Women of America, I hereby apologize for the members of my sex from whom we’ve been hearing so much recently. What in the world is going on with these men? For a bunch of people who purport to be advancing allegedly “moral” positions, they are in fact the amoralists of our democracy. Their positions on contraception and sex, their “jokes” about aspirin between the knees, and now this utterly depraved Virginia ultrasound legislation that is apparently about to become law—we have now moved well beyond the realm of politics and into the dark and unchecked id of the contemporary right.
We’ve seen this on many other fronts from conservatives in recent years. Nutty as they’ve become, though, it’s one thing to dig in your heels on taxes and budgetary matters and stimulus bills and assistance to underwater homeowners. Their positions on all those matters are intransigent, extreme, and in most cases out of step with majority opinion in this country. And their positions on all those matters are driven in no small part by hatred of Barack Obama. But as extreme as they are on those matters and others, debates over them still feel on some level like normal (normal having been radically redefined these past couple of years) arguments about politics.
But these last two weeks have been off the charts. Yes, the original Obama administration regulation on contraceptive services was a topic for legitimate debate. We had that debate. The administration changed its position. Some people were happy. Others weren’t. Usually that would have been the end of it, especially when opponents saw the polls that Americans of virtually every stripe, including 57 percent of Catholic voters, supported the Obama compromise position. Opponents with functioning egos and super-egos would at this point have skulked away—free, obviously, to rouse as much rabble as they could in this free society in an attempt to change minds, but aware that they’d lost for now under the generally agreed-upon rules of democracy.
But what happened instead? That’s when things were just really getting started. We got those two bills from GOP Sens. Marco Rubio and Roy Blunt. Rubio’s would allow any employer to disallow contraceptive coverage for religious or moral reasons. Not angry enough? Then the well-named Blunt is for you! His would allow any employer to refuse to cover any kind of health care at odds with his or her beliefs. These constitute the shark-jumping moments. It wasn’t enough simply to try to restore the status quo ante. It became instead an excuse to push us—no, not “us”; women—back in time 30 or 40 years. And on Wednesday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed the Blunt bill.
(By the way, it’s worth noting here, on the question of the bishops’ moral authority over the rest of us, the fact that jury selection begins next week in the Philadelphia trial of Monsignor William Lynn, who is believed to have turned a blind eye to many child-abuse allegations within his diocese and is charged with criminally endangering two young men who were raped when they were children by looking the other way. After seven years and some horrifying allegations, Lynn, according to NPR, is the first senior church official to face a trial. Lynnsanity indeed.)
And now, in a piece of fateful timing, the commonwealth of Virginia is about to pass a law that would require a woman contemplating an abortion to view an ultrasound of her fetus. Most abortions occur in the first 12 weeks. The best way to get such an image in those 12 weeks? A probe inserted into the vagina. So most women who’ve scheduled an abortion in Virginia will be penetrated for no medical reason. A sort of “conscience clause”—those clauses so popular on the right when they are drawn to permit pharmacists not to give women birth control—that would have required patient consent or allowed the doctor to refuse to perform this procedure was introduced. And it was defeated by a 2–1 margin. Read this simply unbelievable report from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick. And in case you didn’t yet, read my colleague Michelle Goldberg’s piece on the “personhood” bill Oklahoma is about to pass into law, which among other features could result in the proscription of in-vitro fertilization, often the last hope of people desperate to become parents.
This isn’t politics. It’s not even theology—they lost that card with the Rubio and Blunt bills, which go far beyond religion precisely defined. And it’s most certainly not morality. It’s quite the opposite of morality. It’s a consequence of a mindset that equates compromise with capitulation, that insists on purity, that attempts to abuse the tools of democracy to secure anti-democratic outcomes, and that is driven by rage against modernity. And it’s hardly an accident that all these forces come together to assume their foulest shape against women. I’ve been thinking lately about what our society might be like if the situation were somehow reversed: if the penis were a similar battleground, and if it was mostly blue-haired women deciding how men could and could not use theirs. I have a hunch that many of these same men would suddenly see the case for bodily autonomy and the exercise of individual conscience.
The Republicans are obviously hurting themselves. No, they didn’t waltz into a trap laid by Obama. Believe me, this White House isn’t that good. They waltzed into their own trap—a trap set by their own collective hysterical mind. It will hurt them at the polls nationally, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be able to inflict a lot of damage on a lot of people along the way.