It is 1 AM, and I am finally writing this, a gesture of desperation since sleep eludes me. Churn refers to agitation, disturbance, turbulence, even seething. It captures the nature of my state of being since my phone pinged the news to me last Friday: the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It was not a surprise, simply the outcome of 50 years of political effort by a persistent minority, willing to use any means necessary. Those 50 years also coincided with the trajectory of my adult life.
My life trajectory led to this blog, invested in hope and possibility. I have been frozen in place for a few days, in search of hope, uncertain about possibility. The emotions are easy to chronicle: sadness, rage, sorrow, fury, despair, even resentment and vengeance. They emerge, swirl through, intensify, fade: I watch them churn. The thoughts demand more from me than simple consciousness. They are a patchwork quilt of life experiences and desolations, suppressing joy.
I wanted to write a lucid responsible statement about this new state of affairs in the US, and find myself swamped by an assault of insights that fit my current churn. So, I have given up on tidiness, accepted a lengthier post, and opted to simply record some snippets of the churn.
I always thought that the effort in the US to move toward justice would be most challenged when addressing the injustices toward women. Gender identity and role assignment is primal in the US, and those in charge of the assigning benefit from the established inequities. They posit that women must understand that their primary role is to carry the offspring of the men who impregnate them. If they fail in this role, they must suffer the consequences, which are many. We have collectively agreed to never say this out loud. True of other men, we think, but not my man……
The deconstruction of gender and the cultural integration of non-binary awareness has created severe discomfort in those most reassured by historic strict gender structuring. Trying to catapult everyone back a century or two seems the preferred way of coping with the fear that shapes their discomfort. This seems obvious, but it needs to be said: there is no way back. It is hard to help others see this.
Declaring when a biological event results in a distinct “human” is fraught with uncertainty and complexity. At least 25% of all successful mergers of human sperm and ovum result in a first trimester “spontaneous abortion”, thus one fourth of these “humans” simply conclude without completion. It appears the only “humans” of interest are those where another human concludes the process without completion. If all are “humans” and the greater loss is spontaneous, wouldn’t the focus more logically be on figuring out how to prevent the spontaneous events?
There are numerous serious physical complexities that surround pregnancy. It is rare to see this awareness in the anti-abortion political action initiatives, perhaps because so many are spear-headed by humans who never can or will be pregnant. There are equally numerous serious emotional, social, moral and spiritual complexities. These too seem to rarely be noted. This “one size fits all” over-simplification is not only ignorant but also cruel. Both words, ignorant and cruel, are used deliberately.
Many anti-abortion advocates present as “pro-life”. Yet almost none invest in the complex challenge of supporting women who have the children they demand be born. Life in utero is inviolate; after that, you’re on your own. The same “pro-life” advocates are comfortable with an array of policies that harm life, including issues about gun control legislation, climate management and wealth inequity. And yes, I do not think this is very “pro-life”. “Protecting unborn babies” is a fairly narrow understanding of the affirmation of life.
The “religious” dimension of the saga of Roe v. Wade is sobering and for me, tragic. Believing something to be true is certainly a right I support for everyone; insisting everyone agree with me is quite another thing. I do not “believe” that a distinct human life “begins” at conception. I am fine if others elect to “believe” this; it is an opinion, not a fact. Insisting that it is THE TRUTH that others must embrace smacks not merely of religious fervor but also of authoritarianism, insecurity and/or political ambition. A case can be made for an array of beliefs about the beginning of a distinct human life; my case is toward viability outside the womb. Insisting that one viewpoint must prevail is about power, not truth.
Currently, in the US, over 50% of the abortions in the first 8 weeks of pregnancy or less are medical ones, involving the ingestion of a medication. While abortions have declined in the US, the use of medical abortion has increased as a percentage of abortions. It is unlikely that this will be reversed. This type of abortion involves embryos, not second or third trimester fetuses which tends to be the way anti-abortion advocates argue their case. In addition, overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion; it will simply make it more dangerous or deadly in many iterations. It will also make it more elusive for those with limited financial means. It was a right; now it is a logistic and resource challenge with uncertain outcomes.
Since I have a personal history with one religion, Catholicism, I pay attention to this dimension, sometimes with dread. Six of the current Supreme Court justices are Catholic and a seventh, Justice Gorsuch, was raised a Catholic. The Catholic Bishops have made their anti-abortion initiatives central to their use of influence and impact, in sharp contrast, for instance, to their feckless opposition to clerical child molestation or racism. Single issue efforts are always suspect to me. This one in particular is onerous since I have spent a good part of my adult life working to move beyond the impact on me personally of the denigration of women that is an inherent part of Catholic culture in the US.
The three most recently appointed Supreme Court justices will have their terms always marked by asterisks, since each achieved their status with processes that can readily be questioned: the indefensible delay of an appointment, the failure to conduct a complete investigation into charges of sexual misconduct, the ramming through an appointment at the end of a term of office. And yes, I link this to the observation about Catholicism, since each was celebrated by the Catholic church hierarchy. By any means possible….
The punitive undertow emerging in state legislation is both ominous and authoritarian, and is emerging here in Ohio in a quick and vicious fashion, threatening health care providers. It makes if quite clear: this is not about moral good, it is about power and control. There is a queasy desperation in this legislation: we insist that if you are pregnant, you stay pregnant and we will punish any and all who fail in this dictum. Clearly there is a fear factor here, not just for the pregnant woman and the provider, but more profoundly for the legislators who think this is what their constituents want or require. Tracing the fear is important. It appears it is very dangerous when women control whether or not a pregnancy goes to completion. Obviously, men feel they need to control this.
It is not enough for men to silently stand by and disagree with all that is emerging. Until men speak up and take on this issue with the same intensity that shapes the response of women, our status as a society will continue to be subtly toxic. The failure of men to publicly oppose this is more damning than the action of the Supreme Court; they are complicit through their silence.
I vividly recall the day, as a very young academic, that I was attending a meeting with six or seven of my male colleagues; we were exploring the development of a needed academic policy for the campus. The only detail I recall is suddenly knowing that all the men in that room genuinely, and without hostility or shame, did not view me as an autonomous moral agent. I did, and the realization they did not was soul-wrenching. I persisted, aware that a new insight had shaken my world. I also knew none of them knew what I now knew about them. I can still feel the shock.
And so, the shock continues, the work continues, the commitment to my daughters and granddaughters continues. I have spent my adult life working to create a world for my daughters better for women than the one I found. The Supreme Court did not end this story, they simply wrote a new chapter. Last Friday, my older daughter sent me a simple text: “Pretty horrible day”. My younger daughter called me to see how I was doing, to make sure I was OK. We talked about how resistant to solution the dilemma of abortion seemed to be. Later, she texted me that her daughter, my granddaughter wanted to participate in a local protest. They sent me a picture of the two of them at the state capital, with a sign “My Body, My Choice”. I was proud of them.
“There’s a moment when you have to choose whether to be silent or stand up”.