Righteous fury, fully justified
Righteous fury, fully justified
Now that it looks like Roe vs Wade is very likely about to become a relic of the past with Trump‘s court majority and states all over the country enacting laws like El Salvador’s, it’s dawning on people that maybe the women who’ve been pounding the tables over this for years weren’t actually wrong after all.
For as long as I have been a cogent adult, and actually before that, I have watched people devote their lives, their furious energies, to fighting against the steady, merciless, punitive erosion of reproductive rights. And I have watched as politicians — not just on the right, but members of my own party — and the writers and pundits who cover them, treat reproductive rights and justice advocates as if they were fantasists enacting dystopian fiction.
This week, the most aggressive abortion bans since Roe v. Wade swept through states, explicitly designed to challenge and ultimately reverse Roe at the Supreme Court level. With them has come the dawning of a broad realization — a clear, bright, detailed vision of what’s at stake, and what’s ahead. (If not, yet, full comprehension of the harm that has already been done).
As it comes into view, I am of course livid at the Republican Party that has been working toward this for decades. These right-wing ghouls — who fulminate idiotically about how women could still be allowed to get abortions before they know they are pregnant (Alabama’s Clyde Chambliss) or try to legislate the medically impossible removal of ectopic pregnancy and reimplantation into the uterus (Ohio’s John Becker) — are the stuff of unimaginably gothic horror. Ever since Roe was decided in 1973, conservatives have been laboring to roll back abortion access, with absolutely zero knowlege of or interest in how reproduction works. And all the while, those who have been trying to sound the alarm have been shooed off as silly hysterics.
Which is why I am almost as mad at many on the left, theoretically on the side of reproductive rights and justice, who have refused, somehow, to see this coming or act aggressively to forestall it. I have no small amount of rage stored for those in the Democratic Party who have relied on the engaged fury of voters committed to reproductive autonomy to elect them, at the same time that they have treated the efforts of activists trying to stave off this future as inconvenient irritants.
This includes, of course, the Democrats (notably Joe Biden) who long supported the Hyde Amendment, the legislative rider that has barred the use of federal insurance programs from paying for abortion, making reproductive health care inaccessible to poor women since 1976. During health-care reform, Barack Obama referred to Hyde as a “tradition” and questions of abortion access as “a distraction.” I’ve spent my life listening to Democrats call abortion a niche issue — and worse, one that is somehow repellent to voters, even though support for Roe is in fact among the most broadly popular positions of the Democratic Party; seven in ten Americans want abortion to remain legal, even in conservative states.
You can try to tell these Democrats this — lots of people have been trying to tell them for a while now — but it won’t matter; they will only explain to you (a furious person) that they (calm, wise, knowledgeable about politics) understand that we need a big tent and can’t have a litmus test and please be reasonable: we shouldn’t shut anyone out because of a difference on one issue. (That one issue that we shouldn’t shut people out because of is always abortion). Every single time Democrats come up with a new strategy to win purple and red areas, it is the same strategy: hey, let’s jettison abortion! (If you object to this, you will be told you are standing in the way of the greater progressive project).
Also about how, for years, I’ve listened to Democratic politicians distance themselves from abortion by calling it tragic and insisting it should be rare, instead of simply acknowledging it to be a crucial, legal cornerstone of comprehensive health care for women, people with uteruses, and their families. I have seethed as generations of Democrats have argued that if we could just get past abortion and focus instead on economic issues, we’d be better off. They never seem to get that abortion is an economic issue, and that what they think of as economic issues — from wages and health care to housing and education policy — are at the very heart of the reproductive justice movement, which understands access to abortion to be one (pivotal!) part of a far broader set of circumstances that determine if, when, under what circumstances, and with what resources human beings might have and raise children.
And no, of course it’s not just Democrats I’m mad at. It’s the pundits who approach abortion law as armchair coaches. I can’t do better in my fury on this front than the legal writer Scott Lemieux, who in 2007 wrote ablistering rundown of all the legal and political wags, including Ben Wittes and Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Cohen and William Saletan, then making arguments, some too cute by half, about how Roe was ultimately bad for abortion rights and for Democrats. Some like to cite an oft-distorted opinion put forth by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has said that she wished the basis on which Roe was decided had included a more robust defense of women’s equality. Retroactive strategic chin-stroking about Roe is mostly moot, given the decades of intervening cases and that the fight against abortion is not about process but about the conviction that women should not control their own reproduction. It is also true that Ginsburg has been doing the work of aggressively defending reproductive rights for decades, while these pundits have treated them as a parlor game. As Lemieux put it then, it was unsurprising, “given the extent to which affluent men safely ensconced in liberal urban centers dominate the liberal pundit class,” that the arguments put forth, “greatly understate or ignore the stark class and geographic inequites in abortion access that would inevitably manifest themselves in a post-Roe world.”
And still those who are mad about, have been driven mad by, these injustices have been told that their fury is baseless, fictional, made of chewing gum and recycled copies of Our Bodies Ourselves. Last summer, the day before Anthony Kennedy announced his resignation from the Supreme Court, CNN host Brian Stelter tweeted, in response to a liberal activist, “We are not ‘a few steps from The Handmaids’ Tale.’ I don’t think this kind of fear-mongering helps anybody.” When protesters shouted at Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings a few weeks later, knowing full well what was about to happen and what it portended for Roe, Senator Ben Sasse condescended and lied to them, claiming that there have been “screaming protesters saying ‘women are going to die’ at every hearing for decades” and suggesting that this response was a form of “hysteria.”
I have never been more filled with rage about this than I was during the health care debate. My spittle-flecked posts are almost scary to read at this point. But we saw it happening. We’ve always seen what was coming. And now it’s here. Don’t let anyone shut you down with fatuous arguments about being respectful of people’s religious beliefs and “reaching out” to the other side. These hypocrites have shown who they really are with their blind support for Donald Trump.
As Traister says:
Vote, as they say, as if your life depended on it, because it does, but more importantly: other people’s lives depend on it. And between voting, consider where to aim your anger in ways that will influence election outcomes: educate yourself about local races and policy proposals, as well as the history of the reproductive rights and reproductive-justice movements. Get engaged not just on a presidential level — please God, not just at a presidential level — but with the fights for state legislative power, in congressional and senate elections, all of which shape abortion policy and the judiciary, and the voting rights on which every other kind of freedom hinges. Knock doors, register voters, give to and volunteer with the organizations that are working to fightvoter suppression and redistricting and expand the electorate; as well as to those recruiting and training progressive candidates, especially women and women of color, especially young and first-time candidates, to run for elected office.
Above all, do not let defeat or despair take you, and do not let anyone tell you that your anger is misplaced or silly or in vain, or that it is anything other than urgent and motivating. It may be terrifying — it is terrifying. But this — the fury and the fight it must fuel — is going to last the rest of our lives and we must get comfortable using our rage as central to the work ahead.