Category Archives: Personal Autonomy

Ve-e-ery Interesting!

Younger readers of this blog–assuming there are some–probably don’t remember Laugh-In, a comedy skit show by Rowan and Martin that was considered edgy for its time. One of the regulars on that show was a comic named Arte Johnson, who would pop up after a segment (often in a pith helmet) and intone (in what I recall as a faux German accent) “Veeery interesting!”

A recent article from Bloomberg elicited a similar reaction from me. It reported on an unanticipated outcome of the dangerous Texas law establishing bounties on people who help women obtain abortions. It was–in Johnson’s memorable phrase–“veeery interesting.”

The article reported on the response of the corporate community to the Texas’s law –an  approach that has triggered passage of similar and increasingly restrictive abortion laws in other states. Named the “heartbeat bill” (a medically-inaccurate characterization), it bans abortions after six-weeks and deputizes private citizens to bring civil lawsuits against anyone they suspect or know helped a woman obtain one. The measure has prompted passage of a similar bill in Idaho, and Florida’s retrograde legislature has approved a ban on abortions after 15 weeks– with no exceptions for rape or incest. Other Red states are following.

 As the Bloomberg article reminded readers, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to rule on a Mississippi case that its newly conservative majority will likely use to significantly weaken if not overrule Roe v. Wade. When that occurs–and it would be shocking if it didn’t, given the current makeup of the Court–  26 states are certain or likely to largely outlaw abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In a surprising reaction, corporate America is responding to the threat.

The roar of anti-abortion laws sweeping through U.S. state houses is echoing loudly in human resources offices.

Companies that have offered to help cover travel costs for employees who have to go out of state for abortions are trying to figure out how to go about it. Large corporations like Citigroup Inc., Apple Inc., Bumble Inc., Levi Strauss & Co. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. are now offering such benefits for reproductive-care services not available in an employee’s home state.

The report notes that most health insurance plans cover the costs of abortions, but in the  Red states with abortion bans, companies need to create a mechanism to ensure  that their employees have access to safe and medically appropriate terminations. They are exploring how to protect their workers’ privacy and especially how to fend off legal actions that might be brought by states looking to block such workarounds.

Laura Spiekerman, co-founder of New York-based startup Alloy, told Bloomberg News that reimbursing workers for abortion-related travel is the “low bar” of what companies should do. “I’m surprised and disappointed more companies aren’t doing it,” she said.

The company — which has a handful of employees in states with restrictive abortion laws like Florida, Arizona and Mississippi — in January said that it would pay up to $1,500 toward travel expenses for employees or their partners needing to travel out of state for abortions. Alloy also said it would cover 50% of legal costs up to $5,000 if any employee or their partner had to deal with legal issues due to anti-abortion laws.

The numbers are significant: some 40 million women of reproductive age live in states that are hostile to abortion rights. Those states passed more than 100 anti-abortion laws in 2021, “the highest number in the nearly half a century since Roe v. Wade, according to Guttmacher.”

The article highlights some creative responses.  

Dallas-based Match Group Inc. is partnering with a third party for a similar benefit to Alloy’s. Any Match employee in Texas can call a toll-free number dedicated to the program to reach Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, which will arrange travel and lodging paid for by a fund Match Chief Executive Officer Shar Dubey created last year to cover such costs for staffers and dependents, according to a company spokesperson. Eligibility would be determined through a third-party employment verification vendor.

Meanwhile, the hard-right turn of several states is becoming a negative factor in business location decisions. When Texas  passed its abortion law in September, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said the company would help staffers relocate from the state. Solugen Inc., a Texas chemicals company, said the state’s social policies were making it difficult to attract talent so it was planning to open another facility elsewhere.

State-level abortion restrictions cost those economies $105 billion annually by cutting labor force participation and earnings, and increasing turnover and time off from work, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. And women who want an abortion but don’t get one are four times more likely to live below the federal poverty level.

I guess when you are a political party dominated by religious crusaders, economic repercussions are irrelevant…

 

 

 

 

 

Who Are We #2

Us versus Them. It’s tribal, a way of approaching life that has–unfortunately– persisted through centuries. For most of those centuries, the major divisions have taken the form of national boundaries, although religion and skin color have been close behind.

In our increasingly globalized world, however, perceptions of who “we” are–and perceptions of the threats posed by “them”– are changing. The identity of the “tribe” to which one belongs is no longer totally dependent upon nationality or even skin color, although religious beliefs remain a potent part of what we might call the New World Disorder.

I was struck by some statistics in a recent New York Times column.The author was considering the genesis and character of pro-Putin/pro-autocrat sentiment on the Right.

