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Embracing cognitive dissonance?

by | Feb 4, 2015


Editor’s note. This first appeared at

Naomi Wolf

Naomi Wolf

The abortion rights movement has long struggled with a fundamental problem of cognitive dissonance. Most “pro-choice” people are nice, well-meaning folks; they certainly don’t view themselves as the sort of people who would condone violence against helpless human beings. But abortion always requires the violent destruction and disposal of a human being. How, then, to support abortion while staying true to humane values? This is the question.

Abortion advocates begin with the conclusion—support for abortion on demand—and then try to work their way backwards to a justification. For a long time, the dominant solution was to deny the humanity of the unborn child and the violence of abortion. “Clump of cells” was the key phrase. But the denial of scientific facts couldn’t last forever, and as sonogram images became more and more ubiquitous, pro-abortion leaders struggled to maintain a hold on public opinion.

Abortion advocates are now in the midst of a large-scale attempt to reinvent themselves. Their new take? Don’t try to resolve the cognitive dissonance—embrace it!

The idea is to reach out to middle-of-the-road people by acknowledging that unborn children are alive and that abortion kills them—without, of course, reconsidering the premise that abortion on demand must be preserved at all costs. I call this the “abortion is great, as long as we sort of feel bad about it” movement, or the “bats**t crazy” movement for short.

The subscribers to this view actually seem to believe that this cognitive dissonance is a sign of intellectual achievement. They like to think that they grasp the great complexity of abortion, unlike those narrow-minded, plebian “antis.” (Why settle for just being wrong, when you can also be obnoxious?)

This isn’t an entirely new phenomenon—it goes back at least as far as Naomi Wolf’s “Our Bodies, Our Souls” piece in the mid-nineties—but it’s been resurgent lately. From Planned Parenthood’s abandonment of the phrase “pro-choice” (in favor of talking about how golly, abortion sure is morally complex), to Mary Beth William’s infamous “So what if abortion ends life?” article in Salon, the crazy movement is getting lots of press.

Abortion advocates appear convinced that this is the way to bring middle-of-the-road people into the fold. They’d love to embrace abortion; all this time, they’ve just been looking for permission to have ambiguous feelings! So the thinking goes.

But the American people don’t merely want to feel bad about abortions—they want to stop abortions. Polling shows that a majority of Americans—and even a slim majority of self-described pro-choicers—would like to see a ban on abortion in the second trimester (a limitation that cannot happen until Roe v. Wade is overturned). In the third trimester, 79% of self-described pro-choicers join the pro-life side in wanting abortion illegal. And all the various restrictions proposed short of a ban, such as informed consent, waiting periods, parental consent for minors, also enjoy majority support from middle-of-the-road Americans.

All of these limitations are vehemently opposed by the abortion lobby, whatever messaging of the day they’re using. To those who truly understand the tragedy of abortion, they can offer nothing more than lip service. That is why the pro-life movement will continue to win people’s hearts and minds until all human life, born and preborn, is protected.

Categories: Abortion