Bioethics, healthcare policy, and related issues.
There is a considerable component of right-wing blather, on healthcare and other topics, that is not seriously intended from the outset. To be sure, actual right-wing policy proposals are often offensive and addle-headed – withholding healthcare from women for religious reasons, or prohibiting factual information on contraception for teens are too-familiar examples – but often enough the most outrageous statements the wingnuts make are intended only to generate controversy. The ensuing agitation inflames the right-wing base constituency and feeds their self-aggrandizing notion of themselves as “under siege”, while the attention the controversy gins up raises the wingers’ profile and generates book sales and speaking fees. Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, and their cretinous ilk have made a profession of making factual claims that are indefensible in morals or truth, then evading responsibility by claiming they were joking; nominally more respectable right-wing pundits are not above the tactic, either. (George Will’s incompetent blundering into the issue of global warming continued long after his lack of knowledge had been thoroughly exposed in his own paper; the incident did him no harm among his target readership, for whom truth is an incidental feature of their reading material.)
For this reason, I felt less shock than merely tired recognition at this week’s reports from the right-wing “Value Voters” conference, in particular the much-remarked insanity of anti-choice provocateur Lila Rose’s demand that abortions be “done in the public square” (“maybe then we might hear angels singing as we ponder the glory of conception”*). Of course it’s idiotic, outrageous, and unhinged; of course it’s meaningless as a serious policy proposal. But it was never intended to be otherwise. It was intended to do exactly what it did – get more attention for a serial attention-seeker whose stock in trade is saying provocative things on video so she can enjoy the reaction, as well as create yet another controversy to make anti-choice theater seem important by generating press.
But it’s worth taking a moment, not to combat this nonsense as if it was to be taken seriously, nor even to condemn the continual offensiveness and provocation of the anti-choice movement (a singularly unlikely complaint, since without that the anti-choice movement wouldn’t even exist), but to note the ways in which anti-choicers choose to offend.
What does it mean to imagine – even if only to create offense – that women should be forced to have their abortions in public? As crazed as the suggestion is, it is not as extreme, from the right-wing perspective, as it would seem from any decent point of view. Mandatory public display of intimate gynecological procedures in order to diminish the legal availability of those procedures is nothing more than the literal instantiation of the basic presuppositions of the anti-choice movement in general:
As with so much anti-choice agitation, women simply disappear from this invasive and offensive scheme as persons to be taken seriously in their own right. Healthcare is granted near-sacrosanct status as regards privacy, discretion, and the centrality of the needs and interests of the patient, but a woman seeking abortion must expose herself, legs splayed in stirrups, vagina dilated, instruments inserted, “in the public square” – her needs and interests, in fact her basic humanity as a person deserving of consideration and dignity, carry no weight against the creepy, invasive perversions of the sex-obsessive misogynists. The abortion debate is structured, logically, as a conflict between women’s autonomy and the religious imperatives of the anti-choice right wing, but here there is no recognition of autonomy interests at play in any way – women not only may not control their bodies or reproductive options, but may even be forced into invasive and degrading displays deliberately intended to undermine their own autonomy, as a condition of (temporarily) accessing such options. As always, women simply don’t count. Whatever protections and privileges the typical moral person might command in undertaking their own purposes in their own life simply vanish if that person is a woman seeking control over her reproduction.
But this familiar moral blindness is not accidental, and it is not merely the hyperbolic implication of a deliberately provocative suggestion. Stupid, crazy, and nasty as they may be, the right wing is not completely incapable of recognizing moral humanity, even in those they despise. The right wing gradually learned not to use racial slurs; today it would unthinkable for them to suggest that people of color should be paraded “in the public square” even as a tactic to undermine their rights, and wingers fall over themselves denying the racism in their racist policies. The gay-rights movement, embattled as it was, made remarkable progress in the space of about 35 years; today, the conservative position on gay rights extols accommodations (“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”; civil unions) that would have been grand liberal victories just a few years previously. Yet after thousands of years of patriarchy, women command no such deference. Even as a joke or a provocation, there are things that are not said about minorities and gays – things the public would reject in disgust. There seems to be nothing the right wing won’t say about women – there seem to be no abuses or humiliations that are beyond the pale, no degradations or invasions that are unthinkable, whether or not they seem likely as policy.
Vacating medical confidentiality to publicize abortions for the explicit purpose of humiliating women by generating disgust at their bodies, healthcare, and reproductive choices? The only part of that scenario the right wing objects to is the abortion. All the rest is merely the rights, interests, and choices of women. Nothing at all, really.
* I am not making this up.
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