Connecticut, a progressive state on the matter of
abortion, recently passed a law that prevents local
agencies from coöperating with out-of-state abortion
prosecutions and protects the medical records of
out-of-state clients. Other progressive states will follow
suit. If prohibition states can’t sue out-of-state
doctors, and, if abortion pills sent by mail remain
largely undetectable, the only people left to target will
be abortion advocates and those trying to get abortions.
If a fetus is a person, then a legal framework can be
invented to require someone who has one living inside her
to do everything in her power to protect it, including—as
happened to Savita Halappanavar, in Ireland, which
operated under a fetal-personhood doctrine until 2018, and
to Izabela Sajbor, in Poland, where all abortion is
effectively illegal—to die. No other such obligation
exists anywhere in our society, which grants cops the
freedom to stand by as children are murdered behind an
unlocked door. In Poland, pregnant women with cancer have
been routinely denied chemotherapy because of clinicians’
fears of harming the fetus.
Fetal-personhood laws have passed in Georgia and Alabama,
and they are no longer likely to be found
unconstitutional. Such laws justify a full-scale
criminalization of pregnancy, whereby women can be
arrested, detained, and otherwise placed under state
intervention for taking actions perceived to be
potentially harmful to a fetus. This approach has been
steadily tested, on low-income minorities in particular,
for the past four decades. National Advocates for Pregnant
Women—the organization that has provided legal defense for
most of the cases mentioned in this article—has documented
almost eighteen hundred cases, from 1973 to 2020, of
prosecutions or forced interventions related to pregnancy;
this is likely a substantial undercount. Even in states
such as California, where the law explicitly prohibits
charging women with murder after a pregnancy loss,
conservative prosecutors are doing so anyway.
And now, with that criminalization, we are rocketing toward an Attwoodian future:
Pregnancy is more than thirty times more dangerous than
abortion. One study estimates that a nationwide ban would
lead to a twenty-one-per-cent rise in pregnancy-related
deaths. Some of the women who will die from abortion bans
are pregnant right now. Their deaths will come not from
back-alley procedures but from a silent denial of care:
interventions delayed, desires disregarded. They will die
of infections, of preëclampsia, of hemorrhage, as they are
forced to submit their bodies to pregnancies that they
never wanted to carry, and it will not be hard for the
anti-abortion movement to accept these deaths as a tragic,
even noble, consequence of womanhood itself.
[Dismantling voting rights], moreover, is consistent with the history
of an institution that once blessed slavery and described
Black people as “beings of an inferior order.” It is
consistent with the Court’s history of union-busting, of
supporting racial segregation, and of upholding
Moreover, while the present Court
is unusually conservative, the judiciary as an
institution has an inherent conservative bias. Courts
have a great deal of power to strike down programs
created by elected officials, but little ability to build
such programs from the ground up. Thus, when an
anti-governmental political movement controls the
judiciary, it will likely be able to exploit that control
to great effect. But when a more left-leaning movement
controls the courts, it is likely to find judicial power
to be an ineffective tool.
The Court, in other words, simply does not deserve the
reverence it still enjoys in much of American society, and
especially from the legal profession. For nearly all of
its history, it’s been a reactionary institution, a
political one that serves the interests of the already
powerful at the expense of the most vulnerable. And it
currently appears to be reverting to that historic mean.
My anti-Supreme-Court rhetoric as of late felt like my own conclusion, but of course it is just a result of me reading people smarter and better-read than myself. Case in point, Gerald Rosenberg’s “The Hollow Hope”:
Rosenberg’s most depressing conclusion is that, while
liberal judges are severely constrained in their ability
to effect progressive change, reactionary judges have
tremendous ability to hold back such change. “Studies of
the role of the courts in the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries,” Rosenberg writes, “show that courts
can effectively block significant social reform.”
So if you live in what is nominally a representative democracy, but two out of three of the branches of Federal government (again, as pointed out by Millhiser) are structured to hold back societal improvement by granting such great, stubborn power to a minority belief (e.g. abortion prohibition)… what, precisely, do you do?
After reading Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture by Roxane Gay, I’ll read anything by her, no introduction necessary. So you can imagine hers is the first take I read after the leaked forthcoming overturning of Roe v. Wade. Here she is at The Times, “It’s Time to Rage”:
We should not live in a country where bodily autonomy can
be granted or taken away by nine political appointees,
most of whom are men and cannot become pregnant. Any civil
right contingent upon political whims is not actually a
So that got me wondering, what is the best thing for me to keep ready in my head should I ever need to explain where I stand? The following tweets from Shannon Hale’s excellent thread are a good place to start:
• How do we determine what constitutes a baby?
