Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Right To Choose

Let's talk about abortion, and a woman's right to choose. This is a subject that routinely generates passionate debate on all sides, yet nobody seems to hear what the other side is saying.I believe the disconnect here, folks, has less to do with the idea of abortion itself, but the role of government in this issue. At the risk of generalizing, let me address this as best I can.

The issue is not that liberals have a callous disregard for the unborn. Rather, they have an understanding that it is a difficult question, but ultimately come down on the side of allowing the woman and her physician, and whoever else she decides to have be a part of the decision, to make this choice on their own. The fundamental concept held by pro-choice activists is that anti-choice activists routinely prioritize the life of the fetus over the life of the mother.

Yes, most anti-choice legislation contains provisions for "except in the cases of rape or incest or to protect the life of the mother." However, what they do NOT address are the following issues:

1. The fact that a woman will be pregnant for nine months, and all that entails.
Not one of the anti-abortion bills I have seen contains any provisions for assistance with prenatal care. You'd think that if anti-choice activists were that concerned with the life of the fetus they would offer some assistance in maintaining prenatal health ... but the general tone seems to be "you are not allowed to abort, but fuck you if you need help taking care of the yourself before the child is born. You're on your own."
Basically, the line taken by many anti-choice groups seems to be that a human life is sacred until it is born. After that ... well, you're on your own, and you don't deserve any help because you're a moocher and a "taker," and your mother doesn't deserve any sort of assistance because she's a slut anyway.
The anti-choice movement has set its sights on Planned Parenthood as the Bringer Of All Evil. They want to cut off funding entirely to this organization, despite the fact that a) abortions only cover roughly 3% of the services provided, and 2) federal money is already prohibited for use to fund abortion. All federal dollars go to activities like prenatal screenings, cancer screenings, general health for low income women (and men as well), and so on. Which brings us to ...

2. Birth control and sex education
In 1992 Bill Clinton, at a campaign stop, said abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." Putting aside Clinton's sketchy reputation and just taking these words at face value, you'd think anti-choice groups wold be all about this. After all, a woman can't get an abortion if she isn't pregnant.

However, since the anti-choice movement is so bound up with religion -- and not just any religion, but fundamentalist Christianity, which is about as tolerant of anything that doesn't hew strictly to  dogma as a garden snail is of salt -- that they refuse to consider the benefits of serious sex education and birth control. Instead, they take the position that the only acceptable form of birth control is abstinence.

Note: I practiced this form of birth control all through high school, although to be fair it wasn't my idea. Just sayin'.

Granted, abstinence is 100% effective, unlike all other non-surgical forms of birth control. Despite the fairy tale about divine conception and a virgin birth, the plain and simpler fact is that women who don't have sex don't get pregnant. The pro-choice crowd absolutely does not dispute this.What is in dispute between the two sides is whether or not abstinence is a practical form of birth control.

Let's be honest, folks. The sex drive -- the drive to procreate and further the species -- is the strongest motivator in all humanity. It is the very reason for our existence. The anti-choice movement takes the position that they can somehow hammer this into submission simply by demanding that people don't do it. Easy on paper, virtually impossible in the long term in practice. Granted, there are some people who remain asexual throughout their entire lives, but they are the exception. Usually what happens when people try to deny this very basic impulse, one that is shared between all living things, is those desires become twisted and deflected. Occasionally in ways that are highly beneficial to society at large -- Issac Newton, for example, died a virgin, but fundamentally changed how we see ourselves in relation to the universe -- but usually the results aren't so felicitous.

People who are denied sex -- not who choose to abstain, but who seek it out and are regularly turned down -- are at higher risk for depression and suicide. Some of them act out in highly inappropriate ways. Priests who take a vow of celibacy who then go on to molest children, for example; no formal studies have been conducted but I would be willing to bet that a significant percentage entered the priesthood in the first place out of the shame they felt for their "deviant" sexual desires, whether it was something as vanilla as being with a woman or as twisted as wanting to fondle young boys.

In an extreme example, we have Elliot Rodger, the attacker in the 2014 Isla Vista shootings. Prior to going on his rampage, he uploaded a video to YouTube entitled "Elliot Rodger's Retribution," in which he railed against women who had rejected him and men who were sexually active. Yes, there were other psychological disturbances at play, obviously, but a fundamental motivator for the guy was that he wasn't getting laid.

Okay, so that is an oversimplification. I admit that. The point remains, though, that sexual frustration played a big role in his attack and the resulting death of six innocent people. And this is the basic point here: by forcing people to deny this very basic biological drive against their well, anti-choicers are inviting unintended consequences.
3. Anti-choice demographics
It is interesting that the vast majority of strong anti-choicers fall into two broad demographic groups: males, and post-menopausal women. Males, because despite the advances we have made over the past 100 years we still live in a patriarchal society, one that is dominated by white males in leadership roles at all levels of government. On the anti-choice side, these white males definitely view themselves, consciously or no, as the father figures for all those silly, empty-headed females who don't really know what's good for them, the poor dears. This is how they are able to rationalize publicly the countless pieces of legislation intended to cut off access to abortion as being in favor of women's health. It's not that they are lying, it simply because women are just too gosh darn simple to understand what's going on.

