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“Meet me in the middle, says the unjust man.
You take a step toward him, he takes a step back.
Meet me in the middle, says the unjust man.”
- A.R. Moxon
Reproductive rights advocates are losing ground. Or, to be more accurate, we’ve been conceding ground.
The situation America finds itself in now is a result of years where the spectrum of mainstream political debate has been defined by the opposing forces of radical, ultraconservative activist-legislators pursuing an aggressive strategy to drag the center of mainstream politics ever-rightward, and equivocating nominal-progressives whose obsession with moderation and civility leads them to preemptively compromise their own positions down to something they think will be minimally offensive to conservatives, and then ditch even that in dogmatic pursuit of the “middle ground”. With Roe v. Wade, and by extension the fundamental right to bodily autonomy of half the American people, now obliterated by a Supreme Court stacked with hard-right radicals, it’s clearer than ever which side is winning — and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, why it is that they’re winning.
The calculus is simple. If the two poles of political argument are “abortion should be legal” and “abortion should be illegal”, the center-ground position becomes one where abortion is legal on paper but poorly-supported at the governmental level and subject to a host of arbitrary restrictions in practice — i.e. the post-Roe v. Wade status quo up until this point. If those two poles become “abortion should be legal on paper but restricted in practice” and “abortion should be a capital crime”, then the center-ground position becomes that abortion should be banned, or at the very least denied protection as a legal right — i.e. where it is now. Focusing primarily on trying to preserve the previous status quo — one that was already born out of a compromise with anti-abortion hardliners and which already failed to adequately guarantee reproductive rights in practice — will simply result in ultraconservatives retaining a blank check to continue ratcheting the center ground rightward by default as their stance becomes ever-more extreme.
There is a point at which the desire to avoid conflict becomes dysfunctional; at which negotiation becomes appeasement. We have passed that point. Liberalism has, on this issue and on so many others, from workers’ rights to gun control, adopted Neville Chamberlain as its role model, continually tying itself in pretzels to appease an unappeasable enemy for the sake of being able to declare an unjust, spineless peace. History already teaches us very clearly where that path leads; a lot of us just stuck our collective fingers in our ears and decided we weren’t going to hear the lesson because that lesson was deemed too uncomfortable. We’ve wasted decades on an effort to find common ground with extreme-right-wing anti-abortion fanatics that wasn’t only utterly futile but utterly without moral merit in its basic conception. We should not have tried, not just because the effort was doomed from the outset but because it was the wrong thing to ever thing we should be doing in the first place. Ask yourself this — really, seriously, ask yourself. If you’re dealing with someone who wants to force a person to give birth against their will, deny them access to affordable healthcare during that forced pregnancy, forced birth, and whatever short-term or long-term health complications it creates, deny them any way to financially support the resulting child’s upbringing from wages to healthcare access to childcare, and then, to top it all off, do absolutely nothing to stop that supposedly precious child’s life being ended by a bullet in their school classroom by some teenage incel with an AR-15 and a head full of race war memes from one or other of the internet’s septic tanks, why the hell would you ever want to negotiate with that person?
As much as it’s blasphemous to liberal sensibilities, the unavoidable conclusion from the fall of Roe v. Wade, and with so many other issues where the right have been able to dictate terms, is that moderation and middle-groundism don’t get results — extremity and legislative aggression do. Effective action to regain and preserve reproductive rights requires that liberals take a leaf out of their opponents’ book and understand that the way to control the dominant center ground is not to preemptively meet your opponent in the middle but to continually demand more than what you actually want so the eventual compromise settles on what you really wanted in the first place. This is something the right understands perfectly well. The endless pursuit of moderation produces nothing but staggered defeat — if liberals want to start winning again in the fight over abortion rights, they need to stop sitting on their hands, stop trying to find a middle ground with people whose views are fundamentally unacceptable, and start pursuing hardline, radical positions of their own. Roe v. Wade has fallen — but Roe v. Wade was never adequate in the first place. Instead of fighting to restore a shaky legal compromise that just-barely upheld reproductive rights at the best of times, it’s time to build a stronger, more comprehensive, and more legally resilient framework of protections and fight — really fight — for that instead.
Roe v. Wade has fallen — but Roe v. Wade was never adequate in the first place.
So how do we do this? First, we need a solid policy platform to put forward — and one defined by its explicit rejection of half-measure options. The fear of polarization, or of seeming “unreasonable”, is pointless and counterproductive. The issue is already polarized, and we’re dealing with opponents who are not operating within a framework of reason in the first place. The American people need a radical alternative based around a positive vision for change — one that aims to maximize choice, not merely preserve the meager, inadequate and precarious scraps of the old status quo.
Here are a few basic proposals to start with.
A sample platform proposal for meaningful reform of abortion law. All the following are intended to be applied at the Federal level, unless explicitly stated otherwise.
· Complete repeal of the Hyde Amendment.
· Full codification into law of the right for anyone physically capable of becoming pregnant to terminate that pregnancy as a matter of pure personal choice, without any form of interference or impediment from any other person or institution.
· Complete abolition of time limits on when an abortion can take place. The notion of the “voluntary” third-trimester abortion, where someone carries a pregnancy two-thirds of the way to term and then decides they want to abort out of purely personal choice, is an emotionally manipulative scare story not grounded in reality. Such abortions are in practice only conducted as measures of last-resort necessity after a usually very much wanted pregnancy goes tragically wrong; for example to prevent death as a result of severe complications, or to prevent further suffering in cases where the fetus is either already dead or has no chance of surviving birth. Criminalization based on a moral myth only compounds both the grief of an already traumatic situation and the risk of serious medical harm.
