Before #MeToo – The Price of Silence

What would America be like if men got pregnant instead of women? It seems a silly question, but I’d argue it isn’t. My guess is that abortion would not only be legal under all conditions but that it would be readily available to all (men). The same for contraception: cheap and readily available. I was raised Catholic; consider if the Catholic clergy, all male of course, got pregnant, had to carry babies to term, and then had to care for them. Somehow I think that church teachings on abortion and contraception would be different.

But men don’t get pregnant. And men have full control over their bodies. It’s far different for women in America (and across most of the globe). Women are not only victims of sexual violence: they are increasingly being told they have no other option than to carry a baby to term, even if they were victims of rape or incest. The legislatures making these decisions (no surprise) are predominantly male, and they love to pose as pro-life.

In her memoir, Meredith Keller reminds us of the high price women have paid in America when laws are made by men for men, where women are often an afterthought, if that, and when so-called religious teachings are elevated above empathy and compassion and understanding. W.J. Astore

Before #MeToo – The Price of Silence

Meredith Keller

Now in retirement, I am anticipating a quiet afternoon in my art studio when I check mail in my rural box. Roosters are crowing. I hear clanking sounds of tractors discing and smell the musty soil being turned. I sort through the junk mail when my eye lands on a hand addressed letter. I tear it open to find the shocking words:

I think you might be my grandmother.

My body goes rigid as the thought of reliving a shattering period of my past sends waves of shock reverberating through my body. All those feelings of shame long buried were about to boil up again. If I answered the letter, all would be revealed.

Would I dare? Did I want to go down that path and relive the scenes of a rape and resulting pregnancy, opening the scars of a long buried episode that began on a college campus in 1962? Would this young writer, my granddaughter, be able to comprehend how the moral arbiters of society held us in their grip?

Sexual harassment, rape and intimidation have shadowed and haunted women through the ages. Where were their stories? Buried, like mine, in shame, layered under decades of angst. In my day single women with unintended pregnancies were forced into hiding. From the end of WWII until the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, unmarried pregnant women and their families faced shame and insufferable choices.

The alternatives were dismal. One solution was to visit abortionists, in many cases unqualified, who, to protect their own identities, blindfolded women during the procedure.  In 1962, sixteen hundred women, forced into illegal terminations, were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City due to botched or incomplete abortions. Society had women, especially poor women, in a vise.

Others had no choice but to carry a child to term. They quietly disappeared, spirited away while the stigma of “illegitimacy” hung over them. Shrouded in secrecy, with their identities erased, they were groomed to hand over their babies for adoption and return to society as though nothing had happened. It was known as the Baby Scoop Era when the dominant view was that unmarried women were unfit mothers and needed to acknowledge their guilt and shame and give up their babies for adoption. From 1945 to 1973 it is estimated that four million parents in the United States had children placed for adoption. Four million sad stories like mine went undocumented.

The Unraveling – The Price of Silence, my memoir, puts a spotlight on what it was like to have to weather the paralyzing trauma of rape and then go through the devastating severance of handing a child over to adoption. No one can imagine the gravity and deep sadness of that moment you give away your own child. It caused a quake deep in my soul. Is this what our legislators wish to return to when they not only write restrictive abortion laws, but also deny women health coverage for contraception under the guise of “freedom of religion”?

Feel what it was like to struggle through those times before Roe as I dredge up shattering memories that haunted me for 52 years. I fiercely fought for the dignity that was swiftly erased one night on a college campus. I had to jump hurdles to re-define myself, bury the past and muster the grit to have a successful career beginning as Food Editor of a leading restaurant magazine at age 23.  

The scars from my early life remained and memories lingered until that letter arrived in my mailbox. What would I respond? How could I adequately explain an era long forgotten? That granddaughter had not lived through those restrictive times of shame and humiliation. I unraveled my story for her and all young women so they can feel what it was like when women’s reproductive rights were emphatically denied. It is a struggle we are facing yet again. And yet, there was one champion in our corner, a little known lawyer at the time, and she had this to say:

The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Keller’s memoir, The Unraveling, is available in paperback, hardback, and electronically from popular outlets such as Amazon and Powell’s. The book’s cover art, reproduced above, is her original work.

