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Why the U.S. Is Going Forward on SSM and Backwards On Reproductive Rights

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Many great points from Pollitt here. Two points are particularly worthy of emphasis. First, the extent to which SSM meshes better with traditionalist conceptions of the family:

Marriage equality is about love, romance, commitment, settling down, starting a family. People love love! But marriage equality is also about tying love to family values, expanding a conservative institution that has already lost most of its coercive social power and become optional for millions. (Marriage equality thus follows Pollitt’s law: Outsiders get access when something becomes less valued, which is why women can be art historians and African-Americans win poetry prizes.) Far from posing a threat to marriage, as religious opponents claim, permitting gays to marry gives the institution a much-needed update, even as it presents LGBT people as no threat to the status quo: Instead of promiscuous child molesters and lonely gym teachers, gays and lesbians are your neighbors who buy Pottery Barn furniture and like to barbecue.

Reproductive rights, by contrast, is about sex—sexual freedom, the opposite of marriage—in all its messy, feckless glory. It replaces the image of women as chaste, self-sacrificing mothers dependent on men with that of women as independent, sexual, and maybe not so self-sacrificing. It doesn’t matter that contraception is indispensable to modern life, that abortion antedates the sexual revolution by thousands of years, that plenty of women who have abortions are married, or that most (60 percent) who have abortions are already mothers. Birth control and abortion allow women—and, to a lesser extent, men—to have sex without punishment, a.k.a. responsibility. And our puritanical culture replies: You should pay for that pleasure, you slut.

And, second, the class dimensions of abortion rights:

Marriage equality has cross-class appeal: Anyone can have an LGBT child, and parents across the political spectrum naturally want their kids to have the same opportunities other children have. Any woman might find herself needing an abortion, too, but she may not realize that. Improvements in birth control mean that prosperous, educated women with private doctors can control their fertility pretty well—certainly better than women who rely on public clinics—and if they need an abortion, they can get one. It’s low-income women who suffer the most from abortion restrictions—and since when have their issues been at the top of the middle and upper classes’ to-do list?

This is a longstanding hobbyhorse of mine, but the fact that affluent women in urban centers will have access to safe abortions under virtually any legal regime is crucial to abortion politics. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when the Court hacked away at Roe in Casey, the one form of arbitrary regulation that it struck down (spousal notification) was the one that would impose a roughly equivalent burden to women similarly situated to Sandra Day O’Connor.

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