Yesterday there was a Washington Post Op-Ed column by George F. Will about the politics of abortion. It’s pretty standard anti-choice fare, but the very premise of the column — that in some areas, the issue of abortion is actually non-issue — struck me.
To sample today’s confusions, consider California.
There the electorate so strongly supports abortion rights that no right-to-life candidate for governor, U.S. senator or president has won in California since 1988. This is so despite the fact that a governor, U.S. senator or president has only slight relevance to the status of Californians’ abortion rights.
Nevertheless, it is said that if the Republican Party wants to be competitive in California in presidential politics, it must nominate a pro-choice candidate, of which there is only one — Rudy Giuliani. This is almost certainly true. It certainly is irrational because pro-choice Californians have next to nothing to fear — just as pro-life Californians have next to nothing to hope for — from a right-to-life president. The practical consequences of such a president concerning abortion would not differ significantly from Giuliani’s consequences. . . .
The next president probably will have an opportunity to significantly shape the court, which has frequently divided 5 to 4 on important questions, including abortion issues. But regarding abortion, the reasonable response to this fact from residents of many, perhaps most, states, and especially from Californians, should be a shrug of a question — “So what?”
You see, here’s what Will is arguing: if Roe vs. Wade was overturned, abortion would not become illegal. The matter would “simply” return to the authority of the states (until they managed to garner enough votes to pass a national law, but shhhh). Therefore, in liberal enclaves like California, abortion is a non-issue, because the state will ensure that abortion is legal regardless of what the Supreme Court does.
We have a couple of things going on here.
The first is that Will thinks abortion-rights supporters are so stupid that we don’t understand how the law works. Surely, not all of us do understand. But with the amount of effort that antis put in to overturning the ruling, I think it’s actually they who least understand. The patronization is only of minor interest, though.
I pulled out this column to discuss because I think that it beautifully exemplifies the way in which the conservative mind works. And in doing so, it makes very apparent the difference between it and the liberal mind, and leads me to the sad conclusion that, all pipe dreams aside, we never are going to see eye to eye.
Men like Will, conservative men who support conservative candidates and conservative policies, work under the belief that if it doesn’t personally affect me, I have no reason to care.
Of course, we already know this. Look at our welfare and health care systems, the inaction over Darfur, the inaction over extreme poverty in the majority world, the opposition to any and all social programs that help the poor, the panic over raising the minimum wage and the obsession over the tax rate. Though they love to use the term “individualistic,” conservatives and all of their libertarian friends are, quite frankly, selfish people. The interesting thing is that they’re usually not so obvious about it.
And though in fact liberals can be personally selfish, our politics are generally not. Though some of our policies would, in fact, benefit us personally, and many poor citizens are liberal, many of them do not. Stopping the AIDS epidemic in Africa does not help me personally. I’m white, so evening out the crack/cocaine laws does not help me personally. I’m straight, so legal same-sex marriage does not help me personally. These are just the right things to do.
I live in NY. Though reproductive rights in the state are not as safe as most think they are (which is why we are working at Planned Parenthood to make sure that the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act is passed), there is probably not an awful lot to worry about here. Yes, I first became interested in the issue of abortion because I was worried about my personal right to have one. But if that was my only, or even main concern, I wouldn’t dedicate anywhere near the amount of time and effort I do to the issue. Once I figured out that I’m probably safe, I would have stopped.
But, you see, I care about other people. I care about the women where abortion will likely remain legal even if Roe were overturned not being able to currently access abortion because, unlike me, they don’t have a savings account to cover the cost and there isn’t any public funding. I care about the women in Aurora, whose clinic the antis tried to protest out of existence. I care about the women in Kansas, were abortion is constantly under attack. I care about the women in Mississippi, who don’t have access because there is only one abortion clinic in their entire state. I care about the women in states where there are “trigger laws” on the books. I’m not worried about myself. I have money in the bank. I have people I could borrow money from. If push came to shove, I could scrape together a plane ticket to a place where abortion is legal (or more practically, drive the one hour it takes to cross the Canadian border).
If Roe is overturned, it is not women like me who will suffer. And yet, I still care. I still volunteer 12 hours a week at my local Planned Parenthood. I still write this blog. I still give money whenever I can and write letters to my representatives.
And what both fascinates and terrifies me is that conservatives do not seem to understand that. This particular column makes that abundantly clear. The title of the column, in fact, points to it directly. “So what?” If I’m okay, so what? If it’s only other people suffering, so what? I would never personally have an abortion, so what? I don’t have a uterus. So what?
We’re not talking about different political opinion. We’re talking about two completely and utterly different set of ethical values. And that’s why I’m often so skeptical of liberal re-branding efforts, and efforts to “mainstream” our politics. Because I think that a hell of a lot of the time, it doesn’t come down to what people think about abortion. It comes down to how people think about life. And in that area, we’re worlds apart.