In past years I've suggested some problems with the "new" Focus on the Family.
Now they have come out with a really strange little booklet about RU486, the abortion pill. By all means, read it for yourself.
Apparently the idea is to be oh-so-clever and distribute a pamphlet that has a subliminal pro-life message and that will influence women away from RU486 by subconscious cues while appearing morally neutral and even giving tips on how to take the regimen of abortion pills safely if one so decides.
The pamphlet comes across as a medical booklet written to give information to a woman about a medication she is thinking of taking. That genre, of course, means that her well-being is expected to be the primary consideration.
It emphasizes the dangers to her of RU486, such as the danger that she has an undetected ectopic pregnancy, and complications and deaths that other women have suffered, all carefully documented from the FDA. These are placed rather noticeably toward the beginning of the pamphlet. It emphasizes not allowing oneself to be rushed into a decision, repeatedly mentions the "known risks" of RU486, and urges the woman not to use an abortion clinic that doesn't have access to a surgical facility. Since anecdotes from former abortion providers tell us that abortion clinics often do rush the woman into a decision, these admonitions may steer women away from taking RU486 at all.
The pamphlet also contains an explicit statement that the abortion pill does not save lives because "an incredibly special and completely unique person is growing inside every pregnant woman." In the same section, it uses the word "baby" for this person, says that "the abortion pill always leads to the death of a baby," and encourages the woman to look at fetal development information at the Mayo Clinic's web site.
In all of these ways the pamphlet is clearly intended to discourage chemical abortions.
But the pamphlet also tacitly treats getting an abortion as a morally acceptable option. It even contains "do" and "don't" lists based on the assumption that some women may choose to take the abortion pill, including, most disturbingly, "Do...take the misoprostol orally" and "Do...take the misoprostol only at the healthcare professional's office."
Those are particularly striking because they are explicitly telling a woman how to take a pill that causes an abortion.
The non-judgmental language of the pamphlet is also confusingly bound up with the language that discourages abortion. For example, it says,
Try to think beyond the pressures you face right now, and consider the long-term impact of your choices. Don't let anyone rush you into a medical decision before you understand the risks and consider all options.
One of your options is to take the "abortion pill" to cause what is called a medical abortion. But first, there are some things you should know.
The emphasis here is on slowing down, not being pressured, etc., and on warning the woman against possible negative effects of a medical abortion. But the assumption is still there that doing so is "one of your options," and it is left completely ambiguous as to whether this is "one of your options" in a moral sense as opposed to a purely descriptive, legal sense.
Similarly, at the end, the pamphlet says (after talking about the baby),
"Take time to consider all your options and get counseling from someone who does not have a financial or personal stake in your decision. Then choose well."
Does this or does it not mean that one might "choose well" by choosing the "option" of abortion?
Even some of the warnings, probably intended to rule out some abortion facilities in the woman's area, assume that the woman might choose a medical abortion and that she should be careful to do it safely:
"Do not go to an abortion provider who lacks immediate access to a surgical facility in case you need an emergency surgical abortion." Of course, no such "need" would arise if the abortionist were not attempting a chemical abortion in the first place.
No doubt the pro-aborts would hate the pamphlet because it's trying to discourage women from using the abortion pill regimen. But "the pro-aborts would hate this" is an incredibly low standard for the moral acceptability of what pro-lifers try to get into the hands of pregnant women.
There is something eerily postmodern about this approach to the entire issue. Right and wrong become irrelevant categories and are made to seem that way deliberately in order to give the advice an appearance of objectivity. It is, of course, rather ironic that tacit moral relativism should be taken to be a necessary condition for medical objectivity!
I think that this sort of strange corruption of rhetoric arises from a sense of helplessness to prevent abortions in our current milieu in any other way. Since we are not able to prohibit abortion outright, we think that we have to appeal to women who are thinking of abortion in a way that appears entirely non-judgmental, as this is thought to be the only way to induce them to choose life.
To be as fair as possible, I wouldn't be surprised if this pamphlet actually does induce some women not to have an RU486 abortion. It might even prevent some abortions altogether, as a woman bonds with her baby as the pregnancy continues or is reluctant to undergo the invasive procedure of a surgical abortion.
I have read of a sidewalk counselor who tells women, "This is your choice, and I wouldn't take that choice away from you, but..." and then tries to dissuade them. And it sometimes works!
But the result is not the only thing that matters. If we are pro-life, our goal should be to "take that choice away" just as we legally "take away the choice" of killing a five-year-old child. If killing five-year-olds by parental choice were legal, we shouldn't tell a stressed-out mother, "Taking little Johnny to the clinic is your choice, and I wouldn't want to take that away from you, but please let me give you some additional things to consider." Even if it worked, it would not be worth the implication that bumping off little Johnny is a morally viable alternative.
Similarly, the Focus pamphlet about the abortion pill promotes the idea (though no doubt its authors would deny this) that it is not objectively wrong to have an RU486 abortion. It just might be unwise, all things considered, or not right for you.
This sort of rhetoric desensitizes people to the moral reality of abortion. Since we cannot imagine talking in this way about killing an older child, should we be surprised when trollish pro-choicers suggest that pro-lifers "don't really believe" that abortion is the murder of a child? Of course, trolls are going to troll no matter what, but ostensibly pro-life writings like this, scrubbed of all moral terminology, and clearly implying that abortion is something that one might legitimately choose (in which case one should just be careful to do it safely), give unfortunate excuse for such scoffing.
The purist-incrementalist debate will no doubt go on in the pro-life camp until our body politic comes to an end, or the world comes to an end, or the Lord returns. It's easy to become so wearied by that never-ending debate that one decides to default to anything that might be said on what sounds like the incrementalist side: "Don't make the perfect the enemy of the good." "We have to do what we can." "This strategy is effective."
The point is not that everything that is defended using such slogans is wrong. But careful distinctions must be made. The problem lies with an uncritical acceptance of the slogans qua slogans and of actions that flow from them. We have to ask ourselves whether an action or a piece of rhetoric really does compromise our moral position on a matter of life and death.
The rhetoric in this pamphlet, in my opinion, crosses well over that line.