The new abortion laws being enacted across the country should come as no surprise. This was going to happen. This has been in the cards since Reagan. Reliance on the courts to defend the right to choose was as much an indication of how much we underestimated the threat as it was any kind of faith in our institutions.
Right after Roe was passed, amendments to state constitutions should have been passed to nail it down. Other laws should have been written and passed to nail it down. One of the inherent problems with a federal solution is that it’s a one-time solution that can be reversed the next time across the board. Roe should have been the start of a long series of embedding legislation which should have been taken up on the assumption that Roe could be overturned.
It didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. One, I believe, is that too much support for the right to choose is tepid. It is too often circumstantial, waffling, and uncomfortable.
Now we’ll find out. Penalties are being attached. Some have already been enacted. This means one thing that has traditionally scared the anti-choice movement off—it will now be in the courts all the time.
Let me say here that in my opinion, as a male, I should have no say in this. At all. I was never at risk in this issue. I could never get pregnant. I was never going to suffer consequences from being denied the right to an abortion. This should not be something I have any stake in.
That said, it has become politicized to the point that having an opinion is unavoidable because now it is a civil rights issue, and civil rights affect all of us.
And no, as far as I’m concerned, a fetus has no civil rights. A fetus is not a person. At best, a fetus is a manifestation of an idea, and it only becomes a person if all the parties involve follow through. All the moralistic posturing about when life begins and what constitutes a human are just that—posturing. By taking the position that a fetus—now, in some cases, a zygote—is a human being with a full suite of rights, you automatically strip rights of personhood from the one carrying it. Personhood is an aspect of autonomy. Autonomy at the very least is a matter of self-determination. By declaring that a collection of cells has greater claim to state protection than the one carrying them is by definition declaring that woman less than everyone else. You can’t have it any other way.
Until we stop waffling about that, this issue will not be resolved.
Resolution, however, entails several other issues that are hanging upon the thread of ongoing discomfort. Like equality, for instance, and not just for women.
Education for another. The rationalization of sex. Not to mention the ongoing squirming about gender, orientation, and identity. All of this is tangled up and therefore it is difficult to know just what some people are objecting to when they go on a jeremiad about abortion. We may believe our response is exclusively aimed at the words coming out of their mouths, but then when their next response comes, laden with contradiction and vehement rejection, we sense that we did not know just what we were arguing about.
This is simple: if the goal is to reduce and/or eliminate abortions, then a sensible solution is to substantially invest in meaningful sex education and the wide availability of contraception. Attack the causes of unwanted pregnancy and empower individuals to protect themselves. How hard is that?
Apparently, very. Almost no anti-choice group does not also include a ban on contraception as a stated goal. One of the justifications touted for this stance is the notion that contraception is simply abortion by other means. Pre-emptive abortion, if you will. That contraception inculcates a lax attitude toward the value of life. That contraception leads to an acceptance of abortion.
This facile excuse-making masks a very simple reality: that the real issue is not abortion but sex. Sex practiced outside the bounds of what is hoped to be strict social parameters that will control behaviors said advocates find unacceptable. (A recent declaration by Alabama Republican state Senator and sponsor of the bill Clyde Chambliss, responded that, “The egg in the lab doesn’t apply. It’s not in a woman. She’s not pregnant.” That’s about as clear as it can be made—he and probably his supporters are not interested in the “facts of life” regarding fertilized egg—they are concerned with pregnant women and making sure they stay pregnant.) This is a direct assault on a woman’s right to be her own agent. It is punitive and it is a curtailment of her civil rights. This has nothing to do with fetuses except as a means of control.
Until we largely get past the traditional views that linger like mold that sex is somehow bad and that women who try to live their lives according to the same privileged sensibilities men do are “unnatural”; until we get to a place where we can accept that sex as an act of communication is separate and distinct in intent and outcome from sex as procreation and that all of us have a right to manage our own aspirations free of outside interference, we will continue to have this problem.
It is the start of a chain, though. If you can dictate pregnancy this way, you can dictate all the rest of the privacy concerns adhering to questions of free association and identity. This can be enlarged for purposes of a resurgent legal challenge to homosexual rights, transgender rights, adoption rights, marriage rights, and so on. Not that it necessarily would go there but by accepting the legitimacy of such limitations on one group for purposes having nothing to do with their innate and autonomous desires, you can construe a challenge to any group failing to fit an arbitrary social “norm.”
That is not a society I care to live in.
Until we quite clearly and loudly start dealing with the underlying (and not so well hidden) issues involved, we are destined to keep fighting these back-and-forth legal wars. Despite the distance traveled since the 1950s and all its suffocating social restrictions, people still seem reluctant to defend their right to have healthy sex. Indeed, we still have too many people who do not believe sex is healthy. Too many people who excuse their desires and passions by making babies and therefore proving a legitimate reason for having such a good time was there all along.
It sounds silly, doesn’t it?
When you disassemble the challenges and look at the arguments and then look at the policies advocated, it doesn’t sound so silly. The anti-choice movement has depended on the tepidness, the discomfort, of too many people in order to build the momentum they have. They have relied on our collective ill-ease with the whole subject.
Well. Be that as it may. Sad to say, the pro-choice movement is likely going to lose this one. Having lost it, we will regroup, and maybe next time do the necessary trench-warfare in the state legislatures, and school boards, and town halls to instantiate this right in too many places, too deeply to be effectively challenged.
We need to. I am not willing to live in a Calvinist dystopia. I don’t think the Fifties were all that wonderful. I don’t want my friends to suffer a retreat from the dream of equity.
This has been a fight with ignorance. The depth of that ignorance is on display now across the country. People who don’t know—and who don’t want to know, because knowing confuses them, makes them doubt. They want a pure, righteous cause by which to feel virtuous.
For the life of me, I’ve never understood why genuine equality doesn’t fill that bill.
Equality? For the ignorant—that a woman can be shackled by a condition and have her entire life twisted and reshaped through no choice of her own and that men can never be so trapped automatically makes this an equity issue. That is reality. And I have no doubt that many if not all the architects of the so-called pro-life cause know that perfectly well and they are glad of it, because they think that’s as it should be.