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ABORTION: Strategies, Tactics, and The ‘Stockdale Paradox’

Of his seven years of captivity as the highest ranking naval officer POW in Vietnam, Admiral James Stockdale, said the following:

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

With the midterm elections behind us and Republican victories to be happy about (grain of salt firmly in hand), I was looking over various referendums and ballot measures across the states when something odd struck me: Why do personhood amendments fail so often and by so wide a margin?

On the surface you’d think, given the chance to vote on life versus death, most Americans would jump at the chance to choose life. After all, in a CNN poll from early last year, “62 percent want abortions illegal in all cases or legal only in certain instances while just 35% want abortions legal for any reason.” While other surveys generally split down the middle, the CNN poll shows quite a slant in favor of the unborn. However, personhood amendments like those in Colorado, Mississippi, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, continue to fail, and fail big.

Let’s first define abortion, since the meaning often gets clogged up in the debate: Abortion is the intentional ending of a pregnancy other than delivery of the child. People will sometimes confuse abortion when measures intended to save the life of a mother result in the death of her baby. While tragic, such an act is not abortion. Using Stockdale’s advice, our strategy is to end abortions regardless of reason. It’s plain, and it’s simple.

Our tactics, however, must keep in mind the most brutal facts of our current reality. One of those hard facts — and likely the most important — is the legally incoherent 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade, which somehow extracted the right to intentionally kill an unborn baby out of the right to privacy.

This decision, such as it was, makes no sense. Under the patently false premise of privacy, a mother can intentionally kill her unborn baby, but if that same mother were to drown her baby in the bath at home a few days after the baby was delivered, that’s murder. By the way, Roe only extended abortion protection up to the first trimester while the companion case of Doe vs. Bolton made abortion legal up to delivery.

For many of us, not diving into a fit of heartbreak and rage over this mental absurdity and moral turpitude is very hard, but refusing to accept Roe as a reality is like repeatedly saying “Barack Obama is an honest man.”

While it appears the state-by-state personhood movement has at its core the best of intentions, each time a related ballot initiative comes before the people for a vote, the initiative’s wording seems to not just get in the way but often negates existing state laws. A law in Wisconsin, for example, will kick in as soon as Roe is overturned, making abortion immediately illegal in that state. If the personhood amendment that was proposed had succeeded, it would have negated the existing law.

As I said, I tend to believe the Personhood movement has the right frame of mind, but there are those who say supporters are actually pro-abortion backers attempting to divide our ranks. In our modern political circus, would this surprise you in the least?

Personhood supporters should know that when you back a law that would put mothers who abort their babies in prison for life — or even on death row — the backlash is swift and sure. Take a look not just at the ballot results but what groups actually support or oppose the measures. The Catholic Church, National Right To Life, and Americans United for Life are among those that oppose personhood amendments. In their various iterations, when the amendments lose the pro-life movement gets a black eye, and virtually any pro-life candidate running in that same election are compromised. Yes, abortion is by definition murder, but we can’t win this way. Even when a personhood law wins in a state, as it did in Oklahoma, it fails in higher courts.

Abortion needs to be stopped, but let’s learn from what has repeatedly not worked, and change our tactics. We need to support federal efforts to overturn Roe, state efforts to force parental notifications and sonograms, and many others. Innocent life deserves our finest efforts, but in light of our opposition, we have to be smart tacticians.



Michael Cummings

Michael A. Cummings has a Bachelors in Business Management from St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, and a Masters in Rhetoric & Composition from Northern Arizona University. He has worked as a department store Loss Prevention Officer, bank auditor, textbook store manager, Chinese food delivery man, and technology salesman. Cummings wrote position pieces for the 2010 Trevor Drown for US Senate (AR) and 2012 Joe Coors for Congress (CO) campaigns.