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Of Course They Did

Message Peter Barus
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A society's true values are written in the blood of its least powerful citizens.

I learned this in 1970, working in a major city hospital general surgery unit as an alternative to the Vietnam killing fields. I was the guy with the mop and bucket who cleaned and set up the operating rooms between surgeries, wheeled the patients in and out, and whatever else needed doing. One of the routine surgeries then was repairing the torn and bleeding bodies of very young girls who had tried to end their own pregnancy. I was also the guy who handled deliveries from the blood bank. They were terribly poor, horribly abused, terribly young, permanently scarred, and in mortal danger.

Those horrendous experiences ended in 1973. It was like a spigot had been turned off.

Until now, with the SCOTUS ruling:

Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization (19-1392) >"The Constitution does not confer a right to abortion; Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113, and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, are overruled; the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives."

As so often happens, they answered the wrong question. The question is not whether abortion is a "right." The question is whether the decision to give birth or not rests with the person in whose own body the pregnancy must take place. It is, as wrongly-answered questions always are, a stupid question, one that would not be asked for any honest purpose. Like the question implied by "A Woman's Place Is In The Home." Nobody ever asked where a woman's place was. The question that got (and gets) that answer was why women couldn't vote. But this time the Supremes answered the real question too, while denying that they would ever do any such thing. The answer is No, the decision to have children rests, solely and without appeal, with the politicians who run your state.

The argument behind this, repeated ad nauseam by the majority, hinges on the views of the American ruling class in 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, and abortion was left out. In 1868, everything to do with women's autonomy was left out; but to the majority, that means it was prohibited. The majority goes to great lengths to back up its gossamer-thin (and hopelessly wrong) justification for this arbitrary Draconian edict, with an appendix citing "statutes criminalizing abortion at all stages in each of the Territories that became States and in the District of Columbia...in chronological order of enactment," such as:

Virginia (1848): Sec. 9. "Any free person who shall administer to any pregnant woman, any medicine, drug or substance whatever, or use or employ any instrument or other means with intent thereby to destroy the child with which such woman may be pregnant, or to produce abortion or miscarriage..."

This one is telling, given the denied, obscured, but ultimately central issue of the entire controversy, which was elegantly stated by Shoshana Zuboff in her monumental work on Surveillance Capitalism: Who decides, and who decides who decides? In Virginia it would be more than a century before any woman was ever described as a "free person." And childbirth was a very big deal for the plantation owners who ruled society: it was how their "property" multiplied "its" value. It was that holiest of economic grails, literal "Growth." Terminating the pregnancy of an enslaved woman was right up there with horse-theft and cattle-rustling. Powerful men were raping their "property" and selling their own children.

Such are the foundation-stones upon which Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett, and Roberts have built their glorious Confederate victory.

Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer filed a dissenting opinion that is well worth reading: it is the correct one. But our system and our nation is so broken now, that as the dissent sums it up,

"The majority has overruled Roe and Casey for one and only one reason: because it has always despised them, and now it has the votes to discard them. The majority thereby substitutes a rule by judges for the rule of law."

The implications of this are staggering. One is that any personal conduct not defined in the fourteenth as a "Liberty," is subject to state regulation. Another is that the ruling class had reached the absolute heights of moral rectitude just when the Civil War disrupted everything, and the half-century since Roe V. Wade was a temporary and regrettable aberration, but it's all settled now. States' Rights was the answer before the war, and it's the answer today.

In 1868 the centuries-long industrial enslavement of human beings by violent kidnap and torture had not ended, but the system had to change with the times. The states where enslavement had been the law of the land, including Northern states that had happily cooperated with this horror, were then scrambling to implement laws that would enable continued extraction of labor under different labels. One such label that endures today is "Convict," which explains the wildly disproportionate number of descendants of enslaved African people in our private prison system, compared to the rest of the world (not "the developed" world, the whole world). The inmates work for very little pay, and the adjunct industries surrounding these facilities are booming. Another is "Migrant Workers," who are not protected under labor laws, nor are they accorded any rights at all; and our food supply depends on them. But none of that's seen as slavery; it's hardly seen at all. Which was the point.

There was never, as the dissenters point out, any Constitutional or social reason to overturn Roe; and doing so threatens vast areas of settled law. But there was a very big reason to send women back into the dark ages, one that absolutely required them to answer the wrong question, if only to hang onto a shred of judicial credibility. As Jenny Brown's "Birth Strike" makes clear, childbirth always was and remains a labor issue--pun intended or not--for industrial purposes. After slavery, access to a stable supply of human beings desperate enough, or helpless enough, to be a reliable source of docile and woefully underpaid labor, was long understood by agricultural, mining, transportation, and manufacturing interests (AKA, the Robber Barons) to hinge on birth rates, poverty, and public policy. They understood it so well that the US criminalized abortion early in the Industrial Revolution. Now the world can see what America is really about: answering the wrong questions, when it really counts. That's why the focus is on abortion, and not on women's inalienable rights. This court is terrified of women's inalienable rights. If they ever answer the right questions, the empire will fall.

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I'm an old Pogo fan. For some unknown reason I persist in outrage at Feudalism, as if human beings can do much better than this. Our old ways of life are obsolete and are killing us. Will the human race wake up in time? Stay (more...)

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