Sunday, May 31, 2009

There is no Common Ground Mr. President


The genius of Barack Obama is that he was able almost intuitively to either find common ground or suggest that common ground may actually exist. He appealed to the nation’s exhaustion with the endless culture war that has been part and parcel of the Boomer generation.

Of the many prickly and contentious issues that Obama tries to smooth over fewer are more fraught than Abortion. As a good squishy Centrist Democrat Obama has taken the Clinton formula – Legal, Safe and Rare— and ran with it.

At first blush it seems to be an adequate compromise. Almost everyone feels a little uncomfortable with the subject and a plurality probably is very uncomfortable with the subject. They would be perfectly happy with Roe being the final definitive answer and for the whole subject to be dropped. The status quo that Roe vs. Wade represents leaves almost no one happy and thus qualifies as excellent public policy.

If Roe had been implemented by legislative means, it would possibly be more widely accepted. As Roe was delivered sui generis by five justices of the Supreme Court it always lacked a large portion of legitimacy. The opponents of Roe almost immediately began chipping away at the decision. They were able to do this because the “victors” of Roe became flaccid in the defense of the decision and because opponents were able to shift the make up of the Supreme Court. Roe still exists because judicial stasis is so hard to overcome; it is actually enshrined in the concept of Stari Decisis. Thus the right to choose has been attacked on the flanks not frontally.

Be under no illusions though, the ultimate goal of the “pro-life” movement is not only the repeal of Roe but the negation of contraception and the entire “sexual revolution.” As Amanda Marcotte points out it is not about being for life it is about “forced pregnancy.”

As a passionate blogger Ms. Marcotte has next to no sympathy for the “pro-life” movement. She rightly points out the underlying and fierce misogyny that informs the movement. She also is merciless in her deconstruction of religious underpinning of the anti-choice “wingnuts.” From Ms. Marcotte’s perspective it is all about punishing women for being sexually aware beings. Children are “punishment” for being a “slut.”

Ms. Marcotte has a point. Exactly how do we deal with sexuality as it really exists, how do we deal with the consequences of human passion? Also exactly what is the proper place of the female gender? Are women full and equal actors? Are they fully autonomous and independent actors or does their lack of certain anatomical artifacts leaves them somehow “defective.”

The whole premise of having to regulate Abortion presumes that a woman can not make rational decisions regarding the status of the fetus she is carrying. It presumes that a woman’s right to plan when and even if she should have children is beyond her mental capacity. It assumes that women will make these kinds of decisions illogically or even frivolously.

Take the furor over late-term abortions. Exactly why should the government intervene by either outlawing the procedure altogether or banning a specific procedure? What is the alleged reason? That some foolish woman will be “tricked” into ending her pregnancy by some money grubbing doctor? Remember the woman has carried the fetus for at least six month now. Remember she has felt the fetus shift and kick and otherwise show signs of life. All of a sudden she is going to terminate because why? She terminated because the clinic was offering a free toaster and an oil change with the procedure? She terminated because she was physically inconvenienced by the pregnancy? She terminated because she thought it would be fun to watch the fetus die after the doctor induced a false labor?

The reason for late term terminations is some kind of medical tragedy. The fetus has some kind of deformity that will render its life short, painful and pointless. The mother has a condition that threatens her life. She made a gut-wrenching decision because of the unfortunate facts. She wanted that child, she wanted motherhood, but because of the medical facts it was not an option. She definitely did not do it on a whim or because she was a silly slut. The procedure was chosen because it was the safest and most efficient available, not so the Doctor could get his jollies. One has to assume that the Hippocratic Oath is one big joke to the medical profession to legally limit or ban late term Abortions.

So the ban on late term abortions has little to do with medicine and everything to do with politics and a bit of common sense. Common sense does dictate that a fetus in the late stages of developing is different entity from a newly implanted blastisis. That is why in deciding Roe the Supremes reached all the way back to the common law precedent of “quickening.” It is a good a dividing line as any other, “if it kicks, you must protect.” Unfortunately the standard of “viability” was always a can of worms begging to be opened.

That can was gleefully released by the opponents of Roe. They were more that happy to conflate the status of a late-trimester fetus with the status of newly fertilized egg. Never mind that this equivalence was so much rubbish as far as the medical arts were concerned. Roe’s opponents were and are driven by religious considerations; by their Roman Catholic or Protestant Evangelical convictions. Life for these folks starts at conception full stop. Thus abortion was the killing of life and murder.

This is the nub of why common ground is a chimera. One side—the feminists—see that fertilized egg as a medical construct. It is an appendage to the woman who carries it. That appendage has no more “rights” than wart on a woman’s toe. For the feminist it is all about the woman’s right as an autonomous individual to control the functions of her own body as she sees fit.

The other side sees that fertilized egg as a full human being. More to the point they see it as a person with a soul. Not only does that person have rights that match the mothers, they supersede her rights. Once imbedded that “child” must be born regardless of either its or the mothers condition, full stop; the mother has no relevant wishes or desires, only the “child” matters.

It gets worse. Not only does a woman not have a right to terminate a pregnancy she does not have the right to prevent it in the first place. Abortion opponents are to a great extent foes of contraception. The Roman Catholic Church is clear on the matter: No abortions, no pill, no condoms, if you must use the rhythm method but the only real reason to have sex is procreation. Sex for fun, especially out of marriage, is sin and thus evil.

Does this sound like a position that can be compromised with? The central error of Obama’s ideology is that there is some kind of middle way. He cedes ground by accepting the talking point that Abortion is some how a bad thing, an evil thing. Abortion is just one part of the panoply of reproductive choice. Other than the expense and risks incurred it is not inferior to other methods of family planning. Even in Europe where contraception is easily acquired and there is no stigma attached to un-wed mothers and the social welfare system gives generous support abortion remains very prevalent. It is safe, it is legal, but it is not in any way shape or form rare. Obama is promising something that can not be delivered.

On the other side the anti-choicer are also promising something that can not be delivered. At best what they can deliver is the world we had prior to Roe. In that world the wealthy and the upper middle class always had a choice. Those women with money or connections will always be able to terminate their unwanted pregnancies. It will be lower-middle class and poor women who will be sacrificed to the demands of the religious fundamentalists. It will be them who will be crushed underfoot. It will be a return to unequal protection. It will be a return to back ally abortions and the pointless death and maiming of thousands of women. It will be a marked increase in the number of unwanted children and the ruination of hundreds of thousands of lives. All this so a militant minority can impose its version of morality on the rest of the Republic.

There is no common ground here; there is either the egalitarian impulse or the authoritarian will to power. Do women hold up half the sky? Are the full human beings with rights that must be respected? Are women equals to men in the use of their mental facilities, able to reach logical decision by the use of their fully developed reason? Or women the other, frilly, foolish, flighty things driven by out of control hormones? Are they less than full human beings? Are they in the end permanent children in constant need of direction of big daddy? Common ground? No Mr. President there is only a choice between the angels of our better nature and the troglodyte urge to oppress those who are classified as “other.”
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