Readers of this magazine have no doubt observed that certain state legislatures have recently fallen all over themselves in passing the most severe and uncompromising anti-abortion legislation in decades—and that’s saying something, because hundreds of laws making abortion difficult (and in some instances nearly impossible) for those women who have the misfortune to be poor and powerless have already been passed. But now we are facing renewed attempts to punish doctors, clinics, and in some cases the women themselves for seeking to exercise what is (currently) their constitutional right to an abortion.
Why is this happening? The obvious and superficial answer is that, with the Supreme Court now effectively in the hands of five conservatives (all of them Catholic, although that is perhaps incidental), our anti-abortionist foes are ecstatically dreaming of the fulfillment of their goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion (within certain limits) across the nation. During the dreary charade that passed for confirmation hearings in the Senate, several of these conservatives soberly declared their respect for stare decisis (the legal principle of adhering to precedents set by previous Supreme Court rulings), but everyone knows that these judges always respect precedent—until they don’t.
There is, however, a broader truth that this rash of anti-abortion legislation is only now revealing. In short, there are in this country civilized states and uncivilized states. The latter—governed largely by white male Republican politicians (who will never have to worry about whether they ever have to have an abortion) inflamed by crude and at times grotesquely extreme religious views—are without exception the ones passing the laws in question.
There may be some nonreligious (that is, non-Catholic or non-fundamentalist-Christian) rationale behind opposition to abortion, but you’d never know it from the remarks of the sage legislators who have passed these laws. Consider the argument put forth by one of the twenty-five legislators in the Alabama State Senate (all of whom are men), where one of the harshest anti-abortion laws was passed. In arguing why an exception for rape or incest was not included in the legislation, this lawmaker opined: “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place to extinguish that life.”
Bravo! What this means is that any of these legislators could go home after work, rape his teenage daughter, and the poor girl would have no recourse if she got pregnant. There is of course the delicate question of what would happen if the girl didn’t get pregnant, but considering the lawmakers in question appear to be relying on biblical law (assuming there is such a thing) rather than civil or criminal statutes—and considering the Bible is chock-full of instances of rape and incest where no punishment was doled out to the perpetrator—one imagines that in this case God might frown upon the peccadillo only because the act does not fulfill his decree to “be fruitful and multiply.”
I have gone into this Alabama law in such excruciating detail to underscore what the real issue here is. Let us not be fooled that these pious legislators have any real interest in the unborn “child.” This was the same state that arrested a pregnant woman for manslaughter when she was shot by another woman during an altercation with the result that the fetus died. A sage police officer declared, “The only victim in this was the unborn baby.” I think most rational people would assume that someone shot in the abdomen is a victim of some kind. Charges against the woman were only dropped after a tsunami of outrage swept across the nation. Meanwhile, a grand jury refused to indict the shooter on any charges.
So what is going on here? It’s as plain as day that in all these uncivilized states the anti-abortion laws are an expression of the rage and fear that many men feel at the very existence of independent women. Why else are these same gents so opposed to birth control, when every study shows that increased use of birth control reduces the abortion rate—the very thing they are presumably attempting to accomplish? But no. These guys have concluded that a woman who is barefoot and pregnant can’t do much of anything—certainly can’t take their jobs away even if she is smarter or more capable, which she often is. And can we deny a not-so-covert white nationalism at play also? Putting aside as obviously hypocritical the arguments of those (among them the Supreme Court’s resident dunce, Clarence Thomas) who maintain that black women’s high rates of abortion constitute some sort of self-imposed genocide, it is plain that a numerical majority of women who have abortions are white. And if they were compelled to give birth, they would augment the white birthrate and therefore stave off the dreaded “replacement” of white folks by persons of color that will in fact happen in a few decades.
So what will be the upshot of all this misbegotten legislation?
I have no confidence in my powers of prognostication, but I can see two possible results, neither of which will lend aid and comfort to the anti-abortion cause.
- It is likely that the Supreme Court will find these measures so extreme and so constitutionally problematical that it will actually reject them. Talk about snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory!
- If Roe v. Wade were indeed repealed, abortion would of course still be legal in many states (the civilized ones). As a result, we might see the formation of a kind of underground railroad, where women from the uncivilized states would be transported elsewhere to have abortions. Moreover, the countless numbers of women who suddenly find their abortion rights taken away might respond with such fury that a fair number of these legislators will quickly find themselves enjoying the comforts of private life.
Wouldn’t that be a blessing?