Friday, October 06, 2006

The corruption of political rhetoric, or why the pro-life movement is really pro-choice

Note: The entry below was one of my first posts, and was on my original American University site before I moved my blog to the current address. I am reposting it at the suggestion of one the 6 readers of this blog.

Since "In Cold Blood," Timothy McVeigh, Jeffrey Dahmer, the Unabomber and the most recent spate of school and workplace shootings haven’t managed to puncture the Great American Myth of the Midwest as the bulwark of common sense and down-to-earth values in a destitute culture dominated by the Hollywood, African-American rappers, the programmers at Comedy Central and liberal Establishment of Washington (which, if you live here, you know is really quite conservative), along comes the South Dakota legislature to give it one more shot.

In March 2006, the state legislature passed a law prohibiting women from obtaining an abortion for any reason except if the procedure was medically necessary to save the life of the mother. The law, which, of course, is patently unconstitutional, was so off-the-charts crazy that not even the nation’s largest anti-abortion rights groups, such as Americans United for Life, supported it. Now, pro-abortion rights activists have managed to get the law on the November 7 ballot as a referendum. Their thinking is that, given the chance to vote, and to think of the law, in the privacy of a ballot booth, as something that could affect them, their sister, their mother or their best friend, most South Dakotans will not support such an extreme measure.

I don’t know enough about South Dakota’s electoral landscape and political culture to make any kind of prediction about the law’s chances of being invalidated. But I do think this not-so-little battle illustrates the absurdity of discussing abortion in terms framed by the business of marketing and the categorical hazards of political rhetoric. The Washington Post reported on August 29 that a recent Maxon-Dixon poll showed that just 39% of respondents in South Dakota supported the ban as written, compared to the 59% that would support restrictive legislation that permitted exceptions for rape and incest.

So this means . . . what? Rather than compare the “pro-life with exceptions” respondents to the “pro-life with only death exception” respondents," we would do better do realize that most Americans, even those who describe themselves as “pro-life,” are really pro-choice. Once you established exceptions, you are pro-choice. This is really no different than opposing the death penalty except in cases involving terrorism or sex-related offenses. You either oppose the death penalty or you don’t. Limiting its application is not the same as opposing something, whether it's the death penalty, abortion or corporal punishment in schools.

And let’s not forget the small matter of making abortion a Class 5 felony under Nebraska law. A felony means someone has to go to jail, pay a fine or serve probation. Under the law’s current construction, the abortion provider is subject to a criminal sanction. But why not the pregnant woman? After all, she is a co-conspirator by any legal definition, seeking out, as she is, an illegal act. And so, arguably, is the person driving her to an abortion clinic. And so is the receptionist, the office manager and the staff nurses. And so is everyone, apparently, but the . . .

. . . man responsible for contributing to the pregnancy, even if the act was consensual. Suppose a woman has an abortion because her husband doesn’t want to have the baby, or doesn’t want to have another baby, or doesn’t want to have another boy/girl? Suppose she has the abortion against her will? Do we go to the Patty Hearst defense here -- my boyfriend/husband/this guy I just met who won't take responsibility for his actions?

The answer is: no one knows, because no one has thought much beyond the rhetoric of electoral politics. Hopefully, South Dakota will wake up supporters of abortion rights in that state and nationwide, especially those “pro-choice Republicans” who cannot possibly have any other reason to support President Bush anymore. Then perhaps the anti-abortion rights movement can move to the next frontier to promote the "culture of life" -- banning vasectomies as a non-therapeutic medical procedure and imposing a criminal punishment for men who seek them out, the doctors who perform them, and the women who want their husbands to have them to spare them the trauma of having a hysterectomy.

No comments: