Saturday, May 18, 2019

Does Abortion Matter Anymore?

The Democratic party is using abortion as the centerpiece of its political platform. But does this issue resonate with voters anymore?

When I was a kid they had a television show called "Dragnet 1967."  I was only seven years old at the time, and I didn't realize this was a continuation of the television show from the 50s, which in turn was a continuation of a radio program from the 40s.

It was a good show, but by the 1960s, it was considered "square" and people were calling the police "pigs" and viewing them as the enemy.  But the show had a lot of good things to teach people about various frauds and cons and whatnot.

But sometimes it also had an idiotic moral tone, such as the infamous "Blue Boy" episode regarding LSD.  The dangers of drug use are real, but the way Joe Friday went about trying to warn us of them made it almost laughable.

Another episode (I am not sure if it was Dragnet, or one of its contemporaries)  addressed the issue of abortion.  In that episode, a woman is found dead after hemorrhaging to death from a botched back-alley abortion.  She had left her hometown and come to Los Angeles to stay in a "home for unwed mothers" where she arranged for a back-alley abortion from a sleazy disbarred  doctor.

Unfortunately the moral tone of the episode, as I recall it, it was at the woman had it coming to her for being such a slut.  It was sort of cautionary tale about what happens to girls who let boys "go all the way."

A few years later the Roe v Wade decision was handed down, legalizing abortion in all 50 states.  Prior to that time, abortion was illegal in most, but not all of the United States.  Back then, a friend of my sister ended up getting pregnant in high school and her father flew her to England to get an abortion. Rich people could afford to do things like that back then, and probably will still be able to afford to do them in the future.

Being pregnant in high school was viewed as very scandalous, and the girl's father berated her for being a slut, and called her all sorts of names, which caused her to lose her mind and she descended into drug use and madness.  It was very sad.

You have to understand the double-standard regarding sex was very potent back then.  It still is true today  but much weaker.  Back then, man was expected to have sexual adventures before marriage so that he was "experienced."  A woman, however, was expected to remain chaste. The irony of this was lost on most people. How could men gain sexual experience if women were not allowed to have sexual experiences as well?

A man who bedded many women was considered a stud, a manly man, and was admired by society.  A woman who bedded even one man before marriage was viewed as damaged goods and unsuitable for a future wedlock.  A woman who had a child out of marriage was considered the worst sort of human being possible.

That was the way people thought back then.

So it is no wonder that women sought abortions even though they were illegal.  The alternative was to write off the rest of your life.  Perhaps you can get some sort of marginal job somewhere and be single for the rest of your life,  or perhaps just resort to prostitution - or just kill yourself.  I'm not being facetious about this, that really was the reality of life back in the 50s and 60s for women who had children before marriage.

"You'll never make Mother of the year, lady!"

And as still happens sometimes today, some unwed Mothers would discard their babies, often resulting in death.   Sad, but that is an expected result when we shame people for something as natural has reproducing.  This sort of thing goes on even today - in one celebrated case, a young girl (from a fundamentalist family) dumping her newborn in the trash can on prom night.

Today of course, more children are born outside of wedlock than in.   Teenage pregnancy rates are highest, ironically, among evangelical christians.  Social mores have changed over time.

Back in the 1980s, I did two stints as an intern at Planned Parenthood in Syracuse, New York.  It was an interesting experience as one of the few males working in the office.  I recounted my experience before an earlier blog postings. What struck me as odd was that women would come in to get prescriptions for birth control pills or to be fitted for a diaphragm, while their boyfriends waited outside in the car. We did not perform abortions at this Planned Parenthood clinic but would do referrals if requested.

The boyfriends would sit in their cars in the parking lot listening to the radio -  playing 1980s rock and roll music.  As typical young men of the period, they had hopped up versions with their parents' hand me down cars, usually an Oldsmobile Cutlass with a dual exhaust and big slicks in the back. Today I'm sure the same thing goes on, only with slammed Hondas with big fart mufflers.

