Why NARAL's new video is ethically vapid

(RNS) Last week, NARAL Pro-Choice America released an online video that neatly exposed significant fault lines in abortion politics today.

The comedic video sought to create sympathy for women navigating abortion restrictions while mocking democratically enacted laws that question the self-evident righteousness of abortion on demand.

Instead, the tasteless video, or ad, exposed pro-abortion ideology at its ethically weakest and intellectually feeblest.

Meant to parody a popular Jerry Seinfeld web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Abortions” features a man and a woman hoping to visit a clinic for a convenient, hassle-free abortion. Along the way, they are thwarted by laws designed to restrict access through clinic regulations, waiting periods and information disclosures.

Unable to obtain an abortion after driving between sites and taking an ice cream break, the man drives the pregnant woman home as a voiceover laments: “It shouldn’t be this hard to get an abortion.”

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The point is that anti-abortion forces are chipping away at abortion rights incrementally by limiting access to a legal medical procedure. And this is true, so far as it goes.

But the six-minute video’s message reveals the extremism and tone-deafness of pro-abortion rhetoric. Unable to abide any consideration of the fetus at all, NARAL portrays abortion as an easy fix for women who do not wish to “incubate a person.”

The female actor concludes, “It’s my choice, OK?” Then, seeing a father and his playful child, reassures herself by saying, “We don’t need more of this in the world.”

Particularly galling is NARAL’s caricature of crisis pregnancy centers. These organizations, usually church-sponsored, educate women who face unintended pregnancies about options other than abortion.

I used to hold considerable antipathy toward these centers. But as I got to know people who supported them, I came to accept their place in the front lines of our messy culture war over legal abortion.

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Friends who volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers and support them financially have shown impressive compassion and kindness along with their rigid moral convictions.

NARAL’s unfair depiction derides crisis pregnancy centers as anti-science Bible thumpers preaching shame and damnation.

The video was most tone-deaf when recognitions of the unborn child’s humanity were met with mockery and scorn.

In my adult life, I have supported a woman’s right to choose. Coming of age politically in the Clinton years, I resonated with the president’s argument that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” Safe for the woman, that is.

I do not want to live in a society where women die in back-alley abortions, are victimized by a dangerous black market and suffer the mental and physical scars of attempting the procedure themselves.

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Public opinion is on my side. Americans are deeply ambivalent about abortion, with attitudes barely budging in the past 40 years. Considering how rapidly attitudes on same-sex marriage have shifted, it must be maddening to abortion proponents that anti-abortion attitudes remain so persistent.

But the activists and interest groups that control the Democratic and Republican parties grow more extreme every election cycle.

When I was growing up, I could safely assume abortion opponents supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Likewise, even the most strident abortion-rights supporters presumably wanted to reduce the number of abortions. Most abortion-rights supporters conceded that legal abortion was ethically troubling -- a necessary evil, at best.

In 20 years, Republicans’ anti-abortion extremism has grown with the two-pronged strategy of ultimately seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, but also enacting as many restrictions as possible in the meantime.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democratic Party speedily and enthusiastically adopts abortion-rights activists’ contention that there is no legitimate basis for moral concerns at all. In this view, legal abortion is a sacrosanct social good on which all female empowerment and liberation lies.

Americans know both sides are lying to them, but this new NARAL video unwittingly reveals the ethical vapidity of the pro-abortion movement with unusual clarity.

As Republicans and Democrats convene this month and pass ever more extreme platform planks on abortion, neither party speaks for me.

And thanks to NARAL’s offensive new video, my tenuous support for the logic and rhetoric of abortion defenders is weaker than ever.

I bet I am not the only one.

(Jacob Lupfer is a contributing editor at RNS and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University)


  1. The authors anti choice bias is obvious. Those “democratically enacted” restrictions were ruled violations of the rights of women. The author admits they are there to intentionally frustrate the ability to obtain a legal and safe abortion. All pretense of medical standards and public safety being an outright lie. Humor is being used to highlight the pernicious and burdensome nature of the restrictions. What he calls vapid is really just tapping into the dark nature of these restrictions. Ridiculing an evil rather than meeting it with anger.

    The characterization of pregnancy crisis centers is entirely fair. Their entire purpose is to browbeat women from considering abortion. It is all in service of Bible thumping dogma, not concerned women.

    “that there is no legitimate basis for moral concerns at all”

    Those concerns have no business being law. They are personal matters. Your opinion about abortion doesn’t become a right to interject yourself in any such decisions. The dishonesty of the anti abortion position and it’s complete disregard for the lives of women is highlighted quite well.

  2. Without wading into the particulars of the abortion debate, can I just say that your use of the term “bias” here is completely inaccurate? A “bias” indicates a set of presuppositions meant to color the (purported) objectivity of a factual argument. This is a personal opinion piece; the author openly acknowledges his own positions. There’s no duplicity or “bias.”

    Second, unless you have the same kind of personal experience with crisis pregnancy centers as the author, it is at the very least uncharitable if not unfair to paint them with such a broad set of sweeping generalizations. I, too, have encountered workers at such institutions and they had a deep and real concern for the women they served.

