(From two posts on Facebook over the past week, somewhat edited.)
I confess a bit of bewilderment at the outrage over Donald Trump’s comments about abortion, not just from the pro-choice left, but also the anti-abortion (‘pro-life’) right. If conservatives really believe abortion is the moral equivalent of infanticide, then why shouldn’t the women who procure abortions be punished? Amanda Marcotte at Salon has this explanation:
The official stance that Republicans are supposed to take is that women are victims of abortion and therefore cannot be held responsible for it. Yes, it’s true that women pick up the phone, make the appointment, talk through their decisions with medical professionals, sign paperwork and then either take a pill or let the doctor perform an abortion, but none of this should be taken, in conservative eyes, as evidence that women are the people responsible for the abortion happening. Women are regarded by conservatives as fundamentally incapable of making grown-up decisions. If they choose abortion (and by implication, if they choose sex), it’s because the poor dears were misled.
Yes, the same people that conservatives treat as literally too stupid to understand what making a medical decision entails are then expected to raise children.”
Nicholas Kristoff makes some related points in NYT: Trump and Abortion
This penalizing approach has been tried before and failed. A dozen years ago, I went to Portugal to cover such an effort. The police staked out women’s health clinics, looking to arrest women who appeared likely to have just had abortions based on being pale or seeming upset. Some 48 women and a 16-year-old girl were prosecuted, along with accomplices such as husbands, boyfriends, parents and even a taxi driver who drove a woman to a clinic.
The women were humiliated on trial, their most intimate gynecological history revealed to the public. And the public was revolted. The women were all acquitted, and the public turned decisively in favor of abortion rights, by a majority of 79 percent to 14 percent.
In the following days there there were many other commentaries I could have linked to, including this op-ed in the LA Times on April 1st, Trump doesn’t get it: Abortionists are criminals, women aren’t, by Clarke D. Forsyth, president of “Americans United for Life”, which makes precisely the point Amanda Marcotte illustrates above; but I didn’t get around to commenting again until later, 5 April:
Last week I commented about Donald Trump’s remarks about abortion and whether the women who procure them should be punished. He said yes; oddly, most conservatives reacted by claiming that women should *not* be punished, blaming the abortion providers instead, an idea I found peculiar considering that conservatives equate abortion with murder, e.g. infanticide. Many others have commented on the issue in the past week, nowhere more explicitly following conservative ‘logic’ to its ultimate conclusion than in this piece at Slate by William Saleton.
The Pro-Life Case for Murder, subtitled “Donald Trump suggested punishing women who get abortions. The response exposed the incoherence of the pro-life right.”
Another thought occurs to me, that the conservative rational about abortion is opposite their rational about gun control. To conservatives, guns, the instruments of many murders (of fully grown human beings), are not to be restricted in any way; the users of those weapons, the murderers, are to be held accountable. With abortions it’s the opposite: the abortion providers, clinics where procedures are conducted by medical professionals, are the villains, to be restricted by as many state laws as possible to make it inconvenient and expensive, if not effectively impossible, for women to procure abortions (of *embryos that are not the equivalent of fully grown human beings*, which anyone familiar with biology and embryology, who is not committed to the religious superstition that embryos are invested with ‘souls’ from the moment of conception, should understand), while the women themselves are absolved as ‘victims’ of the men controlling their lives, tender souls who can’t be held accountable for their own actions.
Similar illogical conservative thinking is exhibited by right-wingers in North Carolina who feel oppressed if they can’t oppress gays. Amanda Marcotte again:
Salon: This will make you even madder about North Carolina’s anti-LGBT law: Right-wing backers have the gall to say they’re the victims, subtitled, “Under fire for a pro-discrimination bill, North Carolina conservatives say they’re oppressed if they can’t oppress”
By similar logic, *any* laws could be ignored by virtue of ‘religious liberty’, if the devout object to any law. *Any* law. If not any law, then there must be something distinct about anti-LGBT laws that the religious right wants to be exempt from, and what would that be? That takes us back to simple bigotry.
A bit more comment today on the contrast between conservative ‘thinking’ on abortion vs. guns. Current psychological research, as represented in Jonathan Haidt’s book, (e.g. discussion here) and Chris Mooney’s book, commented here, provide insights into the moral foundations that motivate conservatives vs. liberals.
Conservatives, more so than liberals, are motivated by sanctity — of e.g. childbirth — and its opposite, disgust, of the physical act of abortion. Conservatives are more often authoritarian, given to thinking in absolutes and less comfortable with gradations of truth; thus they are more prone to thinking in terms of black v white, e.g. the idea that embryos are fully human from day 0, resistant to the messy gradations of biology and embryology.
Similarly, some people are given to paranoia and fear of others that motivates them to an almost pathological need to arm themselves against every possible threat, and a parallel paranoia of government conspiracies to take their weapons away, despite the murders and suicides that result from the easy accessibility of firearms in all these homes… all of this is somehow acceptable collateral damage.
P.S. 9 April: A couple more.
Gail Collins’ April 2nd column, Trump, Truth and Abortion, has this frank admission from a Trump supporter:
“You never blame the woman, you paint her as a victim. … That conservative orthodoxy has been born out of political expediency rather than logic”
They admit their rationales make no sense.
The column touches on another area of conservative irrationality: if abortions are to be avoided by any means possible, why not fund sex education and contraception? The evidence shows abstinence-only curricula don’t work.
In reality, the anti-abortion movement is grounded on the idea that sex outside of marriage is a sin, and the only choice a woman should have is between abstinence and the possibility of imminent parenthood. It may be politically unwise to say that the sinner ought to pay, but she should at minimum have to carry an unwanted child to term.
Look at it this way and it’s easy to understand why abortion opponents have shown virtually no interest in working to make contraceptives and family planning universally available. It’s the sex, at bottom, that they oppose, and the politicians they support feel no pressure — or even any freedom — to try to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies through anything but high school abstinence lectures. Contraception may not be illegal, but it’s certainly not something you want to treat with respect.
We’re back not to reason, but to religion.