It struck me as sad that these young men would sit in their car while their girlfriend was trying to procure birth control or an abortion - a very serious decision that they should be thinking about jointly.  But it Illustrated how birth control in general is a very misogynist issue.  Men have always wanted birth control to be something that women took care of.  And if they didn't, an abortion was something that woman had to deal with as well.  But of course, when it comes to legality of abortion, men want to control the debate.

Since 1973, the far-right has used the abortion issue as a means of getting politicians elected. For decades now, they have been slowly chiseling away at abortion rights and claiming that,  if elected, they would outlaw abortion once again. I don't think they were necessarily sincere about this. They talked a lot about outlawing abortion, but so as long as this festering issue remained, they could get elected office again and again. Actually solving the issue would be self-defeating, as they would have no compelling reason to be re-elected.

But maybe all that is about to change. The Supreme Court has now a majority of very conservative justices. And several southern states have enacted draconian anti-abortion laws with the specific intent of getting a new decision from the current Supreme Court.  And I believe that the new court will probably strike down major portions of Roe v Wade and allow states to severely restrict if not outlaw abortion on a state-by-state basis.

It is also possible they may find some sort of "right to life" or citizenship in an embryo and outlaw abortion on a nationwide basis - we will find out in the next year or so, maybe sooner.

The Democrats plan on using this is a centerpiece for their 2020 election strategy.  We are all supposed to be outraged about restrictions to abortion and thus vote Democratic to make sure the right to choose is enshrined in the Constitution.  But I am not sure the strategy will work. People just don't seem to give a damn about the abortion issue anymore, other than people on the far right, being goaded by their fundamentalist pastors.  And most people are not going to vote for an outright socialist, even if they feel strongly about abortion rights.   And most people don't feel strongly about abortion rights.   You see the problem -  the Democrats are setting themselves up for failure.

The problem is, of course, that when life begins is a very nebulous thing to define. And it hasn't helped matters any that recent abortion-rights bills pushed by Democrats, have been characterized by Republicans as "post-birth abortion" legalization - which apparently they are not - but facts never stopped the GOP before.

The mantra of "choice" however, really pales in comparison to the mantra of "life."  And thus the right has a better platform from which to work.  But all that aside, a lot of people just really don't give a damn about abortion anymore.  50% of the population United States will never have to get an abortion.  A lot of men don't seem to care about birth control or abortion, viewing it as a woman's problem.

Well, that's not actually true.  Men do care about abortion rights when they get their girlfriend or secretary pregnant and worry about having to pay child support or their wife finding out.  Yes men are self-centered pigs.  This is news to you?

As more and more children are born out of wedlock, the shame of having a child before marriage has evaporated.  There is little or no shame anymore for a woman to have sex before marriage or have sex with multiple partners.  The motivation for having an abortion is not as strong as it was back in 1967, when an unwed pregnant woman was considered damaged goods and her life destroyed.  The only reason left have an abortion is for family planning issues, and that seems like a rather callous form of birth control.

When I was at Planned Parenthood we emphasized that abortion should not be used as birth control. We said this over and over again, but I don't think many of our clients understood it.  Many viewed abortion as a backstop to birth control, and to some, as a substitute.  Planned Parenthood indeed had a policy that they would only allow a client to have one or two abortions and then cut them off after that.  They didn't want clients getting into the habit of having repeat abortions and using them as post-hoc birth control.

But some women ignored that advice and found other outlets and had numerous abortions.  And we have met women who have done this, and it's not a very pretty thing.

The motivation behind Roe v Wade was that women were forced into having back alley abortions and often risked their lives usually by hemorrhaging to death as a result of botched surgery.  They were afraid to even go to the hospital even after a botched abortion, because if the damage was discovered, they would be charged criminally for having an illegal abortion, go to jail, and have their reputation and life ruined forever.

If they didn't have this risky abortion, as I noted before, their lives would be destroyed because no "good man" would marry them and they wouldn't be able to get a job with a good company, who would not hire an unwed mother.  Only menial jobs or prostitution or available to them.  The world has changed a lot since then.

