Sunday, April 22, 2007

Precedent and privacy go out the window

Well, damn it, I've no faith in the unity that's sought through yielding; and I'm not going to walk away, because I'm as much a part of this revolution as you are, and maybe at this moment in history, more. Here I stand. You're going to have to cope with me, brother. Now.
-- Lilith's Manifesto (1969)

We could certainly use that voice today. We could certainly use the daughters of Tana and so much more. As many have sported their brightest smiles in the years since Roe v. Wade and looked for the "sunny side" of each betrayal and setback, we've seen less calling out and more pleas for "getting along." In the wake of last week's verdict in Gonzales v. Carhat, lots of luck cozying up to the right wing.

For those who missed it, the male dominated Supreme Court decided that women's lives didn't matter and, despite John Roberts' laughable promise during his confirmation hearing to honor precedent, they decided precedent didn't matter either. That's how wars start, with an opening blow. Last week it was abortion.

In case you're lost (and you may be, a huge decision received very little attention as it competed with twin soap operas last week):

"BREAKING NEWS: Supreme Court Upholds Federal Abortion Procedure Ban Without Health Exception" (Feminist Wire Daily):
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to uphold the federal Partial Birth Abortion Act, a ban on an abortion procedure that the Republican controlled Congress passed in 2003. This ban has no exception for the health of a pregnant woman.
Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal issued a statement this morning, saying, "This ruling shows the true colors of the current Bush-stacked majority of the Supreme Court: it does not care about the health, well-being, and safety of American women. This must serve as a wake-up call to women: we are losing our fundamental rights as Bush continues to stack the courts. Elections matter: this is the consequence of a Republican, ideologically driven president and Congress."
While Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority decision on behalf of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Antonin Scalia, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, calling today's decision "alarming."
LEARN MORE Read the Supreme Court's decision, issued this morning (PDF)

It should be a wake up call and, for many last week, it was. What was done was monumental even if it received less ink and airtime than the dueling soaps.


Don't interrupt the sorrow
Darn right
In flames our prophet witches
Be polite
A room full of glasses
He says "Your notches liberation doll"
And he chains me with that serpent
To that Ethiopian wall
-- Joni Mitchell, "Don't Interrupt The Sorrow" (The Hissing of Summer Lawns)

Don't interrupt the sorrow? David J. Garrow showed up on the Saturday op-ed pages of The New York Times looking for the party. The New Republic(an)'s Garrow (don't breathe easy Nation readers, they run his crap too) shows up offering the first thoughts on the subject. How nice of The New York Times to turn first to a man on the topic of abortion and, naturally, Garrow doesn't disappoint his masters. "Don't Assume the Worst," he instructs -- cheerleader for the clampdown.

Among the half-full glasses Garrow points to (but doesn't pick up, remember, he's a man of a certain age -- fifty-plus) is Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissenting opinion. He finds optimism in the opinion. Why? Apparently he neither reads well nor grasps that dissenting opinions can say anything, they have no bearing. The majority opinion of the Court is what matters.

Isn't it wonderful that the paper went to a man to weigh in on abortion? Isn't that just peachy keen. The cat's pajamas. Doesn't the world need his description of "sad and difficult" on deciding to have an abortion. (He's referring to late term and without any statistical data, he just pulls it out of his ass.)

It's at times like these that we sometimes wonder: Did the feminist movement even happen?

That's as true for those participating who were born after the movement (second wave) was well under weigh and those who lived through the period. In 1967, NOW (National Organization for Women) adopted their Bill of Rights. Their eighth (and final) point was "The Right of Women to Control Their Reproductive Lives." What's changed?

Well, actually a lot. The feminist movement remains one of the longest, ongoing movements and it has resulted in a true transformation of society but let's not pretend for one minute that not only is the journey still ongoing, but also that their aren't a large number of people bound and determined to cut women's legs out from under them. Five such people sit on the Supreme Court. Five men. All but one White. All Catholic. How did that happen, by the way? How do you end up with that sort of "representation"?

Maybe the same way that we went from applauding (in the 90s) the fact that there were finally two women serving on the Supreme Court to accepting the Bully Boy's appointment of not one, but two, White males to serve on the Court -- one in place of Sandra Day O'Connor thereby reducing the number of women serving on the Court to one. Women may have come along a way, and there's surely a long way to go, but don't forget that there are those who actively work to end the journey.

