A Political Football
I was walking through Soho yesterday on my way home from the Apple store when I saw a young woman holding a handmade sign that read "If I wanted the government in my uterus, I would fuck a senator."
She was standing on the corner of Prince and Broadway with the sign tucked beneath her arm while staring into her phone. On the phone's screen was an instagram post featuring a photo of the same woman holding the sign in front of her, arms outstretched. I couldn't help but wonder how many of the people who had attended the various pro-abortion rallies in the city yesterday were there just "for the 'gram."
This moment of vanity on the street corner serves a poignant parallel to the cynical, self-serving approach to the abortion debate that's been adopted by our political leaders.
Liberals and the left are up in arms at the moment over the reversal of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 ruled that the Constitution of the United States protects the right to abortion. The indignation that liberals and the left feel at the reversal of this decision is in some sense justified, however, what many of them fail to acknowledge is that the terms of the abortion debate have been manipulated by the Democratic and Republican parties for the past 40+ years in their opportunistic ploy for votes.
Abortion prior to the 1970s was not a particularly partisan issue. A strong stance on abortion, either for or against, was not a clear indicator of one's party affiliation. It was only through the clever courtship of the evangelical Christian community by Republican campaign strategists that abortion became a touchstone issue for politicians. Evangelicals, which make up about 30 percent of the population of the United States (source) had been largely apolitical prior to the 1970s. They had considered politics to be evil, corrupt and to a large extent, irrelevant. But in the late 70s, GOP strategist Paul Weyrich saw an opportunity to make a moral appeal to Evangelicals that he believed could help cinch victories for the Republicans. Abortion became the chief issue around which Weyrich based his strategy, and it successfully helped launch Ronald Reagan to the presidency in 1980. Reagan became the model upon which all subsequent Republican politicians have modeled their own position on the issue.
Sadly, the politicization of abortion along party lines has obliterated all nuance within a debate that has deep philosophical implications. When does human life begin, and is it ok to end that life? These are important questions.
Liberals, by reducing the question of abortion to a matter of women's health, sidestep the moral quandary provoked by the decision to prematurely end a human life. While, at the same time, both parties ignore the underlying circumstances which prompt many women to undergo abortions, namely the fact that birthing and rearing a child in our current capitalist society is incredibly expensive and beyond the means of many working class families. The problem of how to create a society in which childbirth and childcare is not a burden for women and their families is rarely addressed.
Another unfortunate consequence of the abortion issue having been divided along party lines is that it serves the interests of both parties to never fully resolve the issue. Abortion rights serve as a political football that gets tossed back and forth between the two parties. Despite the Democrats having held majorities in congress during both the Clinton and Obama presidencies, the Dems have never attempted to pass a meaningful and permanent piece of legislation that would guarantee universal access to abortion. The simple explanation for that fact is that, for the majority of politicians, Democrat and Republican alike, the goal of politics is nothing other than re-election. Politics has become an end in itself rather than a means to a freer and more equal society.
Just hours after the public announcement of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, House Speaker and top congressional Democrat Nancy Pelosi sent out the following fundraising email:
Trump’s Supreme Court just ruled to rip reproductive rights away from every single woman in this country.
I don’t say this lightly:
How we act TODAY will decide the future of reproductive rights.
We can either sit back and admit defeat to these far-right extremists…
Or we can RISE UP, meet this ONCE-IN-A-GENERATION moment, and marshal a response so HISTORIC that we can make every last anti-choice Republican REGRET what they’ve done. Please, I’ve never needed your support more than today. Can you chip in $15 so we can WIN these midterms and finally codify reproductive rights in law?
The opportunism in the email is achingly evident. Pelosi is quick to blame the Republican Party while failing to acknowledge her own party's culpability. If you would just give us 15 bucks, we promise this time we'll actually pass some real legislation on abortion. How can anyone who has closely followed politics for the past several decades believe these claims for a second? Any Democrat who feels strongly about their own party's stated goals should feel an obligation to hold the party leaders accountable to their campaign promises and stop falling for this scam.
Unfortunately as long as the driving force of political maneuvering remains aimed solely at re-election and careerism, we will never see meaningful legislation passed on perennial issues like abortion rights, immigration, and climate change. In other words as long as politics remains subsumed under the category of bourgeois capitalist politics, meaningful reform will remain impossible for the simple fact that it remains undesirable for those in positions of power.