This morning I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to do it yesterday, either, but that’s when I knew that I had to.
I don’t want to write about abortion any more. I already said everything I wanted to say, as well as I could; it was exhausting and depressing — though happily, I got a positive response from the post, for which I’m grateful (though that also tells me that I was mainly preaching to the choir, which is expected, but unfortunate) — and even though I said in it that I would try to present an emotional argument to complement the logical argument I was aiming at, I just couldn’t make myself do it. Not least because I don’t want to exhaust people who read this blog with post after post of difficult, tiring, angst-inflicting subject matter like abortion.
But I have to do this. Because Clarence goddamn Thomas is on the Supreme Court of this country, and therefore has a platform for his bullshit that I can never match: and it is exactly that reason, that imbalance in our respective influence and reach, that means I have to throw myself at his mighty marble pedestal of bullshit, and try to knock off a chip or two.
Let’s start with this: Thomas shouldn’t be on the Court in the first place. He was underqualified, having spent only two years as a federal judge when he was nominated by President Bush in 1991 — not a disqualifying fact, of course, but certainly not in the “Pro” column. And then Anita Hill stood up. The accusations brought against Thomas by Hill during his confirmation were supposedly nothing but “He said/she said” claims. The same sort of thing that Brett Kavanaugh also recently stamped past, waving his chubby fists angrily in the air, winking at the other bro-type fellers who we all knew would be frowning seriously for a full thirty minutes before they voted to confirm him (As an aside, there’s a remarkable quote from the article about the Hill/Thomas hearings which I will be referring to in a moment: ‘When apprised of Hill’s accusations, Senator Howard Metzenbaum, the Ohio Democrat, said, “If that’s sexual harassment, half the senators on Capitol Hill could be accused.”‘ The idea that it couldn’t possibly be considered sexual harassment because all kinds of rich powerful white fucksticks are guilty of it is really a stunning position to take on, well, anything.). Except in the case of Hill and Thomas, they weren’t just a “He said/she said” set of accusations:
For viewers at home, it looked like a typical he-said, she-said sexual-harassment case, in which it was nearly impossible to determine who was in the right. Believing Hill required believing that a federal judge on the verge of Supreme Court confirmation would perjure himself; believing Thomas required believing that Hill would have fabricated vivid allegations out of whole cloth.
This appearance of irresolvable conflict was neither wholly accurate nor accidental. Four friends of Hill’s testified that she had told them about the harassment at the time, lending more credibility to the claims. Three other women were willing to testify about being harassed by Thomas, too. But Biden chose not to allow one of them, Angela Wright, to testify publicly, instead releasing a transcript of a phone interview with her. Strange Justice, a 1994 book by reporters Jill Abramson and Jane Mayer, concluded the Judiciary Committee had failed to follow up leads on allegations against Thomas and had conducted only a cursory investigation. Whether such testimony would have been adequate to convict Thomas in a court of law is unclear, but perhaps also beside the point. It was as strong or stronger than the evidence that has toppled several members of Congress, including Senator Al Franken.
A corroborated story, part of a pattern of behavior, should have raised enough questions about the man to shift his 52-48 confirmation vote the other way, even if they were afraid to appear racist by voting against him. I certainly see the value of having an African-American person on the Court, but I personally find it pretty hard to believe there wasn’t another, better, African-American nominee than Clarence Thomas to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall. (Perhaps a black woman?) But we all know perfectly well that Thomas was not nominated for his race, he was nominated for his conservative views and his willingness to follow the script. He was confirmed because of his race. The fact that the ultra-white Senate and particularly the Judiciary Committee ran away from confronting Thomas head-on shows one of the many reasons why the government should not be monocultural. Can you imagine if Thomas had told Maxine Waters that she was carrying out a high-tech lynching? Or Kamala Harris?
