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Opinion: Columnists

Noemie Emery: Beyond the fringe in the abortion debate

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In the multiple uproars over Kermit Gosnell -- whose mission-creep morphed from abortion to murder -- two key reactions have been overlooked.

When the story went mainstream in mid-April, the moderate wing of the pro-choice contingent -- those who think abortion should be "safe, legal, rare" and first trimester only -- reacted with shock, complaining that restrictions had not been honored and admitting that pro-choice rhetoric had made life seem disposable.

On the other hand, the activist core responded by saying that there should be no restrictions on abortion, and that life hadn't been cheapened enough. "This is what illegal abortion looks like," said feminist author Katha Pollitt, although abortion was already legal.

"You make them victims ... because in their desperation they'll turn anywhere," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL. Pro-choice activist Kate Michelman said abortion ought to be funded, and commonplace.

One by one, they outlined their dream: Cheery abortion clinics springing up everywhere, "fetal demise" guaranteed at each stage, for any reason, all brought to you by the federal government.

Only one thing is wrong -- most people don't want it. In fact, they don't want it at all.

Just how far out to lunch are these pro-choice fanatics? Quite far enough. Polls show that, while conflicted majorities would allow abortion in the first trimester, support falls to less than one-fourth of respondents in the second trimester, and to about 10 percent in the third.

As for public funding, people oppose any government support for abortion -- even for buying private health plans which cover it -- by 20- and 30-point spreads.

This, plus the fact that pro-life feeling is rising in the new generation, led Jennifer Senior to write in New York Magazine that America's pro-choice ranks are split between the small-and-intense and the wide-and-conflicted, and that "the idea that ... pro-life wing nuts have hijacked the agenda and thwarted the national will is a convenient but fanciful" myth.

In fact, both extremes frighten the middle, the difference being that the media treat the pro-choice fanatics as mainstream and the pro-life ones as marginal.

It is this illusion that the Gosnell trial and related discoveries have made inroads in taking apart.

Pro-choice moderates accept ambivalence, and so accept limits, but extremists believe that the order of things -- that sex creates life, and that women bear children -- is a law passed by a Republican Congress, which, if they try hard enough, they can somehow contrive to repeal.

But their efforts lead them to try to defy human nature, which in most cases bends toward life. Most people want to shield children. Most doctors don't want to perform abortions, especially late ones.

"Peg Johnson ... remembers the first time her patients ... began to co-opt the language of the protesters outside," Senior tells us. "And it wasn't because these protesters were brainwashing them. ... They were tapping into things we all have some discomfort about."

They also have trouble fitting abortion, with all of its gore, into the rubric of nurture and caring they keep trying so hard to project. They express shock that Gosnell could be so careless of women, but why should a man who kept children's feet as a keepsake treat other patients more kindly?

They're fetuses, aren't they, just 30 years older. Why should he care about them?

"Kinder and gentler" just doesn't square with feminist dreams of clean, cheery clinics filled with sweet, gentle people who collapse infants' skulls in a sensitive manner. But perhaps they can do things to make it seem nicer.

Perhaps they can paint the walls pink.

Washington Examiner Columnist Noemie Emery is contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of "Great Expectations: The Troubled Lives of Political Families."

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