A comment in support of pro-life inclusion at the Women’s March on Washington

A few news organizations reported over the last couple of days that pro-life organizations have been excluded from official partnership with the Women’s March on Washington (e.g., here’s a piece from The Atlantic which includes interviews from folks on both sides of the issue). One pro-life group, New Wave Feminists, was recognized as a partner by the march, but then later removed.

Now, I’m not an organizer of the march, so this isn’t my decision to make. I’m not even going to the march in D.C. (though I’ll be at my local march the same day, and I encourage those who can participate to do so). Moreover, the pro-life position is at odds with the policy platform those who did organize put together. That platform reads:

We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. We understand that we can only have reproductive justice when reproductive health care is accessible to all people regardless of income, location or education.

That said, I’m a pro-choice feminist, and I think excluding pro-life groups from partnership status is a mistake.  I’m grateful that some of my pro-life fellow citizens will march regardless, and I’d be glad to march alongside them.

To be clear, I think reproductive freedom is essential to women’s health and equality (and I don’t think we have to get into substantive debate about agency or the metaphysics of personhood to recognize this; banning abortion gambles with women’s lives – and that’s true even when there are meant to be exceptions for the life of the mother). I think arguments like this rely pretty straightforwardly on sexist notions (I don’t think men are some kind of depraved creatures who can only be reined in if women find within themselves to set a moral example — to live our lives in such a way as to make the potential consequences of action salient to men — and I don’t think valuing caregiving need be at odds with sexual agency nor a recognition of the value of reproductive freedom). Further, I don’t think there is intrinsic value in unity or collaboration (there’s no value added to racism, for example, when instantiated in unity with others).

But I also think that abortion is an issue on which reasonable people disagree, and in the coming years we will need reasonable people to work together given the unreasonable have taken the helm. If pro-life groups are willing to set aside that the official platform of the march directly challenges their organizing mission for the sake of working together to protect those values which we do share, then I’ll be happy to work with them. As Richard Rorty said, “Solidarity is not discovered by reflection but created.” For those of us whose conscience permits it, it’s time to be creating.

Invitation to Join an Amicus Brief

I’m sharing an invitation to join a friend of the court brief in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case that’s heading to the Supreme Court challenging the Texas law, HB2 (which, you might remember by way of Wendy Davis’s filibuster), arguing that targeted regulation of abortion providers (or TRAP laws) are unjust irrespective of one’s views on abortion itself. The brief is being organized by an attorney at  Fish & Richardson P.C, on behalf of theologians, and academics who work in religious ethics and philosophy of religion. If you work in one of those areas, you can read more about the brief below, and contact them if you are interested in signing through a link at the end.

JOIN THE AMICUS BRIEF ON BEHALF OF THEOLOGIANS AND RELIGIOUS ETHICISTS AGAINST UNJUST LAWS ON ABORTION

The U.S. Supreme Court is preparing to consider the most important abortion case in nearly 25 years. This creates a rare opportunity for theologians and religious ethicists from across the country to come together and bring the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas and other key theologians and religious philosophers to the Court’s attention, and urge the Court to rule against unjust laws that disproportionately hurt poorer women while undermining public faith in the rule of law.

The Case: Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole

The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, challenges onerous regulations in a Texas law known as HB2 that would force more than 75% of abortion clinics in the state to close, depriving women of access to safe, legal, high-quality reproductive health care in Texas. At issue are requirements that doctors who provide abortion services obtain admitting privileges at local hospitals and that women obtain abortions only at ambulatory surgery centers, which are mini-hospitals that are not intended for a simple office procedure. These are requirements that the American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and other leading health care experts say serve no medical purpose and do nothing to promote women’s health; instead, the widespread clinic closures directly threaten the health, safety, and well-being of women, particularly low-income women who live in rural areas.

Summary of the Brief

A number of theologians and religious ethicists from various faiths are planning to file an amicus brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Texas’s Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (“TRAP”) law, which imposes two sets of restrictions on abortion providers that medical experts, including the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have recognized are unnecessary to protect the health of the woman yet have caused many clinics throughout the state to close, imposing a substantial obstacle on a woman’s ability to obtain an early, safe abortion, especially for poorer women.