(And though I really don’t want to get off the topic, let’s all remember who headed the Judiciary Committee in 1991, who failed to follow through on the leads in this investigation, and gave us this piece of shit on the bench because he couldn’t stand up to a black man who played the race card, as Thomas did [Too many asides and I should have written about this whole thing when Kavanaugh was pitching his hissy fits: but how the fuck were Anita Hill’s accusations against Thomas a “high-tech lynching?” Because it was being broadcast on the televisions? That’s fucking high tech? Seriously? You talked to her about how big your dick is, sir: this is not high anything: it’s low brow, it’s low class, it’s low quality. Enough, sorry.]: Joe Biden. Please, I don’t want to pick the Democratic nominee before the process plays out, but whatever you do, don’t fucking vote for Biden, okay? Pretty please?)
So as I was saying, Clarence Thomas shouldn’t even be on the Court. Once he got there, he should have been impeached for his consistent refusal to recuse himself despite serious conflicts of interest mainly through his wife, a political activist who started a Tea Party PAC in 2010. Thomas has had clear conflicts in the Citizens United case, and in the Affordable Care Act case, and yet, he voted, and we have those decisions in the books.
So here we are: and Thomas has something to say. About abortion.
That’s right, abortion is racist, sexist, and ableist, Thomas opined in his concurring opinion on Tuesday after the Supreme Court voted 7-2 to split the decision on an Indiana abortion case: because abortion is the tool of eugenicists.
I mean, it’s not.
But Thomas says it is — and Thomas is an honorable man.
Here: this is Thomas’s opinion. It’s full of legalese, of course, and the writing is honestly pretty bad, but you are welcome to look and judge for yourself. Let me give you the tl;dr version of it.
Essentially, Thomas claims that abortion is a weapon used by eugenicists to reduce the number of unwanted people in the world in order to purify or improve the genomic quality of the human race. He says that people who want to make the human race better want to remove anyone who is of low intelligence, or who is not white, or who is a woman. To prove this, he cites Margaret Sanger, Alan Guttmacher, and various members of the American eugenics movement of the first half of the 20th century. He takes the Court’s decision not to decide on part of the Indiana case as a reason to get all fired up in defense of all non-white babies, women babies, and babies with limited capacity or genetic complications.
Here are the problems with his argument. Ready?
- Margaret Sanger, while she had some genuinely fucked up elitist views, never promoted abortion. She promoted birth control. She never conflated the two; and Thomas fucking admits it in his opinion: ‘She [Sanger] recognized a moral difference between “contraceptives” and other, more “extreme” ways for “women to limit their families,” such as “the horrors of abortion and infanticide.”’ That’s right, Clarence: she thought abortion was a horror. Not a tool of eugenics. Not birth control. (But Thomas says that Sanger was a pro-abortion eugenicist; and Thomas is an honorable man.)
- Alan Guttmacher, while he was arguing that abortion should be legalized in the 1950’s, said this (Taken from Thomas’s opinion):
He explained that “the quality of the parents must be taken into account,” including “[f]eeblemindedness,” and believed that “it should be permissible to abort any pregnancy . . . in which there is a strong probability of an abnormal or malformed infant.” … He added that the question whether to allow abortion must be “separated from emotional, moral and religious concepts” and “must have as its focus normal, healthy infants born into homes peopled with parents who have healthy bodies and minds.”
Here’s the thing, Your Honor — and stick with me, now — it should be permissible to abort any pregnancy for any reason whatsoever. In fact, it is permissible to abort any pregnancy for any reason whatsoever. We can talk about the proper time to do it, and I suppose we can wax poetic about why women should want to keep their children and all that jazz: but none of that fucking matters. What matters is not why a woman chooses: what matters is that the woman chooses. Period. The end. Full fucking stop.
