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And another thing

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, July 14, 2009 23:26 EDT
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Right wingers are up in arms about this quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Yes, the ruling about that surprised me. [Harris v. McRae — in 1980 the court upheld the Hyde Amendment, which forbids the use of Medicaid for abortions.] Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion. Which some people felt would risk coercing women into having abortions when they didn’t really want them. But when the court decided McRae, the case came out the other way. And then I realized that my perception of it had been altogether wrong.

The wingnutteria is trying to claim that Ginsburg was actually trying to advocate for this, or in Limbaugh’s case, that this is rock solid proof that feminists invented abortion because they are Nazis and that even though Sanger was pro-abortion (actually, she pushed for birth control in part because the heavy use of abortion to control fertility bothered her) because she was trying to wipe out black people (thoroughly discredited claim based on a misreading of history), he’s actually willing to imply now that Ginsburg and Sotomayor in cahoots to use abortion to wipe out white men. No, I’m not kidding.

Functionally, what this misreading of Ginsburg’s statements and the general history of Margaret Sanger’s life does is gives incurious, hostile, stupid people an opportunity to lash out and punish people who aren’t willfully ignorant. Acknowledging a reality-based understanding of history doesn’t mean that Ginsburg is a eugenicist. I’d accuse Limbaugh and Goldberg of covering up how many of the people who supported abortion and birth control for racist reasons were prominent Republicans, if I didn’t think that their anger that Ginsburg actually knows what she’s talking about is what makes them blind with the fury of the terminally stupid.

Truth told, the history of birth control in the 20th century is a confusing one and hard to break into easy-to-read partisan packages. Eugenics was a popular theory throughout the early part of the 20th century, until the Nazis put an end to that, and while Sanger was motivated primarily by her socialism and her feminism, she wasn’t above asking people with less than perfect motivations, such as the KKK, for support. But it’s rich for modern people to act like this sort of bargain with the devil is impossible to understand, since future people will look at the fact that Pat Buchanan was allowed on MSNBC in the same dim light we use when looking at the social esteem that the KKK had in the 20s. I’m not making excuses, but pointing out that Sanger’s footsie-playing with racist elements was about a short-sighted pragmatism instead of evil, the kind that we forgive in folks like Rachel Maddow. In the 60s and 70s, you have the same problem. The actual proponents of birth control and abortion rights were motivated by social justice, but more than a few racist legislators promoted birth control and abortion for seedy reasons. Does this mean that women’s human rights should be revoked? Or that perhaps the issue of complicity is more unnerving and complicated than most of us would like to admit?

Of course, you can just bury your head in the sand, have an atrociously bad understanding of history, and wave your hands around a lot trying to argue that all appearances to the contrary, the real bad guys are the ones who aren’t actually being the bad guys, due to LOOK OVER THERE LIBERAL FASCISM!

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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