I’ve been hesitant to write anything about the Susan G. Komen fiasco. Not for fear of invoking controversy, but because things started unraveling so fast it was difficult to know when it would play out. Here is a handy overview of the series of events. The position taken by the Komen charity group shifted, mutated, and reeled in the sudden upwelling of negative response, that on any given day whatever I might have said would be irrelevant the next morning.
One aspect, however, strikes me as significant. That response. It came swiftly and it came from all quarters and it came with cash. I cannot recall a similar response happening so swiftly and so decisively in this ongoing struggle over abortion rights. One of the most annoying things about being progressive and/or liberal is the tepidity with which we meet challenges. It would appear that all of us who espouse a progressive view, when it gets down to the nitty gritty of political position-taking and infighting, have feet not even of clay but of silly putty. It is actually heartening to see an abrupt and united response that is categorically decisive for once.
It would be even better if this were the harbinger of the rediscovery of our collective spine. The Religious Right has been canvassing, politicking, and buying politicians for a long time now, absolutely dedicated to their position, over which it has been clear for over three decades that what they want is not negotiable. What hasn’t been so clear till the last few years has been the full extent of what they want and finally—finally—progressives are beginning to understand that this is not a disagreement but a war.
Thanks to people like Rick Santorum the full program of the antichoice movement is impossible to ignore. If they were interested in eliminating abortion only, there would have been several points along the way over this long and acrimonious struggle where common cause could have been made. But the fact is they wish to eliminate what they see as inexcusable permissiveness, sexual license, and immorality, and they would do this by eliminating access to all forms of birth control. What they doubtless assume is that if pregnancy once more regained its power to scare women into celibacy then the United States would become the country they prefer to live in and their version of morality would hold sway. They have a number of reasons for pursuing this, some less plausible than others, but at the end of the day they very much want people to stop having safe sex.
Safe, that is, in terms of pregnancy.
Rick Santorum has gone on record believing that even within marriage sex for pleasure is a no-no. Probably most people think that’s just an eccentricity of his and that he would be unable to actually turn the clock back to try to make such a condition a general reality. More and more people, I think, are beginning to realize that there is a rather large and loud segment of the population that would support him in this. Not a majority, not by any means a majority, but the political Right acts like it speaks for the majority all the time, so it might be understandable if people in general had the idea that the majority of their fellow citizens were like this.
They also don’t realize, probably, that the foundational Supreme Court case establishing a right to contraception—Griswold v. Connecticut—was over a married couple’s right to control their reproductive life.
I also don’t think a lot of people, especially young women, have given much thought to the kinds of opportunities that would close up in their faces in such a regime. They do in some states. Whether or not abortion is legal and a right nationally, there are some states where the anti-choice movement has made it so difficult for clinics to remain open—often using extra-legal means—that this is a right in name only.
I’ve been wondering how much more would have to happen before the actual majority finally said enough and acted. Planned Parenthood lost a grant of roughly $640,000 from Komen. They’ve received over three million as replacement. The outcry of protest has been loud enough that Komen is trying to backtrack. They’ve made noises about reinstating the grant, but it remains to be seen if they actually will.
In the meantime I have had some exchanges with people who think what Komen did was absolutely correct and a moral victory and the troubling thing about these was the mendacity attached to the arguments. One response to me was that only three percent of Planned Parenthood’s budget went to non-abortion services, while in fact the reverse is true. As argument continued, I responded with actual numbers. Planned Parenthood performed around 325,ooo abortions last year. They provided contraceptive services to nearly five million women. And contraceptive services do not account for even half of what they do. The rest are services for STDs, counseling, and related health services. The counterargument ended there.
These are publicly available figures and the number of abortions is a mandated report.
Komen handled this badly. They have suffered resignations within their own organization over it. Brinker herself tends to the Right politically, but she hired a vice president who is on record as having run on an anti-abortion, anti-choice platform—unsuccessfully—and from appearances seems to have used her position to strike a blow against Planned Parenthood.
Again, what I found most encouraging in all this was the sudden and clear reaction on the part of people who may finally be reaching their limit over the hypocrisy of this conflict.
