The misrepresentation of abortion's "middle ground"

Doesn't supporting prevention actually mean "common ground," or even big picture?

Published June 14, 2006 8:41PM (EDT)

There's been plenty of debate about whether Democrats seeking a "middle ground" on abortion rights are actually just sauntering, white flag in hand, into enemy territory. But an article in today's New York Times made me think that perhaps the ground some Dems are seeking isn't in the "middle" at all -- and that maybe the press should stop calling it that.

The article recaps comments made by Sen. Hillary Clinton to members of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association in Washington. Sen. Clinton called for unity around the "common goal" of reducing the number of abortions, which is perhaps what prompted a copywriter to add (in the print version) the bold inset subhead: "Seeking a middle ground on the issue of abortion rights."

Maybe I'm just in a generous mood, but the rest of Clinton's remarks don't seem so conciliatory to me. How does she propose to reduce abortions? "Not by making them illegal as many are attempting to do, or overturning Roe v. Wade and undermining the constitutional protections that decision provided, but by preventing unintended pregnancies in the first place through education, contraception, accessible health care and services, empowering women to make decisions," she stated. She also pointedly criticized those Republicans who have blocked such efforts -- not to mention the Food and Drug Administration -- and cited the obstacles poor women face when seeking contraception. "Let's really understand what we're up against," she said. "This is not just about Roe, this is not just about choice, this is about contraception, family planning and, most profoundly, women's roles and responsibilities and rights."

Yet the Times still characterizes Clinton's position as "talking about a need for compromise," and seems, lazily and erroneously, to persist in equating "middle" ground with "common" ground.

My point here is not to say "Rah-Rah Hillary!" There are lots of politicians who pander; you might argue that Sen. Clinton is one of them. But that's beside the point. I'm suggesting, merely using this article as today's example, that it's not necessarily accurate to portray such framing -- no matter who does it and what issues one may have with the particulars -- as a "compromise." Especially given the increasingly vocal opposition to contraception, since when is supporting it a compromise? When it comes to abortion, lots of us have been talking about prevention, and about how "it's not just about Roe" -- or, for that matter, "choice" -- for a good while. I'd call this expanding the debate, not ceding ground. And now that legislators and journalists have picked up on it, the longer the focus on prevention and healthcare gets misrepresented as "compromise," I say the longer we'll be fighting.

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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