The recent conviction of Pennsylvania abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell has been a gift from the gods for America’s right-to-life activists. A practitioner of gruesome, late-term abortions, Gosnell was convicted of murder for utilizing brutally effective techniques that would make anyone cringe in disgust and disbelief. For Star Parker, who has made a career out of lecturing poor black women in the righteous ways of the GOP lifestyle, the opportunity to build support for outlawing abortion altogether is obvious. Alas, in aiming for what must seem like a certain propaganda victory, she shoots her own team members in the foot with a display of right-wing hypocrisy that cries out for a thorough dissection.
Parker attempts to ridicule the argument of the pro-choice forces that excessive regulation of abortion will inevitably result in more atrocities of the variety practiced by Gosnell:
The abortion lobby claims that as long as we have tight regulations on abortion, a black market will exist. Abortion, they argue, is like any product or service that consumers want and government prohibits or overregulates. If they can’t get what they want legally, they will get it illegally.
We also hear that we get Gosnells when government refuses to pay for the abortions of poor women…. According to this reasoning, poor women – desperate because of an unwanted pregnancy, pressed because regulations and costs make abortion difficult to get – turn to sleazebag doctors who will do it cheaply, with no regard for the woman, the law or safety….
There is another choice…. This option is called birth.
Let us note first that Parker never really addresses the very real concern of “the abortion lobby” that restricting access to abortion will lead to back-alley abortions. Instead, she attempts to distract her audience from this basic reality by impugning organizations such as Planned Parenthood, accusing them of profiting from the business of providing abortions and failing to apprise women of the full range of their options. Putting aside the amusing sight of a Republican condemning the profit principle, this stance is spectacularly disingenuous. Proud to associate with Christian “crisis centers” that throw a fundamentalist veil over the abortion option, Parker is in no position to accuse anyone of being selective in the dispensation of advice. And even if Parker and her allies succeed in dissuading a substantial number of pregnant women from seeking an abortion, her faith in the power of the Church’s sales pitch is a woefully inadequate response to the back-alley argument. Thousands of women every year will still want an abortion, for all sorts of reasons that mean a great deal to them even if those reasons mean nothing to the Bible-thumpers who wish to control this quintessentially personal decision.
Now let us consider the nature of the argument that Star Parker, as a prohibitionist, is insisting that we reject. It looks like this:
If abortion is outlawed, only outlaws will have abortions.
Does that remind you of anything? Something we’ve heard from the right wing for years in the context of another immortal American social issue? A slogan you may have seen on a bumper sticker or two? An idea that was recently bandied about by numerous members of the United States Senate in the process of quashing a measure that the vast majority of Americans favored?
If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
How is it that this logic applies in the arena of gun control, but not in the arena of abortion control? If it is a folly to criminalize citizens who wish to exercise their right to own firearms, why is it a folly to criminalize women who wish to exercise their right to control their own reproductive choices? Since both activities – gun ownership and abortion – result in death, why are we choosing to elevate the right of gun ownership over the right of reproductive choice? Wouldn’t it be more consistent to advocate freedom across the board, and let people both own guns and abort their fetuses? (That is actually the position of the Libertarian Party.) Why demonize big-government intrusion into the gun locker but applaud it into a woman’s uterus?
One possible answer to these questions is constitutional. The right of gun ownership appears to be explicitly enshrined in the Second Amendment, while the right of reproductive choice has been inferred from the infamous “penumbras” first mentioned by the Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965). If gun ownership rests on a stronger constitutional foundation than abortion, perhaps Star Parker can be acquitted. But it’s never quite that simple in our constitutional jurisprudence. While the woman’s right-to-choose rests on the shaky ground of substantive due process, by which the Court reads subjective preferences into the 5th and 14th Amendment Due Process Clauses, the Militia Clause of the Second Amendment – potentially fatal to gun rights – has been blithely ignored by the Court. The Court’s decisions are unsatisfactory in both arenas.
It is worth adding that if the American people were given the chance to write themselves a new constitution (and Jefferson believed that every generation should have this chance) then abortion rights would stand an excellent chance of being awarded express protection. According to the Pew Research Center, support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision most closely associated with abortion rights, stands at 63% and has been remarkably consistent across time. Meanwhile, support for gun ownership is much more evenly divided, with a narrow majority favoring more restrictions (and an overwhelming majority favoring the kind of background checks that our cowardly Congress failed to enact). No wonder conservatives despise evolving constitutionalism.
