My Cousin’s Intriguing Comparison

I periodically post about insights shared with me by one of my cousins, who recently forwarded a recent blog post of his own, containing an intriguing comparison between America’s battle over reproductive rights and prohibition. With his permission, I’m sharing much of what he wrote.

Prior to 1920, there were few restrictions on the production and consumption of alcohol. But after that, the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in the United States was made illegal until 1933 under the terms of the Eighteenth Amendment. Major support for this amendment was provided by groups with strong religious ties that included many Protestants, together with a national grassroots base comprising the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Ironically, most of the ardent supporters of prohibition were located in rural areas, and they were, to a large extent, pitted against a majority of urban dwellers.

But most Americans have always objected to the removal of a widely available right, and this resulted in widespread flouting of the law banning alcohol, especially in urban areas. Finally, under pressure from a national majority, the twenty-first amendment permitting alcohol was passed, which then ceded responsibility for alcohol policy to the individual states, and as we now know, this has resulted, with few exceptions, in the widespread national acceptance of alcohol.

From these experiences derived from prohibition, we have learned two important lessons that should attract the attention of all, especially those who are anti-abortion: 1) Americans are loath to give up established rights, and 2) religious groups, even if large in number, cannot impose their will on a reluctant majority for extended periods.

And now we are presented with an eerily similar circumstance: For a half century, the general population was enjoying freedom of choice through rights granted by the Supreme Court (Roe vs Wade), and now this right has been abruptly revoked, and this responsibility was passed on to the individual states. And if history is any guide, the vast majority in most states will press for return to something resembling their previous freedom… 

The rest of his column looked at the likely outcome of allowing individual states to regulate reproduction. I think it is far more likely that Congress will ultimately codify Roe v. Wade–but only if Democrats win control of both houses. 

And that brings me to Indiana, and our open Senate seat.

Marc Carmichael has pledged to work for codification of Roe. (As he frequently notes, he has granddaughters who deserve fundamental rights.) Jim Banks not only supports a national abortion ban with no exceptions–not for rape, incest or the life of the mother–but actively opposes measures that would facilitate or protect access to birth control. He was one of the Republicans who voted against the Right to Contraception Act, a bill intended to “protect a person’s ability to access contraceptives and to engage in contraception, and to protect a health care provider’s ability to provide contraceptives, contraception, and information related to contraception.” 

The Right to Contraception Act was essentially an effort to codify Griswold v. Connecticut. Griswold was a precursor case to Roe, in which the court held that a couple’s decision to use birth control was none of government’s business–that individuals have a constitutional right to personal autonomy, aka privacy.

I’ve linked to the text of the bill, passage of which was blocked by Republicans.

In the wake of the Dobbs decision, GOP operatives hastened to assure voters that the party wasn’t coming for contraception–that, to the contrary, with abortion banned, access to birth control would be expanded. Their actions, however, proved how hollow–indeed, dishonest– those assurances were. Red states rushed to pass “personhood” amendments that enabled the recent theocratic attack on IVF in Alabama. The decision in the Hobby Lobby case continues to allow employers with “sincere religious objections” to deny birth control coverage to employees whose “sincere religious beliefs” differ.

I believe my cousin was exactly right to compare the politics of the Republican war on reproductive liberty to prohibition. In both cases, self-appointed “god squads” have tried to enlist government to impose their views on everyone else.  In both cases, huge majorities of Americans disagree with those views. Those majorities defeated prohibition, and I am confident will vote to secure women’s rights to birth control and abortion.

The battle reminds me of that famous line from Network. To paraphrase, American women are mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore; we’re not going back to being submissive, barefoot and pregnant.  We’re going to defeat Jim Banks and his fellow misogynists and send allies like Marc Carmichael to the U.S. Senate.

I think I’ll go drink to that…..


  1. Great essay today, Sheila. Please refer to my sending to you the column from my old friend John Young on this very subject.

    Is our population so brain-dead that it can tolerate this theater of the absurd, aka the Republican party … or evangelical religious nationalists? I hope you are right about the majority and that the polling numbers are also correct.

    As some of us have said before on this blog, it will be the women who save us from the scourge of idiocy of the Republican party and those who follow its utter un-democratic, misogynistic and utterly backward “ideas” and policies.

    So much of this alternate universe of religion reminds me of a true story involving the owner of a major professional sports team around the time the fabulous musical “Jesus Christ Superstar” emerged in theaters everywhere. When asked if he was going to see the show, he responded: “No. Because I’m a Christian”. DUH!

  2. Those narrow minded bigots like Jim Banks have forgotten there might be people who need that very medication theyre opposed to for something other than nefarious reasons.
    In HS and college, I regularly missed one day of classes every month because of horrible menstrual pain. Think of that, years of pain that would knock those old Republican men on their keister.
    Finally after seven years of this, an Obgyn recommended the bc pill and I was free- free of pain that kept me from classes, work and life.
    It is notably none of those old men’s business that I wasn’t ‘active’ but only trying to become a productive member of society, attending college, teaching and spending money in their precious economy.
    But guys like Jim Banks, never think beyond that narrow world they live in.
    Nor do they want to understand there may be some families who are not ready to have children and want to save up to buy a home or build up a savings account before children appear on the scene.
    Or is that their plan?
    Do these phoney Xhristians want a class of poor families, loaded down with debt and numerous children?
    Without burth control, the power hungry will have access to poor children as cheap workers…
    And women sick in bed once a month instead of in the work force?

  3. I would venture a guess that none of these men who make these rules against women could for one minute handle the pain of cramps, or childbirth. After all with just a common cold most of these fellas act like they are dying.

