Politics, philosophy, religion, and other things

Monday, April 23, 2007

Father Judge

For the last several years it seems that most evangelical political leaders have streamlined their social policy demands to two issues: abortion and gay rights. Obviously other issues catch their attention, things like school prayer, abstinence, flag-burning, immigrant deportation, and other vital matters, but most of their political offense, at least rhetorically, has been directed towards changing abortion policy and preventing homosexuals from gaining any more acceptance in society than they already have.

They've been relatively successful in combating abortion in recent years, with their most notable success being the appointment of Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court, heralding many years of nail-biting split decisions to come. One of the first came down last Wednesday when the Supreme Court voted 5-4 in Gonzales v. Carhart to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. This decision was notable for several reasons (as pointed out here), but two in particular are worth pointing out.

1. This isn't the first Partial Birth Abortion Law to come before the court. The last one, Stenberg v. Carhart was struck down (among other reasons) because it did not include an exemption for the health of the mother. Undeterred, Congress sent back another ban, still not including a provision for the mother's health, but the new Supreme Court has now ruled this ban constitutionally valid. The importance of ignoring the health of the mother in making such decisions is that it comes very close to recognizing the rights of the fetus--thus laying the groundwork for even more restrictive abortion laws in the future.

2. The paternalism towards women on display in this decision is striking. It is difficult to understand how Judge Kennedy's reasoning is meant to square with the liberal underpinnings of American democracy. As Judge Ginsberg writes in her dissent (which is worth the read):
Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from '[s]evere depression and loss of esteem.' Because of women's fragile emotional state and because of the bond of love the mother has for her child,' the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.

This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution ideas that have long since been discredited. (h/t Feministing)

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