by Joe Shea
March 26, 2012
THE WATCHMAN COMETH
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Remember Sen. Ted Kennedy's description of the kind of America we would if Robert Bork, a conservative solicitor general for President Nixon during the Watergate years, was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court?
"Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy."
When Kennedy said those words in 1987, he was criticized for engaging in partisan hyperbole, and his critics gave birth to the phrase "Borking," or assailing someone's character in an inaccurate, unfair manner.
Fortunately for America, Bork didn't end up on the Supreme Court. Instead, we ended up with reactionaries just like Bork - Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, and Samuel Alito.
And, with the passage of 25 years, we're closer to Kennedy's dystopian view of a Borkian America than most would care to admit. A cursory glance at the Republican Party in 2012 - a party whose standard-bearers are openly hostile to science, question the need for a strict separation of church and state, and are not particularly enthusiastic about civil rights or civil liberties - yields that conclusion.
However, the one area where the Republican Party is outdoing even the most lurid fears of Kennedy in is the area of reproductive rights for women.
The Republican Party of 2012 believes that religious groups should be the ultimate arbiter on health care policy and that denying women access to contraception for any reason is a matter of "religious liberty."
But "religious liberty" is just a re-branding of the same old Republican war against women, cloaking the same old anti-woman rhetoric into a matter of freedom and conscience, rather than it just being the latest hissy fit over the idea that women - and not opportunistic politicians, religious charlatans, and misogynist idiots - have the right to control their bodies, and by extension, their lives, as they see fit.
But like Jason, or Freddy, or Leatherface, or any other horror movie villian you can conjure up, the people who want to criminalize abortion and contraception are impossible to kill off. They keep coming at us. Every time we think we've won the argument and reason has prevailed, the anti-choicers come back with another assault on women's rights.
In a piece last month for AlterNet, Sara Robinson said people shouldn't be shocked by this. In her view, until the mass availability of nearly 100 percent effective contraception, "anatomy really was destiny - and all of the world's societies were organized around that central fact. Women were born to bear children; they had no other life options. With a few rebellious or well-born exceptions (and a few outlier cultures that somehow found their way to a more equal footing), the vast majority of women who've ever lived on this planet were tied to home, dependent on men, and subject to all kinds of religious and cultural restrictions designed to guarantee that they bore the right kids to the right man at the right time - even if that meant effectively jailing them at home."
Take this one step further, and keep in mind that this has been the way the world was organized for thousands of generations. Then, within the last half-century, women finally had a choice when it came to fertility.
And that changed the world.
"With that one essential choice came the possibility, for the first time, to make a vast range of other choices for ourselves that were simply never within reach before. We could choose to delay childbearing and limit the number of children we raise; and that, in turn, freed up time and energy to explore the world beyond the home. We could refuse to marry or have babies at all, and pursue our other passions instead. Contraception was the single necessary key that opened the door to the whole new universe of activities that had always been zealously monopolized by the men - education, the trades, the arts, government, travel, spiritual and cultural leadership, and even (eventually) war making."
And you wonder why the keepers of patriarchy have gone, and continue to go, absolutely ballistic over the reshaped cultural landscape that contraception created.
So, Robinson believes, we shouldn't get comfortable with the idea that birth control is something to take for granted, because of the persistence and the vehemence of those who want things the way were.
"The hard fact is this: We're only 50 years into a revolution that may ultimately take two or three centuries to completely work its way through the world's many cultures and religions. (To put this in perspective: it was 300 years from Gutenberg's printing press to the scientific and intellectual re-alignments of the Enlightenment, and to the French and American revolutions that that liberating technology ultimately made possible. These things can take a loooong time to work all the way out.) Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will, in all likelihood, still be working out the details of these new gender agreements a century from now; and it may be a century after that before their grandkids can truly start taking any of this for granted."
That's the way revolutions go. The battles are continuous, and victories are never permanent. That's why we are fighting over contraception, and will continue to fight until the day comes when humankind evolves and accepts the reality that society's central organizing principle for tens of thousands of years has been blown apart, and that a new arrangement is in the process of being created.
AR Chief Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.