Boy oh boy, am I ever reluctant to wade into the abortion debate, yessir, you bet I am. For one thing I’m male, which alone often seems about enough to get me lynched, or at least banished forever from polite company, should I ever express a view. For another, I have some thoughts on the matter that I fear will make every pro-choice woman North of the Mason-Dixon line want my balls in a jar on her night stand, the satisfied contemplation of which would no doubt soothe her each night towards warm, contented sleepiness. I know, I know. Don’t you think I know that?
OK, but give me a chance here, and please, put that thing down, you’ll put somebody’s eye out. Hear me out.
Ahem. So, all right, my first heresy is that I’m not ready to accept that I cannot, as a moral actor and fairly intelligent fellow, have a valid opinion on the matter. No, it doesn’t affect me, and can never. Not directly. But I want to be a constructive, decent, useful member of society, and part of that in what’s left of our democracy is trying to vote for what’s right and just, no matter who’s affected – on this and a whole host of other hugely fraught questions in which I don’t have a direct personal stake. I need to figure out, as best I can, what’s right and just for minorities, aboriginals, people with kids, people with disabilities, criminals, police officers, the homeless, the rich, military personnel, teachers, nurses, politicians, and yes, women too, a little more than 50% of the population and thus by no means a special interest group, but nonetheless a group that will be uniquely affected by societal decisions that one way or another, I’m going to be required to support or oppose. One way or another, I’m implicated in everything we do, even if only tacitly, even if only by paying my taxes, or failing to raise my voice, or deciding not to even vote. It’s not that I demand a role in the decision, it’s that I can’t escape it.
My second and if anything even worse heresy is that I am – just like, I maintain, a lot of sane and reasonable people – a little squeamish about abortion at the hypothetical extremes, and find myself quite incapable of absolutism on the topic (and on a whole lot of other topics, these days, I guess because I’m getting old and soft). I’m not ready to conclude that a foetus is never anything, not ever, but a parasite until it’s born, not even at, say, 8 1/2 months of gestation. I suppose I just don’t know what to think about that, really, not to any justifiable degree of certainty, but I don’t think qualms on that score would be wholly unreasonable, and couldn’t even be legitimately proposed as something to consider, were this a real issue.
That’s just it, though – it isn’t a real issue. Late-term abortions occur with such rarity that for all practical, public policy purposes, they’re not even a thing. Only about 1% of abortions ever occur after 24 weeks, and any foetus aborted at any point in the third trimester is almost certainly either hopelessly compromised, or a grave threat to the woman’s health (which is precisely why such abortions must never be abolished), and neither I, buddy over there at the end of the bar, nor any of the apparently no wiser people who run our governments, have any goddam business second-guessing the choices made by the people most directly affected in those gut-wrenching situations. We may rest assured that those decisions are never made lightly, capriciously, or absent trauma, heartbreak, and serious soul-searching, and when there isn’t so much as a vague credible hint of any impropriety in the handling of such deeply personal and trying dilemmas, guys like me do get to shut the hell up.
Republicans, though, love, love, love to rant about the supposed occurrence of purportedly gruesome third trimester abortions, right up to claiming that doctors and women actually and routinely weigh the merits of post-birth abortion – that is, infanticide – because it sure is a proven way to rile up the base something fierce. Trump was spouting this unconscionable horse shit at one of his abominable rallies just a couple of weeks ago. Watch this, if you really crave a good long puke devolving into the dry heaves, and don’t have any Syrup of Ipecac handy:
For this alone, Donald belongs in a subterranean cage. Not even to punish him, but just because it’s the only safe place to store a dangerous contagion like him. That, or better still, in a vault within the Level 4 containment wing of the CDC. Right next to the Ebola.
Now, if Republicans really thought any such thing was going on, and actually wanted to make it vanishingly unlikely, the obvious answer would be to put a Planned Parenthood on every corner and give women easy and inexpensive access to oodles of sound medical reproductive advice and just as much effective birth control as they please. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to hand out condoms to passing guys, either (best to include an instruction sheet). Do that and you’ll barely have to worry about any abortions at all, let alone the fictional “baby executions” they pretend to believe in and deplore. The GOP, of course, prefers to abolish Planned Parenthood, restrict women’s access to reproductive advice and birth control, and generally make it clear that women who want to have sex are really sort of dirty.
I think they’re still cool with guys picking up condoms over the counter down at Walgreen’s though.
