Thursday, May 12, 2022

Nobody's business

That the Supreme Court is poised to overturn settled law and reverse the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade should surprise no one, given the steady rightward drift of the court, but it should appall anyone who cares about fundamental human rights.

I'll state my bias: human beings don't procreate spiritually, we procreate as bodies. We are no different in this regard from other animals, and anyone who thinks differently has a lot of special pleading to do. There is, therefore, no more basic level of individual rights than that which pertains to the body and to reproduction. The recognition of those rights, in the face of determined opposition, has been one of the most important advances of modern society. It is, paradoxically, the defense of the fundamental dignity of the physical, of our nature as animals, that defines us as modern human beings.

To deny a woman the right to control her reproduction is as outrageous an affront to human dignity as can be imagined. We pride ourselves — rightly — on the declared principles of freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion, but what is more intrusive, forcing others to keep their thoughts and beliefs to themselves, or telling a woman that even her own body is not hers to control? Defenders of abortion rights often point out — rightly — that it would be unthinkable and cruel to force a rape victim to carry her rapist's child to term, but that argument, legitimate as it is, is ultimately superfluous. It is for women to decide under what circumstances they are willing to bear a child. And it's no one else's business.

Roe v. Wade established a reasoned balance, informed by medical science, between the interests of society and a woman's rights. That balance has been steadily undermined by legislation and previous court decisions, but the essential principle underlying it has been preserved — until now. There is little short-term prospect, given the nature and dire condition of or political system, that the overturning of Roe can itself be undone. The damage will be profound, both to women and to American democracy.

It has to be understood that those who would deny a women's right to decide when or whether to have a child, and who more generally reject the whole idea of a right to privacy, don't really believe that human beings have inherent, independent rights at all. They recognize only power and its privilege to compel those who are subject to it. The fact that the right to abortion has long been acknowledged and supported by a majority of Americans will count for little. I have no doubt that reversal will be robustly cheered in the states that will be lining up to enact restricive legislation and competing to see how extreme that legislation can be made.

This country has been morally problematic from its inception, but it's hard to see how it will survive in any real sense. Even before this decision, we have come as close to fascism as we have ever been, and the danger has in no way receded.

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