These theologians plan to argue that TRAP laws are morally unjust, regardless of an individual’s stance on abortion. From the perspectives of the Catholic faith and other Christian denominations, including the writings of Catholic theologian and philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas, TRAP laws are not a legitimate exercise of state power because they are irrational, pretextual in nature, and cause more harm than good. Under the guise of improving women’s health, TRAP laws seek instead to subvert settled law through dishonest means. But instead of furthering the state’s interests in improving women’s health, TRAP laws disproportionately attack the dignity of low-income and geographically isolated women, make the process of seeking an abortion more difficult and dangerous for these women by creating unjustifiable barriers to their healthcare. Texas’s regulations may even drive poor women to seek later, illegal procedures or try aborting at home, risking their health and lives. And because laws such as HB2 simply disguise the illegalization of abortion through unwarranted burdens on women’s exercise
of their constitutionally protected rights, they also risk fomenting widespread civil disobedience and undermining public faith in the rule of law.

Moreover, TRAP laws seek to surreptitiously undermine the current legal status of abortion, effectively imposing a specific moral viewpoint on the general population and overriding the interests of women who may subscribe to any of the broad plurality of views within the world’s religions on the morality of abortion—including within Christianity itself. Those who seek to ban abortion at all stages should argue openly and forthrightly about the morality of their position, and not use TRAP laws as an underhanded tactic.

For these reasons, even from the perspective of one who believes that abortion is gravely immoral, TRAP laws like HB2 are not ad bonum commune (that is, they do not promote the common good) and should not stand. This amicus brief will draw heavily from Saint Thomas’s Summa Theologiae and writings from other religions to explain to the Court how the intent and anticipated effect of HB2 are contrary to Christian and other religions’ teachings on building a just society.

Please contact me about signing the amicus brief of Theologians by clicking here.

If you have expressed your interest through the above link, we will send the brief via email for your review by December 23, 2015. To add your signature to the brief, you will need to respond to the instructions in the transmittal email by December 28, 2015.

Pregnant women’s rights

A depressing catalogue of the ways that pregnant women’s rights are denied. And a call to action.

If we want to end these unjust and inhumane arrests and forced interventions on pregnant women, we need to stop focusing only on the abortion issue and start working to protect the personhood of pregnant women.

We should be able to work across the spectrum of opinion about abortion to unite in the defense of one basic principle: that at no point in her pregnancy should a woman lose her civil and human rights.

Guns and Abortions

The Supreme Court has held that in the US people have the right to keep guns for self-defense. A lot of us are not happy about the abundance of guns in the US. Why don’t we try to enact laws that make it very difficult to manufacture guns and bullets, that curtail the presence of gun stores and outlaw their sale at conventions?

The problem with this anti-gun strategy: if people have the right to bear arms, then legislative bodies cannot place undue burdens on exercising that right. Huh! But the Supreme Court has also recognized a women’s right to an abortion, and many states are trying hard to make it impossible – or at least very burdensome – for a woman to get one.

The analogy here has been recognized by a judge very recently and it looks as though we may have a new argument to stop states that are trying to drastically limit a women’s right to abortion.

From Linda Greenhouse at the NY Times:

In this week’s opinion [using an analogy with gun ownership], … a federal district judge in Alabama, Myron H. Thompson, … declared unconstitutional the state’s Women’s Health and Safety Act, which required doctors who performed abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The law would have shut down three of Alabama’s five remaining abortion clinics.

Guns and abortion? That’s a pairing no previous judicial opinion has made. “At its core, each protected right is held by the individual,” the judge explained. “However, neither right can be fully exercised without the assistance of someone else. The right to abortion cannot be exercised without a medical professional, and the right to keep and bear arms means little if there is no one from whom to acquire the handgun or ammunition.”

Do I have to point out how delicious this analogy is? Of course, it’s unthinkable that Alabama would regulate firearms dealers to the point of extinction. But recall the June day 22 years ago when the Supreme Court, to the surprise of nearly everyone, reaffirmed the right to abortion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. It was unthinkable then that nearly a generation later, states would flagrantly be regulating the practice of abortion (in the name of women’s health and safety, no less) out of business — a goal that Texas, enabled by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit is close to achieving…

By pairing gun rights and abortion rights, Judge Thompson was not just indulging in shock value. He was making a profound point: that a right — any right — without the infrastructure and the social conditions that enable its exercise is no right at all.

