Wednesday, July 25, 2007


I was intrigued to read Elle magazine's coverage of the Gonzales decision. It was encouraging to find some actual substance in a fashion magazine.

A few favorite snippets (although I found all of it worth a read):

From Gloria Feldt:

The fierce antichoice backlash that erupted when Roe was decided crested with the recent Gonzales decision. The ruling's language drips with such disrespect for women that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg charged it "reflects ancient notions about women's place."

Yet in the 34 years since Roe, I've been shocked to observe that some of these ancient notions still remain. As president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America for nearly a decade until 2005, I repeatedly saw how men's and women's support of the right to a safe, legal abortion wavered according to the extent to which they considered a woman to be in control of her own life. If she's a victim of rape or incest, about 75 percent approve of the procedure, according to Gallup. But only a little more than one third approve when the woman or family say they can't afford to raise the child. Ask if the decision should be between a woman and her doctor, and around 60 percent agree; ask whether the woman alone merits the freedom to make that choice, and far fewer do.

At first I thought: How little trust people have in women's moral capacity to make decisions! Then I realized the idea of women having the power to decide is what sticks in craws. When women are victims, "ancient notions" aren't disrupted. When we exercise our volitional powers over procreation and thus our own lives, we profoundly upset the ancient gender applecart.

And from Ann Crittenden, an excellent critique of Kennedy's "reasoning":

So, he rules, we'll spare you all that grief and sorrow by deciding you can't have a partial-birth abortion (if your state so decides), even though there was substantial testimony from medical experts and groups, such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, that this now potentially criminal form of second-trimester abortion is sometimes safer for women than other forms. This is for your own good, of course.

Where have we heard this before? You are too mentally challenged to master the rigors of a higher education, so we'll keep you out of universities for your own good. You are too gentle for the rough-and-tumble world of business, so we'll keep you out of the high-paying professions for your own good. You don't understand complicated political issues, so we'll spare you the confusion of voting, for your own good. You are too frail for competitive sports, so we'll keep you from running or swimming or discovering your body's capabilities, for your own good. And now paternalism's last stand is over motherhood. You don't know when you are ready to become a mother; whether you are suited to become a mother; what to do when something has gone dreadfully wrong with your pregnancy. So you can't decide.

When your parents tell you something is for your own good, it usually means something unpleasant, like eating your spinach or getting a shot. When grown men tell grown women something is for their own good, it's usually something imprisoning. As Justice Ginsburg put it in her magnificent dissent, "[T]he Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety."

And from Francine Prose, aptly named, as she brings some *much needed* attention to the rhetoric of the anti-choice decision:

If the language of Roe v. Wade is emotionally sympathetic and articulate, the language of Gonzales v. Carhart, the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the federal ban of partial-birth abortion, can be as crude and bloody-minded as that of a slasher film. Tellingly, the first "woman" we hear about in the ruling is not consciously facing the difficult dilemma of whether to terminate a pregnancy. In fact, she is unconscious, anesthetized so that the doctor (there are no "obstetricians" here, but only "doctors" and "abortion doctors") can perform a cruel and terrifying procedure. "The friction causes the fetus to tear apart....a leg might be ripped off the fetus…."

The appalling clinical descriptions and gross details go on for pages. "'The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping….'" The language, the terminology, and the focus are so inflammatory and mercilessly sensational that, at times, you almost feel that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored the majority decision, is taking a perverse pleasure in the horrors he is describing. We hear about "the life of the unborn" and "the life within the woman," but not once about the life of the woman. Indeed, the most important—the only important—thing about her life is its potential for motherhood. ("Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child.") Her cervix and uterus are mentioned, but never her brain, which can make an informed choice...

The great irony is that this new ruling, so perfectly in accord with the "right-to-life" position, is so intensely focused on and written entirely in the language of violent death; whereas Roe v. Wade is all about life: its complexities and quandaries, its hardships and hopes, the rocks and the hard places that any of us may be caught between when we find ourselves at the raw edges of human existence.

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