In the next month, five ultra-Catholic ideologues, unencumbered by any rational thought process, will decide that a fetus has more rights than its mother.
When that happens, the legislatures in as many as 26 states will likely enact laws, under which a pregnant woman will, in effect, be legally obligated to carry to term every fetus that takes root in her body.
Whether or not she was raped by a stranger, or by her father. Whether or not she miscarries. Whether or not the baby dies in her womb. Whether or not the baby is capable of life outside her womb. Whether or not that baby’s survival is likely to kill her.
The rights of her fetus will, apparently in all cases, supercede hers.
And her partner’s, too. Because for every beer-soaked asshole who will now be empowered to force his battered wife to carry his baby, there will be hundreds of responsible husbands legally barred from responsibly planning a family, or from ending a family-crippling pregnancy, or from choosing the life of a wife over the life of a fetus.
It’s hard to escape the feeling that pregnancy itself is being recast as a punishment for women. And what they’re being punished for, of course, is sex.
I’ve long felt that the religious right’s obsession with Roe v. Wade — and with all matters concerning abortion — has little to do with the unborn, the “right to life,” or even abortion itself, and everything to do with sex.
Yet such an obvious connection — the cause that begets the effect — is almost never part of the discussion. Why is that? Can we really afford to ignore that peculiarly American strain of sexual repression that is now making such a ferocious comeback?
The origin story goes back at least as far as the pilgrims, the puritans, and all those other oddball religious sects whose beliefs and practices were deemed too weird for mainstream Europe. The hostility of these outcast groups toward sex — or indeed toward any form of pleasure — is well-known and enshrined in their literature. It’s a hostility that has been passed down through the generations as a sort of a received dogma, a religious ideology.
The cornerstone of that ideology is male dominance. Or, put another way, contempt for women. Far too many American males see women, not just as sex objects, but as sexual manipulators who must be punished for luring them into sin. The rapist, in other words, is the victim.
Underlying this attitude is a conviction that a woman’s body is for a male’s use alone, while her heart and mind must be confined to child-bearing, child-rearing, and endless domestic indenture.
As we watch the resurgence of this puritanical strain, a lot of us older folks can’t help but think of it as a backlash to the “sexual revolution” of the sixties and seventies. A backlash with its own origin story.
For those of us who were there, it was an exhilarating time. Almost overnight, a new sexual consciousness washed over most of a generation.
That consciousness laid the groundwork for a fresh set of cultural norms — sexual and interpersonal, yes, but also social, political, economic, and psychological. These norms have had a good long run — half a century or so — but they are now under serious threat.
The revolution, such as it was, was initially centered on college campuses, where the confluence of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War protests, the expanding drug culture, and the rise of a new form of women’s movement were roiling an entire generation in ways no generation has been roiled since. As students, these things commanded our attention, almost on a daily basis.
At the same time, the recently-invented birth control pill — and the idea of birth control itself — gained almost instant acceptance by people of both sexes. The times demanded that everyone look at sex from outside the traditional rigidities, and these new attitudes quickly took over most of society.
Women now had unprecedented control over their own bodies. They could separate sex from the demands of marriage, family, motherhood, and — at long last — religion. These were women who had been educated to want more than these same tired options, and their new sexual freedom held the promise of other freedoms to come.
At the core of that promise was the freedom to want — or not want — a pregnancy. By the late sixties, abortion was front and center on the national stage, and in 1973 the Supreme Court bypassed Congress and proclaimed it a right under the Constitution. Sex hasn’t been the same since.
Until recently, this revolution had been assumed to be over and done, its changes long since absorbed into the culture. For better or worse, across the entire political spectrum, most Americans gave this new sexual ethos a thumbs-up.
Most, but not all. As with all revolutions, this one left a number of people behind.
Even on the campuses of that time, there were plenty of sexually-repressed young people, people who subsequently grew up to become sexually-repressed Trump voters. Today’s so-called “incels” — the “involuntary celebates” whose misogyny is so out-front and violent — can be thought of as the descendants of the brooding campus misfits who, for whatever reason, were passed over by the sexual revolution.
To those so conflicted over sex, pregnancy must seem the perfect punishment. If a woman “puts out” (for anyone but them), it’s only right that she be sentenced to a life of forced child-rearing.
Which is why to them abortion is so intolerable. Abortion commutes the sentence. It erases the sin, absolves the “loose” woman, and frees her to sin again. Whenever they talk about abortion, they’re really talking about sex.
The obvious fuzzy thinking, rampant hypocrisy, and sparse demographics behind such a toxic attitude are all beside the point.
The point is that the vipers who believe it are now exercising real power.
It’s the revenge of the puritans, who never really went away. Over time, they evolved into evangelicals, arch-conservative Catholics, and all the ultra-religious cranks who, quite paradoxically, ended up turning to Trump, the ultimate sinner. But long before Trump, they had served as perfect rubes for lavishly-financed right-wing Republicans, who were happy to manipulate them — through constant propaganda — into a rock-solid voting bloc.
They struck a bargain: Republicans would pretend they cared about abortion, religion, and white supremacy, while the rubes would pretend they cared about tax cuts and deregulation. The rubes would agree to vote Republican in every election no matter who the candidate, while Republicans would agree to accept all manner of misogyny, racism, homophobia, religious nuttery, and general nastiness from the rubes.
Now, after decades of patient subterfuge, that bargain is about to pay off. To the detriment of the rest of us.
Abortion is, of course, just the tip of the spear. Next, they’ll be coming for birth control. And from there, it’s no great leap to gay marriage. Or gay anything. Or trans, or Black, or Jewish, or Democrat, or anything else they hate.
There is no limit to their hate. But it starts with hating sex, a simple bodily function put there specifically to make humans feel good, by the same god who apparently then decided it was filthy and disgusting.
No wonder they’re conflicted.