Joffe's basic point is that the narrow issue of abortion rights needs to be contextualized (or "reframed" as her fellow Rockridge Instituters would have it) in wider terms as a matter of reproductive rights. There was one turn in Joffe's argument I considered especially interesting, because it shows the connections between the economic issues and the cultural issues that divide the country:
Eugenic ideas have made a comeback of sorts in the aftermath of the landmark welfare reform bill of 1996. That reshaping of welfare has put time limits on receipt of assistance, imposed "family caps" that restrict the number of children a particular welfare recipient can claim, and above all, reinforced the message that one should only have children that one can afford. Indeed, though abortion rates have recently declined for most women, the one exception to this is low-income black women, and this rise in abortion appears to be closely related to welfare reform.I'd like to see this point argued and evidenced a little more compellingly. But let's for the moment assume that it is true that cutting off of child welfare support for poor women has in fact resulted not so much in poor men and women amending their sexual behavior (as sexual reactionaries hope), but rather simply in the aborting of the unwanted pregnancies that inevitably ensue--pregnancies they might have taken to term if child welfare had been available to them. In short, so-called "welfare reform" has made more of the pregnancies that happen to poor mothers be unwanted. (This also resonates with international evidence: in general, in OECD countries, the stronger the welfare states, the lower the abortion rates.) This observation suggests a useful wedge strategy for Democrats: talk about the welfare state as a way to hold down abortion rates.
One problem with this strategy is that it implicitly cedes the moral ground on abortion, i.e. it admits that abortion is a bad thing that should be mitigated.
While I am unconvinced by Joffe's claim that an effective defense of abortion rights requires overcoming this moral stigma, she is surely right to connect abortion rights to the defense of sexual liberation (e.g. "the pursuit of happiness"). In any event, removing the moral stigma of abortion would certainly require (as a necessary though not sufficient condition) that Americans admit their commitment to sexual freedom, and to communicate operationalize this freedom requires a defense of abortion rights.
But it's hard to know how this would work politically. Could an American politician look the American people in the eye and say, "How many of you had sex before you got married? If you'd gotten pregnant or gotten the girl pregnant, would you have wanted to be forced to have that baby, to spend your life raising that child with that person you had sex with?" Surveys consistently show that American in practice absolutely and increasingly embrace their sexual freedom and make use of that freedom: 72% of kids have sex before they leave high school, and only 24% of people in 1996 said they considered sex before marriage immoral.
Despite these statistics, it's hard to overestimate the degree of latent sexual guilt and attendant hypocrisy that courses through our culture. Will Americans put up with being told, "Look, 90% of you had sex before you got married, and the only difference between you and the women who want abortions is that you're lucky your activity didn't result in a pregnancy. 'Let he who is without sin among you...' etc. etc." No doubt it would be possible to find a less offensive formulation of this observation, but even so, I think this is a tough political sell. But still, there should be people out there saying it, if not the figureheads of the Democratic Party. Simply articulating and rearticulating the point can move the moral sticks, as it were.
What would it take to recast our ethical culture so that people would recognize that the greatest moral imperative is not to abate sin, but to abate suffering?