It may feel shocking, but it shouldn’t be surprising that many Republican leaders and conservative elites think the American president is a more dangerous enemy than the Russian autocrat. There is an influential tradition on the right of idolizing Putin as a defender of white Christian values against the onslaught of secular, “leftist” liberalism. In 2013, for instance, Pat Buchanan, a leading voice on the “paleoconservative” traditionalist right, described Putin as “one of us,” an ally in what he saw as the defining struggle of our era, “with conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite”. Similarly, in 2014, famous evangelist Franklin Graham lauded Putin for having “taken a stand to protect his nation’s children from the damaging effects of any gay and lesbian agenda” – an agenda Barack Obama was supposedly pursuing in the US.

After the 2016 election, the simmering admiration for Putin morphed into GOP orthodoxy, with Donald Trump himself leading the Republican party’s pro-Russia turn. This rapprochement shaped the right well beyond conservative elites. Among voters in general, support for Donald Trump correlates strongly with a favorable opinion of Putin, and Americans who define the US as a “Christian nation” have a much more favorable view of Putin’s Russia. As recently as January 2022, Putin had a significantly higher approval rating among Republicans than Joe Biden.

The author followed those two paragraphs with a litany of far Right statements confirming that worldview: Steve Bannon declaring his support for Putin because “Putin ain’t woke, he is anti-woke;”  Christian nationalist Republican Lauren Witzke (a Delaware Republican candidate for Senate in 2020)  asserting that she supports Putin because he protects “our Christian values. I identify more with Russian, with Putin’s Christian values than I do with Joe Biden.”  Arizona state senator Wendy Rogers is quoted as saying “I stand with Christians worldwide and not the global bankers who are shoving godlessness and degeneracy in our face”; in case you (inexplicably) missed the anti-Semitic tropes in that statement, she then described Ukrainian president Zelenskiy, who is Jewish, as “a globalist puppet for Soros and the Clintons.”

There were several others–and of course we all know what Tucker Carlson has had to say.

This critique has basically become dogma on the right: a radically “un-American” woke Left is out to destroy the country – and has already succeeded in undermining the nation considerably, especially its “woke, emasculated military,” as Texas senator Ted Cruz put it; a weak west foolishly “focused on expanding its national debt and exploding the gender binary”, according to rightwing activist Ben Shapiro.

For these culture warriors, the message is clear: the democracies of the West had it coming; they’ve been weakened by liberal decadence and “woke culture.”

Those fighting the so-called “woke” culture celebrated Trump’s election as a success in that culture war–as proof that the forces of reaction would ultimately prevail.

Rightwingers everywhere understand the transnational dimension as well as the world-historic significance of the current fight over democracy more clearly than many people on the left: is it possible to establish a stable multiracial, pluralistic democracy? Such a political, social and cultural order has indeed never existed. There have been several stable, fairly liberal democracies – but either they have been culturally and ethnically homogeneous to begin with; or there has always been a pretty clearly defined ruling group: a white man’s democracy, a racial caste democracy, a “herrenvolk” democracy. A truly multiracial, pluralistic democracy in which an individual’s status was not determined to a significant degree by race, gender, or religion? I don’t think that’s ever been achieved anywhere. It’s a vision that reactionaries abhor – to them, it would be the end of “western civilization”. And they are determined to fight back by whatever means necessary.

We are about to see what happens when “we”–the despised, “woke” humans who want to live in that “stable multiracial, pluralistic democracy”–are targeted and opposed by “them,” the neighbors and fellow-citizens) who view that desire with fear and contempt.

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore….

It Always Comes Back To Racism II

Last Sunday, my post described the actual origin of the anti-choice movement, which was an effort to turn out Evangelical voters in order to protect segregated “Christian” academies.

Last Tuesday, I posted about the research tying a variety of our current hostilities back to racism. Opposition to immigration from “brown” countries, belief in a number of conspiracy theories and, of course, devotion to Trump and his “Big Lie,” among other distortions of public opinion, all strongly correlate with racist ideologies.

After that particular post was written, The Guardian added to the evidence. 

The article began by noting that the US Supreme Court is very likely to overturn Roe v. Wade this spring–and that the Court’s refusal thus far to halt a patently unconstitutional Texas statute means that, for women in Texas, reproductive rights have already been nullified.

The article then reported on an ugly underside of the “pro life” movement that has rarely been the focus of media coverage.

