PRO LIFE, PRO CHOICE, ANTI DEMAGOGUERY
I don’t know about you, but I like to listen to right-wing talk radio. To be sure, my boycott of Rush continues, but I will listen to Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, and any of their other fellow travelers not named Limbaugh. These days, none of the people I interact with much in my personal life is a Republican, so right-wing radio is the only chance I get to hear how the “other half” thinks. Well yes, I could watch Fox News, but that would be cruel and unusual. Somehow, hearing social-Darwinism attributed to Jesus Christ is more easily swallowed when you don’t actually have to visualize the mouthpiece. The radio is the perfect vehicle for when your right-wing friends have all moved away, like mine have.
Late in the week, when I turned to Levin’s program, I was hoping to hear the Sultan of Shrill wax eloquent on the subject of abortion. After all, it had been the topic du jour ever since Congressman Todd Akin uttered the following immortal words about rape-induced pregnancies: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.” Surely, I thought, Levin would toe the right-wing party line: that Akin stupidly misspoke, that women really can get pregnant from rape, but that Levin remains solidly pro-life on the topic of abortion. Unfortunately, Levin was on vacation and his stand-in took a different tack altogether. He refused even to address the subject of abortion. He directed his producer to screen all calls and prevent anyone who wanted to address the subject from calling in. I learned later that Levin’s stand-in was following the lead of Rush and others on the right who had decided that the topic was too radioactive to touch at the moment. Akin had reminded people that the anti-choice movement has been hijacked by those who aren’t so much pro-life as anti-science.
Personally, I view myself as very pro-life. I am a peace activist. I’m also a vegan vegetarian. I try to save insects when they make the mistake of entering my abode. I’ve always made sure never to have unprotected sex. And I support universal health care and regulations needed to ensure a safe and clean environment. In short, I don’t ever want to be responsible for taking a life unnecessarily – whether it’s the life of an animal, a human fetus, or an out-of-the-womb person.
I do, however, recognize legitimate exceptions to a “pro-life” policy. For example, I would support the right of individuals to freely choose to take their own lives under certain dire circumstances. To me, that’s distinguishable from taking another’s life. That person is making a free choice about whether they prefer death or torture, and, to me, that choice belongs to the person at issue, not to the government.
Nor do I think the government has a right to decide whether a woman can abort a fetus inside her own womb. Perhaps you can persuade me that such a right exists if the pregnancy is late enough, but not when it’s at an early stage. The issue to me is one of choice – does the choice belong to the government or to the woman who would be asked to carry the child for months on end. Ultimately, I feel, that choice should belong to the woman, not to a bunch of politicians, lobbyists, and plutocrats – and given our system today, they would be the ones who would effectively have the choice if it were left up to the government.
If asked to identify how I view the nature of a fetus, I’d respond that it is a “human-life” form, but it is neither a “person” nor a “child.” Reasonable people could surely agree to disagree on that point, and I can understand well enough how some might oppose abortion rights based on pro-life principles. It is easy enough to appreciate why some might view a fetus as a person and to conclude that nobody has the right to get drunk, blow off their obligations to take birth control, and then take the life of the “person” who resulted from their reckless conduct. Akin, though, wasn’t just talking about ANY act of abortion. He was talking about aborting a fetus who/that resulted from a rape. He was talking about asking a woman to spend nine long months carrying the constant reminder of a monstrous act that has surely traumatized her in ways that a man could not possibly understand. Indeed, he doesn’t just advocate asking a woman to make that choice; he would have the government force it upon the woman regardless of how insane it makes her, so long as her life is not in jeopardy.
I used to think of beliefs like Akin’s as truly fringe. But now, apparently, they have entered into the Republican mainstream. No, not the crap about how women’s organs protect them against rape-induced pregnancy, but the other crap – you know, giving politicians, lobbyists and plutocrats the right to decide whether those rape victims who do get pregnant must carry their “children” for nine months. Paul Ryan joins Akin in denying the right to choose for a rape victim. And Mitt Romney, who unilaterally could have decided to add an exception for rape to the “pro-life” plank in his party’s platform, opted not to make that choice. Effectively, he has voted with his feet to remain a hard-liner: pro-life and anti-choice.
You’ll forgive me, my friends, if I question a little bit of the sincerity here. This is a party that has hardly clamored for universal health care, leaving millions of our nation’s poor vulnerable to sub-standard medical treatment. This is a party that has brushed off the threat of climate change despite the almost certain devastation it will wreak on human populations in places like central Africa. This is a party that has no trouble consuming mass quantities of meat taken from highly intelligent mammals, like pigs. This is a party that has fought to ensure that assault weapons are freely available in American stores. I am hardly the first to suggest that the “right to life” party loses its bearings as soon as each life leaves the womb. At that point, it is sink-or-swim time, and the devil take the hindmost.
Some people think the abortion debate of the past week is a big distraction and matters only to wacky feminists, religious fundamentalists and pandering politicians. They are wrong. The GOP has made it clear that it has placed Planned Parenthood in its crosshairs, and that organization’s funding is already being cut off in the state of Texas. If you believe in a woman’s right to choose, this is no trivial matter. If you believe in a woman’s right to have healthy and safe abortions, this is actually a pivotal time in our history. And frankly, if you believe in the importance of educating poor women to avoid unwanted pregnancies and thereby minimize the number of abortions, then yes, this war against Planned Parenthood is a serious threat. You see, I suspect that the right-to-life movement isn’t ultimately about limiting the number of abortions; it’s about demagoguing the issue. If it were truly pro-life, it would be working with organizations like Planned Parenthood to ensure that women who choose to have sex never engage in that conduct unless they are prepared to carry their fetus to term.
On one point, I will admit that I might very well be wrong. Perhaps I am being a little harsh in suggesting that politicians who would eliminate abortion rights even in the case of rape are really pandering to an uneducated constituency. Maybe they are being sincere. Maybe they see the issue as so black-and-white that they just can’t bring themselves to permit an act that, for them, is akin to murder.
Fair enough. So let’s make a deal. I will stop accusing right-wing politicians of being demagogues simply because they are extreme in the anti-choice direction. But they have to honor their end of the deal too – they have to stop calling themselves “small government conservatives.” They are clearly not conservatives – they are radicals. And as for being “small government,” don’t make me laugh. They would have the government enter the womb. I would simply restrict it to the pocketbook.