No doubt, many readers of the Leesburg Daily Commercial would object to the equation of gun rights with abortion rights. Guns are necessary for self-defense, they would say, or for protection from government tyranny. Abortions, by contrast, are a moral evil akin to drug abuse and a fitting subject for regulation. Yet guns are a human invention, and the right to own a gun cannot be said to originate in nature. The mother’s right to determine the fate of her own offspring, however, is deeply rooted in the natural world, preceding human technologies and mythologies alike. It is not just a fundamental human right; it is a right of all species. And that brings us to consideration of the nature of the deaths that result from gun ownership and abortion.
The so-called right-to-life crowd claim that millions of American lives have been lost in our permissive, abortion-happy era. They use religious dogma to equate the potential life represented by an embryo or non-viable fetus with lives that actually exist. More importantly – and far less easily contested by appeals to morality – they seem quite content to accept loss of life due to numerous other causes. The grotesquely bloated military empire championed by conservatives brings unnecessary wars, invasions, and incursions whose victims are shamefully ignored. No matter what the NRA whispers in a politician’s ear, America’s gun culture spawns wholly unacceptable levels of gun violence in the form of criminal homicides (particularly in the black community), tragic suicides, and sporadic mass shootings. And – big cognitive jump here – industrialized agriculture entails a colossal, wanton, and cruel slaughter of sentient creatures, all committed against a backdrop of mankind’s unending destruction of the planetary ecosystem. What’s that you say? How dare we compare the loss of animal life to the loss of human life? Humans are special; humans are superior; human lives are worth far more than animal lives; animals must die so that humans may live. That certainly seems to be the prevailing view, and not just in the red states that recently used legislation to decide the question of when life begins. But for those of us who allow our beliefs to be shaped by our hearts, minds, and senses instead of by misguided dogma, the treatment of animals by humankind is a vast crime against nature – a profound violation of our special duty of care. Humans do not need to kill animals for food or sport, and they have no right to treat them as commodities.
Thus, in the context of the abortion debate, the position of the right-to-life movement would be infinitely more persuasive if it embraced respect for all forms of life and for the environment that sustains them. The movement’s failure to do so bespeaks an undue adherence to antiquated religious concepts that are past their sell-by date, or a cynical form of selective morality that serves a hidden agenda.
With regard to the latter, just as Star Parker has exposed herself to a charge of logical inconsistency, she has also let the right-wing’s cat out of the bag. As we explored in an earlier post, Parker explicitly connects population growth through mandated pregnancy (the “non-option” of birth in a right-wing Utopia that would outlaw abortions in all circumstances) with economic expansion. This only makes sense for the plutocrats in whose hands America’s economic wealth inexorably concentrates; for the rest of us, it is a recipe for demographic dystopia. And for women in their child-bearing years, the brutal totalitarianism of forced reproduction relegates them to the status of breeding sows in factory farms, subjugating their independence and dignity in the service of an unholy union of warped capitalism and misogynistic religious fundamentalism.
Redefining Social Responsibility
In addition to the ugliness of back-alley abortions, there is another dark reality that Star Parker attempts to replace with right-wing fantasy. With the trademark arrogance of America’s contemporary right, Parker attempts to redefine social responsibility as a duty to provide pregnant women with the options approved by her Church. Explicitly excluded from this concept of social responsibility are such basic necessities as pre- and post-natal healthcare for mother and child, help with housing and nutrition, or any exploration of employment or educational opportunities for young women whose whole lives will be forced onto a very different track. Simply put, adding the name of the mother and baby to the weekly prayer list, and offering a few cans of baked beans from the food pantry, isn’t going to cut it in the real world. This attempt to substitute faith-based charity for the much-maligned welfare state is part and parcel of the plutocracy’s war against economic equality – a war they are winning hands down.
Star Parker’s vision therefore boils down to this: Make women feel guilty about considering abortion, and force them to reproduce by law if you can. Tell them you care about them, God loves them, and America is the greatest country in the world, then kick them off the church bus and leave them by the side of the road with nothing but a copy of Atlas Shrugged to read. It’s enough to make a grown man cry like a baby.