These victories have made visible a growing cohort within the anti-choice movement: the militias and explicitly white supremacist groups of the organized far right. Like last year, this year’s March for Life featured an appearance by Patriot Front, a white nationalist group that wears a uniform of balaclavas and khakis. The group, which also marched at a Chicago March for Life demonstration earlier this month, silently handed out cards to members of the press who tried to ask them questions. “America belongs to its fathers, and it is owed to its sons,” the cards read. “The restoration of American sovereignty must follow the restoration of the American Family.”

Explicit white nationalism, and an emphasis on conscripting white women into reproduction, is not a fringe element of the anti-choice movement. Associations between white supremacist groups and anti-abortion forces are robust and longstanding. In addition to Patriot Front, groups like the white nationalist Aryan Nations and the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker party have also lent support to the anti-abortion movement. These groups see stopping abortion as part of a broader project to ensure white hegemony in addition to women’s subordination. Tim Bishop, of the Aryan Nations, noted that “Lots of our people join [anti-choice organizations] … It’s part of our Holy War for the pure Aryan race.” That the growing white nationalist movement would be focused on attacking women’s rights is maybe to be expected: research has long established that recruitment to the alt-right happens largely among men with grievances against feminism, and that misogyny is usually the first form of rightwing radicalization.

The article provided evidence that the growing presence of White Christian Nationalists at “Pro Life” marches and events isn’t because the movement has been “infiltrated” without its consent.  To the contrary, “just as the alt-right loves the anti-choice movement, the anti-choice movement loves the alt-right.”

In 2019, Kristen Hatten, a vice-president at the anti-choice group New Wave Feminists, shared racist content online and publicly identified herself as an “ethnonationalist”. In addition to sharing personnel, the groups share tactics. In 1985, the KKK began circulating “Wanted” posters featuring the photos and personal information of abortion providers.

Now, mainline anti-choice organizations routinely share names, photos and addresses of abortion providers.

The association has a long and ugly history. 

Before an influx of southern and eastern European immigrants to the United States in the latter half of the 19th century, abortion and contraception had only been partially and sporadically criminalized. This changed in the early 20th century, when an additional surge of migrants from Asia and Latin America calcified white American racial anxieties and led to white elites decrying the falling white birth rate as “race suicide.”

This led to a campaign of forced birth for “fit” mothers–White women– while another widespread campaign actively supported involuntary sterilization for poor women, particularly Black and incarcerated women.

The final paragraphs of the report are chilling:

In the current anti-choice and white supremacist alliance, the language of “race suicide” has been supplanted by a similar fear: the so-called “Great Replacement”, a racist conspiracy theory that posits that white Americans are being “replaced” by people of color. (Some antisemitic variations posit that this “replacement” is somehow being orchestrated by Jewish people.)

The way to combat this, the right says, is to force childbearing among white people, to severely restrict immigration, and to punish, via criminalization and enforced poverty, women of color. These anxieties have always animated the anti-choice movement, and they have only become more fervent among the March for Life’s rank and file as conservatives become increasingly fixated on the demographic changes that will make America a minority-white country sometime in the coming decades. The white supremacist and anti-choice movements have always been closely linked. But more and more, they are becoming difficult to tell apart.

This isn’t about “saving babies.” It never has been.

 

After Roe

Happy Sunday! I will be delivering the following “sermon” (via Zoom) at the Danville Unitarian-Universalist Church this morning.

_________________

Thank you for asking me back! I’m gratified.

As you all know by this time, my academic background is law—and more specifically, Constitutional law and the Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights, the approach to individual liberty that animates it, and the jurisprudence interpreting it  tell us when government must respect declarations of “my body, my choice.” We’ve been hearing that slogan a lot from the people who are refusing to be vaccinated—and ironically, they’re often the very same people who label themselves “pro life” and vigorously oppose a woman’s right to control her own body.

I’m here to tell you that the anti-vaxxers throwing that slogan around have it exactly backwards.

The Founders who crafted our Constitution and Bill of Rights were influenced by the philosophy of the Enlightenment and by what we call the “libertarian construct”—the belief that we humans have an inborn right  to “do our own thing”—to pursue our own interests, form our own beliefs, and make our own life choices and moral judgments, free of government interference– until and unless we are harming the person or property of someone else, and so long as we are willing to grant an equal right to others.

That approach to human rights requires government to refrain from interfering with citizens’ political or religious beliefs, but it also imposes a governmental duty to protect citizens from harm. Philosophers like Hobbes believed that was a major purpose of government—to keep the strong from taking advantage of the weak, to protect citizens from threats both foreign and domestic. We can certainly quibble over the nature and degree of the harms that justify government action, but if government can protect us from drunk drivers and the dangers of passive smoke, then a dangerous and frequently fatal pandemic is clearly a sufficient basis for government rule-making.