Science overwhelmingly agrees that an embryo and fetus are
not a fully formed human. Some religions disagree, and
many believe that at the moment of conception, an enteral
spirit enters those cells, making it human.
• There’s no proof of this. It is a belief. It is
faith. And people are absolutely free to believe as they
will and act on that faith. But requiring others to
believe and act according to others’ religious beliefs?
That’s, like, just SO against the laws of this republic.
• Also against the laws of this republic? Requiring
anyone ever to put themselves in any harm or threat of
harm in order to save another’s life. Mandatory blood
donations? Bone marrow? Kidneys? Liver? Skin grafts?
NEVER! Even after death, no one can take our organs w/o
• The ONLY instance where laws require people to
sacrifice their own health and give up their body autonomy
in order to support another’s life is with pregnant
people. So it’s not really about the sanctity of life,
it’s only about controlling pregnant bodies.
• And here’s the final realization that changed me:
If you believe that a pregnant person should be able to
terminate their pregnancy if they were raped, if they are
a victim of incest, if they are a 10yo child, if pregnancy
and birth will kill them, then you are pro-choice.
And now I loop right back around to what Roxane Gay said: Any civil right contingent upon political whims is not actually a civil right.
Reuters (and Mykala, when I woke up this morning) told me this happened today:
Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday in a massed
assault by land, sea and air, the biggest attack by one
state against another in Europe since World War Two.
Right now I’m sitting with a panoramic view of pine, arborvitae, maple, and birch trees encrusted with little cakes of white, fresh snow. It’s quiet. Peaceful, even. I’m comfortable on the couch with my feet up, watching more snow fall gently; Ess is drinking hot chocolate, Mykala is making a fresh, savory, delicious evening meal. I’m warm, safe, healthy, with my family around me. In the garage to my left, we have three damn cars because there’s an extra one just waiting for when the oldest dies. If you drive a single mile from where I sit, there is a grocery store with more fresh food than we could ever eat, and there are twelve… twelve (TWELVE?!) other ones in this town with all the OTHER foods we could ever eat. Our power has gone out once in three years. Our natural gas has never failed in multiple decades to keep us warm in the winter, and to ensure we can always take warm showers and cook our food. We have four toilets. We’ve never once worried about bacteria or parasites in our water and we have a dedicated filter that makes it taste perfect. There is a drawer in our house that continually refills itself with ice. I’ve never, ever, gone hungry.
I’ve done nothing to deserve this security, this endless bounty, this peace, this happiness. In the forty-plus thousand years of human history, I’m one of the luckiest single god damn persons.
I’m not sure what to DO with my profound sense of how unfair this is for the hundreds of generations before me and the billions of others suffering this instant. It is unfair that some of us live such a long time and others die too soon. It is unfair that some of us get fifth, sixth, seventh chances while others don’t even get a single one. It is a breathtaking waste and a heartbreaking loss that those who could’ve been our greatest poets, sculptors, writers, peacemakers, discoverers — that they died in squalor and obscurity, of preventable diseases, unnecessary famines, in meaningless wars started by shortsighted, murderous, foolish, barbaric, stupid, greedy men.
Ukraine shares Russia’s history of tyranny and terror. It
lost more than four million people to a man-made famine in
1931-34 and still uncounted others to other kinds of
Stalinist terror. Between five and seven million
Ukrainians died during the Second World War and the Nazi
occupation in 1941-44; this included one and a half
million Jews killed in what is often known as the
Holocaust by Bullets. Just as in Russia, no family
survived untouched by the twin horrors of Stalinism and
Why was I born here and not there? Now and not then? Why?
I have absolutely no answers. Haven’t even figured out yet what to do. I just have to sit with this jaw dropping, life-defining, universe-confounding stroke of good luck I have been given… and figure out how to honor it, what to do with it.
There was no miraculous breakthrough that afternoon,
unless it was the ordinary miracle that comes with any
attempt to create something.
It is humbling to read such good, clear writing. It is so, so hard to string together sentences that steer around cliché, avoid stock phrases, and communicate some coherent single thought. But then to manage to produce a narrative, along with some humor, along with some really profound insights… and to do it without abstruse language (see the irony there?), well… that’s something I have much to learn about.
Maybe all the existing systems are out of date, they don’t
work for the public. The machines replace people and then
what, we’re all gonna drive Uber? What happens when we
have self-driving cars?
