Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sate, Legal, Rare, And Zero

In a guest column in The Washington Post on March 7, Bill Clinton famously wrote of the Defense of Marriage Act

When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that “enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination.” Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned.

We are still a young country, and many of our landmark civil rights decisions are fresh enough that the voices of their champions still echo, even as the world that preceded them becomes less and less familiar. We have yet to celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, but a society that denied women the vote would seem to us now not unusual or old-fashioned but alien. I believe that in 2013 DOMA and opposition to marriage equality are vestiges of just such an unfamiliar society.

Americans have been at this sort of a crossroads often enough to recognize the right path. We understand that, while our laws may at times lag behind our best natures, in the end they catch up to our core values. One hundred fifty years ago, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln concluded a message to Congress by posing the very question we face today: “It is not ‘Can any of us imagine better?’ but ‘Can we all do better?’ ”

The answer is of course and always yes. In that spirit, I join with the Obama administration, the petitioner Edith Windsor, and the many other dedicated men and women who have engaged in this struggle for decades in urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act.

It takes some courage to admit a mistake, even when (as in this case) it is done with one's finger firmly raised to determine the direction of the wind.  Clinton did so by referring to the "society that denied women the vote" as "alien." It is time he acknowledge another mistake, one in which denial of rights to women should be considered just as alien.  Instead of marriage equality, perhaps we might call it "reproductive equality."

Assistant editor of Salon Katie McDonough notes

During a Monday interview on the campaign trail, Wendy Davis did something that a lot of politicians do when talking about abortion with national audiences. While explaining her position on reproductive rights, she suggested that a so-called world without abortion is something everyone wants.

“The goal that we should have is that we see zero abortions,” she said. “But in order to achieve that goal we have to make sure that women are receiving the kind of healthcare and planning that they deserve.”

Davis did this for the same reasons Bill Clinton said abortion “should not only be safe and legal, it should be rare,” back in 1996, and for the same reasons so many other advocates and lawmakers use the exact same line. Because they believe it’s a moderate position that will save them from being cast as “extreme” when it comes to abortion rights, which they see as a kind of political death.

But ultimately, it’s a position that denies reality. And Davis — who is right about so much else — is wrong about the objectives of the reproductive rights movement. There simply is no such thing as a world without abortion, nor should we claim to wish for one. Women will always need abortion care. What they don’t need is more stigma.

Slamming "shaming" of women who choose to terminate their pregnancy, McDonough adds

There is a way to have nuanced conversations about the complexity of people’s personal views about abortion without suggesting it’s a problem to be solved or a social ill to be eradicated. It’s a medical procedure, an incredibly safe and common one. Calling “zero abortions” a goal is — besides being completely false — line for line, what antiabortion lawmakers like Rick Perry say when advocating for policies that deny women basic medical care.

President Clinton's pithy enunciation of his reproductive rights policy- to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare"- has played a major role in requiring abortion rights proponents to assure audiences they are "personally opposed to abortion" or, as in Davis' case, to declare their goal as "zero abortions."

A chart (below) in the recent groundbreaking article by Meaghan Winter in New York magazine on abortion identifies the twenty-six states which in 2012 and/or 2013 passed restrictions on abortions.  It breaks the restrictions into five categories: "made abortion illegal under specified circumstances; required an ultrasound and/or detection of fetal heartbeat; required a waiting period and/or counseling before an abortion procedure; enacted restrictions on the facilities and/or providers; limited insurance coverage for abortion procedures."

There are thirteen states with laws limiting access to abortions beyond twenty weeks, although it's difficult to determine how that's accounted for in the chart.  While those are intended to ban abortion (post-viability, and in the first few weeks, pre-viability), the other restrictions do not violate Bill Clinton's wish that abortions be "safe, legal, and rare."  All the restrictions are intended to make the procedure rare and some of the restrictions, proponents would (ludicrously) argue, safer.  When not restricting abortions to a specific stage (usually prior to 20 weeks) of pregnancy, abortion remains no less legal than they were.

They would be legal, and rare (or at least rarer).  But as Digby remarks, "this idea that there should be 'zero abortions' only reinforces the idea that it is an immoral act."  In standing up to a Texas legislature and for women's rights, Wendy Davis demonstrated the courage Bill Clinton could only dream of having, were it not beyond his imagination.  But in proposing zero abortions as a goal, she is going down the same road as President Clinton, whose vision of abortion as "safe, legal, and rare" too often has been reinterpreted as "rare."

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