"Cosmic Shame" and Other Comforts
Writing at The American Prospect, Scott Lemieux berates the opportunists of the privileged pundit class who claim that "untethering abortion rights" from Roe v. Wade is a win-win strategy for Democrats. Aside from dissecting the just plain wrongness of their incredibly obtuse reasoning, Lemieux shines some disinfecting sunlight on the source of their political insights.
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.
That same 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 the "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.
They might, and again they just might not, even though attorney Janet Crepps of the Center for Reproductive Rights observes that it is now the official stance of the state of South Dakota that "women are not capable of being informed decision-makers in the context of abortion, which is shocking," adding that this is "the first time you have a whole legislative body adopting this kind of ... fairly outrageous statement of their view of the proper role of women in society."
Jerry Falwell, the butt of universal scorn among the ranks of liberal pundits, understands far better than they do what's at stake in South Dakota -- as do other religious interests with their own investments in the eternal struggle to keep the weaker vessel in her rightful place.
To help sway voters, religious leaders ... have been speaking out, quoting the Bible and invoking the teachings of Jesus.
And they're getting plenty of help from what calls itself the opposing army.
On the 33rd anniversary of the Roe decision, William Saletan -- one of the nominally pro-choice pundits assailed by Scott Lemieux -- launched what he called "A War We Can All Support" in the New York Times.
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. So the debate became a contest between the two questions. ... When the question is "what" instead of "who" -- morality instead of autonomy -- pro-lifers win.
Saletan asks, "Isn't that better than anything you heard from John Kerry?"
John Kerry? You mean the man Democrats for Life of America calls the "Hitler of the Unborn?"
What I hear is the braying of just one more Trojan donkey.
And here, from Canadian writer Joyce Arthur, is the reason why. Her email exchange with Saletan about his NYT op-ed 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 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).
But as noted this week by Bob Herbert in the New York Times, the devaluation of women and girls in our society is so all-pervasive that few give it a second thought.
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 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 kills 70,000 women and girls 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 expedient and self-righteous dehumanization of women kills. And when the Christian right -- or well-educated and well-manicured political commentators -- advocate the abandonment of Roe v. Wade, what they are really saying is that that's all right with them.
When I was a first-year intern at the Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, the first patient I had was a woman who'd had 11 children and had self-aborted herself, because she couldn't get a legal abortion, with some instrument of some kind. And I was in charge of her case, as a young intern, with her intestine coming out of her vagina because she'd perforated the vagina with the instrument. And she had massive infection, multiple abscesses in all the vital organs in the body and she died.
But now that needless death is becoming visible again, still barely shrouded from our view by the fog of cosmic shame.
This is what she once looked like without her shroud. A 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.
[Title graphic: Eternal Shame by Brett Ryabik, from the 2006 National Photo Competition]
"Cosmic Shame" and Other Comforts | 2 comments (2 topical, 0 hidden)
"Cosmic Shame" and Other Comforts | 2 comments (2 topical, 0 hidden)