Roe vs Wade

by digby

On today's anniversary of Roe vs Wade, the President of the United States gave an unequivocal support for a woman's right to choose:

"On the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, we are reminded that this decision not only protects women’s health and reproductive freedom, but stands for a broader principle: that government should not intrude on our most private family matters. I remain committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose.

While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue, no matter what our views, we are united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, and support women and families in the choices they make. To accomplish these goals, we must work to find common ground to expand access to affordable contraception, accurate health information, and preventative services.

On this anniversary, we must also recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights and opportunities as our sons: the chance to attain a world-class education; to have fulfilling careers in any industry; to be treated fairly and paid equally for their work; and to have no limits on their dreams. That is what I want for women everywhere."

It is a vast relief to have someone speak in clear terms instead of blathering on about "the cultura laahf" (while phoning in his comments lest he be seen by the majority as being one of the crazies.) Obama's words are the mainstream view, there is no reason he shouldn't say it.

But, as you all know, I mistrust all this "common ground" business. So far, it's perfectly fine. We have always been for access to contraception, comprehensive reproductive health care and education and help for expectant mothers. Let's hear it for the progressive agenda being considered "common ground."

But, I am curious as to what the people who believe abortion is murder think they are getting out of this. We know that many of them do not believe in birth control and the last thing they want is to educate people in anything but abstinence. Yet they have supposedly signed on to this common ground concept, so they must feel they have made serious concessions. What do they want in return?

Well, perhaps they have already gotten at last part of what they wanted. Natasha Chart has a post up at Open Left citing Fred Clarkson's sobering account of the reality on the ground for women in America who need abortions. Let's just say that it may be a "right" but it's not exactly easy to exercise it.

Natasha writes:

As Clarkson points out, increased access to abortion services isn't part of any of the healthcare plans floating around DC. It isn't in the Religious Industrial Complex's policy agenda. Thirty-six years later, women's right to comprehensive reproductive healthcare is the elephant. Either the white elephant it's clear some Democrats would love to get rid of, or the pink elephant they pretend not to see.

And that's a shame. Literally. It reinforces the idea that reproductive healthcare is shameful, something we should be afraid to talk about unless we're saying something negative. Whereas, all aspects of reproductive healthcare need to be recognized as necessary and normal. Even if some procedures are more like a triple bypass surgery or hip replacement, in that you hope they aren't needed but recognize that they must be available for those who require them.

That's my position too. All this hedging and guilt and social disapprobation is nothing more than updated "Scarlet Letter" puritanism. But there is another American tradition of "live and let live" and under that tradition, abortion is nobody's business but the person who needs one and the people in whom she chooses to confide. There have been many accommodations to the puritans due to the acknowledged complexity of the situation, the most obvious being the fact that women can only exercise their "right" freely during the first trimester and are now forced into childbirth even in the most dangerous situations in the last one. It has never been a right without restrictions.

But the practical ability to get an abortion is so restricted that it's a right without practical application for many of the women who need them the most. And our new emphasis on contraception and adoption counseling isn't going to solve that problem. An unwanted pregnancy can't always be made a wanted pregnancy with good counseling or financial help, and giving birth for adoption isn't always as emotionally uncomplicated as in the movie Juno. There are times and circumstances which make abortion a necessity for the individual for reasons that cannot and should not be judged by the state.

So, the battle continues, although I would guess we are going to have a little cease fire while the anti-choice forces fall back and reassess their options. I'm thrilled to hear Obama make an unequivocal support for a woman's right to choose. It's important that he says it. But let's not assume that means the other side has capitulated. They are also winning in small ways every day. It's a matter of fundamental principle for them, just as choice is a matter of fundamental principle for people like me and they aren't giving up any more than I am.