But let’s stick to the matter at hand. I will agree that Guttmacher’s comments can be seen as preferring people without genetic abnormalities or birth defects. “Feeblemindedness” of course is a code word for conditions such as Down’s Syndrome (Which Thomas also refers to in his opinion, also getting his facts wrong on that as a reason for abortion — but Thomas says Icelandic women abort 100% of children with Down’s Syndrome, and sure, he is an honorable man.), and so Guttmacher might be saying that people with such genetic conditions should be aborted.
No, wait: no he’s not. He’s saying that abortion should be allowed. Not that it should be sought. Not that it should be promoted. Not that it could be used to build the Ubermenschen. He’s saying that the debate over abortion should focus on healthy children in healthy homes: meaning that situations that are unhealthy are reasonable places to see abortion as an option, as a means of avoiding a dangerous and harmful situation. You want to read that as referring to parents or infants with Down’s Syndrome? Go for it, but that’s not what Guttmacher said. The closest he comes to it is the one word “normal” in reference to the children: and if you are going to read “normal, healthy children” as referring to only children without Down’s Syndrome, then you are the one arguing that Down’s makes one abnormal and less than healthy. Which makes you, Justice Thomas, the ableist.
But I was trying to enumerate the problems with Thomas’s argument that abortion is the tool of eugenicists. Let me just boil it down: the eugenicists he refers to, which did include Sanger and might have included Guttmacher, never promoted abortion as a means of accomplishing eugenic goals. They preferred birth control — and where they were fucked up Nazi types (and plenty of eugenicists were fucked up Nazi types), they promoted forced sterilization. [Great article about this: Thomas refers to a book about Carrie Buck, a woman who was forcibly sterilized by Virginia, and then the Supreme Court in 1927 supported the state’s right to do that to her. Except Thomas misunderstood the book’s point. Because the book is not at all about abortion. Weird.] And even if they did really want to use abortion as a means to a eugenic end, THOSE PEOPLE ARE ALL DEAD NOW. None of them are setting the policy for the country, for Planned Parenthood, for abortion providers, for anyone. They are not behind the laws the Supreme Court is ruling on, they are not behind the challenges to those laws. They are irrelevant. They provide interesting historical context: but they do not show problems within the modern day argument over abortion. It’s like saying that the Republicans are corrupt because Warren G. Harding was a corrupt Republican. Or that they’re tall because Lincoln was. This is (ironically) called the genetic fallacy: presuming that something is wrong because of where it came from — that Planned Parenthood is evil because Margaret Sanger thought we should sterilize poor people. It’s also an ad hominem attack, going after the people rather than the argument; and it’s a red herring, because Sanger and Guttmacher and the rest were not arguing for abortion even when they were arguing for eugenics, and they weren’t arguing for eugenics when they were arguing for abortion. It’s the Fallacy Trifecta. I know we see that kind of shit all the time on the internet — but God, why do we have to see it from a Supreme Court Justice?
The nonsense continues: Thomas pulls out some shit about African-American women seeking abortions at a higher rate than white American women, which is true — but he never even tries to examine the real reasons, which are the systemic poverty and the lack of access to health care which ensure that African-American women are less likely to have good access to birth control, or to have the resources to carry healthy pregnancies to term. Instead he throws down this tired, out-of-context quote from Sanger: ‘We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.’ (To be clear, she is not saying that she wants to hide their true motive of genocide from the African-American community, she wants to make sure that people don’t come to this INCORRECT conclusion, exactly as Thomas is doing here. The proof? The phrase “straighten out that idea” does not mean “cover up the truth,” it means “correct a mistake.” And she wasn’t writing to the ministers themselves, so she’s not trying to sugarcoat her actual meaning. My kingdom for a Supreme Court Justice who understands rhetoric.) So apparently, because he misunderstands Sanger, Planned Parenthood is still following her direction and aborting African-American children more frequently than white children.
