In 2004, Planned Parenthood began selling T-shirts emblazoned with the declaration, "I Had An Abortion." This was part of its campaign to "demystify and destigmatize" the practice. Prominent abortion advocates felt at the time that their movement had grown too timid.
Alexander Sanger, the grandson of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, argued that feminists needed to go beyond the rhetoric of "choice," jargon he regarded as cowardly and vague. They should celebrate abortion directly and unapologetically, he said. After all, the unborn child, as an annoying interloper, deserves to die. "The unborn child is not just an innocent life," he wrote, but a "liability, a threat, and a danger to the mother and to the other members of the family."
Amidst such comments, the website Imnotsorry.net sprung up. The founders of the site explained that it "was created for the purpose of showing women that exercising their legal right to terminate their pregnancy is not the blood-splattered guilt trip so many make it out to be." Space was provided on it for women to post testimonials expressing their "relief" and "joy" after an abortion.
Ron Fitzsimmons, president of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, also found "choice" rhetoric insipid. "We have nothing to hide," he said to the press. "The work we're doing is good. We are there to help women, and it's important to talk about abortion so that it's not a stigma."
Abortion, he said, is more than just a choice. It is a good choice: "We can no longer respond to [pro-life arguments] with 'it's your right to choose.' We need to recapture the notion that abortion is a difficult moral choice for women, but one that is, in fact, a moral choice."
These days abortion advocates are considerably more circumspect, returning to the "safe, legal, and rare" formula that Bill Clinton popularized. But a few still hunger for raw honesty. In apparent anticipation of the upcoming Roe v. Wade anniversary, Salon interviewed one of them on Monday. Merle Hoffman, a New York "abortion provider," told the online publication that the "pro-choice movement is uncomfortable with itself," as it still treats abortion as a regrettable act. "I've always said that, and I've always believed that," she said. "We're not comfortable with the banner we're under."
This makes no sense to Hoffman, given the large number of Americans implicated in abortion. "You know how many women have had abortions?" she said. "Abortion is as American as apple pie. I think it's one in three. But we'll go on TV and say, 'I just had my tits done or had a bikini wax,' but not had an abortion. If you could see that constituency rise up at one point in time -- but they don't, because there's this cloud."
Hoffman bluntly acknowledged that abortion involves killing an unborn child: "In the beginning [pro-lifers] were calling it a baby. We were saying it was only blood and tissue. Let's agree this is a life form, a potential life; you're terminating it. You don't have to argue that abortion stops a beating heart. It does." Nor does she insist that abortion is a minor medical procedure: "I can't say it's just like an appendectomy. It isn't. It's a very powerful and loaded decision."
Like Alexander Sanger, Hoffman sees abortion as a laudable act of self-defense against the encroaching unborn child. Referring to her own abortion, Hoffman writes in a soon-to-be-released memoir, Intimate Wars: "With my choice I was fighting for the right of all women to define abortion as an act of love: love for the family one already has, and just as important, love for oneself. I was fighting to reclaim abortion as a mother's act. It was an act of solidarity as significant as any other I had committed."
Hoffman's career as a founder and owner of an abortion clinic has been lucrative. Salon describes her as a bejeweled millionaire: "Impeccably coiffed -- signaling more Upper East Side doyenne than die-hard boomer activist -- she wears an enormous glittering ring she designed with the symbol of Choices, combining the caduceus and infinity symbols." The "Choices" to which the ring refers is the euphemistic name of the abortion clinic Hoffman runs. So her brutal honesty evidently has limits.
The subtitle of her memoir is: "The Life and Times of the Woman Who Brought Abortion from the Back Alley to the Board Room." Last January, abortion advocates marked the anniversary of Roe more mutely, as they dealt with fallout from the life and times of a man who brought abortion from the back alley to main street Philadelphia. Remember Kermit Gosnell? Shortly before the nostalgic remembrances of the Roe ruling were set to begin, a grand jury in Pennsylvania charged the longtime Philadelphia abortionist with seven acts of infanticide and the killing of one adult.
Gosnell's specialty was late-term abortions bordering on infanticide. He practiced his craft in the open. Prosecutors blamed the lack of investigation into his clinic on the "pro-choice" atmosphere in the state. Nail salons are more closely monitored than abortion clinics, they said. Indeed, local abortion advocates knew all about Gosnell, only badmouthing him in public after the indictment came down.
At his bail hearing, Gosnell appeared puzzled. He had performed the very late-term abortions pro-choicers urged George W. Bush not to ban. "Is it possible you could explain the seven counts?" he asked the judge. In a culture that lionizes late-term abortionists as bravely defiant, the answer to his question remains unclear. Perhaps he should have called his clinic "Choices."