Trump to Launch New Assault on Abortion Access

[Content Note: War on agency; rape culture.]

The Trump administration is planning to announce a new rule that would withhold federal funding from any healthcare facility that supports abortion or refers patients to facilities that perform abortions.

Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times report on the rule, a "top priority of social conservatives," e.g. Mike Pence:
The policy would be a return to one instituted in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan that required abortion services to have a "physical separation" and "separate personnel" from other family planning activities. That policy is often described as a domestic gag rule because it barred caregivers at facilities that received family planning funds from providing any information to patients about an abortion or where to receive one.

Federal family planning laws already ban direct funding of organizations that use abortion as a family planning method. But conservative activists and Republican lawmakers have been pressing Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, to tighten the rules further so that abortions could not occur — or be performed by the same staff — at locations that receive Title X federal family planning money.

Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, called the new proposal "outrageous" and "dangerous."

The policy, she said in a statement late Thursday, is "designed to make it impossible for millions of patients to get birth control or preventive care from reproductive health care providers like Planned Parenthood. This is designed to force doctors and nurses to lie to their patients. It would have devastating consequences across this country."
Which, of course, is the entire point.

The new rule will certainly be challenged in court. The question is whether the Trump administration and Republican Party will have successfully stacked the lower courts — and/or Supreme Court — by that time, to guarantee a victory for the anti-choice brigade.

I know I'm the brokenest of broken records, but: Abortion is healthcare. It is a legal healthcare procedure, to which women and other people who can get pregnant must have access.

What abortion isn't is "murder." What abortion isn't is a diabolical ethical quandary that can't be resolved because people can't agree about "when life begins."

Eve granting the faulty premise that a fetus has the equivalent value of the born uterus-having person carrying it, I will observe (again) that my life, right now, is not so precious that any other human being could be compelled to use their body to support mine for the next nine months (at least). No other human being is obliged to give up an organ for me, even if it would save my life. Nor bone marrow, nor blood, nor skin. People who are forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term are being asked to do something no other people are asked to do for another person, which exposes the truth of the anti-choice position: Fetuses are valued more highly than the people who carry them.

Here, then, is how we resolve this disagreement: By not making an exception for the sustenance of fetal life that we make for no other life.

It isn't as though there isn't precedent in our existing law and culture. We institutionally value lives differently, some more than others, all the time. We value lives of U.S. citizens more than the lives of people who aren't. We value the lives of inmates less than the lives of the free population (among whom are many highly-rewarded perpetrators of white-collar crimes). We value the lives of the wealthy more than the poor. We value the lives of people we allow to live without healthcare access less than the lives of those who by fate or fortune have health insurance. And these are only the valuations that can and do routinely mean a visible difference between life and death.

Which is to say nothing of all the kyriarchal valuations of lives that have repercussions small and large and sometimes deadly, too.

(We also wisely value some lives over others for complex reasons, like the life of the highly-protected U.S. President over the life of an average citizen.)

But the people who are in the seats of power that legislatively prioritize U.S., supposedly law-abiding, wealthy, healthcare-having lives over others are largely very privileged men. And we are expected to understand that their agreement to globally prioritize their own lives over everyone else's is Moral Values, and an individual woman's choice to value her life over a fetus is murder.

The "when does life begin" debate is nothing but smoke and mirrors to obfuscate the reality that we routinely make valuations about different lives, some rightly and some wrongly. It is an attempt to pretend that abortion is an entirely unique scenario, and thus cannot be easily resolved. And no one knows this better than the architects of the anti-choice movement, who qualify fetal life as "innocent life," as opposed to the soiled lives of, say, the people whose lives were cut short because we lacked the political will to fund effective levees or repair a crumbling bridge.

It is the worst kind of intellectual dishonesty to indulge this garbage argument about irreconcilable disagreement over when life begins. It doesn't matter even if life does begin at conception. The calculus thus becomes which life matters more, which is an assessment we are willing to make in dozens of other situations across our political and cultural landscape.

We must actually value the actual lives of actual people who have actually been born over fetuses.

That wouldn't even be debatable if the people in question weren't almost exclusively women.

The question is not really when life begins. The question is whether we recognize women and other people with uteri as humans whose lives have intrinsic value and the rights of agency, bodily autonomy, and consent. It is only because such a vast swath of our population cannot or will not answer a resounding and unqualified "yes" to that question that there is even space for a reprehensible debate about when life begins.

The "real problem" has never been some tedious, specious, allegedly unresolvable debate about when life begins — an argument which is resolved by centering the humanity, agency, bodily autonomy, and consent of women. The "real problem" is that social conservatives' position makes evident that the anti-choice movement is an extension of the rape culture, which seeks to strip women of precisely those things.

I have previously noted on many occasions that I'm hard-pressed to see why I should be any less contemptuous of a man (or woman) who sits at a big mahogany desk in a government building making decisions about my body without my consent than I should be of the man who used physical force to make decisions about my body without my consent.

It is an observation by which anti-choice folks are outraged. They are horrified to be compared, even obliquely, to sexual predators. As well they should be. I am horrified to have to make it. But anyone who holds the position that they should be able to legislate away my bodily autonomy and supersede my consent about what happens to my body shouldn't be too goddamned surprised by the comparison.

One must be ridiculously incapable of self-reflection to simultaneously argue that sexual assault (forcing a woman to do something with her body she doesn't want to do) is a Terrible Thing, but the denial of abortion (forcing a woman to do something with her body she doesn't want to do) is a Moral Imperative.

Suffice it to say I'm decidedly unimpressed with the sanctimonious social conservatives who have empowered a confessed serial sex abuser to enact a rule that denies women the right of consent over what happens to our bodies.

I don't need an ethics lecture from these oppressive scolds. I need a goddamn apology.

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