Then he grabs some crap about Asian women seeking sex-based abortions, meaning that Asian women abort female babies more often than male babies, which is also true — but he never even tries to show how that means we should limit abortion access in this country. Come on: try to make an argument out of it. Chinese women, under that country’s disastrous and appalling one-child policy, more frequently aborted female children, a trend that is also common in India because of the social importance of sons over daughters. And therefore American women should not be able to abort their pregnancies because . . . ? As goes New Delhi, so goes New Jersey? If America ever imposes a one-child policy then Asian-American women will repeat this pattern — uh . . . because . . . ?
Here: this article spells it out well. Read it just for the point about Down’s Syndrome abortions and Iceland.
Look, this is really pretty simple. The right to an abortion, which Thomas opposes (And he gets salty about in his conclusion, when he claims the court created a Constitutional right to abortion which didn’t exist previously), is an individual right, and it is protected within the Constitution under the right to privacy. But whether it is protected as private or not, it is a right: because a woman has the right to determine what happens in her own body. She has the right to decide if she is going to be pregnant or not. You want to argue with me about that? Read this. But otherwise, start from that point. A woman’s choice to abort is her right.
Now: tell me that women might abort pregnancies because of the fetus’s presumed race.
A woman’s choice to abort is her right.
Tell me that a woman might abort her pregnancy because the fetus is female.
A woman’s choice to abort is her right.
Tell me that she might do it because the child might have genetic abnormalities or birth defects, or ill health, or any other serious complication.
A woman’s choice to abort is her right.
Do you see? Do you get it? The question is not what happens to the infant: it dies. We know that, and it’s ugly. And we may frequently disagree with why a woman makes the choice she does. But that does not matter. That is not the question. The woman having racist or sexist or ableist reasons does not change her rights: she has the right to bodily autonomy, she has the right to privacy: she has the right to choose. That’s it. And though I was being facetious earlier when I said that Thomas’s reading of bias in Guttmacher’s statements reveals Thomas’s bias, this is for real: the theory that eugenicists would use abortion as a tool to achieve some kind of racial purity presumes that women have no ability to think and decide for themselves, but would simply be led to abort pregnancies they otherwise would want, because eugenicists told them to do it. And that is about as sexist as it gets. (Or else it presumes that women with the very qualities that eugenicists deplore would wish to eliminate their own traits from the gene pool and would therefore abort their own pregnancies to accomplish that goal. Which is just — I mean, it just exhausts me.)
So to sum up.
If you tell me that you have the right to freedom of speech, and then I say you might use that free speech to call Clarence Thomas a fucknugget, I hope you can see that I have in no way argued against your right to free speech. If you tell me that you have the right to bear arms, and I say you might use that right to bear arms in such a way that it would lead to the deaths of disproportionately high numbers of African-American men (Won’t . . . bring up . . . police killings . . . NO!), you should respond that my comment has nothing whatsoever to do with your right to bear arms. (A better example: if you use your guns to hunt legally, and I say that’s gross, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the right to bear arms. Even though hunting is gross.) If you say you have the right to refuse to allow British troops to be quartered in your home, and I say that means they’re going to be trampling all over the azaleas and shitting behind the rhododendrons, you should still not allow redcoats into your home and give them your Netflix password.
Want me to keep going? I can keep going. There are a great many personal rights specifically enshrined in the Constitution, and a great many more protected by its strictures on government power. Not a one of those personal rights is granted by the Constitution: they are human rights and civil rights, rights that we possess as a condition of our personhood and our citizenship. Not a one of them is predicated on the reason why we use them or how we use them. Not a one. There are restrictions on how we use those rights, as there are restrictions on how abortions can be performed; but never why. The argument Thomas is trying to make — and he comes reeeaaaaalll close to making it explicitly — is that abortion is a violation of the fetus’s rights. That abortion is discrimination against the fetus on the basis of sex or race or physical or mental disability.
But the fetus doesn’t have rights. Not in preference to the rights of the mother. Neither does society. Not even if the mother does decide to terminate her pregnancy for eugenic reasons. It is still her body, it is still her right.