A pregnant woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy, on the other hand, poses no threat of harm to her neighbors.

Despite the rhetoric—the legal issue is not whether abortion is right or wrong, good or bad. The issue is who gets to make that decision, the individuals involved or the government? In our Constitutional system, decisions about the religion you will follow, the books you will read, the political philosophy you’ll embrace, and many others—are all supposed to be left to the individual. What the courts call “intimate” decisions, like those about who you will marry and whether you will procreate, are to be left up to individual citizens, because they are none of  government’s business.

I agree with the people who point out that the so-called “pro-life” movement is really pro-birth. Most of the legislators who identify themselves with the pro-life label are clearly unconcerned about women’s lives, or about feeding, housing and educating babies once they are born. But I wasn’t asked to speak to the considerable dishonesties of the anti-choice position; I was asked to focus on what will happen if—as most of us anticipate—the Supreme Court eviscerates or overrules Roe v. Wade.

Before that, however, we need to look at the actual origins of the anti-abortion movement.

Noted religion scholar Randall Balmer has documented those origins. It wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after the Court decided Roe v, Wade—that evangelical leaders, goaded by Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion as “a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term.”

Objecting to abortion was seen as “more palatable” than what was actually motivating them, which was protection of the segregated schools they had established following the decision in Brown v. Board of Education. 

According to Balmer (this is a quote),

Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

End quote.

Let me emphasize that. It was rightwing anger about civil rights laws that actually motivated the “Right to life” movement. The Rightwing was savvy enough to recognize that organizing grassroots evangelicals to defend racial discrimination wouldn’t cut it—that they would need a different issue if they wanted to mobilize evangelical voters on a large scale.

The bottom line is that what motivated the Christian Right’s political activism, including but not limited to its opposition to abortion, was racism and defense of racial segregation.

Let’s give credit where credit is due: that tactic has been incredibly successful. Christian Nationalists now own one of America’s two political parties—and I say that as someone who worked hard for the Republican Party for 35 years. Mitch McConnell has achieved the GOP’s fever dream of taking over the Supreme Court, and much as it pains me to say this, with the imminent demise of Roe, we are looking at what is probably the first of many times this Court will roll back individual liberties.

So what now?

If Roe is overruled—or more likely, effectively neutered– there will certainly be some horrendous consequences. But there may also be some unanticipated positives.
We have all come up against the intransigence of the “one issue” anti-choice voters, the people who disagree with Republicans about virtually everything else, but vote Republican because they are “pro life.” Without Roe, I think many of them will abandon the GOP.
Losing Roe will also make it much more difficult to energize a national movement against birth control, which is actually a target of the most rabid anti-choice activists—a significant number of whom are men who want women barefoot, pregnant and back in the kitchen. Bottom line: anti-choice voters have been a mainstay of the GOP–and at the federal level, at least, they will arguably be considerably less motivated.

If Roe is no longer the law of the land, the issue will revert to the states, and a number of states will opt to protect reproductive choice. Those of us who care about women’s autonomy will need to do some serious fundraising to make it possible for poor women in Red states to travel to places where abortion is legal, and that’s a pain. But even now, with abortion theoretically legal, there are many places in the U.S. where clinics are few and far between; women have to travel long distances, put up with bogus, medically-inaccurate “counseling,” and deal with other barriers to the exercise of what is currently a constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

What the de-nationalization of Roe might do–should do–is redirect liberal and pro-choice energies from national to state-level political action. And while there are no guarantees, that could be a huge game-changer.

The current agenda of the Republican Party doesn’t reflect the desires of the American majority–far from it. GOP numbers have been shrinking steadily; some 24% of voters self-identify as Republican. Their electoral success has been due primarily to the 2011 gerrymander, and that was made possible because they controlled a large number of state governments when redistricting took place. More recent GOP vote suppression tactics that have depressed Democratic turnout and disenfranchised Democratic voters have also been facilitated by state-level control. In many states—possibly even Indiana—redirecting voters’ attention to state-level politics could change that.

Without Roe, it is reasonable to predict that the single-issue anti-choice voters that have been a mainstay of the GOP will be less motivated to vote. Pro-choice voters, however, will be newly energized, and polling suggests they significantly outnumber “pro-life” activists. A recent Pew survey has found that 61% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 27% saying in all cases and another 34% saying in most cases. Only twelve percent of the public says abortion should be illegal in all cases, and only 26% would outlaw it most cases.

In anticipation of the loss of Roe, some states have already seen efforts to protect reproductive rights. A ballot drive has been launched in Michigan. Reproductive Freedom for All’s petition would affirm the right to make pregnancy-related decisions without interference, including about abortion and other reproductive services such as birth control. The groups leading the effort are Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, the Michigan ACLU and an organization called Michigan Voices.