Not that anybody is thinking about it, just like they’re
not thinking or doing anything about global warming. Used
to be we lived in a society, we felt an obligation to look
out for each other, but then Reagan came along and said
the government was evil and we should all put ourselves
first, and then we did! Screw everybody else, life is just
The youngsters know all this. And all the oldsters can do
is bitch about their work habits and expectations. The
boomers got sexually harassed, you should endure it too!
Huh? Homey don’t play that no more.
As for Occupy Wall Street…what we learned is protest
doesn’t work, action does. Don’t show up for work and Wall
Street has a problem.
They’ve pushed it so far that people have finally had
enough, and they’re not only pushing back, they’re
quitting the game! This was not foreseen. This was not
predicted. You didn’t read about this anywhere. But it
happened and is still happening. It’s not like you can
force people to work hard for a pittance. And there’s
plenty of money, it’s just that Wall Street, the owners of
this country, don’t want to cough it up.
(I don’t think self-driving cars are going to happen in my lifetime, but I also don’t think that invalidates his point about automation.)
It is fun to read a cogent take about how this current instability in the US means things could change for the better, but considering I was born during the Reagan administration, you can understand my hesitancy to adopt any kind of optimism around change… so I find myself awfully pessimistic about there being a revolution where things get better rather than worse.
Because the Supreme Court has declared that partisan
gerrymandering is beyond the ken of our Constitution,
states have radically manipulated legislative districts.
Before the United States Supreme Court, Justice Amy Coney
Barrett asked lawyers from the Republican National
Committee why they were opposing provisions enabling more
people to vote. Because it “puts us at a competitive
disadvantage,” the lawyer was untroubled to reply.
Yet what’s striking about the United States Supreme Court
is not only that it has done nothing to resist
minoritarianism but also that its most significant recent
interventions have only ratified perhaps the most
egregious aspects of our minoritarian democracy: the
influence of money in politics.
While most mature democracies have various techniques for
minimizing the corrupting effect of money in politics, the
US Supreme Court has embraced the most radical conception
of campaign money-as-free speech of any comparable
Yet we have to frame the stakes accurately and clearly: if
we do not “confront” those “imperfections” in our
democracy, “openly and transparently,” in the State
Department’s words, we will lose this democracy.
I wonder if I’m spending too much time trying to learn about the oncoming train tearing down the track and too little time untangling the knots that bind me to the rails.
You are one room over, humming a tune to yourself while you write a chapbook about mermaids using the stickers that Mama got you as illustrations. (I’m getting regular updates: it’s a great book.) I’m here in the next room watching the snow fall and ruminating about the world you’ll someday confront; all its inequities, violence, duplicity, rigged systems, cruelties. But those worries are not for you right now.
DAVEDAVIES: I guess the Trump appointees were unwilling
to grant that request by the Trump administration on the
election cases, particularly the election cases alleging
fraud and theft of votes. The court pretty much shut those
down quickly with the Trump appointees agreeing with the
majority. What can you say about the extent to which these
three appointees were willing to, you know, go by the
LINDAGREENHOUSE: Well, what I say in the book is that
they assisted in saving the court. And what I meant by
that was had the court granted any of these Trump election
cases, it would have been an institutional disaster, not
only for the country because, obviously, there was no
fraud in the election and, obviously, Trump was not robbed
of an election victory. That’s clear. We can agree on
that. But for the court to have given in to the series of
requests that came, including that crazy case that Texas
brought against the states that Texas claimed should have
gone for Trump but didn’t - you know, it just would have
been an institutional disaster for the Supreme Court. And
obviously, the court was well aware of that.
Like, holy shit, Linda Greenhouse, three-decade expert on the Supreme Court, is saying that the fucking Supreme Court of the United States of America was just saving its own ass when it came down on the side of the facts and our democracy in 2020 election disputes. And not only that, the Court did so with the least amount of effort: they didn’t even take the opportunity to set a PROBABLYEXTREMELYUSEFULSOMETIMESOONPRECEDENT about election disputes. I mean I’m hyperventilating with anger just writing these sentences.
Yesterday, we took a quick bike trip across town to one of the Little Free Libraries — Ess on a tag-along bike, only one wheel to it and a rigid attachment to my seat post. The season of drought has partially lifted and the green leaves in the gentle late summer sun and the blue sky… I don’t think there’s room to improve on the lovely weather we had. We looked for bunnies and sang out when we saw them, Ess got harassed by a barking dog at a stoplight, we huffed and puffed up hills… the usual bike stuff.
So Ess made her selection and we pedaled for home, I thought — when I turned around, she had eschewed pedaling entirely, pulled her new book out from her bike pouch, and was just reading, with the book resting on her handlebars.