NRL News

Abortion, cognitive dissonance, and the backfire effect

by | Aug 6, 2021

By Dave Andrusko

Death, once invited in, leaves his muddy boot prints everywhere.” — John Updike, from his 1968 novel, “Couples”

There is next to no chance even the closest readers of NRL News Today will remember the name Meaghan Winter. In 2013, she compiled the accounts of the abortion experiences of 26 women for an article that ran in New York magazine.

We wrote about these riveting stories at length. Although Winter’s goal was to “destigmatize” abortion, ironically the accounts were much more likely to make the average person even more skeptical of abortion, even more convinced it is a horrible “choice.”

For me, the overwhelming takeaway from Meaghan Winter’s story was sorrow. Abortion’s ugly truth—and bloody boot prints– is everywhere.

Consider the honesty of Winter’s introduction. Take this paragraph, for example:

“And yet abortion is something we tend to be more comfortable discussing as an abstraction; the feelings it provokes are too complicated to face in all their particularities. Which is perhaps why, even in doggedly liberal parts of the country, very few people talk openly about the experience, leaving the reality of abortion, and the emotions that accompany it, a silent witness in our political discourse. Even now, four decades after Roe, some of the women we spoke with would talk only if we didn’t print their real names.”

Again, I completely understand that the whole point is that the more often women tell their stories, in theory the less “stigma” will attach. But it’s not stigma that is running roughshod in many of their hearts but deep, deep regret. Which is why if you take the time to read all the stories, you come away aching for almost all of these women.

Why do I mention this on a Friday—and the last post of the week at that? In looking for something else (which often happens to me), I ran across a piece that ran in Scientific American.

As was the case with Winter’s story, the takeaway the author of “How to Convince Someone When Facts Fail” would have us take home is not necessarily what we carry away. In fact, the impact for many of us is just the opposite.

He was ridiculing the usual easy targets but also people who simply disagree with his conventional liberal pieties. So what explains “This power of belief over evidence”? It’s “the result of two factors: cognitive dissonance and the backfire effect.”

The author quotes a psychologist who wrote back in the 1950s [!] that cognitive dissonance can be described as ”the uncomfortable tension that comes from holding two conflicting thoughts simultaneously.”

He wrote of one group that “sought frantically to convince the world of their beliefs,” and when their prediction didn’t come true, they made “a series of desperate attempts to erase their rankling dissonance by making prediction after prediction in the hope that one would come true.”

Can you come up with a better example of this than the promises made to women if only they abort their unplanned children? On a specific front, how about the nonstop accusation that pregnancy help centers are (a) ineffective, (b) too effective, which means (c) they must be “lying to women?” 

Likewise with Abortion Pill Reversal. To pro-abortionists, evidence of their effectiveness is beside the point. APR must be a sham, must be even “dangerous” to women. It seems as if every time they attack Abortion Pill Reversal, they up the ante.

But, as I see it, this is like the game of Jenga. Many blocks have already been removed and the abortion tower is already shaky. Remove that block—the guarantee that once an abortion is begun the baby cannot be saved—and the whole tower could collapse. 

Just a word about the backfire effect. According to the results of a series of experiments, we find what they call the backfire effect “in which corrections actually increase misperceptions among the group in question.” 

Why? “Because it threatens their worldview or self-concept.”

Exactly. Abortion is a necessity; it is a good; it advances women’s prospects; it is the axle out of which all the many spokes of “reproductive justice” extend. 

But what if killing your own children accomplishes none of these? What if abortion is an unspeakable evil, one that takes the life of helpless unborn babies and maims so many of their mothers?

Could there possibly be a more telling example of the backfire effect than that?

Categories: Abortion