I don’t think I had ever seen South Dakota’s State Senator Bill Napoli speak before tonight. He was commenting on the abortion ban there that would close down – gulp – the only operating clinic that’s left in the entire state (this one clinic has to fly in medical volunteers from out-of-state). Guess there wasn’t really much left to do.
BILL NAPOLI: When I was growing up here in the wild west, if a young man got a girl pregnant out of wedlock, they got married, and the whole darned neighborhood was involved in that wedding. I mean, you just didn’t allow that sort of thing to happen, you know? I mean, they wanted that child to be brought up in a home with two parents, you know, that whole story. And so I happen to believe that can happen again.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: You really do?
BILL NAPOLI: Yes, I do. I don’t think we’re so far beyond that, that we can’t go back to that.
Sounds almost sweet, huh? Like the "wild west" reference, which frames the whole thing. In the actual "wild west," women didn’t do very well… Of course, the west wasn’t "wild" when this guy was growing up.
Under what circumstances would Mr. Napoli concede that a woman (or her community) might be allowed to consider abortion? Rape or incest? um… well…. actually….even those cases would have to come under "danger to life of the mother."
A real-life description to me would be a rape victim, brutally raped, savaged. The girl was a virgin. She was religious. She planned on saving her virginity until she was married. She was brutalized and raped, sodomized as bad as you can possibly make it, and is impregnated. I mean, that girl could be so messed up, physically and psychologically, that carrying that child could very well threaten her life.
The case he allowed that might actually "endanger the woman’s life" would be if she were a religious virgin saving herself for marriage" and she was not only brutally raped but also sodomized (because she was sodomized? Does he need some basic sex ed on how pregnancy occurs?). Note that just being a virgin isn’t enough, and that he assumes virginity isn’t actually a choice made in full knowledge and self-value, but only in "religious" conviction (or more likely, quasi-religious pressure).
Note also that the ideal situation is where the community makes the decision for the people involved – both that the woman will carry to term and that the two will marry. What a great basis for commitment – an unwanted, unplanned pregnancy. Maybe we should hear some autobiographies from people who had marriages with that auspicious beginning. I can’t think of many men who would welcome a return of the shotgun wedding either. Oh, and should uncle or brother daddy marry the one they "savage"?
His delivery was shocking. It was almost as if the thought of the brutalization of the woman – oh wait, he said "girl" – was a turn-on for him. The last sentence was a bit of an afterthought. Here is a man who clearly views women as property to be controlled and dominated (and even protected – as property). How is he that much different than the rapist he cites?
In any case, "danger to the life of the mother" is usually interpreted in quite narrow terms – that carrying to term might well result in the literal death of the mother – such as with an ectopic pregnancy or other medical conditions.
Is it virgin sodomy that makes all the difference for him? Is a woman who isn’t a virgin less traumatized by rape or incest? Is it all about the qualities of the rapist – the brutalizing, sodomizing defiler of religious virgins? Is it enough to be an anal virgin? (Actually, anal and oral intercourse are on the rise among the "no-sex" pledgers. Hope they don’t catch a disease while they’re trying not to get pregnant without birth control.)
Watch for other moves back to the "good old days" too. For people who are so against abortion, they are oddly and ferociously opposed to the proven factors of reducing the number of abortions: birth control, sex education, women’s education and training, equality, and freedom of opportunity. What next? Barring women from the vote or from owning property? Will American women be disallowed from wearing miniskirts, working outside the home, going to college, driving a car?
Fundamentalist sexism and domination of women looks very similar to me across religions. It’s about the same thing as rape – it’s about power, it’s about controlling and dominating women into a semi-subhuman status. Watch what happens to those women in those communities when they don’t have the abortion. See how friendly their neighbors are to a single woman with a child, or to a struggling family with five. Shall we bring back the good old witchcraft charges too?
In a way, I understand. Some people don’t want to have to face reality. There is so much change, and they don’t know where or how they will fit. It’s clear that many of us will be sacrificed to the Mammon, the "god of money." There is meth addiction, there is crime, there is disrespect to "elders" – surely it feels like apocalypse approacheth. It’s strange that they refuse to look at economic factors – but it’s clear that our children and grandchildren will live in a very different world. My generation is the first that has not (on the whole) done as well as our parents did. So some of us can’t actually face the world we live in – we’ve had it relatively easy and some have an irrational assumption that the world owes us something whether or not we’ve earned it or deserve it (shall we call it the W syndrome?). We pretend that there is no poverty while it’s actually increasing, that all parents must by definition be wonderful people, that kin don’t rape or otherwise hurt one another, that everyone who is the least bit different from our comfort group must be evil, that people who do their own thinking and make their own ethical choices are a threat to those who simply submit to authority (hoping they will be spared?). Some people can’t even really understand that there are other countries or people different than the "folks" on our street – most Americans only speak one language. Of course our own "group" has its problems as well, but if we are not directly affected we tend to ignore that as much as possible. We want to protect our kith and kin and we like to hide in the safe comfort of our folk mythologies.
But these are childish reactions, and they bring out very bad things in us. They bring out the very things that every prophet warns against. America is living in a very thin veil of self-induced hallucinations. Part of the "good old days" mythology has to do with dominating women – oh, and killing Indians in the "Wild West." Violence against immigrants, especially Mexicans, is on the rise.
A religious response would have to listen compassionately to narratives of actual, truthful experience (as you would have your God hear you) before proposing solutions or making judgments. These politicians don’t do that very much – and neither do many of their constituents. Listen to the stories of the women who are desperate enough to abort their pregnancies that they travel hundreds of miles to the only clinic in the state to get it done. Listen to the circumstances by which a woman decides to end a pregnancy – it is no easy thing to decide. The stories are often heartbreaking. There are women who have had abortions and regretted it deeply – this is true. There are women who have not, and paid dearly.
This issue is a handy tool to drive people apart because abortion is a very controversial and difficult topic. Ultimately, though, it is not the job of the government to mandate a woman’s reproductive life. Such decisions have to reside with the woman, with her God (if she is a believer) and in consultation with her doctor.
Maybe that’s the beef – that finally there is a matter in which a woman has the final say-so. How threatening to the fragile male ego.
Roe v. Wade was the compromise. If your daughter or your sister or your mother or your friend were in a position where abortion had to be contemplated, you might think differently. Or maybe not – maybe you’re in that group who wants to turn America into a theocracy – complete with stoning?
Added March 4th: Mark Morford’s reaction to all this is much more strident – and witty. Read "S. Dakota Slaps Up Its Women: Another state you should never visit passes an appalling abortion ban, because they hate you"