The controversy over the funding of Planned Parenthood from the Susan G. Komen Foundation is an interesting one from a cognitive science point of view. George Lakoff, a linguist and cognitive scientist, points out in his book, "Don't Think of An Elephant", that how we think about an issue is automatically determined by the language that is used to define the problem. For example, if I say to you "don't think of an elephant", you can't help but imagine an elephant. No amount of mental work can stop this. It is part of how the mind works.
The ability to define the parameters of thought is called "framing". In politics, the framers are able to win arguments before the battle even begins. This is especially true considering many people don't think more than superficially. Most people make decisions based upon their emotions. This is why marketing and advertising work so well. Just look at the Super Bowl ads. Corporations spend millions of dollars on commercials featuring half naked women selling cars, celebrities telling us to buy things, and animated characters hocking a variety of wares. These ads work, otherwise corporations wouldn't waste the money.
On NPR yesterday, Neil Conan was interviewing a reporter about the Susan G. Komen Foundation controversy. His framing of the question automatically tainted the interview.
"So, [Mr. Reporter], you are opposed to abortion rights, so what is your opinion about this decision?"
Wisely, the reporter stopped Mr. Conan and clarified his position.
"Before we begin, I'd like to clarify things. I don't define myself as "anti-abortion rights." I believe, because of my religion, that human life begins at conception and that a human life is taken during abortion. Therefore, I am 'anti-abortion.'"
Neil Conan tried to dismiss the criticism.
"Well, your editors will have to talk with my editors."
But the criticism of the reporter remains valid. By defining someone as being opposed to someone else's rights, the minds of the listener have already been framed and primed toward the issue. People who are opposed to abortion aren't mean, nasty, small-minded turds who hate women, despite some attempts to paint them that way. Many of them consider human life to begin at conception. If this is one's position, then it makes sense that the right to life of the unborn would be hierarchically more important than the right of the mother to terminate the pregnancy. Given this understanding, using terms like "anti-choice" and "anti-woman" are unfair and mean spiritedly biased.
This goes both ways. If I support the repeal of Roe v. Wade and I define those who support it as being "pro-abortion", this is an unfair label. No decent people are "pro-abortion." Supporters believe that abortion is a right that women should be able to exercise given difficult circumstances. They aren't murderous lechers who hate fetuses.
Getting back to the Planned Parenthood issue, there are larger problems that haven't been addressed by either side. First, Planned Parenthood does provide health screening services along with references to abortion providers. If Planned Parenthood cared about providing health services to women, it could simply promise to segregate the funds received from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to be used solely for health screenings instead of being provided for abortion related services. This would be a fair compromise. But instead, Planned Parenthood decided to make the thing political. This isn't surprising. Given its history, Planned Parenthood is not neutral on the abortion issue. Just research the history of Planned Parenthood and of its founder. It is very much in support of Roe v. Wade. The second issue is that women shouldn't be forced to go to charities to receive health care screenings because they don't have health insurance. All Americans should have free and universal access to health care coverage. The United States is the only industrialized First World nation without universal health care coverage. No one seems to be scandalized or worried about this, although they should be. The current health care system is the most inhumane system in the world.
The controversy here has become laden with value judgments instead of discussion of the real issues. This is unfortunate. It was my hope that news outlets like NPR would be less biased. Of course I was wrong.