    I think you missed the point of this piece and you certainly seem to have missed the author’s plea for thoughtfulness, nuance, and deep consideration of what is, on all sides, a very complex set of issues with a web of philosophical, moral, ethical, spiritual, personal, and political concerns attached to them.

  3. The crisis centers are bought and paid for by churches with an anti choice agenda. Their reason for existence is entirely to dissuade women from considering abortions. There is nothing inaccurate about that. Hence they are lauded by anti choice pundits and limited by those supporting a woman’s choice.

    The author is being a hypocrite. Attacking something with humor is not being vapid. It’s far less harsh than the target of the video deserves.

  4. “…the self-evident righteousness of abortion on demand”? Holey, holey, holey!

    Did you accidentally write “righteousness” when you meant to say “rightfulness”? Because that’s what it is: A woman’s right to choose what’s right for her. (And your use of “on demand” is misleading; in fact, the U.S. has very specific restrictions on abortion.)

    How about your self-righteous, arrogant, bullying, Better’n U. curriculum of dictating to total strangers (your equals, by the way, not your inferiors) what they can and can’t do in making their personal decisions about their proprietary bodies in their private lives, all because you have willingly and willfully deluded yourself into thinking that your freely chosen belief “self-evidently” trumps theirs? Tua culpa, Mr. Lupfer.

    You have the right to hold yourself — only — to your own belief.

    Look up “hubris”. Look up “belief”. Look up “sociopath”. Then mind your own business.

  5. “on all sides”? How many sides would you have us believe there are? Are you implying that you or other strangers qualify as “sides” that somehow merit a say-so in a woman’s most personal decision? Such hubris. The only “side” is hers.

  6. Actually, I don’t disagree with you, fundamentally. You shouldn’t make assumptions about my hubris or my position on abortion. What I’m suggesting is that extreme callousness and fundamentalism regarding this issue can be found in a variety of flavors, as we see in the video referenced by this piece.

  7. I absolutely agree with you, A_Dan_A, in regard to how those not involved still line up as if it’s their fight. You make a very important point. I obviously didn’t get from your last post what you have clarified here, so I do apologize for mistakenly thinking you were trying to insert yourself and others into women’s abortion decisions.

  8. Yeah, I understand. But that’s not the issue I was trying to get at here. I was merely trying to suggest that the decision to have an abortion, even if it rests solely with the woman making that decision, as you and I agree on, is a weighty one. A serious one. One that requires some soul-searching and reflection, and shouldn’t be dismissed, as our writer above suggests, in a callous and (un)funny way.

  9. No argument here. Of course, I doubt any woman would take that decision lightly, and I’m positive no woman needs to be reminded of its seriousness, even with a commercial that gives her an opportunity to vent some understandable steam at the decidedly unfunny obstacles thrust in her way by self-importantly callous politicians and other graduates of Better’n U.

  10. I will certainly attempt to avoid both outgoing and incoming artillery here. The author seems to be in favor of a woman’s right to choose, but wrote what I considered to be a thoughtful, well balanced analysis about this particular theatre in the Culture War. If we all could turn down the thermostat a bit, talking to one another and not past one another, absent rage and disdain, we would all benefit. Unless rage and rhetorical warfare is meat and drink to those who engage in it.

  11. The laws affect poor women who cannot travel to have an abortion. Many of these laws are patronizing and infantilse women.

  12. I will believe the anti choice crowd is not about controlling women when they campaign just as hard and successfully to control male sexual behavior. Only then.

  13. The only people who can discuss civil liberties in a polite and genteel manner are the ones who don’t take them seriously or seek to deny them in others. 🙂

  14. “Friends who volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers and support them financially have shown impressive compassion and kindness along with their rigid moral convictions.”

    Can we agree that no one should go into a “crisis pregnancy center” confused about what its purpose is and that no abortions are provided there?

    “I do not want to live in a society where women die in back-alley abortions, are victimized by a dangerous black market and suffer the mental and physical scars of attempting the procedure themselves.”

    Great! I do wonder at your methods, though. Making abortions illegal just means that abortions will be done illegally.

  15. And I’ll believe it when they strive to reduce unwanted pregnancies through effective sex education and convenient access to contraceptives.

  16. I will believe that the “Pro-Choice” crowd is really about choice, when the campaign just as hard to allow School Choice and Choice of not being under Obamacare

  17. Bravo! I don’t want Pat Robertson and the other religious ayutollahs in my bedroom!

    Too much time is spent on here, defending narrow, personal views from small egos. Having abortions be “available, safe and rare” is the democratic way that recognizes women’s–and men’s, right to work out what’s best for them. Let’s not forget that adoption is a beautiful option under most circumstances. Lutheran Social Services pioneered open adaptions where parents are collegial and the birth-parents aren’t denied access to their child as he/she grows up. This proves that there truly is a better, “third-way” from the legalistic black/white toggle.

  18. I had a rejoinder, but on the basis of the smiley face appending your comment, I will refrain, thus being both polite and genteel.

  19. I’m pro women controlling their own bodies as full, autonomous, adult human beings.

  20. *checks phone, checks watch, checks date book, checks past four 10-year calendars* Been waiting long too?

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