The Genius of Pro-Life Messaging

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Once again with the health reform bill, we’re seeing how pro-life leaders manage to win popular support for their position by framing it in terms that seem quite reasonable. It’s only if you’re paying attention that you realize the description often doesn’t match the reality of what they’re proposing. To be fair, pro-choice leaders often try this, too–it just doesn’t usually work out as well for them.

During debate over the so-called partial-birth abortion ban, even many pro-choice voters came away thinking, well, yes, I think abortion should be legal, but I don’t want nearly full-term babies being brutally aborted. In reality, vanishingly few of the targeted abortions took place in the third trimester, but the messaging allowed pro-life groups to rally support for banning a procedure used much earlier in pregnancy.

Similarly, many pro-life and pro-choice moderates believe that it’s reasonable to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to cover abortion procedures. Even if you support abortion rights, so the thinking goes, you can agree that someone who believes that abortion is murder shouldn’t have their money used to fund those procedures.

I’m surprised that someone as smart as Andrew Sullivan has fallen for the argument that the Stupak amendment simply prevents federal funding of abortion. He quotes approving from the Catholic bishops’ letter supporting the amendment: “Passing this amendment allows the House to meet our criteria of preserving the existing protections against abortion funding in the new legislation. Most importantly, it will ensure that no government funds will be used for abortion or health plans which include abortion.”  

The problem is that those two sentences don’t go together. Existing protections against federal abortion funding do prevent government funds from being used for abortion. But extending that prohibition to “health plans which include abortion” is a new and stricter development. Andrew may support that as well, but my guess is that he and others like him simply want to make sure there is no direct federal funding of abortion and wouldn’t necessarily take the restriction this far.