising leftist star. But there is something especially precious about The Standard’s shocked — just shocked, I say! — routine, provoked as it was by Davis cleverly misusing a term that is just one of many vague, misleading euphemisms conservatives prefer when discussing the surgical removal of a fetal cell cluster from a woman's uterus.
They get so cute when they're angry.
But the Davis dust-up isn’t unusual just because it's an especially rich example of conservative outrage. Rather, it’s a valuable moment because it gives other liberals an opening to finally come clean about abortion.
Davis, after all, isn’t the first liberal to distort the agreed-upon terms in order to send a message to voters. She's just the first to do it in a way that makes sense. Typically, the way Democrats seeking office tend to talk about abortion sounds like more like this: “I believe women should have the right to choose. However, I am personally pro-life and believe that every abortion is a tragedy.”
The sound bite makes a certain sense, because until recently politics’ number-one rule of staying relevant was staying “reasonable.” We all had endgames, of course, but to get elected, you had to dress that endgame up in something that sounded a little closer to the imaginary center. When President Bush wanted to privatize Social Security, we all understood that deep down he did it because his ilk simply does not believe in the social safety net. Privatization wasn’t about improved choice, the wisdom of vouchers, making retirement more affordable, or any other reason he gave in public. It was about acting out the belief that the government spending tax money to take care of the infirm encourages irresponsibility and is therefore wrong. We all knew this, but because the idea had to be sold in the realm of the reasonable, Bush didn’t actually say it.
That was until The Tea Party realized that “the center,” like “reasonable,” deserve scare-quotes, and that a much surer path to victory isn't playing to the center but saying what you meant and waiting for the center — propelled by the media’s pathological bias toward false equivocation — to come to you.
The time has come for the left to do the same with abortion. Let’s follow Davis’ lead and say what we really mean, instead of pretending that we can’t win unless we make believe that “pro-life,” in the traditional sense, must be the personal moral preference of any office seeker, even if they don’t want to legislate it.
I’ll go first: I am in favor of unlimited and unrestricted access to abortion. I am in favor of it because abortion is great.
I don’t mean that individual abortions are great: They're a hassle at best and a difficult, emotional burden for the would-be parents at worst. But the fact that we can perform abortions on those who need and want them? That doing so is legal? That is a gift from God. Or science, really.
Birth control — and when all else fails, abortion — mean that for once in human history, we can have sex for pleasure without having to worry about whether or not we might end up with a child we don’t want and aren’t in a position to care for. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like that’s a good thing. So I say, thank God for abortion!
And look, if you really can’t stand the thought of ending a cell cluster, then thank God for condoms and birth control. We should give more of those to teenagers. Conservatives like to argue that pregnancy and STIs are necessary risks in order to discourage promiscuous behavior, but in a world where we can limit those risks, it’s a little bit like saying that we need to ban antibiotics so that there are serious consequences if you're careless enough to get strep throat. What these conservatives really believe is that promiscuous behavior is a sign of moral weakness, and that consequences like unwanted children or HIV/AIDS are not only necessary but desirable in order to serve as examples. What response can there be to such perverse, malicious prudishness beyond "Well, screw them"? (Or don't, as the case may be.)
Abortion is not a tragedy. A routine medical procedure with a phony morality play built up around it shouldn't be called “a tragedy,” it should be called Grey’s Anatomy. A real tragedy is when women are ostracized due to fear and shame. A real tragedy is when they are robbed of their autonomy. A real tragedy is unwilling parents, forced to bring a child into the world that they cannot or will not care for. A real tragedy is a child growing up with parents who didn’t want them. A real tragedy is a child forced into birth by the sanctimonious forces of “life,” and then abandoned if they dare ask for education or affordable health care.
But the ability to control when we have children, to live responsible lives according to our desires? That’s a cause for celebration, not somber platitudes. If saying so makes me “pro-life” in the way Wendy Davis means it, so be it. If the Weekly Standard wants to shout murderer, even better. This is, of course, the magazine whose editor-in-chief said, "If we free the people of Iraq, we will be respected in the Arab world... and I think we will be respected around the world." They're an excellent moral compass, if only by telling you to run in the opposite direction.