We’re constantly bombarded by political rhetoric that demands we take one position or another on crucial public issues. So how do we sift through it all to make informed judgments? We can start by watching for red flags signaling we’re being manipulated and misled. Some of the most common are personal attacks, name calling, either-or arguments, blanket generalizations unsupported by facts, smear campaigns and inflammatory, emotional language.
Even members of Congress sometimes stoop to these ploys when discussing complex topics that deserve civil public debate. Take abortion, for example. We often hear blanket generalizations like these: All abortion should be outlawed. Planned Parenthood offers abortion services, so the federal budget shouldn’t fund it.
We’re offered simplistic, either-or alternatives: We’re either pro-life or pro-choice. Or we’re presented with inflammatory language and smear campaigns: If you’re pro-choice, you “advocate for the murder of little babies,” as Republican U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger recently wrote. All of these tactics drive us into opposing camps.
We’ve heard the pro-life, pro-choice opposition so often we may buy into it, when in fact most of us fall somewhere in the middle. You may call yourself pro-life but oppose outlawing all abortion. Maybe you don’t want the government interfering in your private life. You may have agonized with a daughter or friend facing an unplanned pregnancy without the means to raise a child. You might agree to exceptions in cases of rape or incest, or if a woman’s life is in danger, or if she’s disabled or too young or old to have a child.
You may call yourself pro-choice yet still have moral quandaries. Maybe you’d never have an abortion yourself but insist others must have the right to make the decision privately. You may balk at the rich having access to abortions while the poor face risky backroom procedures. Maybe the thought of late-term abortions repels you.
Whatever our convictions, polarizing rhetoric and unsubstantiated opinions don’t help us decide for ourselves. Here are some facts that may.
Overwhelmingly, abortion is legal only in the first two trimesters. Almost 99 percent are performed before 21 weeks, so lurid descriptions like Rep. Pittenger’s – the “rip(ping) apart” of “children” even in “the ninth month of pregnancy”– are grossly misleading. Late-term abortions are extremely rare, 0.2 percent of the total, and they occur only when a fetus is too damaged to survive outside the womb or the mother’s health is endangered or both. And the financial fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, is that banning reimbursement for abortions, which would make them unattainable except for the rich, would cost the United States $130 million over the next decade.
Most of us support Planned Parenthood, yet the proposed federal budget would eliminate it. Currently it receives almost 40 percent of its support from Medicaid and Title X, programs for low-income Americans. But that money cannot fund abortions, which represent only a tiny fraction of Planned Parenthood’s work. Planned Parenthood’s principle focus is providing health care to 2.5 million people, mainly in rural areas where medical professionals are scarce; sex education to millions of American parents and children; and expanded access to birth control. Both Planned Parenthood and its federal support have played a major role in helping reduce teen pregnancies to a 40-year low and abortions to the lowest rate since legalization.
Once we recognize our common ground, we can begin honest, civil discussions about crucial issues like abortion. Call your members of Congress. Ask them to reject divisive rhetoric and other polarizing tactics, and instead model civil discourse regardless of what issue is on the table.
Jan Schmidt is president and Nancy Barrineau is a member of the Scotland County Democratic Women. This opinion piece was also signed by members Bonnie Kelley and Mary Evans.