Wednesday, March 08, 2006

On The Road To Gilead...

The Mighty Atrios wonders aloud about the thinking process of abortion criminalization proponents:
I really can't figure out why they can't answer this question. Is it simply recognition of the political reality that punishing pregnant women for this stuff won't go down or is that they really are denying women the agency of their actions? People seem to have no problem with the notion of punishing women for, say, doing drugs or drinking alcohol during pregnancy so I can't quite accept that they would have a problem with holding a woman responsible for terminating her pregnancy.
I can answer this from experience interacting with them on a regular basis gained while working the barricades at clinic defense operations. (My experience is somewhat stale since the passage of the Free Access to Clinics Act has made— for better or worse— the need to do clinic defense work somewhat less pressing, but I doubt much has changed.)

It's both and neither. Take them at their word, Atrios— they really aren't thinking about it. They're typically people with a right-wing authoritarian personality, and one of the common aspects of that mode of thinking is a greatly enhanced capacity for managing cognitive dissonance. They have accepted an authority, which is telling them that p1) abortion is a form of homicide other than, yet morally equivalent to, murder, p2) doctors who perform abortions, and the organizations which conspire with them, should be charged with criminal penalties, and p3) women who have abortions are the victims of this criminal enterprise, not the perpetrators.

You're noticing that p1) and p3) are logically inconsistent, but they honestly don't have the capacity to recognize the pertinence of that fact. Both of these ideas arrive to them from their authoritarian hierarchy, and they don't see it as their place to question their authority figures. The inconsistency is easily brushed aside because their authority figures tell them so. The chain of hierarchy flows all the way up from rank and file protestors to the militantly anti-abortion clergy figures who lead the movement. At the leadership levels, and I have spoken with some of them, matters of secular law and policy are of no concern to them. They generally accept the proposition that criminalizing abortion means putting women who have them in prison, and where these leaders are not "pro-life" on the death penalty they accept that some women might be eligible for execution. However, they don't see any need to translate their personal views into policy activism, so the subject never enters the program they are handing out to their rank and file.

If you keep pushing on this wedge, here's what I think will happen: the rank and file will start to get the programming from the leadership that criminalizing abortion means putting women who have abortions in prison, and possibly executing them for the crime. This will serve to further stigmatize women who have legal abortions, and will greatly magnify the political polarization between feminists and their antagonists. I wish I were more optimistic that a coherently feminist constituency on this matter might materialize, but I'm not.

I would caution people to be careful how they use this wedge. You may find it cleaves yourself in unexpected and unwelcome ways. It's like inviting a game of Russian Roulette with someone you think is only pretending to be suicidal. They might really be suicidal, and they might really accept your challenge.

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