Hypocrisy? One of the more interesting facts about the whole anti-choice movement has been the numbers of women who end up in the very clinics they have been protesting when they come up pregnant. Some even sit in the waiting room preaching at the others there how they will all go to hell for killing their babies, and then go in and have a D and C to rid themselves of their own “inconvenience.” I’m not particularly surprised or shocked by this. People compartmentalize. What seems to be the case here is a desire for the law to change to prevent them from doing what they know they’ll do if something they detest is legal. They can’t face up to their own responsibilities so they want the rest of society to make them do it. But for that to happen, everyone else has to be under the same restrictions. “Somebody stop me!”
What may finally be changing is the forebearance of all the other people whose lives would be negatively affected by the changes being demanded. We can tolerate easily the hypocrisy in our neighbor—until such hypocrisy becomes a national movement and threatens our freedoms.
I know there is a genuine disagreement over the basic question here—not so much when does life begin but when is such life Human? If you believe that it is from the moment sperm fertilizes egg, well and good. But if, like me, you believe “human” is more than a biological definition and requires a personality, then we’re talking about a progression from nonhuman to human that takes nine months and then some.
That leaves the decision up to each individual, though, and I can even understand the argument that collectively we cannot endorse murder. And yet we have numerous legal distinctions to qualify the taking of life that is not murder. We all understand what constitutes murder and we all understand what constitutes self defense and all the shades in between. As a practical matter, to me, abortion is self defense. In very real terms, an unwanted pregnancy is a life-threatening condition. Perhaps the mother will not die from it, but that does not mean her life will not be threatened with profound and in many instances unwanted and detrimental change. In the case of the poor, this is a materially significant fact. If you can’t feed yourself, how to you feed another that you didn’t even invite into your home?
And the Komen decision to end that grant went straight to poor women, because that’s who received the benefit of that money.
Let’s be clear—abortion has always been available to people with means. It did not become an issue until the poor came into the equation. And if it is once more rendered illegal, women with money will still have access. Only the poor will suffer. This is reality.
In combination with Occupy Wall Street, there is a groundswell of populist anger directed toward the basic inequities in our society. We will never be rid of certain inequities—that is human nature, and let’s face it, our success, at least economically, is based on such inequities and the promise of “rising above”—but we should at least strive to eliminate the grosser aspects that serve only to rub the less fortunate’s collective face in the mud of failure. People do not have to be rich in order to be safe and comfortable and feel secure and invested in their society. They only have to feel that in certain fundamental ways they are treated fairly and have the same rights as any one else, rights that are not exclusive to the wealthy, the privileged, or the hypocritical.
As a coda to all this, here is a report on one of the items offered as part of Komen’s awareness outreach. In conjunction with a weapons distributor, a pink Walther P-22 is available for purchase to support Komen’s program.
It has always struck me how often the aggressive advocacy of 2nd Amendment rights, support of the death penalty, and a kind of libertarian default to the power of the gun seem to be expressed by the very same people most vocal about the “immorality” of abortion. The horror, it sometimes seems, of taking human life is very categorical. The apparent contradiction evaporates when seen from a religious viewpoint that centers on spiritual concepts of innocence and an oft unspoken assumption that this is a determining factor in deciding the appropriateness of killing. Adults are not innocent by definition and fall automatically into a different category than a fetus which has never had a chance to “sin.”
Even so, the apparent hypocrisy is even less difficult to understand when seen from the viewpoint of people determined that their ideas of public morality should trump all personal rights that fall outside of a tightly-defined range of so-called “decency”—a view advanced and backed up by the implicit threat of violence demonstrated by a political posture that sees no contradiction between a “right to life” stance on the one hand and a willingness to mete out death to the deserving on the other.
One more addendum in a story that I am sure will continue to repercuss for months if not years to come, the person at the center of the policy flap at Susan G. Komen has resigned. Of course she is trying to spin the situation, but where there is smoke, as the saying goes. I suspect at the core of this was a ploy of some orchestration between Ms. Handel and certain politicians—enactment of the “policy” then the move to investigate Planned Parenthood—or maybe not. Maybe this was all just a confluence of unlikely coincidence and no one had an ulterior motive. What’s that about pigs and air travel?