Despite the awful, infuriating lies spewing from the likes of Trump and various Southern politicians, it bears remembering that they wouldn’t be able to rile so many people up if there wasn’t a great deal of discomfort out there about abortion to start with, not all of it, I think, motivated only by misogyny or malice. Call me a pollyanna, but I still hope there are some people out there, even within the crowds that Trump has whipped into such a frenzy that people are talking about capital punishment for women and doctors, who could be reached if they were ever simply told the truth.
See, and this is where I get into trouble, I think this horribly emotional and polarizing debate actually is amenable to eminently sensible, somewhat middle-ground arguments and solutions. That’s what did the trick for me, at any rate, when I was in my early 20s and had my mind made up by listening to Dr. Henry Morgentaler lay it all out during a calm and civil radio interview, talking with somebody at the CBC, I suppose, given the lack of witless acrimony. Morgentaler, a hero if ever there was one, calmly explained that early in gestation the developing embryo is still not much of anything at all, and can’t possibly be conceived of as a person, except under the tenets of metaphysical religious philosophies which, he suggested mildly, were not really a proper basis upon which to formulate secular public policy. He was being neither flippant nor dogmatic, and clearly had no contempt for those people who weren’t so sure about these things as he was. Still, he had no choice but to assess the moral questions in the light of what he knew of the science, and scientifically, we were dealing with masses of developing cells starting down the road to humanity, but not even close to getting there when they were medically extracted in clinics like his. No human lives were being destroyed in the ordinary course by responsible doctors practising according to responsible medical protocols. The most emotionally charged arguments of the anti-abortionists, however honestly and sincerely advanced, were therefore premised on a falsehood. The proper solution for all concerned was thus to make sure that there were clinics like his, full of responsible, qualified physicians – not picket them and bomb them, as his opponents were then doing.
I’ve rarely been so powerfully struck by a line of argument. Maybe you think it doesn’t go far enough in favour of women’s right to choose, but to me it was the way out of the intellectual box, the minefield map showing the path around all the dead ends and pointless rabbit holes. In this view, the pro-choice side wins the day not because only women have a say (not that there aren’t a lot of female pro-lifers, too), and not because female autonomy is absolute on this score, any more than my or anybody’s autonomy is truly absolute on any score. Pro-choice wins because female autonomy, which is another way of saying human autonomy, while not necessarily absolute, is still a supreme value that completely overwhelms hazy metaphysics and scientifically non-sensical arguments raised mainly out of a lack of understanding, if not mendacity. It wins because under any sensible moral calculus the pro-choice argument is right, on the merits, on the utterly sound footing of universal principle, it being axiomatic that placing crude legal restrictions on anybody’s fundamental freedom in any area, let alone one as hugely important as this, is without exception a very, very big deal that requires the sort of very, very compelling reasons that are, in this case, nowhere in evidence. The pro-choice position is, in other words, unequivocally the just one.
It’s lately become clear to me that the pro-choice side is also right because the next logical “pro-life”step, the assignment of legal personhood to the unborn, raises so many logical, ethical, and legal problems, and indeed outright ugly possibilities, that I’d need five more blog posts to set it all out. We can’t take even the first step down that road. We just can’t.
Of course Trump and his bunch don’t give a flyer about what’s just, or, when you get right down to it, the well-being of helpless babies either, who can, apparently, be left without affordable medical care, proper nutrition, good schools, or parents earning a living wage sufficient to look after them, once they’re out and about – that, or they can die unattended in a damp and freezing ICE gulag on the border, after their moms try to bring them into the country in the vain hope of giving them a shot at a better life. What Republicans actually want is control. It’s as ugly and as naked and as simple as that. It’s about nothing but the will to control, not just women’s abortion decisions, but every aspect of women’s sexuality and reproductive health, and you’d damned well better have what they surely do not, a powerful and unassailable moral justification, when you purport to assert such dominion over anybody with respect to anything. What they crave is the sort of authority over literally all women that society wields morally only when dealing with unambiguous questions like the safe disposition of proven serial killers, and the rounding up of child abusers, who will of course receive due process before any final determination is made.
This is really very simple: you don’t get to savagely curtail anyone’s freedom like they aim to for the sort of reasons they cite, some of which are outright stinking lies, and some of which are merely mistaken, the balance every day tipping more and more toward lies and pure cruelty. This kind of assault on any person’s inherent right to govern his or her own person as he or she sees fit requires absolute logical and moral certainty, and here we have the opposite, even at the extremes. The real certainty is that the present ambitions of the GOP are deeply, distressingly wrong. Truly, the self-satisfied absolutism lately on display in State legislatures all but qualifies the responsible politicians for full membership in the frickin’ Taliban. What they’re trying to do is horrifically unjust. It is, in fact, nothing but oppression.
