from Talk to Action
In Life's Dominion, Ronald Dworkin posited that although most people believe that abortion is sometimes justifiable, they also believe it "a kind of cosmic shame when human life at any stage is deliberately extinguished."
Dworkin concluded that "because opinions about abortion rest on differing interpretations of a shared belief in the sanctity of human life, they are themselves essentially religious beliefs" -- which made the banning of abortion an unconstitutional establishment of religion.
But as self-styled political "moderates" decide that some forms of human life count more than others -- and that Christian conservative votes count most of all -- there's plenty of cosmic shame to go around.
Writing at The American Prospect, Scott Lemieux berated the opportunists of the privileged pundit class for claiming that "untethering abortion rights" from Roe v. Wade is a win-win strategy for Democrats. Along with dissecting the just plain wrongness of their reasoning, Lemieux cast disinfecting sunlight on the genesis of their argument.
The fact that commentators making the political case for abandoning Roe never apply the same logic to other issues reflects a general tendency to take women's rights less seriously. ... [P]undits searching for issues on which Democrats can appeal to social conservatives are more likely to cite abortion than, say, church-and-state issues, where the liberal position is far more unpopular and compromises would have far less direct impact on people's lives. Ultimately, to call these contrarian arguments "pro-choice" is a non sequitur. They're only compelling if the value of protecting a woman's right to choose is accorded almost no weight.
Indeed, what is finally most intolerable about the new anti-Roe consensus is just this willingness to throw the rights of others under the bus while patting oneself on the back for making noble compromises.
Such callous disregard for what happens to women -- especially women lacking in social or financial resources -- when abortion is not an option enables anti-choice activists such as South Dakota's Leslee "Nolo Contendere" Unruh, practitioner of an antiabortion strategy that paints stripping women of their constitutional rights as feminism. As reported by Reva Siegel and Sarah Blustain in American Prospect, the nature of woman is defined only by her capacity for reproduction. According to the Report of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion [pdf link], any female who finds childbearing in the service of the state to be untenable is suffering from "clouded judgment" resulting from "an emotional crisis."
Asserting that women are subject to coerced and dangerous abortions, the state prohibited the procedure ... not only to protect the unborn, but to protect women's choices, women's health, and women's welfare -- new justifications that borrow pro-choice language and infuse it with some very old notions about women's roles. Prohibiting abortion, the movement now emphasizes, protects women's health and choices as mothers.
[T]he task force made repeated claims about women's nature. It asserted that women would never freely choose an abortion -- even absent outside pressures -- because doing so would violate "the mother's fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child." The task force took as a statement of biological and psychological fact that a mother's connection to her unborn baby was more authentic than her own statement of desire not to be pregnant.
[T]he woman-protective argument against abortion will spread, making ever more commonplace the 19th-century forms of reasoning about women that underwrote the law. Pro-choice pundits who say there's nothing to lose in Roe might think again.
In the wake of a Supreme Court ruling couched in the rhetoric of Operation Outcry, it is alarming to see tolerance of that position from what claims to be the opposition.
On the 33rd anniversary of the Roe decision, William Saletan -- one of those nominally pro-choice pundits assailed by Scott Lemieux -- launched what he called "A War We Can All Support" in the New York Times.
It's time for the abortion-rights movement to declare war on abortion.
You can tell yourself that the pro-choice majority stayed home in the last election, or that they voted on other issues, or that Democrats botched the debate. But those excuses are getting tired. Sixteen years ago, as the behavior of voters and politicians showed, abortion was clearly a winning issue for you. Now it isn't. You have a problem.
For several decades, abortion-rights advocates have tried to change the subject. The real question, they argued, was who should make the abortion decision, not what that decision should be. With the question put that way, they won. But they never faced the question of abortion's morality. ... When the question is "what" instead of "who" -- morality instead of autonomy -- pro-lifers win.
Abortion is bad, and the ideal number of abortions is zero.
A year ago, Senator Hillary Clinton marked Roe's anniversary by reminding family planning advocates that abortion "represents a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women." Some people in the audience are reported to have gasped or shaken their heads during her speech. Perhaps they thought she had said too much.
The truth is, she didn't say enough. ... If the pro-choice movement won't lead the way, politicians just might.
Saletan asks, "Isn't that better than anything you heard from John Kerry?"
John Kerry? You mean the man Democrats for Life of America called the "Hitler of the Unborn"?
What I hear is the braying of one more Trojan donkey.
After the publication of his NYT op-ed, Canadian writer Joyce Arthur's email exchange with Saletan ended with his assertion that "it's a grave moral, not just political, mistake to equate [abortion] with birth control, reproductive choice, or women's freedom." But Arthur -- who has forgotten more about both women and abortion since she woke up this morning than Saletan and his pundit buddies will ever know -- calls their capitulation to the notion of "cosmic shame" what it is: the same contempt for women that fuels the Christian right.
