Senator David Vitter (R-LA), in Senate debate today, said in support of denying abortion coverage to women, “This should not be of any great controversy. abortion is a deeply divisive issue in this country, but taxpayer dollars being used to pay for abortion is not.”
He is simply wrong on this point.
It cannot be the case that a question exists such that one possible answer to the question is political and another possible answer is not political. If one answer to a question is political, then all are. And if all are, then the question is.
And so if it's political to spend money, it's political to withhold money.
Not divisive? We are divided regardless of how you frame the question. That's a fact.
Senators were sounding hot under the collar this morning about their tax dollars going to abortion. Well, I've written already explaining how this slicing up of the pie is wrong. It is not their tax dollars going to this, it is mine. I'm not getting pregnant, but my tax dollars still go willingly to the support of women who get pregnant. Many of us want that. The Republican Party already brought us an immoral war in Iraq, so let's have no further indignant talk about people's tax dollars being spent unfairly.
But beyond that, I want to make one more point of substance:
Opposition to abortion goes far beyond the mere issue of who pays for it. This issue of tax dollars is a tactic, not an end. Even if there were no tax dollars involved, these same people—people who allege to be all about personal liberty and small non-invasive government—are all about expansive government and removal of individual liberty in this case.
If they had their way, they would deny all access to abortion. And they think they have the moral high ground.
But to deny access to abortion is to force pregnancy.
Having sex is not consent to have a baby any more than driving is consent to be killed in a car accident. Whatever fiction the Religious Right may want to spin, there is more sex being had in the world than for the purpose of procreating—even by Christians.
Nor is getting pregant proof of lack of birth control. Even if it were, to suggest that the penalty for such a simple mistake should be months or years of servitude is disproportionate.
Birth control methods fail. Abstenance would avoid birth control, but again it's out of the bounds of appropriateness to be telling people they should abstain just because other birth control methods are not perfect. The Pope's proscription of the use of “artificial” birth control notwithstanding, it is essential that people be allowed and even encouraged use birth control. There's a population explosion ongoing, if you didn't know. Even married people need birth control to keep from having babies at a time they're not prepared for, to keep from bankrupting their families, and to keep our finite world from being overpopulated. But birth control fails and the penalty must not be slavery.
So let's sum up, shall we? Sex is a human need. Having sex, even with birth control, risks pregnancy but is not consent to have a child. And yet some would insist women carry even unwanted pregnancies againt their will.
Well, we can talk until the cows come home about whether a fetus is “a life” or “a person.” It is to some, it isn't to others. The fundamental morality underlying this differs person to person. To me, an abortion is not murder because a fetus is not a person. But while we're wasting our breath pretending it's worth debating that issue, another argument goes overlooked:
Forced pregnancy is enslavement. We often speak of it in the polite terminology of “choice” but that apparently doesn't help the pro-Life community to understand the passion in reverse. They seem only to be able to imagine some bloodthirsty passion for killing little babies and so they see the argument as one-sided. But there is another side, a side involving a very personal choice that is simply not the business of lawmakers to do anything other than unconditionally support in the name of personal liberty.
We speak sometimes in shorthand, referring to the time of back alley abortions, using coat hangers. We say we don't want to go back to that. Perhaps that possibility seems abstract and unlikely to some people. Perhaps they think not everyone will be driven to that. But so what? Does that make it ok? A woman was forced to consider whether to find a guy in a back alley and risk her life to stop a pregnancy, but she decided no, she'd rather be enslaved against her will. Is that really what we're saying is ok? No muss no fuss? As long as the coat hanger remains on the rack, there was no trauma involved?
Or are we saying maybe, like Patty Hearst, she'll get used to it—perhaps come to like it? Does that make it any less enslavement? That given time she comes to accept the choice that was made for her, the fate that was scripted out for her?
Forced pregnancy is brutal whether one goes along with it or not, just as sure as rape is brutal whether one goes along with it or not. And let's be frank: If you support removing the right of a woman to make this decision for herself, then you should understand that you support a policy that is nothing less than brutal to women. Forced pregnancy is not a kind loving act that you're thrusting upon a woman with an unwanted pregnancy. It is enslavement, nothing less. And to many women this choice has been seen to be so horrendous that they will risk their very life to get out of it. What right is it of yours to make such a decision for her?
I'll say it again: Forced pregnancy is enslavement.
Forced pregnancy co-opts a woman's body against her will. Forced pregnancy subjugates a woman to a term of imprisonment within her own body, forced to do the bidding of others, creating a child she has not elected, in order to satisfy the morality of another. Forced pregnancy insists that a woman yield her basic right of self-determination to powers beyond her control.
Forced pregnancy means risk of medical harm with no input from the woman. There are conflicting claims as to whether a woman is safer having a baby or having an abortion. Naturally I have a belief about that, but let's not get side-tracked by that because it doesn't matter. Forced pregnancy means she doesn't get to make that decision, so she has no choice of how to navigate that risk.
Forced pregnancy reduces the status of a pregnant woman “autonomous adult citizen” to “lesser person.” It says she is not worthy of the full rights of an ordinary citizen.
Forced pregnancy is a verdict or judgment, but without due process of law. The crime is sex—it was done in a manner not authorized by some Church, in many cases not the Church that the woman herself attends. The judgment is automatically one of “guilty” Individual circumstances are not considered. Matters of personal individual faith are not considered. The lack of due process, on its face, is immoral.
Self-determination is about the woman electing her fate, and if she's forced to carry a pregnancy, her fate has not been elected.
Held to a fate against her will. Deprived of the right to get out of the situation. Unable to refuse the work involved. Receiving no compensation. That's the very essence of slavery.
Call it involuntary servitude if you prefer a more sanitized phrase. It makes no difference. It's still wrong. And it's not just wrong—it's unconstitutional and violates the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which the United States has signed).
I'll close by casting Senator Vitter's remarks quoted above into a point of view that reflects my own feelings on the matter: This should not be of any great controversy. We are indeed divided over how we would handle the very personal choice of abortion in this country, but withholding taxpayer dollars that might free women from slavery or involuntary servitude should not be something we are divided over. No one is requiring any given woman to to get an abortion, but denying those who choose one the means to make a difficult but responsible choice is not a morally neutral position. Denying access to safe and legal abortions amounts to leaving a woman trapped by circumstance into a life not of her own choosing—in short, in favor of slavery.
Stop asking your Senators if they are pro-choice. Ask if they are anti-slavery instead, and insist they vote that way.
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Originally published December 8, 2009 at Open Salon, where I wrote under my own name, Kent Pitman.
Tags (from Open Salon): clash of absolutes, divisive, political answers, political questions, anti-slavery, anti-enslavement, pro-slavery, pro-enslavement, pro-abortion, pro-life, pro-choice, choice, risk, health, medical, service, servitude, involuntary, voluntary, enslavement, slavery, abortion, politics