Thursday, February 09, 2006

"Choose" Life

PG points me to the latest twist on the ubiquitous "Choose Life" license plates Southern states often offer as an option. Now, a South Carolina bill would offer the choice of a "Choose Death" license plate as well! Oh, hooray for even-handedness.
The bill is similar to many that have popped up in state legislatures over the past few years: it would have the Department of Motor Vehicles issue Choose Life license plates, with the fees collected therefrom going to Citizens for Life, and to issue Choose Death plates with funds going to the "Department of Mental Health to use for counseling post abortion trauma in females who have had abortions."

PG makes the clever riposte that she's all about "choosing life," but she objects to giving money to groups which are about eliminating the "choice" aspect of it. In fact, while I think she may be taking this whole thing a bit too seriously, I think she is on to something about what this reveals about the pro-life movement. For all the talk about how feminism turns women into liberal, witch-craft practicing lesbians, conservatives have (finally) come to terms with the fact that most Americans support the idea of women, you know, having rights and not being seen as the state as baby-making machines with no human agency. So in recent years, pro-life rhetoric has shifted to sound more "pro-woman." And while I feel that this has created openings to work with the pro-life movement on areas of mutual concern (like effective pre-natal care), I don't think that they've really morphed into a "pro-woman" movement that happens to disagree with mainstream feminism on what policies will help American women thrive. This isn't to say that their belief that women have human dignity isn't genuine, only that it's tangential--the key issue is still banning abortion, for which aiding women (to their eyes) is a welcome but wholly ancillary benefit. PG notes that the South Carolina bill only makes sense if the pro-life paradigm privileges ending abortion over concern for women:
The idea of sending revenue from the Choose Death plates -- in the unlikely event that anyone bought such a thing -- to the state mental health department for post-abortion trauma counseling is almost as stupid. Certainly some women are manipulated into having abortions and later feel terribly about them. But the time to help those women is before they have the abortions they'll regret, not to carry them around afterwards at abortion rallies as totems for the anti-legalization movement's belief that no woman really could want to terminate a pregnancy and they're actually helping women by taking that misleading option away. Most states mandate that abortion providers give counseling, which is wholly sensible when not attached to a requirement that there be a waiting period between in-person counseling and the abortion. Such state-forced waiting periods may put a heavier burden on women who have difficulty taking off from school or work, traveling to the provider, finding child or elder care, etc.

Of course, all of the ideas embedded in the South Carolina bill make sense from the long-term strategy of banning abortion, just not from the short-term perspective of actually helping women.

I often need to remind myself of this, as my big political weakness is that I love bridging divides between conflicting camps. But you got to remember that just because you can work together on some important issues doesn't mean they'll come around on their core. Know thy friends.


Jeff Fecke said...

You know, if I lived in South Carolina, I would totally get the "Choose Death" plate. Sometimes stupidity must be met with irony.

Mark said...

Your wrote: "conservatives have (finally) come to terms with the fact that most Americans support the idea of women, you know, having rights and not being seen as the state as baby-making machines with no human agency." How do you reconcile writing that with ... in the same post ... noting you "like bridging divides". Either you've delved too deep in somewhat radicalized feminist rhetoric and need to come up for air and get a taste of reality or you've need to get out and meet some actual living conservatives (not just read about or parodies of them). Marginalizing and making light of the positions of those whom you disagree may win points with "one side" but it won't exactly bridge gaps.

More seriously, I think your identification of the tension between the two sides. That is that the rights of a woman are primarily at stake and the pro-life position which you feel holds those rights as ancilliary but which merely proposes that the responsibilities of the woman to the right to life of the fetus is more important than the right to use abortion as contraception. A woman's rights in this regard are indeed ancilliary but it is not out of disrespect for womans dignity or rights. You seem to dismiss this "ancilliary" regard for the mother's rights and benefits as mean spirited and provincial, when there are principled reasons for a view which might be interpreted that way. It might be more beneficial give those "conservative" viewpoints the benefit of the doubt regarding the motivations for their point of view (that is not assuming ignorance, prejudice, and so on).

Anonymous said...

"not being seen as the state as baby-making machines with no human agency"

Mark, the trouble is that it's quite difficult to find an abortion prohibitionist (particularly considering the lack of conservative support for making contraceptive coverage mandatory for health care providers; allowing the sale of the morning-after pill and particularly its over-the-counter sale; etc.) who doesn't see it as a fundamental role of women to be making babies. I would parallel this to people who support the draft and consider it a fundamental role of the citizen to go to war if his government tells him to do so. It is part of one's view of the relevant actor, and rhetoric about a woman's responsibility to a fetus -- that she didn't volunteer to take on and in many cases actively attempted to prevent the existence of -- cannot mask that view.

What is the principled reason to consider the rights of a person -- someone who walks and talks and breathes and thinks -- ancillary to something that does none of those? Note that the law Roe v. Wade overturned was not based on the fetus being a citizen (the pro-life movement's invocations of Dred Scot notwithstanding); the law was about public morality versus individual rights. The state of Texas thought abortion was bad and therefore didn't want women to have them; it made no claim of protecting a person from homicide.

Similarly, opponents of same sex marriage generally are people who have very fundamental views about gender; they think it genuinely impossible to have a good marriage without a man and a woman, and well-raised children without same.