Monday, September 19, 2005

John Roberts and Roe v. Wade

If John Roberts is confirmed as the new chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and manages to be the deciding vote in a case that overturns Roe v. Wade, recriminalizing abortion, what do the so-called “pro-life” forces expect will happen next?

I used to count myself among the pro-lifers, and some of them are truly motivated by a desire to protect the weak – the unborn weak, anyway. But others seek something else: a return to bygone (imaginary) days when women regularly bore four or more children, and stayed home to care for them while fathers worked.

The point at which I abandoned the “pro-life” position was when I had my first child, and gained firsthand knowledge of just what mothering entails. This is something John Roberts and other male legislators will never know, regardless of how many degrees, committee-chairmanships or appointments they get. And no amount of rhetoric about promoting a "culture of life" from George W. Bush can undo his murderous record in Afghanistan, Iraq, New Orleans and elsewhere.

My introduction to mothering was waiting with my baby son in the county social services office to be authorized for WIC checks and standing in line at the food bank for big blocks of rubbery government cheese. I pondered my college degree, and the cost of housing and child care, and the 40, 50, 60-hour work week, and my partner’s poverty-level graduate student income. I married him shortly thereafter, driven by the need for health insurance, which he only received after two years of grad school.

Something didn’t connect – something about how the same people who urge women to go home and have more children refuse to pass federal living wage laws and equal pay laws, refuse to enact federal subsidies for high-quality child care, refuse to establish reliable public transportation systems, refuse to create universal basic health care programs, while they cut food stamp, Medicaid, rent subsidies and after-school programs, and eliminate information about birth control from sex ed programs.

From my time as a “pro-lifer,” I do believe abortion kills a nascent human being, and I often fantasize about the day when women promise to stop having abortions as soon as men stop the wars (both military and economic) that are killing children and their mothers and fathers the world over every day.

But because I am a mother, now of two children, I know parenting requires tremendous societal support, and in individualist, materialist America, the support given to parents and children is shamefully inadequate. That’s why one-fifth of America’s children grow up below the poverty line, set ridiculously low anyway, as anyone who’s tried to live on $14,000 per year knows. That’s also why, for women, some studies show having children is the single biggest predictor for poverty.

A recent New York Times article cited data supporting these observations: “While abortion rates have been falling generally since 1990, the decline has been steepest among teenagers, and rates are lowest among educated, financially secure women…Conversely, for poor and low-income women, rates increased during the 1990's, possibly in response to the 1996 welfare overhaul, which reduced support systems for women who carry their fetuses to term…”

Will shielding teenagers from information about birth control, (as “abstinence-only” sex ed programs do), and overturning Roe v. Wade have the effect the pro-lifers want? Will we women meekly throw up our hands and say “Oh well. Back to husband-and-kids-and-nothing-else for me”? Will the birth rate rise, and male unemployment fall while single-income families become sustainable? Will marriages suddenly strengthen?

I don’t think so. Women today, after 30 years of struggling our way out of the home, are too aware of how much the larger world needs our input, how much that world is suffering from the subjugation of women everywhere. We will openly defy anti-birth control legislation, and import condoms and the Pill from Canada, if need be. We will learn how to do safe, illegal and rare abortions for each other, in our homes, until we’ve made a society welcoming not just to white Gerber babies, but welcoming even to the children of the poorest, darkest Americans.

We will wake up from our super-stressed, super-mom stupor, and loudly, persistently, annoyingly demand that society take responsibility for all children. We will get elected to state and federal office and pass meaningful living wage laws. We’ll figure out how to best train and support teachers who encourage children’s natural creativity and curiosity. We will go out into our communities and build decent housing. We will dismantle the managed care bureaucracies and get federally-funded free clinics into every neighborhood. We will establish a nationwide network of good part-time jobs and good child care, and we'll pay mothers who do stay home, because raising children is work that needs to be done. We’ll stop the wars.

The men who would have us women curl our souls into the fetal position and die are useless to use now and will be useless then. They know nothing of our lives now and will know less then. We can thank them for the opportunity to make a concerted push toward a humane civilization. But there’s no way they can undo 30 years of reproductive freedom and shove us back down.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Dennis Kucinich Speech on House Floor - September 2, 2005