Response

Response

At first glance, Laurie Shrage seems to be issuing a call for moderation on all sides of the abortion debate. She makes a claim that the often vacuous posturing endemic to party politics has primed us to take at face value: real women’s interests are being sacrificed to the fundraising and vote-getting needs of the Democratic and Republican parties. Shrage asserts that “for strategic reasons, neither party is interested in introducing moderate policies, which seem to have no electoral value. In the meantime, many women and feminist goals are shortchanged.”

But that is at first glance. A closer look reveals an argument that does not withstand scrutiny for one simple reason: the right of the pregnant woman to decide for herself whether to continue her pregnancy has already been deeply, deeply compromised. Although Shrage dangles the tantalizing prospect of a “just right” balance between abortion availability and restrictions that will end the debate and allow us all to focus on other issues, she offers no principled basis for achieving it. The last thirty years have proven over and over again that “compromise” on the abortion issue is a one-way street, all compromises to date having restricted rather than expanded the possibility of personal decision-making in this realm. Nothing in Shrage’s argument suggests a different outcome.

Shrage’s insistence that Democrats and Republicans refuse to compromise on abortion is utterly belied by the heavy restrictions on access to abortion that have already been enacted all over the country. Who is drafting these restrictions, passing them through committees, bringing them to floor debates, voting for them, campaigning on them, and signing them, if not Democrats and Republicans? In short, her claim that the major parties resist compromise on abortion is palpably wrong.

To the extent that Shrage acknowledges the whole panoply of “funding cuts, waiting periods, mandatory counseling, and other measures” that particularly limit abortion access for poor and young women, she places blame for these restrictions not on the proponents of “compromise,” but on the “[p]olitical polarization” that she claims is preventing compromise. The problem for Shrage is that whatever her sympathy for the women targeted by these restrictions, she clearly believes more (though perhaps different) compromises are in order. Thus, she deflects attention from the avidly compromising politicians that crowd our legislatures to that old bugaboo, the “middle-class women’s movement” (my words, not hers). Shrage asserts that “poor women have not fared well in the post-Roe years,” and then helpfully reminds us that “the leaders of mainstream feminist groups, like their counterparts in the Democratic Party, are generally not poor,” thereby implying that coziness between mainstream femin...


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