I recently had a disquieting political discussion during an otherwise lovely lunch with my youngest son.
It probably won’t shock readers of this blog to learn that our children and grandchildren are pretty political…and I’m happy to report that they all have developed what I consider to be excellent values. The differences arise from our views of America’s probable future. One son has already moved to the Netherlands, a granddaughter lives in northern England, and this son–our youngest–expects that America’s descent into autocracy and White Supremacy will prompt his children to eventually relocate as well.
Our discussion wasn’t exactly an argument, but we had very different predictions about the likely political fallout when–not if, since we agreed it will happen– the Supreme Court eviscerates or overrules Roe v. Wade. I opined that their “victory” will lead to a reduction in the passion of the pro-fetal-life movement, and energize women who have previously felt protected by Roe. My son disagreed–he sees the anti-choice zealots taking their fervor to state legislatures and–thanks to gerrymandering–tightening their red state control.
I should mention that this son is a lawyer, and a very good one. He knows how to frame and present a convincing argument….Needless to say, I left lunch depressed.
A few days after that conversation, I was a guest on a podcast called Who Gets What–the brainchild of two longtime friends, Morton Marcus and John Guy. After the recording stopped, Morton and I were talking, and he made an observation that I found both fascinating and relevant to the consequences of a reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Morton said he’d been looking for a truly objective, scholarly analysis of the multiple ways in which women’s “liberation”–the growth/emergence of women’s participation in all the “nooks and crannies” of society–has changed that society. As he noted, there’s been a lot written about the subject, but it’s mostly advocacy (pro and con), or focused on relatively small parts of the bigger picture. He’d found no analysis encompassing the truly monumental social changes triggered by the steady expansion of women’s participation in all parts of our society.
Morton’s observation is accurate, at least so far as I can tell–I’m unaware of any scholarship that addresses the entirety of the immense social changes that have occurred as a result of women’s emancipation from the confines of “barefoot and pregnant.”
However one defines the “women’s movement,” however, its power depends on reliable birth control.
Yes, we can look to history and find examples of powerful women; we can point to the suffrage movement and similar efforts to assert or enlarge women’s rights–but real change, I submit, came only with the ability of women to control our reproduction. Only then could we enter fully into workplaces (most of which no longer required brute strength), an entry that gave us another form of choice: the economic means to leave unsatisfactory marriages, or to renegotiate the terms of more agreeable ones.
There’s a reason the people who want to return the U.S. to the social structures of the 1950s are so focused on controlling women’s reproduction. (It isn’t just abortion; if you don’t believe birth control is next, I refer you to the Hobby Lobby case…)
The future of American democracy may well depend upon the extent to which American women understand the far broader implications of a loss of control over their reproductive lives. Yes, there are compelling medical, economic and psychological reasons to allow women to exercise the self-determination men take for granted. Yes, the arguments advanced by pro-fetal-life activists are inaccurate gaslighting. But if women lose control over their bodily integrity, they won’t just lose the momentum that has been building toward their full participation in American society, they’ll do a U turn.
Women’s equality will lose considerable–critical– ground.
I think that–deep down, if not consciously–activists on both sides of the issue understand that this fight is really between continuing inclusion of half the population in the life of the nation, or a return to some version of male social dominance. The question is whether the majority of non-activist women understand the actual nature of the debate, care about continuing their progress toward equal civic participation, and are sufficiently motivated to protect the hard-won improvements in women’s prospects and status.
What happens next–whether my son’s predictions or my own hopes prove accurate–ultimately depends on the answer to that question–and upon who wins those statehouses.