Harriet Miers, lest anyone thinks a woman on the Court just because she's a woman is a plus, wouldn't have been any help here. Her semi-private remarks against abortion were well known -- so well known that it was distressing to see some feminists argue in her favor and state that calling out someone unqualified to serve on the Court (make no mistake, she was unqualified -- even by Bully Boy standards which is really saying something) -- and the decision wouldn't have been altered with her serving on the Court -- was 'sexism.' (Not calling out the monumentally unqualified Miers would have been the real sexism.)

But last week, for women of a certain age, played out like a 1991 confirmation hearing on Clarence Thomas when men demonstrated repeatedly that they just didn't get it.

In the case of the five pigs on the Court, they got it, they knew exactly what they were doing. And little brown nosers like Garrow should be refrained (restrained?) from rushing in to provide cover for them.

Legal expert Garrow emerges from his cave to tell you that it didn't overturn Roe v. Wade. Whether he's really that stupid or just pretending, we'll leave to others to decide. But Roe v. Wade can't be overturned without massive protest. Overturning Roe v. Wade in one fell swoop would result in even the mildest of the mild raising their voices in protest and taking to the streets.

What's done instead is that Roe v. Wade is chipped away at, bit by bit. Even the overly applauded Sandra Day O'Connor assisted in that -- though revisionary historians prefer to look the other way.

The reality is that Roe v. Wade took another body shot on Wednesday of last week, that it's far less stronger than it was even one week prior, that state legislatures will now begin attempting other hits and that the promise of Roe v. Wade has been under orchestrated and deliberate attack since the verdict was handed down.

Garrow can schill and front, offer cover all he wants. But for a supposed legal expert, it's amazing how he fails to note the lack of medical science backing for the decision. By contrast, check out the decision in Roe (check out all the decisions in Roe). Along with ignoring precedent, the five in the majority elected to ignore the medical community. How do you do that? How do you rule on a medical procedure and ignore the medical community? Very easily when your goal is to subvert the rights of women.

Martha Mendoza's "Between a Woman and her Doctor" (Ms. magazine) explains her own experience with late-term abortion and is medically based:

I also did some research, spoke with friends who were obstetricians and gynecologists, and quickly learned this: Study after study shows D&Es are safer than labor and delivery. Women who had D&Es were far less likely to have bleeding requiring transfusion, infection requiring intravenous antibiotics, organ injuries requiring additional surgery or cervical laceration requiring repair and hospital readmission.
A review of 300 second- trimester abortions published in 2002 in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that 29 percent of women who went through labor and delivery had complications, compared with just 4 percent of those who had D&Es.
The American Medical Association said D&Es, compared to labor and delivery, "may minimize trauma to the woman's uterus, cervix and other vital organs."
There was this fact, too: The intact D&E surgery makes less use of "grasping instruments," which could damage the body of the fetus. If the body were intact, doctors might be able to more easily figure out why my baby died in the womb.

It's only surprising that an individual woman would do more medical research than those Justices sitting in the majority if you honestly believe that this was a decision they struggled to reach. They spent more time writing the decision than considering it.

That's important to remember because, as noted earlier, Bully Boy nominated two White men to the Court that passed the confirmation process: John Roberts and Samuel Alito. If you remember those hearings, you may remember the treatment of women during them. Women were basically patted on their heads and told how nice it was to see a woman with a sense of civic duty before being sent on their way. Democrats not only refused to filibuster the nominations, they didn't treat abortion as a serious issue. Treating it as a serious issue means much more than an attitude of "Good enough for me" when the nominee resorted to platitudes.

As noted last week in "The Supreme Court decision didn't 'just happen'" (The Common Ills), this point didn't appear out of nowhere. It came about in a landscape where people caved repeatedly on reproductive rights, where people ran from the issue of abortion or offered weak ass 'support' while lamenting the procedure. Abortion is nothing to be ashamed of. It's helped the lives of many women and many families. But the old debater's ploy of act like you support a right even though you're not personally for it, wasn't just trotted out -- it became the standard talking point.

Here's reality: when the Court handed down Roe v. Wade, women didn't hang their heads in shame. They didn't say, "The Court did a good thing for something regrettable but necessary."
How far backward we've gone.

Abortion isn't a simple decision for all women. It's also not a decision to be ashamed of or regretted by all women. In this community, Kat and Rebecca have written of their abortions. Neither regrets them. (Rebecca regrets that due to genetic condition with the fetus, she had to make a choice but she doesn't regret that the choice was available or making that choice.) That's a far cry from Hillary Clinton's infamous back off from reproductive rights in 2005.

