EVERY so often I like to ponder Ross Douthat's place in American letters. I always enlarge his Times headshot to screen size and stare at it while I do. It's a real cure for seriousness. Lock yourself away from sharp objects sometime and try it.
Hey, I'm from the American Midwest, and not the particularly hip part. I haven't much cared how other people looked, or dressed, since Disco, and I don't give a fuck if you like my jeans. All I know about the fashion sense of people under thirty is that they have atrocious taste in eyewear, and good taste in hats. Or that pretty much everyone in the boho sections of town dresses like Johnny Depp.
So maybe there's some semiosis of joy in Douthat's teenage beard/receding-hairline-with-the-little-poofy-thing-in-front combo that I'll never get. Maybe blues and browns of exactly the same tint are the perfect choice for his skin tone. I'm no expert. But the eyes! Eyes are not subject to the cruel mockeries of fashion designing. I've done this little experiment three or four times, and I can't decide if those are the eyes of a pudgy sixth grader intimidating a second grade boy on the playground, or those of that same sixth grader caught with his hands in his lap by Sister Immaculata. Do they not allow retakes at the Times? They gave me three at the BMV. Fuck you, pal. Goddam James Reston used the same pic for twenty-five years!
Or is this some sartorial recapitulation, intended or otherwise, of Douthat's intellectual world? He did, after all, consciously choose a worldview which would either stick him in time at age seventeen, or have to be renounced. He hasn't renounced it, and time is up, unless he wants to change sects again, in which case he's gonna have to go in for something with robes, because just another Christian denomination won't cut it.
Those stereotypes link the anti-abortion cause to traditionalist ideas about gender roles — to the belief that a woman’s place is in the home, or at least that her primary identity should be maternal rather than professional. Writing in the Reagan era, the sociologist Kristin Luker argued that this dimension of the debate trumped the question of whether unborn human life has rights: “While on the surface it is the embryo’s fate that seems to be at stake, the abortion debate is actually about the meaning of women’s lives.”
There are two possibilities here: one, that Douthat has carefully considered Luker's work over a thirty-five year career; or, two, that this is a remembered "Reagan era" pull-quote from his prep school debate society.
At any rate, since Luker has actually taken the time to argue the point, maybe presenting it as though it is axiomatic to the entire pro-choice movement is, oh, a skosh unfair. Although it probably wowed 'em at Hamden Hall.
This remains a dominant pro-choice understanding of the abortion conflict — and not without reason, since it finds vindication to this day in the idiot “mansplaining” of amateur gynecologists like Todd Akin.
Also Known As the dominant anti-abortion understanding of the issue.
(Mansplaining. Jesus Christ, why do we even care anymore?)
But such an understanding was too simplistic when Nellie Gray founded the March for Life, and it’s grown steadily less compelling with time. As Jon Shields of Claremont McKenna College pointed out last year, pro-life sentiment has been steady over the last four decades even as opposition to women in the work force (or the military, or the White House) has largely collapsed.
"Sure, the metaphysical certainties which serve as the foundation of the anti-abortion movement have, with time, crumbled to dust. But our contemporary apologetics trump your pronouncements from The Reagan Era, so we win."
The pro-life cause has proved unexpectedly resilient, in other words, not because millions of Americans are nostalgists for a world of stricter gender norms, but because they have convinced themselves that the opportunities the feminist revolution won for women can be sustained without unrestricted access to abortion.
Yeah, and these same millions believe you can bomb cities to rubble and kill only bad guys. It's called "having the confidence of not having to think things through".
This conviction is crucial to understanding why opinion on abortion has been a persistent exception to the liberalizing cultural trends that have brought us gay marriage, medical marijuana and now women in combat.
Oh, jeez louise. "Gay marriage, medical marihuana, and now women in combat"? I'll believe you've transcended stereotypical gender roles when you stop sounding like David Gergen debating Abbie Hoffman.
It helps explain, too, why public opinion on the issue doesn’t break down along the gendered lines that many liberals expect — why more women than men, for instance, told the latest Pew survey that abortion was “morally wrong” and (in smaller numbers) that Roe should be overturned.
