Women’s lives are not an olive branch for a truce in the culture wars

26 Mar 2014 01:26 am
Posted by: Donna

Imagine living in a country with same-sex marriage equality, legalized marijuana, and women of childbearing age relegated to ward-of-the-state status because abortion is banned and fertilized eggs have been granted legal status as human beings. If that seems a bit incongruous – a bit one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-others to you, then I hope you’re paying careful attention to the Hobby Lobby case.

Read Ian Millhiser’s excellent coverage on the Hobby Lobby oral arguments before the Supreme Court to understand why pro-choice activists are deeply worried about the pending decision.

WASHINGTON, DC — Justice Anthony Kennedy thinks gay people are fabulous. All three of the Supreme Court’s most important gay rights decisions were written by Justice Kennedy. So advocates for birth control had a simple task today: convince Kennedy that allowing religious employers to exempt themselves from a federal law expanding birth control access would lead to all kinds of horrible consequences in future cases — including potentially allowing religious business owners to discriminate against gay people.

Kennedy, however, also hates abortion. Although Kennedy cast the key vote in Planned Parenthood v. Casey upholding what he called the “essential holding of Roe v. Wade,” he’s left no doubt that he cast that vote very grudgingly. Casey significantly rolled back the constitutional right to choose an abortion. And Kennedy hasn’t cast a single pro-choice vote in an abortion case in the last 22 years.

So Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, the two companies claiming that they should be exempt from the birth control rules had an ace in their pocket as well. Their path to victory involved convincing Kennedy that their cases are really about abortion — and it looks like Kennedy convinced himself of that point on his own.

Kennedy has convinced himself it’s about abortion, not because he believes the lie that certain types of contraception snuff out fertilized eggs, but because he thinks it could lead to employer health plans being required to cover actual abortions, which makes him sad. It’s unlikely it would lead to that because the ACA’s mandate only covers contraception but I guess it’s theoretically possible, which appears to be enough for Justice Kennedy. In other words, Justice Kennedy is signalling that he’s willing to open the door to business owners opting out of any health insurance coverage, or really any law they don’t like, by claiming a “sincere religious belief” because Justice Kennedy is worried about the theoretical possibility that abortion might have to be covered at some time in the future.

Some will attribute Kennedy’s position on abortion to his Catholic faith, which may be true, but Kennedy is not consistently following Catholic doctrine when he supports LGBT rights. While I’m sure Kennedy comes by his opposition to abortion sincerely for whatever reason, I’m equally sure that he is devoted to centrism. Centrism does not necessarily posit that the correct position on a given issue is smack dab between wherever the right and left stand on it at a particular time. A centrist may instead decide to take a liberal position on something like gay rights and feel that he is obliged to, or at least can get away with, taking a more conservative position on another issue, such as abortion rights.

Culture war centrism is also the strategy of Republican politicians trying to appear moderate or libertarian, such as Sen. Rand Paul on drug legalization or Arizona State Rep. Ethan Orr of Tucson, for whom we are supposed to overlook his consistently anti-choice voting record because he voted to protect LGBT rights that one time and medical marijuana that other time.

There seems to be a general consensus among many of the privileged and powerful people in this country that the fractious debate over “social issues” can be calmed by throwing the foaming-at-the-mouth reactionaries a bone. It should be obvious by now whose rights are that bone* (women’s reproductive) and we all know why (slut-punishing and the desire to curtail women’s independence never go out of style). Obamacare absolutely had to accommodate the anti-choicers – first with Rep. Bart Stupak’s amendment to the ACA reiterating the Hyde Amendment and then the churches that showed up to demand a carve out from the ACA contraception mandate for their own employees. Those of us who complained were told to shut up and take one for the team.

Culture war centrists expect women to watch our hard-fought reproductive rights be compromised away with a smile because, hey, look over there at how quickly things are getting better on other human rights issues! This is not only deeply offensive, it’s bound for failure. There is simply no way to have a healthy, progressing society when half the population can’t even decide when and whether to have babies.

*There was another hot-button issue that was accommodated in the ACA: denying undocumented immigrants access to health care.

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