Reader query: Presenting both sides?

A reader writes:

I’m going to be a TA for the first time this fall, and the class I’m TA-ing for is Intro to Ethics.  As is probably pretty common in Ethics classes, one of the topics will be abortion.

And I’m not sure it’s morally permissible to use what authority I have as a TA to argue against the permissibility of abortion.  The whole “devil’s-advocate” approach is one of the reasons I really don’t like academic ethics, but I don’t know how else to treat the subject without upsetting pro-life students and possibly getting in trouble for failing to uphold the “neutrality” that seems to be expected of teachers.

Any advice?

Feminism and Cookies

Two recent stories about sexism have made me think about cookies. So I’m posting about them together.

1) When North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory was running for the office, he was asked, “If you’re elected governor, what further restrictions on abortion would you agree to sign?”  He responded, “none.” 

He recently signed a bill that put further restrictions on abortion.

His response to protesters who were upset with him signing a bill he promised not to sign?

He gave them cookies.  According to WaPo, “The cookies were returned, and it wasn’t because he forgot the milk. The note on the untouched plate read: “We want women’s health care, not cookies.””

2) Anita Sarkeesian just released the 3rd and final video on the videogame trope of Damsels in Distress. (Future videos will discuss other tropes in video games.) The video game development blog Gamasutra posted about it, to which many peopled commented.

Some of the comments stuck out to me because they were some of the clearest, most charitable articulations of why people see basic feminist arguments as untenable.

For instance,

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with the ‘damsel in distress’ type of game. Sexism comes in from how you depict the damsel. I just don’t think that every example she gave of sexist games are necessarily as malicious as she makes them out to be.”

When another commenter points out that Sarkeesian does not accuse these games of being “malicious,” the original commenter replies,

“Maybe malicious is too strong of a word to use, but her tone is definitely condemning. Spelunky developers made it so the player could rescue a male or dog instead of a female and instead of even saying thanks for trying but its not good enough, smacks them back down and further criticized them for making the female replaceable. If you don’t want to say malicious choose a different word for publicly talking down to them because she did not approve of their attempted fix.”

If I understand this argument correctly and charitably, it is something like this:

Yes sexism exists, but if someone wasn’t explicitly trying to be sexist, they deserve a cookie and not condemnation. [suppressed premise: Because not f***ing up is hard. And public disapproval makes us feel negative. And sexism makes us feel negative. And aren’t we trying to get rid of things that make us feel negative?] (Okay maybe that wasn’t so charitable. But accurate, I think.)

Takeaway ‘lesson’ from both of these stories:  Cookies and niceness–as opposed to actually doing the hard work of swallowing one’s pride and working to fix the problem–are the better ways to approach sexism.

Other takeaway lesson:  Some people think that equality for women is about making them feel warm and fuzzy; not about anything like giving them access to full agency and control over their image, their lives, and their destiny?
(Also they think women not being mad at them is more important than improving the lives of those women?)

How to be right for the wrong reason

Hot off the multi-media press: a veiled putative video parody posted to YouTube yesterday by a group of University of Colorado Boulder students, describing a movement they call #BroChoice. “A bro-choice is where I am pro-choice because I am a man and if women don’t have access to abortion on demand then I won’t get laid as often”:

Vaginas of Anarchy

North Carolina’s GOP tacked on abortion restrictions to State Bill 353, which was the Motorcycle Safety Act. This, just after tacking on abortion restrictions on to House Bill 695 (originally aimed at banning the recognition of Sharia law in family courts). As of this moment, I can’t access the new text of the bill via the official NC legislative site, but you can find more information from those on the front lines on twitter.

And in the meanwhile, here’s a song about what’s been going on (with some explicit language).

UPDATE: More information from HuffPo:

On Wednesday morning, state Rep. Joe Sam Queen (D) wrote on Twitter, “New abortion bill being heard in the committee I am on. The public didn’t know. I didn’t even know.”