17 October 2012

“Putting men in a position of power over women”

Earlier this month a congressional race in Tennessee was shaken up a bit by the transcript of Rep. Scott DesJarlais’s phone call with his mistress demanding that she have an abortion twelve years ago.

Since DesJarlais has presented himself as an anti-abortion politician, this caused a problem for him. He’s been reduced to pleading that the woman wasn’t really pregnant and he brought up abortion just to get her to admit that.

Amanda Marcotte at The New Republic tried to extrapolate from DesJarlais’s behavior to today’s anti-abortion movement:
As DesJarlais’s case shows, attacks on abortion (and increasingly on contraception) serve a different purpose: Putting men in a position of power over women. But that doesn’t sound as good as waxing poetic about “life,” which would explain why they rarely talk about it in those terms.

The biggest difference between legal and illegal abortion isn’t how often it happens, except insofar as abortion tends to be more common in countries that heavily restrict it. No, the biggest difference between legal and illegal abortion is who controls abortion, and therefore who has power over women’s bodies and lives. Prior to Roe v. Wade, if a woman wanted a safe abortion, her best bet was having a wealthy man to help her. . . .

Conservative men’s anger at having lost control of these matters comes across clearly in the transcript of DesJarlais’ phone call with his former mistress. He insists repeatedly that she owes him this, claiming at one point she is solely to blame for the pregnancy. When she insists on her right to make the final decision in an attempt to get some concessions from him, he loses his temper. As a listener, you finally begin to understand the conservative male longing to return to the abortion laws of the 50s, when a pushy mistress could be controlled with the threat of social ruin and the promise of granting her access to a safe abortion.
Many anti-abortion commenters have responded to Marcotte’s article by saying that DesJarlais doesn’t represent their thinking. And indeed most people in that movement aren’t doctors who had affairs with patients and want to maintain their public images in the middle of contentious divorces and political campaigns.

But as to Marcotte’s larger link between the anti-abortion movement and control of women, that seems quite solid. If people oppose abortion because they view the fetus as a human individual and wish to minimize the killing of human lives, then logically they would support:
  • medically accurate and widespread sex education, which has been found to reduce unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions.
  • access to contraception, which is designed to reduce unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions.
  • equality for same-sex partnerships, which don’t create unwanted pregnancies and thus abortions and do provide more loving couples interested in raising unwanted children.
Instead, there’s a strong correlation between the anti-abortion movement and people who are against all those things. Which shows that the movement isn’t driven purely by a wish to minimize what they see as killing; it also involves a desire to control the private behavior of other people, and women in particular.

1 comment:

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Indeed. One of the reasons marriage equality is so virulently opposed is the word in that phrase that supposedly makes it more difficult to rail against it - the word being "equality." Same sex marriage requires egalitarian marriage. Gay couples would not want marriage if the law required one person to be subservient to the other. Modern marriage is a contract between equals. That sort of arrangement is anathema to the radical right. So long as - culturally - the man is the husband and the woman is the wife, what really dictates the relationship between the individuals in the marriage is not the state of the law but rather the cultural expectations of men and of women. Those cultural expectations take a big hit in a regime that allows same sex marriage. Ah, the patriarchy.