  4. Banks is allowed to flaunt his power because of gerrymandering in Indiana. He can vote for the most absurd laws and policies because of gerrymandering and the endless supply of money coming from ALEC and their dark network PACs. Evangelicals also prime his campaign.

    It will take the voters in rural areas to switch their votes to Ds, and I don’t see that happening in Indiana. This is Trump country and filled with conspiracy-riddled yahoos living in our rural communities. Indiana is not much different than the deep South red states. Racism cuts to the core, even in urban settings.

    This is probably why there are so many U-hauls in this state. They need a lot due to the one-way trips to blue states.

    It’s going to take a national workers strike in states like Texas and Florida to stop the tide of right-wing zealots.

    Btw, Russia just made LGBTQ illegal. Punishable up to 12 years in jail. I bet our Republican Party is jealous and may be heading in that direction.

  5. There is a great deal of talk about not allowing abortions, but no mention of who and how will the children be supported financially and cared for. If most women, or even a third, give up their child who will be paying the bills…WE WILL THROUGH OUR TAXES!!! Hello, anybody home?

  6. I sure hope Sheila is right about the majority of Americans rising up to push back and defeat the radical right minority’s power grab. My only question is this: When those religious- based laws were overturned in the past was the majority of the Supreme Court composed of radical right religious theocrats as it is now?

  7. Beth, I think that you are right about the motivation of the Banks types, deep down, even if they do not consciously realize it.
    Yes, Vernon, our population, or too much of it, is brain-dead, or otherwise occupied, to recognize the threat the former GOP represents.
    Sheila, your cousin’s point seems to be spot-on, and I am hopeful that the
    overwhelming majority of people will see to it that Roe does become codified.

  8. How many times a day does Fox “News” remind their audience of the need to protect their superior culture from the influx of inferior ones?

    That has become the loudest bullhorn in the country.

  9. The comparison between abortion and prohibition is interesting, but there are some pretty important differences:
    1. When there’s money to be made, it’s a lot easier to influence the political system. There was always a significant amount of money behind the manufacture, distribution and resale of alcohol. Unlike abortion and reproductive rights, there’s a ton of money sloshing around in the entire right-wing political / religious ecosystem – and much of it is even tax exempt.

    Keep in mind that leading up to prohibition, tavern culture was very ingrained and was very big business. People (men) even voted at bars. Granted, one of the issues for prohibitionists was that the father/husband/ breadwinner was spending his time and much of his paycheck in the tavern.

    2. Which brings us to significant difference two: Abortion, and family planning in general, is overwhelmingly an issue that affects women – not men.

  10. If I may, I’d like to quibble a bit. It seems to me that rights, like the right to control our own bodies can’t be granted by the Court. It can be acknowledged, but rights are inherent. Amendment XVIII wasn’t ever declared in unconstitutional, but repealed by XXI because it was incredibly stupid. The amazing thing is that it took 13 years to fix it.

  11. It took a Democratic president (FDR) to end Prohibition and it will take a Democratic president, House and Senate to effectively end Dobbs and return us to something perhaps even better than Roe. The next election affords us the possibility of that happy outcome while we are also ridding ourselves of cretins like Banks and with a fascist realtor running loose around the countryside there has never been a better time to vote, and to bring Aunt Mary and Cousin Harold with you. How important is this fall’s vote? Look up “existentialism” as it will apply to yourself and your successors. It’s no time to be a “Good German.” VOTE!

  12. I heard stories about Prohibition from my parents who lived through it. I heard that my grandfather who was from Holland, made beer in his basement for personal consumption at home. Also, that was common practice among many ethnicities where wine and beer were traditional.
    Prohibition made a lot of regular Americans into law breakers and pushed the liquor business underground into the hands of organized crime that caused a lot worse crimes to be committed i.e. Mafia turf wars. It took so much tax money and municipal manpower to try to enforce prohibition that it finally became evident that it just wouldn’t work.
    I think the abortion issue is similar in that it’s unenforceable. It will turn a lot of young women and their caregivers into criminals unnecessarily. It will cost government enormous amount of taxpayer’s money, manpower and time, and create an underground, unregulated and unsafe market.
    I’m from a big Catholic family and my poor mother was so run down and sick from having 9 kids in fifteen years; it hurts to think what she went through. I can’t forgive the Church for making her and many women believe that was their obligation. I spent so much time as a girl babysitting, and working in the kitchen, that my goals had to be put on the back burner. My Dad finally realized and said, “this made sense when we all lived on farms” It’s a matter of social evolution where there needs to be freedom for individuals to make their own personal decisions cognizant of their individual circumstances and limits.
    Authoritarian government overstepping women’s inherent rights needs to go back to the dark ages and take their current caucus with them.

  13. Rose,
    He could’ve stopped getting your Mom pregnant too. She couldn’t get like that without him. We have to stop this thinking that children only come from women. Every pregnancy is a man’s doing. Both are supposed to be responsible for creating a child. Women bear the child but for some reason, men are never blamed for her pregnancy. That’s the real problem, right there.

  14. Ladies, please lead the fight for your rights with the knowledge that there are many enlightened (woke) men (including me) who will be supporting your effort. My grand-daughters are praying that it doesn’t take 13 years to get this aberration of sanity straightened out, and I am praying that they are not accidentally burdened with unwanted, or unplanned, offspring before our society reclaims its sanity. Part of me wants to say that men shouldn’t even get to vote on this issue. Historically we men get 5 minutes of pleasure and women get 19+ years of indentured servitude!

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