· The passage of a law requiring 100% of claimed travel costs both to and from an abortion provider to be covered by public funds at the State level; both to secure affordability of access and to create financial leverage to discourage practices by individual states that result in unreasonable travel distances for anyone seeking to obtain an abortion.
· A guaranteed right to privacy for anyone seeking an abortion, including a complete ban on the sale or other dissemination of user data from period-tracking apps or other services that could be used to infer that an abortion had taken place.
· A complete ban on healthcare providers refusing to offer abortions or other reproductive care, or otherwise discriminating against patients in any way, on religious or other ideological grounds.
· A legally binding requirement for all healthcare professionals to fully provide care appropriate to their professional role, without discriminating or refusing to carry out their professional responsibilities on the basis of personal religious or ideological beliefs, with the penalty for doing so being the immediate, lifetime withdrawal of their license to practice.
· A complete ban on the operation of “crisis pregnancy centers” that misleadingly present themselves as legitimate abortion clinics or medical service providers as cover for efforts to discourage and undermine access to abortions, with the operation of any such endeavor also being prosecutable as civil fraud in addition to any separate criminal charges. Additionally, the introduction of fines for anyone supplying funds to such an institution, set at a minimum of triple the amount given, with all proceeds donated to legitimate reproductive healthcare providers.
· A complete ban on the dissemination, in any form, of false or misleading claims intended to discourage abortions, with such claims being exempted from protection under the First Amendment. Though this is already technically illegal on paper, the law is at present functionally unenforced on the matter, and needs to be unambiguously restated.
· The passage of a law enforcing a buffer zone of at least five hundred feet around abortion clinics within which absolutely no form of anti-abortion agitation can take place.
· The passage of a law making it a felony to harass, intimidate, or otherwise attempt to impede, disrupt or discourage, by any means, at work or otherwise, the lawful work of healthcare professionals.
· The passage of a law making it a felony to harass, intimidate, or otherwise attempt to impede, disrupt or discourage, by any means, any member of the public from seeking or accessing any healthcare service.
· An amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing an inalienable right to individual bodily autonomy.
Additionally, to ensure that having children is a genuinely viable choice, with minimal risk and without economic pressure, for those that want to do so:
· A guaranteed and adequate universal basic income.
· An increase in the Federal minimum wage to $20 an hour, with guaranteed annual increases in line with inflation.
· A hard cap on rental prices at 10% of the average wage for a forty-hour work week within the local area.
· Further measures to reduce and control costs of living, including stringent caps on energy and food prices.
· Universal, free-at-the-point-of-delivery coverage of all reproductive healthcare — from abortions through to childbirth and post-natal care — to ensure that whether or not to carry a pregnancy to term becomes a true, free choice not influenced by healthcare costs, and as a part of a broader transition to universal publicly-funded healthcare provision.
· A guaranteed minimum of one full year’s fully-paid maternity and paternity leave for every parent.
· Guaranteed free provision of baby formula, food, diapers, and all other necessary products for the health and welfare of a child for the first five years of every child’s life.
· Guaranteed free full-time childcare up until a child begins full-time schooling, and during school holidays and weekends as required up to the age of 13.
· Guaranteed free, high-quality and easily accessible schooling for every child.
· Guaranteed free provision for life of all relevant care assistance and other necessities of dignified and maximally independent living for Disabled individuals.
When all’s said and done, these are not even especially radical demands from an objective viewpoint — but they’re a place to start, and a sufficiently unified and committed campaign formed behind such a policy platform can begin dragging the center ground back in the right direction and undoing some of the harm that’s been done. Even if we don’t get everything we want immediately, we’ll make more progress than we will trying to bail water out of a boat that barely even has a hull anymore. Fighting for a platform like this could bring back the Roe v. Wade status quo and get it finally codified into Federal law. If we want to go further, we’ll need a more radical, more hardline platform, and then one more radical and hardline than that, and then one more radical and hardline than that in turn, until — like our opponents have done — we’ve gained legal and political hegemony.
The issue is already polarized, and we’re dealing with opponents who are not operating within a framework of reason in the first place.
The lessons of this situation apply far beyond this one issue. Across the board, the spectrum of debate is consistently polarized between radical, outrageous and ever-escalating demands from conservatives and moderate, unambitious and timidly-pursued demands from their opponents — and across the board the center-ground is being pushed continuously rightward and the power of the hard right is being continuously entrenched in law as a result. The American liberal-left has allowed itself to be played for fools, concern-trolled into a constant fear of appearing “too extreme” to be taken seriously by radical conservative opponents who revel in continually one-upping their own extremity. Worse, the liberal leaders who claim they’re fighting to preserve abortion rights have continually reneged on their promises to codify them into Federal law, because the status of those rights as being under constant threat makes too good a source of fundraising and electoral leverage to give up. Meanwhile, the mass constituency of “moderate voters” who mainstream liberalism, almost as an article of faith, believes lie in the middle between centrist Democrats and far-right Republicans is a fiction. Legal abortion access has clear majority support from voters. Universal healthcare has clear majority support from voters. Increases in the minimum wage, measures to combat climate change, and increasing taxes on billionaires all have clear majority support from voters. The real “moderate voter” now lies miles to the left of the establishment Democrat consensus on every major issue; abandoned in the dust as that consensus continuously triangulates rightward in pursuit of a “center-ground” defined by the Republican Party’s most depraved and tyrannical members. Let’s acknowledge that fact. Let’s stop clinging to an idealized fiction of what politics should be that’s never resembled reality, and instead accept what politics is. Let’s take into account why it is that our enemy — and they are our enemy, not a negotiating partner offering in good faith to meet us halfway — are winning. Let’s look, without received wisdom or dogmatic preconceptions, at how they win — and instead of caving at the first sign of challenge, learn to beat them at their own game.