New Jersey has already enshrined abortion rights in state law. Lawmakers in that state bolstered protections for reproductive rights in anticipation of the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision, and Gov. Phil Murphy has signed a bill codifying abortion rights into state law. He also signed a second bill that expands insurance coverage for birth control.

Meanwhile, in states like Florida and South Dakota, lawmakers are rushing to impose new restrictions on abortion, anticipating the Court’s acquiescence with much more restrictive rules.

Knowing our Hoosier legislators, I anticipate some pretty dreadful legislation being introduced here. It will require organization and activism in Indiana to derail what the ridiculous pro-gun, anti-vaccine legislators who call themselves “pro life” will try to do.
Indiana will need an enormous uprising—of women, of men who support women, and especially of liberal churches—if we are going to escape replicating the Handmaid’s Tale here in Hoosierland.

 

Ruth Marcus Schools The Court

A recent opinion column by Ruth Marcus is really a “must read” by anyone who thinks that the absence of a specific provision in America’s constitution is evidence that the document is “neutral” about an issue.

Marcus’ essay focuses on reproductive rights, but her explanation of the Constitution’s operation extends well beyond abortion. Although she doesn’t put it this way, what she is really exposing is the fact that judges who call themselves “originalists” are actually revisionists who use the absence of a particular word in the text to justify a preferred, distinctly unoriginal interpretation of the Bill of Rights.

The argument–which was on display during oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson- is that, absent express constitutional language, an issue must be left to “the people.” As Marcus points out,

The fundamental flaw here is that the Constitution exists in no small part to protect the rights of the individual against the tyranny of the majority. The Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment exist to put some issues off limits for majority rule — as Justice Robert H. Jackson put it in a 1943 ruling protecting the right of Jehovah’s Witness schoolchildren not to be forced to salute the flag, “to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities.” The Supreme Court, in protecting abortion rights, isn’t telling women what to do: It is preserving space for them to make their own decisions about their own pregnancies.

She also notes the highly selective application of the “leave it to the people” approach.

They’re happy to second-guess the decisions of elected officials and public health experts about how best to safeguard their communities in the midst of a pandemic when religious institutions claim their rights are being violated. They don’t flinch at saying that the core First Amendment protection for political speech places strict limits on Congress’s ability to limit corporate spending on elections or enact other campaign finance rules.

What this disingenuous argument rejects is the whole purpose of the Bill of Rights (the Founders’ actual “original intent”)–which was to keep government from invading the fundamental rights of the people to personal autonomy–the right to self-government. A reading of the history of the too-frequently overlooked Ninth and Tenth Amendments makes clear that “unenumerated” rights were among those to be protected.

When people argue that the right to privacy is not protected from government overreach because the word “privacy” doesn’t appear in the document, they conveniently ignore the reality that without recognizing a zone of privacy, it is impossible to give effect to very explicit provisions of the First, Third, Fourth and Ninth Amendments (not to mention the 14th, which was ratified after the Civil War.)

When the Supreme Court decided, in Bowers v. Hardwick, that the Constitution didn’t protect a right to homosexual behavior, because such behavior was not addressed in the document, legal scholars–and a later Court–addressed the fundamental error in that analysis: It had inverted the question. Where in the Constitution or Bill of Rights is government given authority to tell people who and how they can love?

The question is always: who gets to decide this matter, government or the individuals involved? The Bill of Rights answers that question by enumerating things government is forbidden to do. It cannot censor our speech, decide our religions, search our homes or persons without probable cause, or take a variety of other actions that invade an individual’s right to self-determination (the Constitutional definition of privacy).

As Marcus reminds readers,

There are any number of rights that the court has long found fall within the bounds of constitutional protection even though they are not specifically mentioned in the text. The right to travel. The right of parents to educate their children as they choose. The right to contraception. The right to private sexual conduct. The right to marry a person of another race. The right to marry a person of the same gender.

All these derive from the intentionally broad phrases of the 14th Amendment’s protections against the deprivation of “liberty” without due process of law. “The full scope of the liberty guaranteed by the Due Process Clause cannot be found in or limited by the precise terms of the specific guarantees elsewhere provided in the Constitution,” Justice John Harlan, no liberal, explained in a 1961 dissent, from an early case involving access to contraception.

If a woman’s right to control of her own body doesn’t have constitutional protection, then logically, none of the rights Marcus enumerates are protected either–and the intellectually dishonest “religious” conservatives on the Court are quite capable of coming for those rights in the future.