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CFFC in the News - 2005

npr/ open source

Beyond Roe and Wade

Christopher Lydon

20 July 2005

Listen Here.

Is it possible to re-cast the debate on abortion? Are we stuck with the same arguments, framed thirty years ago and repeated at regular intervals since? John Roberts’s Supreme Court nomination is already reviving America’s favorite and most divisive political debate. In this country, abortion defines candidates and wins or loses elections, but is there a way to actually make the problem better? It can start, we hope, at least, by trying to think of it in a different way.

Chris, in a meeting this morning, described the prospect of a family locked into a living room that no one likes. It’s impossible to paint the walls a different color or move the ottoman; the arguments are old and intractable, so we sit on the couch we all hate and glower at each other.

But what if we just moved?

  • Frances Kissling
    President, Catholics for a Free Choice
    Author, Is There Life After Roe?

    from Robin’s pre-interview notes:
    Essentially what I have put forward is the notion that the abortion question has to some extent deteriorated because it’s only viewed as a political question. When you put an issue that is as essential, an almost primordial question related to reproduction, to life itself, when life will be be allowed to come to fruition and when it will not, you are really touching on issues that are more than political. There is enormous dissatisfaction throughout the whole country with the political reality and the courts, that this is something which is either legal or illegal. That doesn’t settle the question.

    What I’m saying is that to some extent, those of us on the pro-choice side have to move beyond the discourse of the law, the courts, and Roe, to cultural and moral terms. Not because of the Democrats, but because of the reality and desire for a conversation with multiple components.



  • Stuart Taylor Jr.
    Senior writer and columnist for National Journal and a contributing editor at Newsweek. He’ll join us from his office in Washington, DC.

    Chris’s Post-Game Analysis
    That was a lovely utopia we stumbled into tonight: a land without lawyers, a conversation about abortion where life experience trumped the assertion of rights. It was a radio hour in which the invited guests set the bar high for moral and political seriousness—and then the callers upstaged them with the poignancy of real experience. Melissa and Paul were voices out of Chekhov. Their narratives had nothing of the extreme, nothing clever about them: just tales of loss and sadness and persistence in the realm where life mysteriously renews itself. Melissa had ended her first, teenaged pregnancy and went on with the same father to have three good children. Paul, out of the blue, imagined that he might be Melissa’s aborted son, and wondered that his own single mother had saved him! I am so glad we decided not to parse John Roberts’s record this hour. And I am so grateful to callers who trust us to value their stories (even) more than their arguments. These voices, this honesty that shows up when we dare to ask for it, are why we love radio.

What people are looking for, and what I think those of us who are pro-choice need to acknowledge, is a way in which we can respect that the decision can be made, it is a morally acceptable decision, but it is also something to be avoided.

Frances Kissling


[President Bush] doesn’t talk about the politics of this issue, he talks about the culture. And he has monopolized this idea of a culture of life. Well, I’m pro-life, and I’m pro-family, and I’m pro-choice. And I don’t see why people who are pro-choice can’t reframe the way that we think about the issue.

William Saletan


The way I would frame it is … the abortion is not the end of the story. That the woman who has the abortion either has children already, might want to have children in the future, that you’re not against motherhood to do so, and that it’s all part of having a healthy family.

William Saletan


…you really can’t have morality so at odds with reality, and the reality of women’s lives is that abortion is as much a part of it as childbirth, as breast cancer, as all of her sexuality.

Marlene Fried


…some of us on the progressive side of life have come to be obsessed with the law as a solution to everything. And the reality is that we’re not going to solve the abortion question by coming up with some neat little package of laws because abortion is more than a legal issue. It is a religious issue for some, it is a life issue, it is a family issue, it’s a relationship issue, it’s a primitive biological issue related to how we think about sex, how we think about women, how we think about relationships.

Frances Kissling


…I was very young when I had an abortion… I was in no position to be a mother. I had that abortion. Today I am having my 30th anniversary with the father of that child and we’ve had three more kids and had a long wonderful family life, we’re very pro-family. But I mourn the loss of that baby because it was very hard, it was a difficult emotional situation. We need to have that kind of a choice, but understand also the implications personally for it and not take it lightly, but it has to be there as a choice for women.

caller Melissa from Cape Cod


I feel like…I’m the kid that your previous caller might have had if abortion had not been available to her… [My mother] was utterly unprepared to be a mother, and it was a really, really hard time… I guess I just don’t see the morality of concentrating on the rights of a fetus, but then not giving a damn about whether an eight-year-old kid gets a good education or can go to the doctor.

caller Paul


I think if [Roe vs. Wade] were overruled there would be a split in the Republican party between … some who would want to ban it, some who would want to be very strictly restrictive, and some who would want fairly liberal abortion policy, and I think actually it would probably be politically a nightmare for the Republican party…

Stuart Taylor


I don’t know that the reframing is what is needed here. Obviously we need to talk to each other, we need to talk in ways that we haven’t before, and with this kind of honesty, but in the end, there are people who absolutely are dedicated to making abortion illegal. And whatever Roe said or didn’t say, and however it was framed, that movement would continue and be where it is today. That’s where the polarization is coming from.

Marlene Fried

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