We were told that common ground was *not* compromise

By Amanda Marcotte
Sunday, June 7, 2009 16:53 EDT
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Is it possible that we were lied to?

President Obama has appointed Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good (CACG), to head the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the Department of Health and Human Services. Kelley is a leading proponent of “common ground” abortion reduction — only CACG’s common ground is at odds with that of Obama. While the administration favors reducing the need for abortion by reducing unintended pregnancies, Kelley has made clear that she seeks instead to reduce access to abortion. That is an extremely disturbing development, especially coming this week in the wake of George Tiller’s assassination…..

Kelley and CACG have made clear they are committed to Catholic doctrine on abortion and birth control. CACG has supported the Pregnant Women’s Support Act, aimed at stigmatizing abortion and making it less accessible. In discussing legislation on reducing the need for abortion, Kelley has written that various pieces of legislation concerned with women’s health “are not all perfect; some include contraception — which the Church opposes.”

In the wake of the assassination of Dr. Tiller, any and all attempts to reach out and find common ground with opponents of legal abortion and birth control should have been put on hold, and probably terminated until the anti-choice movement completely and genuinely disavows violence, and actually gives up on trying to turn women into second class citizens. That doesn’t mean that Kelley or her colleagues are members of the large group, probably the majority, of activist anti-choicers who are gleefully celebrating Dr. Tiller’s murder and hoping for more murders. I doubt Obama would appoint a genuine terrorist-sympathizer to an office like this. But it’s poor taste, and implies that the administration will respond to terrorism by giving anti-choicers what they want. (I realize that she was probably chosen before the assassination, but again, her appointment should have been halted and probably terminated in light of the assassination. Obama should make it absolutely clear to anti-choicers that they do not get their way through political assassinations.)

Anti-choicers who actually want to disavow violence can only do so by coming to realize that state-mandated religion is inherently violent. The Founding Fathers gave Americans freedom of religion in no small part because they had seen what happens if you don’t have or don’t want a secular government. We’re seeing it now. Anti-choicers believe the state should make their religious dogma the official state stance, depriving women of their freedom of religion to decide for themselves if they believe in the use of contraception or abortion. Once you feel you have a right to force your religion on others, violence is inevitable.

Therefore, the only way for anti-choicers to be anti-violence, to truly be anti-violence, is to become pro-choice. Stop trying to force your dogma on others. Even “moderate” amounts of force—restricting it so only the most vulnerable women are forced to live by your religious rules—is depriving women of the most basic of freedoms, and is inherently violent. If any anti-choicer wants to truly distance themselves from violence, they must immediately quit being anti-choice. You’re free not to have an abortion or use a condom, if you don’t want. Be satisfied with the fact that this is a free country and women are equal, and we can start talking.

I respect Cristina Page, but I have to strongly disagree that we can look the other way and call Kelley a “new” kind of pro-lifer, because it seems Kelley is all about the old-fashioned “pro-life” view of forcing women to have children against their will. This is not the common ground strategy that we were told that Obama was promoting. Obama outlined the common ground strategy in his speech at Notre Dame, and it’s a combination of reframing pro-choice ideas to maximize the opportunities for anti-choicers to sound like the rabid misogynists they are by showing that they oppose contraception, which is a practice that’s as popular as watching television in the U.S. and playing lip service to a few anti-choice fetishes that are utterly meaningless, since they’re beyond policy solutions. On the podcast, I addressed the planks that Obama laid out.

1) Agreeing that women have a right to terminate, and respecting that that decision isn’t made thoughtlessly. I liked this move, because Obama framed anti-choice sentiment as what it is—misogyny. Obviously, anti-choicers, even so-called progressive ones, buy right into the belief that sexually active women are either morally bankrupt or, being closer to animals than people, can’t be understood as moral actors at all. But daring them to say it is always fun.

But then they hired someone who agrees with the misogynist sentiment that posits that female sexual activity should only be procreative, and if women should try to use it for another purpose, they should be forced. We were told women’s humanity and rights would not be compromised.

2) Push to actually reduce the abortion rate through the only thing that is likely to work, which is contraception and education. It’s been hilarious watching people who hate abortion but think of themselves as progressive struggle with this one, because it does fit their stated beliefs (that abortion is the taking of potential life and is wrong), but it violates the unstated and often far stronger belief (that women who have sex without having children are sluts who need to be set straight, and giving them contraception just allows them to evade punishment). Of course, as you can see from the above quotes, anti-contraception sentiment is never far from anti-abortion sentiment, even with people who are lauded as progressive. I’ve often felt this is where common ground will fall apart, because it’s the only thing that will actually work to reduce the abortion rate, but it flies in the face of anti-sex sentiment.

3) Make adoption easier. This is empty rhetoric to make anti-choicers feel like they’ve contributed anything. Women do not go get abortions while thinking, “If only the government let me give up a healthy infant to an infertile couple.” Legally, it’s incredibly easy and you have teams of people willing to do all the work for you. If you can sign your name, you can do this.

4) Relieve women’s financial concerns in hopes they’ll choose to have the baby.
I’m incredibly skeptical that this will work, but it’s enough to get some otherwise progressive anti-choicers on board, where you can use guilt to de-tooth their misogyny.

But all this was contingent, for pro-choicers, on the belief that this was not a compromise. Pretty much everything above is on the pro-choice wish list, except adoption, since that’s largely irrelevant, since they’re asking to make easier something you can’t make legally easier. (Women aren’t going to give up more babies, no matter how much you try to make it legally more palatable, which again, is impossible, short of allowing women to be paid directly for babies. Giving up a baby is emotionally too much of a strain for most women, which of course is not what anti-choicers want to hear, because it requires believing that women are people with feelings.) But this appointment calls into question Obama’s willingness to stand strong for common ground and not compromise. This was, from the beginning, pro-choicers concern about this naive common ground strategy. It was predicated on the belief that anti-choicers are stupid. Now, I can see the temptation to believe they’re stupid, since they hold the very stupid belief that sperm have rights and zygotes are people. But bigotry isn’t stupidity. It wasn’t going to take them long to see there’s nothing in it for them to get on board with common ground, and as soon as they figured it out, they were going to start agitating for some compromise where they get some kind of power to punish women for being sexual. Tempt the Democrats by asking to be handed women with very little political power—poor women and teenagers—and control their sexuality in exchange for giving middle class adult women their rights. For now. I’m afraid that this might be a sign that the Obama administration is selling out in order to keep the very few anti-choicers they’ve even gotten to agree to play ball.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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