I am puzzled to learn that Frances Kissling, the former $300k-$500k per year head of Catholics for a Free Choice (since renamed Catholics for Choice), is now a visiting scholar of bioethics at an Ivy League school. You'd expect such a post to require more on one's resume than a career of astro-turfing. But perhaps she's a deeper thinker than I was giving her credit for. Her op-ed in yesterday's Washington Post is absolutely worth reading in its entirety if you care at all about the issue of abortion.
There is no question that the abortion-choice movement has been losing ground with the public over time, and rather dramatically. Kissling puts this fact out there, and then blames the movement's luminaries for clinging to old arguments that have become less and less effective over time as advances in science and medicine keep confirming for the public that unborn babies are not just inert tissue:
Pro-choice advocates have good reason to oppose legislation that restricts abortion in any way, but unfortunately we're not going to regain the ground we have lost. What we must do is stop holding on to a strategy that isn't working, and one that is making the legal right to abortion more vulnerable than ever before.
We can no longer pretend the fetus is invisible....The fetus is more visible than ever before, and the abortion-rights movement needs to accept its existence and its value. It may not have a right to life, and its value may not be equal to that of the pregnant woman, but ending the life of a fetus is not a morally insignificant event. Very few people would argue that there is no difference between the decision to abort at 6 weeks and the decision to do so when the fetus would be viable outside of the womb, which today is generally at 24 to 26 weeks. Still, it is rare for mainstream movement leaders to say that publicly. Abortion is not merely a medical matter, and there is an unintended coarseness to claiming that it is.
We need to firmly and clearly reject post-viability abortions except in extreme cases. Exceptions include when the woman's life is at immediate risk; when the fetus suffers from conditions that are incompatible with a good quality of life; or when the woman's health is seriously threatened by a medical or psychological condition that continued pregnancy will exacerbate. We should regulate post-viability abortion to include the confirmation of those conditions by medical or psychiatric specialists.
If NRA President Wayne LaPierre were to write in praise of gun control, I would hardly be more surprised than I am at reading the above. But in this case, Kissling may be several steps ahead of her ideological allies -- including politicians like President Obama -- whose commitment to an absolute right to unrestricted abortion on demand flies in the face of modern prenatal science.
Coming from a pro-life perspective myself, I think she gauges current public opinion on this topic more or less correctly when she writes:
The public is ambivalent about abortion. It wants it to be legal, but will support almost any restriction that indicates society takes the act of abortion seriously.
Kissling seems to imply that public opinion could erode even further for the abortion rights movement if it continues rejecting every reasonable restriction on abortion as the camel's nose under the tent. She's probably right, and her warning will probably be ignored by the most important figures in the abortion rights movement.