What is so appalling for me about this video is Barbara Comstock's inability to (or refusal to) defend or explain McCain's patronizing, insulting, and downright dismissive brush off of women's health rights. Her need to stick to Partial Birth Abortion, which aside from being a misnomer also accounts for a miniscule amount of abortions performed (.17% of American abortions in 2000), just proves to me how indefensible McCain's statement really is. There are some incredibly obvious issues in McCain's use of air quotes around the word "health" in terms of abortion:
- It suggests that most women - sorry, most "pro-abortionists" - will lie about their health in order to obtain an abortion. It plays directly into the meme that feminists or other women who get abortions are in some way flighty and incredibly morally deficient - that they have gone through 21 or more weeks of pregnancy and suddenly decided that they no longer wish to remain pregnant.
- It suggests that the health of the already-alive person in front of McCain is less important than the birth of the fetus she is carrying. If the health of the mother is so trivial it deserves air quotes, it is because a woman's concerns are less once she is carrying a child. Everything must go toward protecting the fetus. The woman is no longer of primary concern, nor should her wishes and bodily autonomy be given any thought. After all, she decided to get pregnant; for those nine months, she now gets to be more of a glorified incubator than a person.
- It dismisses women who actually have serious health concerns relating to pregnancy. The air quotes McCain used invalidates these women's situation and trauma and lives. McCain's casual dismissal of health concerns for the women who carry his precious fetuses shows a cavalier attitude toward what pregnancy is and what complications can develop. Apparently in McCain's world, all pregnancies go smoothly. There is never someone with high blood pressure, or someone with Type 1 diabetes. There is never a fetus with severe spina bifida. The women who have had these pregnancies and experiences are thus cast aside, and made less. Their emotions and lives are trivialized and dismissed. In a way, McCain's air quotes places the onus for a mother's health on the mother. If something goes wrong, it is obviously the mother's fault, because the only women who get late-term abortions and who use the health excuse are those terrible pro-abortionists.
Late term abortions (21 weeks or later) account for 1.4% of all abortions in the USA. They are the focal point of the anti-choice movement simply because they are the most extreme cases. The anti-choice movement has made this a black and white issue for Americans by focusing on the stages of development of the fetus after 21 weeks; but in doing so, they blatantly ignore the area of grey that is still very much present. For instance, this diarist at Daily Kos tells her story (note: I don't get my news from here, but I do think that this person's account of what she went through and why is important to read). As did these three women. All of them exist within the area of grey McCain's policy and air quotes denies them. When McCain turns to these women and belittles their lives as simply being a part of an "extreme pro-abortion position", he is doing them, and all of us, a great disservice. As Cecile Richards rightly asks, "Since when did women's health become extreme?"
John McCain is not pro-life; and neither is the movement his viewpoint represents. A pro-life position, a true pro-life position, would not be so cavalier and dismissive of women and their right to health. It would not demean and belittle women; it would not implicitly state in their policies and positions that once a woman becomes pregnant, the fetus she is supporting becomes more important than she is and should have access to more rights than she does. Pro-life means being for the health and integrity of all life; it means recognizing that sometimes difficult and heartbreaking decisions must be made. It means supporting women. It means not simply counseling a woman or compelling a woman to keep a child or to carry the fetus to term but providing support for that woman and that child once the baby has been born. The McCain ticket and the pro-life movement in general stops short of that. Once there is a baby and not simply an unborn child, they perceive their job as being done. And that is what is so disingenuous about their position. Because to be pro-life requires more than just legislating that a woman not abort. It means giving care, like healthcare, to that child; it means providing support for mothers who could not afford to take care of their child. In order to be philosophically pro-life, that would be the position McCain would have to take. Instead, he and Sarah Palin and countless others come off as sanctimonious, callous, and out of touch.
And as a bonus, they and their hardline position regarding late-term abortion come off as extremist, especially when people like Barbara Comstock are there to toe the line. And Barack Obama and Cecile Richards appear to be level-headed, reasonable, and knowledgeable.