The claims that women will be forced back to having back-alley abortions if Roe v Wade is overturned ring somewhat hollow.  I suspect a lot of women will merely get bus fare to Canada and have their abortion there.  Or perhaps go to another state where abortion is legal, if abortion is outlawed only on a state-by-state basis.  Wealthy people such as my sister's friend will merely fly to another country.   Since the 1960s, it's a lot cheaper to fly overseas.   Abortion tourism could become an industry, much as medical tourism already has.

That is, of course, unless the Trump administration went into full-out handmaid mode, and prevented pregnant women from travelling abroad - pulling pregnant women off buses at Niagara Falls.  But that seems like something even a conservative Supreme Court would not uphold.   Then again, anything is possible.

The point is, we are not going to return to an era of women dying from "back alley abortions" as it was before Roe v. Wade, as many on the Left postulate.  This amounts to little more than a scare tactic, and once again, a political faction is using abortion as a means of getting elected to office - same shit, different party.   And I think today, people see through this, and what's more, are not as compelled to vote based on this one issue alone. Ordinary middle-of-the-road middle-class people are not going to vote for Bernie Sanders just to preserve "the right to choose."  The Democratic party is delusional if they think this one issue alone will propel them back into the White House.

The other problem with using abortion as a platform is that Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life. Thus, the current 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court looks like it will stay in place for an awful long time as most of the conservative justices that have been appointed in recent years are quite young.  And of course, this was all by design. The Republicans didn't want to appoint some doddering ninety-year-old who would only stay on the bench for a few years and then kick the bucket.

So even if you could elect Bernie Sanders as President, chances are he won't even have a chance to appoint any Supreme Court nominees.  And if Republicans still dominate the Senate, if he appointed a liberal nominee they would filibuster the nomination or spike it outright.   There is precedent for this, as the Republican Senate decided not to take up the appointment of John Merrick put forth by Barack Obama - one of the more scandalous political maneuverings of this century.  They would just refuse to even confirm - for four or eight years, or maybe even forever.  The precedent has been set, and it is an awful one, usurping the rule of law in the nation's lawmaking body.

Some have argued that maybe a new Democratic President could try packing the Supreme Court with 11 or 13 justices and thus overturn the conservative majority.  But though the Constitution doesn't explicitly prohibits this, I think both parties are reluctant to use this nuclear option. Roosevelt proposed this idea back in the 1930s, but he refused to go that far.  I think he realized that if he made that precedent, that other presidents would follow suit, and the entire structure of our government could collapse.   If one president packs the Supreme Court by adding two more justices to bring the total up to 11, then the next president will then pack it again bringing the total up to 13 or 15.  Pretty soon you could have hundreds of Supreme Court Justices and nothing getting done at the Supreme Court.  Messing with the courts has been tried in other countries, such as Poland, and it hasn't worked out well.

One of the reasons we got to where we are is because the Democrats have relied too heavily on the abortion issue.  We are exhorted to vote for Hillary Clinton to preserve the right to choose.  Clearly, a lot of people weren't convinced this was a burning issue, otherwise she would be President today.

But what about the legal arguments about Roe v Wade? Truly there is some sort of jurisprudence involved here that rises above the mere political or emotional arguments, right?  And that's where it gets really funny, sad, and ironic all at the same time. I recounted before that I went to a fairly liberal law school, George Washington University. Even my hippy-dippy constitutional law professor, who taught while wearing a sundress, admitted that Roe v Wade had some serious flaws.

Conservatives like to argue that activist judges legislate from the bench and when they say this they are talking about Roe v. Wade.  While the question before the court in that case was whether abortion should be legal, the court took the unusual step of coming up with a trimester scheme to determine at what point during a pregnancy abortion should or should not be allowed.

Now if you read the Constitution - and I suggest you do so as it is a very short document - you'll note that there's nothing in there about trimesters.  And there was nothing in the laws that were being adjudicated that talked about trimesters. Rather, the court fabricated the entire thing out of whole cloth. They created what they felt the law should be - and maybe it should be - but that's really not the job of the judicial branch.