It also has long-term implications for how the abortion debate plays out. The best way to argue with a Todd Akin is to dismiss him as a chauvinist, a creep and the enemy of a more enlightened future. But the best pro-choice rebuttal to the young idealists at the March for Life or the professional women who lead today’s anti-abortion groups isn’t that they’re too reactionary — it’s that they’re too utopian, too radical, too naïve.Thanks for the advice, Ross. I'm sure everyone will take it the way it's intended.
But a couple things, here. First, fuck single-issue responses in a single fucking Pew poll. I will readily concede that the vast majority of Americans, of any of a half-dozen genders, asked if innocent, blue-eyes babies should be freely sacrificed on the altar of Sluttiness, will answer No, if you'll concede that this is, in fact, a too-accurate summary of the debate over the last forty years. Utopian? Naïve? More like self-righteous and devoid of responsibility to fact.
Second: Todd Akin is yours. Evangelical gynecology may be an embarrassment, but it's one even some of your OB/GYNs agree with. Richard Mourdock didn't even bother defining "legitimate rape". He just stated the official Republican position, that rape's not a suitable grounds for terminating a pregnancy. He got slaughtered, in Indiana, in a Republican year (but I repeat myself!), in large measure because a majority of women voters missed that Pew survey.
This means that the abortion rights movement, once utopian in its own fashion, is now at its most effective when it speaks the language of necessary evils, warning Americans that while it might be pretty to think so, the equality they take for granted simply can’t be separated from a practice they find troubling.
Troubling? People do not say they find Murder "troubling".
Look, once again, here's a big part of your problem: your side lost this argument in the late 60s, lost it on simple rational grounds (which, by the by, happen to coincide with that Great Libertarian Inclination your party keeps spouting about) and, as a result, stopped talking to anyone but itself. It's a very simple argument: there are circumstances which develop, sometimes late in pregnancy, where the fetus becomes a threat to the woman's continued existence. And at that point two decisions have to be made: Which will doctors try to save, and Who makes that decision?
There's a (bullshit) Christian folk-theology which requires the mother to go down with the ship, as it were, but this has no real historical existence; the vaunted Roman Catholic respect for Life dates at most to the 19th century, and calls upon some obscure 3rd century text no one pays attention to otherwise for its justification. Into the 20th century all this was moot, because such medical problems couldn't be detected ahead of time, and much less could be done--especially for the fetus--once they were. It is, in short, a modern problem for which the Bronze Age is no guide even if you could clearly demonstrate its beliefs. Which you can't.
So we have, now, the tiny but significantly-placed leak which washes out mighty dams, let alone ad hoc political positions. You can't proclaim the Sanctity of the Zygote and then act like you haven't taken a position on this, and one, in fact, that most Americans would find abhorrent if Pew explained it to them. If a blastocyst is a fully-protected (funny, if you look at it right, innit it?) human being, then terminating one's life is homicide. Doing so willfully is murder. (And it's subject to the various jurisdictions of the various states, according to the lights of the local DA, a rather pleasant artifact of the Let The States Decide argument.) It means that if you're driving along at the speed limit, drop your glasses, reach for them, get into a fender bender with the car in front of you which has stopped suddenly, and the pregnant woman passenger goes into labor, delivering a premature, stillborn infant, you've committed vehicular homicide. Hell, bump into someone with a shopping cart and the same result could obtain. Last week Indiana courts released a woman who'd been jailed for two years on feticide charges because she tried to commit suicide. She was released on a technical objection to the autopsy. The question of whether charges will be refiled is a political football. Your little font fucking overflows with human compassion.
That's before we come to rape, and the complete insanity (and inhumanity) of the Defenders of Life. It's before we come to the question of whether a woman who has too much to drink one night should be sentenced to twenty years hard labor. It's before we ask whether a citizen should control her health, or have the state explain what's best.
It's before we talk about contraception.
The right to privacy was the best, smartest, and most enlightened solution to the question. The legitimate response (thanks, Todd) of anti-abortionists, and religious absolutists, and the Life affirmers, should be to offer lifelong support for mothers and infants. Not to do the old wink wink We Won't Object to Abortions for Rape or to Save Mothers' Lives if You Just Let Us Ban the Rest routine. Especially when it comes from Catholic males.
Call me when you've got that sorted out, Ross.