Six lessons the remorseless siege against procreative rights can teach the left

Secular democracy, as in majority rule, is just as threatened by religious fanaticism as it is by looming dictatorship.

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Rightwing takeaways are not about sex, love or caring for children – but moralistic imposition.

Systemic changes are all about slow, hard grinds, however capped with high drama today when reactionaries turn primitive moralism into mandatory public policy. That shift is especially offensive when constituted rights are shredded not by necessity, reason, philosophy nor evidence of harm – only the imposition of intolerant, contradictory religious views. Abortion is “murder,” capital punishment still “justice.” Shooting legal protestors, per Trump, no problem.

In short, the religious right, enabled by craven officials, not only works to reduce safe options for pregnant women but demands that abortion (and support) be criminalized. Beyond being forced to give birth, women face indictments by not doing something that answers to their life, rights, person and bodies. On top of other egregious takeaways (voting rights, election integrity, freedom to read), the once heralded arc of justice – for decades on civil, minority, gender, environmental and work rights – is getting dented, even blunted.

Thus today’s conspicuous, if belated outrage over the decimation of “procreative rights” that liberals once thought inviolate. Yes, use the term “procreative rights” for that makes a positive of what opponents distort as a negative “abortion” of “life.” The issue is not about “life” in the abstract but whose life looks to be ruined – a distressed, unprepared mother or an unwanted, neglected child? When the right starts directly fostering all unplanned newborns, with medical, child-care and educational services, then they can begin to resolve its most blatant contradiction. To insist all pregnancies come to term – without a real-world support network for countless new beings – reflects no awareness nor compassion for the living. Hate abortion? Then start by loving full childcare for all needy children as well as fixing what’s broken: millions of underfed, American children.

Fixations and change

And yet, to give the “pro-life” crusade its due, the left has much to learn in its quest to guarantee procreative rights. After all, the law hasn’t changed, nor has a new Constitutional mandate surfaced that allows government to interfere between a pregnant women (especially when by force) and her doctor. What has changed is the leverage of a rigid minority to corrupt law, rights and justice. Does this not, however, reinforce that politics is about power and organizing, maximizing pressure, then achieving group ends?

The left can learn from the 50 year “abortion” battle against a secular, allegedly majority system. That today’s extremist gains were facilitated by a cult leader, as dishonest on procreation as every other subject, speaks to the hollowness of the charade. And yet lessons emerge:

1) Minority rule triumphs when the majority is complacent, especially when protecting besieged groups like women, the poor, minorities, and the young. That 2-1 Americans support abortion, especially after rape or when there’s jeopardy for the mother, falls by the wayside as rightwing manipulation gleefully loads the Supreme Court with unrepresentative, one-sided judges.

2) Passion (or mania) plus money plus organization matter when pooling resources across fundamentalist Protestants, obedient Catholics, conservative ethnics, even tribal nationalists who welcome more cannon fodder to protect the homeland. Imposing minority values on all is the ugliest extension of peremptory zealotry – especially, considering the planet’s ever-limited carrying capacity. Right, just what we need, more mouths to feed.

3) Big breakthroughs do not stand alone. The slippery slope argument applies here: if abortion is outlawed, even criminalized, why not restrictions on birth control, civil marriage, gay rights, gender diversity, adoption rules, immigration of “outsiders,” even oppression against those who reject the traditional (religion-bound) nuclear family? Winning makes winners more confident.

4) Never give up. Resist all short-term failures and stay the course. The current anti-abortion crusade of 50 years makes clear that time for missionaries is apparently irrelevant. Progressives have great difficulty sustaining focus or keeping the eye on the prize. The scattered divergence on the left undercuts the pooling of resources: separation, however well intentioned, shreds necessary co-ordination. Anti-abortionists also kept the message simple – as simplistic and enduring at their most literal-minded convictions. Politics is about the long haul, demanding unswerving pressure even by majority forces. Winners are those who refuse to take No for an answer.

5) Don’t underestimate the depth of religious passion, nor the staying power of well-publicized “moral” wedge issues. A strength of fundamentalism is that it is both fixed and fixated, obedient to mandated group values. This immobile righteousness confronts what it perceives as threatening, secular, lifestyle freedoms. Thus the long holy war against secular, “establishment,” now manifestly democratic values. The majority can’t be “right” or rule when betraying god-endorsed laws (even when lacking any scriptural clarity).

6) Alignment with whatever viable party empowers law-makers (or freedom removers) pays off. Whether fundamentalists like (or hate) billionaires or corporate hegemony or unfair taxation falls by the wayside when an ultimate passion defines the mission. If medically-ended pregnancy abominates enough religious souls, that priority trumps all other problems or conflicts. The result is anything but “religious freedom,” rather modern-day, class-driven witch hunting, punishing the poor and less well-informed for daring to have sex. No state law can block the affluent from traveling, untroubled by back alley abortions.

call to action – or same old, same old?

Even worse, if abortion foes win, so does the totalitarian rightwing party readying to dump majority rule and what passes for democratic government. Like it or not, effective political activists use all the instruments at their disposal, and one task for resistant progressives is to rethink linkages to the suspect Democratic Party. Does your politics, whatever the purity, not come down to electing your favorites, then insisting they stand by their promises? Is there another way to success?

Fundamentalists (and ruthless enablers) are addicted to holy wars, whether literal (with violence, for property, to convert heathens) or symbolic, of which sexuality, procreation, child-rearing and education are noxiously calculated battlegrounds. Non-marital sexuality smacks of “fornication,” as threatening to true believers as the allegedly divine outcome – pregnancy. Secular democracy, as in majority rule, is just as threatened by religious fanaticism as it is by looming dictatorship. Secularism free of tainted religious fanaticism demands more than just equilibrium but inexhaustible political activism. The only response to losing procreation rights is a more potent political movement that amasses more voters, more money, more organization, and more humane, popular messages. After all, it’s the politics, stupid, and the minority right just showed the left how to pull off an upset.

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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.

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