When Clinton and others speak of abortion today, they're speaking in the same language once used to describe the then-illegal abortions. Abortions are going to happen regardless of the law.
But 'back in the day,' many women had to take extreme chances with their health, visiting medically questionable doctors (some of whom could and did rape the women -- you can't exactly call a cop to complain you were raped by your abortionist when the procedure is illegal). While that was going on, women with money or access to money could have safe procedures and did -- in a hospital setting.

Back then, when abortion was illegal, churches joined the movement to legalize it. Hard to believe today, but true. That's because the landscape has changed that much.

Opinion hasn't changed. Americans support abortion. But each tiny, hollow, craven politician who wants to be both a "friend" and court the extreme right-wing adds to the climate where an individual's medical procedure is suddenly something to stand in judgement of.

Did any of you, for instance, have a gall bladder removed recently? Are you sure the Lord Jesus approves of that? After all, you were made in God's image and surely you shouldn't mess around with that. Ditto all surgeries from nose jobs to open heart. In fact, if this attitude was carried out across the board, we wouldn't have to worry about the very real shortage of nurses in this country, we'd have to worry about a shortage in faith healers.

But it's only with women that the set feels they can sit in judgement. As has been noted often, Viagra is covered by many medical plans. A man can get a medication to allow him to have sex. Medications and procedures for women that have to do with reproduction are judged differently. And make no mistake, they are "judged."

The judgement of women doesn't result in an equal judgement of men. For instance, the 'vangicals have hardly mounted protests at insurance companies, they've yet to demand proof that those males being prescribed Viagra are married and married to women who can have children. "God's will" only appears to apply to women for the 'vangicals.

And hasn't it been that way for years? And hasn't feminism confronted that double standard?

But we're faced with a new reality today. For years, just as the Repubes have campaigned, as a whole, with Vote-for-me-I'll-end-Roe, the Democrats have campaigned on, "If you don't vote for us, you'll lose Roe." Reality peaked through last week and it shined a light not only on the current composition of the Court but also on the fact that for all the lip service (which, granted, has faded) to abortion, Democrats serving on the Senate Judicial Committee didn't do a damn thing to stop the confirmations of two right-wing, anti-abortion nominees.

It's going to be a lot harder for many to believe the next mealy mouthed Dem who wants to say, "I support it principle but it's a sad" blah blah blah.

It's a private, medical decision. It's been around in this country forever. It was legal before it was illegal, way 'back in the day,' when it was called "quickening." As Sarah Weddington (who argued Roe before the Supreme Court) notes in A Question of Choice (page 152), "The battle was for the basic right of women to make their own decisions. There was a basic question underlying the specific issue of abortion: Who is to control and define the lives of women? And our answer was: Not the government!"

Who is to control and define? Judging by the op-ed pages of The New York Times, a man. One of the most monumental decisions from the Court (and, again, one that signaled all precedents were now in danger -- in all cases) and the paper says the only one allowed to address it is a man. Now maybe we missed something (please let us know because men are involved in the writing of this and they need to know as much anyone) but men don't get pregnant and they don't give birth. We look forward to the paper of no record's columns on surviving testicular cancer . . . columns written by women.

Last week, America went backwards. How far back we'll go is going to depend on whether or not people use their voices to decry the hateful decision. Maybe we'll just drop back to the 1950s when, as Stephanie Coontz notes in The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap, asking for an abortion was grounds for shock therapy. Maybe we'll go even further back.

Or maybe we'll rise up with the spirit and passion of earlier waves and stop this b.s. in its tracks? That's going to be up to the people. It's going to require rejecting the clampdown artists (like Garrow) and demanding that elected officials support reproductive rights. It's going to require not settling, but demanding.

If you're angry, mad, sad or dispirited, we're not going to tell you not to be. We're not going to point to the broken glass on the floor and try to stress that if sunlight hits it, we'll have a pretty rainbow. A very foul thing happened and it needs to be called out. If you're interested in more on how we arrived at the point in time, we suggest the new book by RadioNation with Laura Flanders' Laura Flanders -- Blue Grit, specifically chapter six "Not By Spin Alone," which tackles this issue. From page 150:

The Democrats' "make abortion rare" reframing concedes an awful lot of territory to those who've been legislating away women's rights since the day Roe was decided. It gives up on the idea, for example, that a woman's right to make her own reproductive decision is her private right. Period. Moreover, while Democrats shift their seat on the field, the field keeps moving. And abortion is not just, as George Lakoff and others have called it, a "stand-in" for other issues. It's a life-saver for women who want and need abortions.
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