When it comes to abortion, the politics is separate from the personal. Almost all women who have abortions do so because, essentially, they recognize the necessity of being good mothers, and that having a child (or another child) right now will undermine the welfare of themselves and their existing or future families. That is the true morality behind the abortion decision - the biological imperative to be a good mother - as well as the fundamental need to control one's own body and life (which is not an abstract right, but a sociobiological instinct).
Abortion is inextricably intertwined with pregnancy and motherhood - that is, good mothers will have both babies and abortions. They do so the world over, they always have, and they always will. Half of all women in the world will have at least one abortion in their lifetimes. The abortion experience is part of who we are as women, a fundamental element of our life experience, the means we use to optimize the survival of our families and ourselves. Therefore, labelling abortion as bad is being judgmental against women's very essence. It denigrates our humanity. You are labelling women's behaviour as bad, when in fact it's just women being women. When you say abortion is bad, you're literally saying that women are bad.
Your premise that abortion is bad and should be reduced lacks vision and fails to address the core issue. Which is -- the American people do not trust or respect women as equal players in society, entitled and empowered to make their own decisions around their sexuality, ethics, and lives. ... The root problem behind that lack of trust and respect for women stems mostly from religion and patriarchy.
But as noted last fall by Bob Herbert of the New York Times, the devaluation of women and girls in our society is so all-pervasive that few give it a second thought. Why Aren't We Shocked?
In the recent shootings at an Amish schoolhouse in rural Pennsylvania and a large public high school in Colorado, the killers went out of their way to separate the girls from the boys, and then deliberately attacked only the girls.
In the widespread coverage that followed these crimes, very little was made of the fact that only girls were targeted. Imagine if a gunman had gone into a school, separated the kids up on the basis of race or religion, and then shot only the black kids. Or only the white kids. Or only the Jews.
There would have been thunderous outrage. The country would have first recoiled in horror, and then mobilized in an effort to eradicate that kind of murderous bigotry. There would have been calls for action and reflection. And the attack would have been seen for what it really was: a hate crime.
None of that occurred because these were just girls, and we have become so accustomed to living in a society saturated with misogyny that violence against females is more or less to be expected. ... The disrespectful, degrading, contemptuous treatment of women is so pervasive and so mainstream that it has just about lost its ability to shock.
We're all implicated in this carnage because the relentless violence against women and girls is linked at its core to the wider society's casual willingness to dehumanize women and girls, to see them first and foremost as sexual vessels--objects--and never, ever as the equals of men.
"Once you dehumanize somebody, everything is possible," said Taina Bien-Aimé, executive director of the women's advocacy group Equality Now.
In the Pro-Life Nation of El Salvador, that dehumanization sends women to prison, if they are lucky enough to escape the morgue.
In Argentina, that dehumanization ensures that the primary cause of maternal mortality continues to be complications of illegal abortion.
In Colombia, that dehumanization accounts for 450,000 illegal abortions every year, keeping unsafe abortion a leading cause of maternal mortality.
In Chile, that dehumanization leads to 160,000 illegal abortions each year, in 35% of all pregnancies, and complications of illegal abortion is also a primary cause of maternal mortality.
In Peru, that dehumanization results in 352,000 illegal abortions every year; 40 are carried out every hour, and 1,000 every day.
Around the world, that dehumanization of women and girls kills 70,000 of them every year, all dead as a result of illegal abortion.
Criminalizing abortion has never stopped women in any place, or at any time in history, from having abortions. Now as ever, the politically expedient dehumanization of women kills. And when the Death Pimps of the Christian Right -- or well-manicured political commentators -- condemn safe, professional abortion care, what they are really saying is that that's all right with them.
Only 35 years ago, that same dehumanization killed women right here at home. Dr. William Harrison recently wrote of what he saw at first hand.
Over the next few years, I was exposed to real life as it is lived by millions of people who don't have the sanctification granted in America to those who are white, male, well educated, well gene-ed, well nurtured, well advantaged.
I learned it - really made it a part of my essential being - by seeing the repercussions of desperation walk, and crawl, and be carried through our emergency room door three, four, five times, every night for four years. Each night we would admit to the wards of University Hospital in Little Rock (a fairly small hospital, as metropolitan hospitals go) girls and women with raging fevers, extraordinary uterine and pelvic infections, enormous blood loss, and a multitude of serious injuries of the pelvic and intra-abdominal organs as a result of illegal and self-induced abortions.
Like Dr. Harrison and many of his colleagues, Dr. Harry Jonas remembers what all too many have forgotten -- that "for 25 years prior to Roe v. Wade in my state of Missouri, the most common cause of death in women of childbearing age was death due to infected, illegal, self-induced abortion. Since Roe v. Wade, it's not on the radar screen anymore."
Now an openly anti-abortion Supreme Court and the incremental gutting of Roe’s promise with state-level TRAP laws are bringing our past back into view, although still largely shrouded from public recognition by a fog of "moderate" obfuscation.
This is what needless death once looked like without her shroud. A perfectly nice, everyday woman -- a daughter, a sister, a mother -- dead on the floor of a motel room at 27.
Once more she awaits us, lying quietly beneath the certain moral comfort of cosmic shame.