Monday, March 06, 2006

IN CASE YOU HADN'T FIGURED IT OUT YET, the recent total ban on abortions (except if childbirth would kill the woman) passed by the South Dakota legislature (and signed into law today by Gov. Mike Rounds) has nothing to do with saving lives.

Listen to State Sen. Bill Napoli, a Republican, on his understanding of a circumstance in which a woman would die without an abortion:

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Napoli says most abortions are performed for what he calls "convenience." He insists that exceptions can be made for rape or incest under the provision that protects the mother's life. I asked him for a scenario in which an exception may be invoked.

BILL NAPOLI: A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.

In other words, what Digby calls the "sodomized virgin exception" would qualify a woman for an abortion on the grounds that she would die without one, because she would be so traumatized that she would probably commit suicide if forced to go through with the pregnancy. But only if all the above elements -- a virgin, religious, saving herself for marriage, raped and brutalized and sodomized -- are present.

Certainly, we know that if she wasn't a virgin, she was asking for it, so she should be punished with forced childbirth. No lazy "convenient" abortion for her, the little whore. It goes without saying that the victim who was saving it for her marriage is a good girl who didn't ask to be brutally raped and sodomized like the sluts who didn't hold out. But even that wouldn't be quite enough by itself. The woman must be sufficiently destroyed psychologically by the savage brutality that the forced childbirth would drive her to suicide (the presumed scenario in which this pregnancy could conceivably "threaten her life.")

Someone should ask this man about this. He seems to have given it a good deal of thought. I suspect many hours have been spent luridly contemplating the brutal, savage rape and sodomy (as bad as it can be) of a religious virgin and how terrible it would be for her. It seems quite clear in his mind.

It's not about saving lives -- either the unborn baby's life or the pregnant woman's life. It's about waiving the punishment of full-term pregnancy and childbirth for the woman who meets all the requirements for being "good": She did not choose sexual intercourse; she has never had any sexual intercourse at all because she is unmarried; and she has vowed not to have sexual intercourse at all, ever, until she is married. What makes Napoli's imagined woman a Good Woman is clearly more than the fact that a particular instance of sexual intercourse was forced on her: it's that she didn't have sex at all. Sex outside of marriage makes a woman dirty and bad; the psychological harm done to such a woman, if she is raped, is therefore less serious: her life is not threatened.

Anti-abortion laws for people like Napoli are not about saving life; they're about regulating the sexuality and the sexual lives of women. Virgins saving themselves for marriage who are pregnant as the result of rape get a pass on the forced pregnancy because the regulation of female sexuality is not at issue in their situations. By contrast, a woman who becomes pregnant because her contraception failed; or because she was raped while not having an intact hymen, or because she was drinking, or because she accepted the man's invitation to come inside for a cup of coffee, do not get the pass, because they have had sex under unregulated conditions.

Elaine Roberts, a South Dakota state representative (Democrat), who voted against the abortion ban, sees the legislation as part of a larger trend toward regulating every aspect of women's personal lives:

STATE REP. ELAINE ROBERTS (D), SOUTH DAKOTA: We've chipped, and chipped, and chipped; now we're here with this full fledge. What will be next? What will be next?

FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Democratic Representative Elaine Roberts is one of South Dakota's few pro-choice legislators. What's next, she fears, is a host of measures that regulate women's private lives.

ELAINE ROBERTS: We already have a law that says that pharmacists by conscience could refuse to fill my prescription for contraceptives. There is already a move from some groups who have worked on this to say that there should be no contraceptives, that sexual intercourse is for the purpose of reproduction.

Here is an example from the Kansas City Star, linked by Digby. There really are people out there who want to outlaw birth control as well as abortion:

By using contraception, you prevent God's creative power in bringing forth new life. Sex is a complete self-giving love you pledge to your spouse within marriage, and contraception destroys the unitive and procreative qualities of sex. Pleasure is not the purpose of sex -- it's the motive or consequence.

Our culture has now put pleasure at the center of everything, and we speak of human sexuality in such animalistic ways -- as though we can't control ourselves, waiting for marriage, waiting for stable economic circumstances, waiting to have sex until we are ready to be open to life.

Self-control or temperance is a Christian virtue, and by practicing modern, effective methods of natural family planning by having periodic abstinence, you can postpone pregnancy if necessary in a healthy, inexpensive, fulfilling way as you embrace chastity appropriate for your stage in life.

As for McAdams' concern that it's so "expensive" and "difficult" to raise a child today as opposed to former generations of women with more children than today's modern moms, I think again that pleasure -- and its good ally, materialism -- is at the heart of this notion. Our society in general promotes two-income households with more stuff in them than prior generations ever dreamed of having.

The concept of sacrifice has been replaced with stuff, stuff and more stuff as our children are raised in day-care centers and our elderly are shuttled off to nursing homes. Our value for life at both ends of the spectrum has diminished in our society, where life is measured by its contribution, not its intrinsic worth, and where some work so hard to safeguard methods to prevent pregnancies while never accepting that we have the controls already to prevent pregnancies naturally through abstinence and chastity.

So because Kristin Knight, mother of four in Olathe, Kansas, thinks contraception is evil, it must be evil for every woman -- even women who are not biblical literalists; even women who are not, GASP! Christians. I could definitely give her an argument based on her logic; it's shot through with flaws. Who says that "bringing forth new life" is the only aspect of sex that "demonstrates God's creative power"? I happen to believe that love is the most creative force in the universe, whether you view it as coming from God or not; and the expression of love between two people through sex is purpose and meaning enough for me, whether or not a new life comes out of it. What a cold and mechanical way of viewing sexual intercourse: as a means to an end, and not as an end in itself.

I also have to laugh at Knight's characterization of our society as "promot[ing] two-income households with more stuff in them than prior generations ever dreamed of having." She's absolutely right about Americans (or many Americans) having "more stuff...than prior generations ever dreamed of having" -- but if that's a concern for her, I wonder that she doesn't spend her limited writing time (four children, remember) examining what people in our society really mean when they say that war is necessary to "protect our way of life"; to "preserve our lifestyle"; to "defend our liberty." They're not talking about the freedom to borrow books from the library or surf the Web. They're not talking about the freedom to criticize Pres. Bush's policies by wearing an anti-war t-shirt to a Bush rally. They're not talking about the freedom for two consenting adults to love each other whether they are opposite genders or the same gender. They're not talking about the freedom to make your own health decisions.

"Protecting the American way of life" is code language for keeping what many Americans regard as their natural right to drive cars the size of tanks that get 10 miles to the gallon and be able to fill 'em up with cheap gasoline. It's code language for keeping the "right" to pay bargain basement prices for consumer products when the only way to do that is to have the products manufactured in countries where desperately poor people can be paid fifty cents a day to make them. It's code language, in short, for that very determination to avoid hardships, discomforts, inconveniences, and sacrifices that prior generations could not even dream of avoiding.

The American way of life is premised on leisure, comfort, convenience, and "stuff." So why is it only women who don't have the financial or emotional resources to care for a child, or who don't want to risk serious health problems by going through pregnancy and childbirth, who are attacked by people like Kristin Knight and Bill Napoli for being selfish and greedy?

For more thoughts along these lines, check out Echidne's post on the way opponents of legal abortion mangle and oversimplify the meanings of concepts like choice, self-control, and selfishness.

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