"The River" - Bruce Springsteen
Reading the headlines and columns the last few weeks one can't help but have the sense we've entered some kind of bizarre time warp in which contraception is genuinely controversial -- as opposed to being a strange vestigial obsession of a group of unelected, (alleged) celibates, who speak for precisely no one in the body politic. Well, except maybe for Rick Santorum and Ross Douthat, two men whose world view is remarkably out of touch with how the vast majority of us live our lives.
Douthat had a column last week essentially arguing that those of us on the pro-choice, pro-contraception side of the aisle are insincere when we profess to want to make abortion "safe, legal, and rare." Douthat berlives that the relatively high abortion rates in liberal states -- states where barriers have not been erected to discourage women from exercising a constitutional right mind you -- belies the claims that most of us would prefer that abortion rates would drop. He is skeptical about the idea that access to cheap and reliable contraceptives is the cause for so many pregnancies that end in abortions in blue states. My response is that we would have lower rates of unplanned and unwanted pregnancy if there were easier access to contraception, particularly for teens, but more importantly, if we had a cultural atmosphere in which preventing unwanted pregnancies was dealt with as a practical public health issue rather than as some morally fraught endeavor. One sees such a result in the countries of Western Europe, where rates of unwanted pregnancy, particularly among teens, are substantially lower than they are throughout the United States.
Douthat also doesn't appear to grasp why those of us on the pro-choice side want to make abortion rarer -- it is not because we share his moral qualms with the procedure, but rather because most sensible people would prefer to see unnecessary surgery -- however minor -- avoided where possible.
Rick Santorum, not to be outdone, has attacked the health care reform law for mandating full coverage of certain pre-natal testing because it's part of a elite plot to cull the world of disabled people. Santorum would prefer a world in which people remain ignorant of profound disabilities that will have a permanent, life-altering affect on them. And, of course, once these uninformed people give birth to their disabled offspring, they will be on their own, because God forbid the state actually come to the aid of those who are suffering.
I have watched people struggle with raising children with disabilities and it is an incredibly difficult thing. A friend of mine with an autistic child told me one night at dinner that he literally never goes through a day without thinking about his son's future care and how he needs to make plans to provide for him after his own death -- and just how much weight there is to that sort of thing. A client of mine had an adult child with Down's Syndrome and he and his wife were grappling with the difficulties of handling him at home as they were heading into their seventies. The son was prone to periodic rages and would sometimes hurt his aging mother when the two of them were alone in the house. These are the kinds of things that people have to weigh when they make a decision regarding giving birth to a child with genetic anomalies -- the kind of life-altering event that can follow you to the grave and beyond. This is the most personal sort of decision I can imagine anyone making and the notion of state interference in it is repulsive.
Unlike right-wing Republicans though, I do believe that those people who decide to give birth to a child with such problems should be assured that the child will receive life-long, state provided, health care and income support so that parents are relieved from at least some of the existential burden that goes along with such a decision.
In the end, what strikes one about the likes of both Douthat and Santorum is that there is little to suggest that either of them has a great concern for the lives of the people at stake in these dramas. One senses instead their profound discomfort with people -- by which I mean women of course -- having happy sexual lives, free of negative consequences. Thus, it is important to them to maintain a means of control over the sex lives of women by assuring that unwanted pregnancies ensue, that when they do they cannot be easily terminated, and when they cannot be terminated one is playing a kind of Russian roulette with the worst possible outcome. It's a truly miserable world view and one which should not be considered respectable by thoughtful people.
What say you?