The other big group is post-menopausal women. You know, sweet little old ladies like your grandma, who are only looking out for the unborn baby and the soul of the woman. After all Jesus loves them all, and he wold hate to see anyone do anything stupid like aborting a fetus, because who knows what would happen then?

Not for nothing, but that sounds a lot like something you'd hear from Tony Soprano, not a tiny 75 year old woman. But there ya go. These grandmas are the ones who make the threats.

The one thing these two groups have in common? None of them every have to face the prospect of an unwanted or unexpected pregnancy, so they have no skin in the game.

4. Religion
The anti-choice movement regularly invokes Christianity to make their point, apparently ignoring the millions upon million of women who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, pagan, Druid, Wiccan, atheist ...
In a country that is supposed to be secular, with a strict dividing line between religion and government, it is a little puzzling that the anti-choice movement can get away with this. Yet get away with it they do. It is rare that one hears of an anti-choice measure wending its way through some state legislature somewhere (usually Oklahoma or Texas, for some reason) that doesn't have some middle-aged white guy piously opining about how abortion is an affront against God, or citing the bible at some point during floor debate.

Here's the thing: this is not a Christian country.

Let me say it again for those in the back: This is not a Christian nation. We are a secular nation. The Founding Fathers went to great lengths to ensure this, yet lawmakers routinely invoke their mythology in the public square. Religious conservatives shoehorned "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance. For some reason it is considered to be a major gaffe when a president doesn't close a speech with "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America."

News flash: even if God exists, it's a safe bet that he's not worried about the Texas state legislature considering there is a major part of the world in which the residents have taken up bombing the shit out of each other as a hobby.

And another thing: according to the Pew Research Center, roughly 70% of the population in the United States self-identifies as Christian, being broken down as 20.8% Catholic, 25.4% Evangelical Protestant, 14.7% mainline Protestant, and the rest being Mormon, Orthodox Christian, etc. This leaves just under 30% of the population that is not Christian, yet they are routinely forced to accommodate the evangelicals in daily life.

Which brings me to a sore spot with me. Evangelicals are religious bullies. These are the folks behind "religious freedom" laws ... which are about neither religion nor freedom, but are simply a license for people to discriminate against gays/blacks/atheists/Beatles fans under the guise of "religious conviction" -- as in, "I have a religious conviction that says you're scum and it's okay to hate you for a reason that does not actually impact my life in any way, shape, or form." And like most bullies, they aren't satisfied when they finally do get their way, and simply consider the victory as a vindication of their methods and move on to something else with which they can pound people over the head.

The anti-choice movement is no different. They bully legislatures into passing a piece of legislation that says no abortions can be performed after 26 weeks. Okay, fine. It's sorta based on science in that this is considered to be the cutoff for viability of the fetus outside the womb, so we let it slide. However, this only emboldened them, so they began moving the goal posts: 22 weeks based on a physician's estimate of fetal age, then 20 weeks, then 20 weeks from the woman's last menstrual cycle, then 16 weeks ...
The latest debacle is from Ohio, where the legislature introduced a bill in December 2016 that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat could be detected ... which is often before a woman is even aware that she's pregnant. As Planned Parenthood said in a statement, "This bill could take away a woman's right to make her own medical decisions before she would have known she had a decision to make."
So y'all have put up with my complaining and kvetching on this issue so far, and you are probably wondering (rightly so) "hey, what are ya gonna do about it?" Well, here's my idea:
1. Remove restrictions on abortion entirely.
Yes, this is controversial. Yes, the religious right is going to scream bloody murder (no pun intended). But stick with me; it's part of a larger picture.

2. Provide funding to have birth control for lower and middle income women covered at no cost to them by insurance.
Okay, this one is going to be hard to justify on the surface ... but again, part of the larger picture.
3. Mandatory sex education in public schools.
This doesn't mean we are teaching kids how to have sex. Trust me, they don't need to be taught, it's innate (see "biological drive" above). What we do need to teach them is how to have sex responsibly. That is, the proper use of birth control. What to do if birth control fails. The value of abstinence, including it's 100% effectiveness when employed properly. The ramifications -- physical, emotional, societal, economic -- of giving birth in your teens, including the psychological effects for a young mother of giving a baby up for adoption.

These three measures are intended to keep abortion safe, legal, and above all rare. The idea isn't to shame women by forcing them to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, or to strongarm them into carrying an unwanted baby to term, but to give people the tools and information to make intelligent, informed choices ... and thus reduce the total number of unwanted pregnancies, which reduces the total number of abortions.
Look, in an ideal world every child would be wanted, and loved, and abortion would be entirely unnecessary. We do not live in an ideal world. We live in a world that is messy, and complicated, and has women getting pregnant after a one-night stand, or after a rape, or within the bounds of marriage only to discover that the child has developed a condition that will prevent live birth or any quality of life. In these situations, the only reasonable choice is to allow the woman to make one of the most painful, heart-rending decisions she will ever face without interference.

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