Geez, I just know they’d see things my way if we were to suggest that instead of prohibiting female choice, we should mandate vasectomies or chemical castration for all at-present sexually active heterosexual men, as well as those aspiring to become sexually active but thus far failing to generate much interest, just in case, perhaps sparing a few who are trying in all sincerity to have children within the relationship of wedlock (and not just to get it on with their wives for the fun of it, which obviously we can’t condone). You know, if they get a licence.
Not that it matters, but I have my own pop-psychological theories about why the GOP feels such a need to oppress women, most of them having to do more with deep wells of unarticulated male terror of the female gender than conceptions of the Almighty and the origins of the immortal soul, but I’m still hoping not to get shot for this post, so I won’t go into it further.
Well! There, now despite the reticence to dive into boiling water just expressed, I’ve likely said enough to make every “pro-life” man or woman North or South of the Mason-Dixon also want my balls in a jar, while likely doing nothing to win points with any of the many sane, principled, intelligent, and reasonable pro-choice women I know, including my spouse, whom I hope doesn’t read this and then stick a fork in my eye; but look, isn’t my propensity for strongly-held opinions a big part of my undoubted charm?
Sure, you say, but what’s any of this got to do with silver linings? Maybe nothing, sadly, but I’m hoping plenty. I’m hoping that when this unsurprisingly homogeneous crew decided to deprive the entirety of the opposite gender of its fundamental human rights:
…they badly miscalculated and overreached. Their law, and others like it now being enacted across the lower 48, is so heinously, mercilessly corrosive to basic human decency that even some of the evangelicals are squirming in their seats. Why, even Pat Robertson himself – no, really, Pat Robertson – opines that the Alabama law goes too far. Sure, concerns over women’s rights, or their health for that matter, can generally be brushed aside, but couldn’t we build in just a little wiggle room for rape and incest, guys? The sheer grotesqueness of Alabama’s assault on women’s liberty may not be enough to sway the white male yahoos on SCOTUS – in them I have no confidence at all, damn all of their shrivelled, smug, entitled hearts – but it might be enough to breathe life back into my failed 2016 argument as to why Trump can’t possibly win in the next election, just in time for 2020.
Back in those happier, simpler times, when Trump was no longer a complete punch line but still inconceivable as President, I predicted with characteristic confidence that Donald beating Hillary was almost literally impossible, it was practically against the laws of physics, because nobody can win a general election without carrying any demographic except white men over 40 with no education. Can’t be done. And clearly, no member of any minority group would vote for him, nor would anyone with an education, nor any young person, nor, obviously, any woman. You could take that last one to the bank. No woman of any stripe would ever vote for his adulterous, wife-ditching, pussy-grabbing, sexually assaulting, overstuffed ugly ass, not a single one. That alone would finish him. As sure as the day is long.
But women did vote for him. Lots and lots of women. White women mostly, I’m led to believe, and no doubt race remains a powerful thing when folks step into the ballot box. But c’mon!! Trump and his GOP henchmen are now out to obliterate the rights not just of everybody who isn’t a Caucasion one-percenter, but everybody who doesn’t have a Johnson! Even white women! Even rich white women! None is spared! No one with two X chromosomes is safe! Surely to God, no woman can vote for the hideous sentient cheeto now.
Which I guess brings me full circle, because purely on the basis of his stance on abortion, without even considering his countless other deadly sins, no man should vote for the Trump Monster either. Whether fundamental justice is denied to women is of the utmost moral and (one hopes) emotional importance to men too, not just because all of us in the right frame of mind are sick at heart from having to witness the pitiless, absolutely immoral contempt so often shown to them by our own not at all superior gender, but because those of us afflicted with the Y chromosome also have an inescapable duty to support what’s right – on this issue, and every other, as best we can see it. It’s no more complicated or subtle than that: what’s right is right, it’s not hard in such stark circumstances to tell right from wrong, it’s just plain wrong to do wrong by others, and there is no dignity or grace in a life lived without care for those bedrock truths, or any morality in enjoying security of the person while being content to see it stripped cruelly and unjustly from others. We mustn’t, not any of us, have any part in promoting or even acquiescing to anybody’s outright oppression, and I’m going to go to my grave believing that in adhering to that moral imperative, or God help me in failing to adhere to it, I do indeed have a very real, very large personal stake.
Anyway, nobody be angry with me. I mean well.