Monday, May 20, 2019


Weekend Roundup

Ran a day late on this one, partly because I went long on the intro, but also because I found so many links in my early trawl through the usual sources I wasn't able to finish my rounds, then found even more when I tried to wrap up. I'm sure it's always the case that an extra day or two to let the words settle and go back and restructure would be useful, but I've rarely felt that more than this week.


Abortion became a much hotter political issue last week, with the passage and signing of a law in Alabama which criminalizes abortion in all cases except when it is necessary to save the life of the woman, with doctors risking prison terms of up to 99 years if their call on life-saving is disputed. Much focus on this particular law centers on the lack of any exclusion for rape and incest, which most people agree would be reasonable grounds for abortion. (As Phil Freeman tweeted: "Your first mistake was assuming old white men in Alabama were against rape and incest.") But the Alabama law is just one of many state laws Republicans have been pushing lately, all aimed at relitigating Roe v. Wade in the Trump-packed Supreme Court. (E.g., The "heartbeat" bills that could ban almost all abortions, passed in four states including Ohio and Georgia, and coming soon in Missouri; still more draconian bills are in the works, such as A Texas bill would allow the death penalty for patients who get abortions.)

I'll start this off by quoting from a Facebook post by a relative of mine in Arkansas, Marianne Cowan Pyeatt, offering an unvarnished glimpse of what anti-abortion Republicans are telling themselves:

All of a sudden we are supposed to believe that millions and millions of aborted babies are the result of rape and not just a lack of responsibility to use birth control or face the consequences if you can't even be adult enough to take precautions. We all know that the reason they can't make exceptions for rape is because every women would lie and claim to be raped to get an abortion. There are morning after pills for real rape victims or they can give the child away. No one says they have to keep them. And the fact that this is even being debated is because all the people who did very little for decades when they could forget what was going on in those clinics are suddenly facing a world where full-term babies can be murdered at birth. YOU stupid liberals have taken it SO FAR that no decent person can ignore it any longer. And we aren't so stupid as to believe that only abortion of a baby could "save the mother's life" in medical emergencies . . . we know delivery is many, many times faster. At that point, if it dies, at least you tried and the mother is "saved" from her life-threatening condition with no murder involved. I find it hilarious that in insisting on that last frontier of killing babies right up to birth has finally given people the resolve to take a stand and right a wrong.

One thing this shows is that the fight over abortion rights is being fought at the margins, with both sides seeking maximalist positions, although there is nothing symmetrical about the conflict. There is only one fanatical side to this issue: those who, like Marianne here, want to ban all abortions. No one on the opposite side -- and I am about as opposite as anyone gets -- wants to terminate all pregnancies. Rather, we understand that pregnancy is a complicated issue that affects women in many different ways, and that there are some circumstances where some women feel they would be better off with an abortion. We believe that this should be a free and responsible choice, and to make this a real choice for all women requires that we isolate it from the encumbrances of government regulation and economic pressure.

I've long thought that conservatives and libertarians should be strong supporters of abortion rights. Libertarians cherish freedom, and freedom is the ability to make free choices -- among which one of the most important is whether to bear and raise children. Not everyone who wants children is able to have them, but safe abortion at least makes it possible to choose not to have children. As for conservatives, they always stress the responsibilities parenthood infers. It would be perverse if they did not allow those who felt themselves unable to assume the responsibility of raising children the option of not having them. Indeed, in the past have sometimes wanted to impose limits on the fertility of those they deemed unfit to raise children (e.g., the forced sterilization of the eugenics movement). Consequently, the hard turn of Republicans against free access to abortion and birth control has always struck me as bad faith: a political ploy, initially to capture votes of Catholics and Southern Baptists, who had traditionally voted Democratic. I first noticed this in Bob Dole's 1972 Senate campaign, and I never forgave him for politicizing the issue. (He was being challenged by William Roy, a ob/gyn who had occasionally performed abortions, which were legal in Kansas well before Roe v. Wade. Until that time Kansas Democrats were more likely to be anti-abortion than Republicans. Using abortion as a partisan tactic may have started with Nixon's 1972 "silent majority"/"southern strategy." It was especially successful in Missouri. See How abortion became a partisan issue in America.)

Abortion rights are desirable if there are any circumstances where abortion is a reasonable choice. Most people recognize rape and incest as valid reasons, as well as the health of the woman and/or the fetus. Beyond that there arise lots of possible economic and psychological concerns, which can only really be answered by the woman (with the advice of anyone she chooses to consult). We generally, if not always consistently, recognize that our freedom is rooted in a right to privacy. Since a decision to terminate has no broader repercussions, there is no good reason for the government to get involved. (One might argue that a decision not to terminate might concern the state, in that it would wind up paying for the child's education and health care, but no one who supports abortion rights is seeking that sort of oversight. China's "one child" policy is an example, but no one here is arguing for the state to enforce such a thing.)

Regardless of how cynical Republican leaders were when they jumped on the anti-abortion bandwagon, they learned to love it because it dovetailed with the prejudices and fears they exploited (Jason Stanley has a handy list, in his recent book, How Fascism Works), while doing little to detract from their main objective: making the rich richer, and building a political machine to keep the riches coming. (Thomas Frank, in his 2004 book What's the Matter With Kansas?, tried to expose their two-faced cynicism, but he wound up only agitating the anti-abortion mobsters into demanding more results for their votes.) Marianne's post is full of such prejudices, even while she tries to paper over others. But while the first line refers to the Alabama law, she'd rather turn the tables by accusing "stupid liberals" of wanting to kill babies the instant before birth. That would be a symmetrically opposite point of view, but even if legal it's not a real something anyone would do.

Some links on the Alabama law and the assault on abortion rights:


Some scattered links this week: