Friday, October 17, 2008

Air Quotes

Chris Matthews has come out hard against McCain's use of air quotes (and my favorite moment of the video, aside from Cecile Richards' eloquence, is Chris Matthews demonstrating air quotes as if they are some kind of foreign function of language most Americans have been unacquainted with) in describing a woman's health as a reason for abortion:

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: 
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

7 comments:

John said...

One quick comment:

"After all, she decided to get pregnant" OR she was the victim of rape or incest, which apparently somehow implies a desire to be pregnant.

Other than that, I'd say everything was spot on. I wonder what the "blog" of "unnecessary" quotation marks has to say on the subject?

mikhailbakunin said...

As you probably know, I'm pro-choice . . . up to a point.

I don't know how I feel about IDX, but I think it's certainly fair to debate whether there are any circumstances under which IDX would be appropriate. If any abortion procedure constitutes murder, it's IDX.

In fact, one of the central issues in Gonzales v. Carhart - where the Supreme Court upheld the PBA Ban - was whether there are any legitimate health concerns that would make the Ban unconstitutional within the standards established in Casey. The Court found that there weren't, but opponents of the ban charge that the justices relied too heavily on Congressional reports.

I have no idea what the truth is here, obviously, and I certainly don't think that McCain should be diminishing the heath concerns of a pregnant woman. But I also think that proponents of choice need to more seriously consider the moral implications of "aborting" a viable fetus, rather than defaulting to the position that the mother's rights automatically supersede the fetus's.

Also, I've never heard that extracting a dead fetus would be considered IDX under the statute. If that's true, I find it very troubling . . . but I have a hard time believing it.

(A lot of what I've read on Kos tends to be bullshit.)

petpluto said...

"I think it's certainly fair to debate whether there are any circumstances under which IDX would be appropriate. If any abortion procedure constitutes murder, it's IDX."

And Obama and many pro-choice politicians (including Hillary Clinton) are for late-term abortion bans as long as the life and health of the mother are protected. What happens with late-term abortion bans is that they often leave out that caveat, and are written so broadly and so vaguely that all abortion rights could be rescinded.

"I also think that proponents of choice need to more seriously consider the moral implications of "aborting" a viable fetus, rather than defaulting to the position that the mother's rights automatically supersede the fetus's."

A mother's right to health should automatically supersede the fetus'. I don't understand an argument for bringing a child into this world if it will irreparably harm the mother - even if that fetus is potentially viable.

"OR she was the victim of rape or incest, which apparently somehow implies a desire to be pregnant."

I agree, John. Unfortunately, even that does not supersede the 'right to life' on the anti-choice side of the debate many times. Those cases are also demeaned and not seen as the norm. After all, if you make an exception for rape, all of those 'pro-abortionists' will start crying rape whenever they want one.

Aidan's mom said...

This woman. This real live woman needed an IDX. Read her story...and her take on the "air quotes"...it is a worthy read.

http://www.uppercasewoman.com/wastedbirthcontrol/2008/03/speaking-to-the.html

http://www.uppercasewoman.com/wastedbirthcontrol/2008/10/dear-john-mccai.html

petpluto said...

Thank you for pointing me to that blog and those specific blog posts, aidan's mom. Cecily's story is beyond heartbreaking and moving, and her eloquence about such a horrible situation is incredibly awe-inspiring.

mikhailbakunin said...

"What happens with late-term abortion bans is that they often leave out that caveat, and are written so broadly and so vaguely that all abortion rights could be rescinded."

There was no stare decisis conflit here. The PBA Ban was legal under the standards established in Roe and Casey, and it's in no way a blanket ban on abortion. The issue in Gonzales v. Carhart was whether there are any circumstances under which IDX - and only IDX - could save the life (or long-term health) of a pregnant mother. The Supreme Court found that there aren't (again, I have no idea if that's medically accurate - many people say the Court was wrong). I think this is why people are uncomfortable with Obama's position. He's sort of sidestepping the major question by assuming that there ARE circumstances where IDX is medically necessary - when, in fact, the Supreme Court found that there AREN'T.

"A mother's right to health should automatically supersede the fetus'. I don't understand an argument for bringing a child into this world if it will irreparably harm the mother - even if that fetus is potentially viable."

I'm not sure that I disagree with you, but our view is by no means a universal view - and, even if it were, I think you're begging the question here. There's gotta be a better argument for why a mother's rights come first. Implying that it's not worth birthing a child without a mother to provide for it (is that what you're saying?) seems like a pretty poor argument to me.

So, assuming I were rabid pro-lifer, why would you say a mother's rights automatically come first? Why does a mother's life hold more moral weight than her intrauterine child when that baby is, by any reasonable metric, just as ALIVE?

petpluto said...

"He's sort of sidestepping the major question by assuming that there ARE circumstances where IDX is medically necessary - when, in fact, the Supreme Court found that there AREN'T."

I think, based on doctors' opinions on the matter and the story aidan's mom linked, the Supreme Court is wrong.

"There was no stare decisis conflit here. The PBA Ban was legal under the standards established in Roe and Casey, and it's in no way a blanket ban on abortion."

You misunderstand my point, which is corresponded with one of the issues Obama had when a late-term abortion ban (partial birth abortion is not a medical term and merely used by anti-abortionists in order to draw attention to their cause) came through the Illinois state legislature; that being that late-term abortion bans have, in many cases, not had provisions for health of the mother (something present in Roe), and are ambiguous enough to potentially be used to further erode abortion rights in future court cases.

The concern is often not the immediate effect; the concern is how the law can be interpreted once it is on the books if pro-lifers challenge abortion rights at a later point in time.

"I'm not sure that I disagree with you, but our view is by no means a universal view"

I don't care if my view isn't a universal view.

"So, assuming I were rabid pro-lifer, why would you say a mother's rights automatically come first? Why does a mother's life hold more moral weight than her intrauterine child when that baby is, by any reasonable metric, just as ALIVE?"

Mother's rights come first for a variety of reasons. One, in many cases, these fetuses have not yet reached the point of actual and full viability. In such cases, even if IDX is to be used, the mother's health should come before the fetus' as the fetus is not guaranteed life outside the womb. The woman is wholly alive, and the only thing preventing her continued life is a fetus who cannot yet survive on its own. The mother's health comes first.

Secondly, who is to say that a woman should die so that a fetus, something that is not considered a person until it is born, can live? Why should I defend the decision to abort a fetus, and those on the other side are given the position of deciding whether or not my argument is persuasive enough? It seems to me that MY position is not the one that needs ardent defending. If someone could explain why a fetus is more important than the woman housing it, I would be much obliged.

We allow justifiable homicide if the person who kills is in immediate danger of death at another's hands. Although the fetus is completely innocent, if s/he is responsible for the death of the woman carrying him/her, I find it strange that we would not grant the pregnant woman the same right to life that we would grant anyone else.