Commentary: We can stop pretending the abortion fight is about "life" as a general moral good. A freshman lawmaker in the state of Oklahoma has spoken with such candor about his effort to obstruct abortion rights that he has given away the game.
This month, Oklahoma House member Justin Humphrey submitted legislation requiring women seeking an abortion to obtain written permission from the father, and allowing the named father to delay the procedure by challenging paternity. One day before HB 1441 passed committee, Humphrey expounded in an interview: “I believe one of the breakdowns in our society is that we have excluded the man out of all of these types of decisions...I understand that [women] feel like that is their body. I feel like it is a separate — what I call them is, is you’re a ‘host.’ And you know when you enter into a relationship you’re going to be that host."
This is honest, if a bit callow. The American abortion debate is about authority over women's bodies (or "hosts") first and foremost, fetuses second, and life after birth abandoned to market forces and politics. As women find themselves defending not only rights to abortion but even to birth control, the zealous urge to constrain sexual liberty and reject the autonomy of women remains under-reported. Instead, news organizations continue to call this movement "pro life."
Ever since the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973 established a constitutional right to abort a pregnancy , the game has been to legislate procedural hurdles to make exercising that right as difficult as possible, with the long-term goal of cultivating a right-wing Court that will overturn that right altogether. Humphrey may or may not know that the Supreme Court struck down paternal notification as an undue burden in 1992, but it doesn't matter. The movement to control women's bodies is steadfast, patient, and strategic. It will keep passing coercive laws until the right to abort a pregnancy is abolished and the procedure once again relegated to unsafe back alleys. As far as I know, the "All Lives Matter" crowd is silent about this prospect.
However one may feel about the long struggle to end abortion through endless regulations and Justice-shopping, it is a coherent political agenda with a plausible strategy - and it seems headed for success. We are under no obligation, however, to play along by calling this a "pro-life" agenda. Frankly, I have yet to locate a politician or activist anywhere on the ideological spectrum who consistently embodies a "pro life" ethic.
A consistently "pro life" politician would be rejected by both our major parties as unelectable and subject to ridicule. Our political realm and much of popular culture laughs at humane values and compassion, trusting only in the power of coercion. A "pro-life" politician would argue that reducing abortion means reducing unwanted pregnancies not by authoritarian control or imposing a particular religious view on the whole of society, but through education, birth control, and personal freedom. They would argue for radical economic restructuring of society so that no woman need fear raising a child in poverty, in unsafe communities, or without adequate health care. The "pro-life" politician would indict our punitive and exploitative economy, and reject the war state that claims our children's bodies and diverts resources needed to build a healthy and sustainable society. We can have a military industrial complex and neoliberal capitalism, or we can have schools, clinics, hospitals, democratic workplaces, and an accountable system of criminal justice for all.
Tell me which choice a truly "pro life" movement would make.
Algernon D'Ammassa writes the "Desert Sage" column for the Deming Headlight and Sun News papers. Write to him at DesertSageMail@gmail.com.