So for over 40 years now, conservatives have been arguing that liberal judges are legislating from the bench and twisting the Constitution. Of course, one man's legislating from the bench is another man's wise jurisprudence.  And conservative judges show pronounced habit of making up new laws when it suits their political ends. The conservative Supreme Court, for example, just recently overturned a decision from 40 years ago that allowed states to sue each other in court.  The justices found that while there was no explicit language in the Constitution prohibiting such lawsuits, it was implied.  It's funny, but if a liberal talks about the penumbra of the Constitution he is criticized by conservatives. But conservatives could nevertheless find implied rights in that same document.

So in other words, this "legislating from the bench" argument put forth by conservatives is just hooey.  Or at the very least, the people making the argument are extreme hypocrites.  Act shocked.

Perhaps if the Roe decision had merely left it up to the States whether or not abortion should be outlawed or legalized, the decision might have a better chance in today's court.  But I suspect Justice Kavanaugh and Roberts will tear apart Roe v Wade as an example of judicial overreach.  They may even find a "right to life" in the penumbra of the Constitution.

Of course, this sets a precedent for the court to overturn other previous decisions.  And of course, some decisions by the court should be overturned or were overturned in the past. The Dred Scott decision, for example, was probably an example of the court's lowest point in its history.  But that was overturned by the 13th Amendment.

There is this mythology about stare decisis and res judicata, that once a thing has been decided by the Supreme Court it is a decision for all time eternal.  However courts make mistakes and they often are politicized, much as the court is today.  Thus, we do see decisions from the Supreme Court that contradict decisions made in prior years.  Often, the courts try to weasel their way out of this by saying they are not overturning prior law, but merely modifying or tweaking it - but no one is really fooled.   When this happens, it causes people to lose faith in the Judiciary as being an impartial arbiter of the laws.  And that might be the real damage of overturning Roe v Wade, or the damage of the Roe v Wade decision in the first place.

And again, even "liberal" jurists admit that there are flaws in the reasoning of the original Roe v. Wade decision - flaws that the current court will use as leverage points to massage the decision, if not outright overturn it.

But all that being said, the main point is I don't think this issue resonates anymore with a vast majority of people, as it did 1973.  Sure, there are feminist activists who will march and protest while wearing "handmaid" gowns with hoods.  But for the rest of the country, the issue really doesn't resonate, except among those on the far right who view it as a religious matter of life and death, quite literally.

Therein lies the conundrum. The hardcore anti-abortion people see this as a religious calling and an affront to God.  They see abortion as the murder of children.  On the other side, people are pushing the idea that it is a matter of free choice which sounds awfully weak compared to the moral imperative of the far-right.  Regardless of where you stand on this issue, one has to admit that the right has staked out the moral high ground here.  "Right to choose"  just doesn't sound as compelling an argument.

The Democrats need to run on something other than abortion.  It may appeal to a very narrow demographic in getting out the vote.  But even if elected to office, it's doubtful that the Democrats can't do anything to change the way the issue is trending due to the nature of the Supreme Court.  If the abortion issue had any political currency, Trump would not be President today. Democrats refuse to even consider this possibility, running on a platform that remains largely unchanged since the 1970's and fails to excite or resonate with the majority of voters.  It is a platform plank well past its sell-by date.

A better bet would be to latch onto the issues that resonate with larger portion of society.  Sadly, it seems that things like free college, loan forgiveness, free money, free healthcare and free abortion as well as voting rights for convicted felons and transgender rights - whatever those are - seem to make up the major planks of the Democratic Party.  It is not clear to me how this will resonate with people in middle America, the same people who handed Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin to Trump, and therefor the election.

You want to win, you have to win back those people. And winning is the only option.  Despite would Beto says, coming in a close second doesn't count for anything.  And no more talk about "stolen elections" and "Russian interference" and the unfairness of the electoral college.  The Trump election illustrates exactly how the founding fathers intended the electoral college to work - to prevent larger and more populous States from merely outvoting less-populated and less powerful brethren.

Sadly, it seems the Democratic party is falling all over itself to see who can pander to hipsters in Brooklyn or San Francisco - while once again ignoring the electorate that decides actual elections.  Not only are they pandering to a group who will vote for them anyway, but by embracing these platform planks, actually alienating those swing voters whose opinions and votes really matter and count.

It is just so sad to see.