This story was first posted at The Contrary Perspective.

The Pick Is In: Amy Coney Barrett

W.J. Astore

As expected, President Trump has selected Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. Intellectually, she’s qualified. But any candidate supported strongly by Trump’s evangelical base is suspect. The reason is simple: evangelicals wouldn’t support her if they weren’t confident of her opposition to Roe v. Wade. And Trump has indeed gone on the record as predicting she will be instrumental in overturning it.

Amy Coney Barrett, it’s fair to say, is a conservative Catholic. I can relate to her because into my early 20s I was a church-going Catholic. (I even carried a Catholic study bible to church.) Following the lead of the church, I thought abortion was wrong, and I tended to have a holier-than-thou attitude about it. Except in cases of rape or incest or the life of the mother, I saw no reason to publicly fund abortions. If I recall correctly, I accepted the church’s teaching that life begins at the moment of conception.

My problem was conflating my personal religious beliefs, guided by Catholic dogma, with politics and public policy. Put bluntly, I was mixing religion with politics, as if my religion had all the right answers for all Americans. But I got over it. I met more people of different religions, traveled, read a lot, got my master’s and doctorate (focusing on relations between science and religion in historical terms), and realized my personal religious beliefs should neither intrude nor interfere with the rights and privileges and beliefs of my fellow citizens.

Amy Coney Barrett will doubtless say all the right things at her Senate confirmation hearing. She’ll affirm that her religious beliefs won’t determine or even shape her decisions on the law; she won’t say how she’ll rule on Roe v. Wade, but she’ll affirm that she respects judicial precedent; she’ll affirm she’s a believer in judicial restraint; in brief, she knows the drill at these hearings.

But all this won’t be the full truth. She’s not the dream pick of evangelicals because she’s unbiased and disinterested. They know from her record (and her personal life) she’s a critic of Roe v. Wade. They also know she can be counted on to rule in favor of moneyed interests. For example, if she votes against Obamacare, as her record indicates she will, the richest Americans will see a financial windfall (they will effectively get a substantial tax cut). She can be counted on to deliver for the richest among us as well as for evangelicals and conservative Catholics, else she wouldn’t have been picked to begin with.

Two more items of interest. The conservative Catholic organization she belongs to is rather retrograde, to put it mildly, in arguing for a nuclear family of heterosexuals with the man as the “head” of the family. Homosexuality is seen as aberrational and sinful, which is how I saw it when I was carrying my Catholic study bible around. Again, all the evangelicals who support Barrett know exactly where she stands here. Finally, while being pro-life, she is also a strong supporter of gun rights and the Second Amendment.

So there you have it. Amy Coney Barrett is much like I was when I was in my early 20s. Back then I thought I had a lot of life’s answers right there in my holiest of books, and I was unafraid to suggest that public policy should be informed, if not determined, by my personal religious beliefs. But I grew up. Trump’s evangelical friends are counting on the fact that Barrett remains what she’s always been: a conservative Catholic loyalist whose religious views will very much inform how she rules from the bench.

So, goodbye to Roe v. Wade. Goodbye to Obamacare and health care for millions. Hello to a land in which corporations as “citizens” will have even more power than before. A 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court will say this is justice — until the rest of us say otherwise.

Conservative Kookiness in Iowa

Scott Walker serves up some red meat
Scott Walker serves up some red meat

W.J. Astore

OK.  I should know better.  When you pay attention to what conservatives are saying at the Iowa Freedom Forum, attended as it is by religious activists, you’re going to hear kookiness and craziness.  But what’s sad is how the “red meat” issues raised by the likes of Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, and Rick Santorum are so devoid of nutritional value.  Empty calories, all of it.

You hear the usual talk about lower taxes and less governmental regulation, even though Republicans under Reagan and the Bushes (along with the Democrats as well) oversaw expansions in government.  George H.W. Bush famously said, “Read my lips — no new taxes,” before proceeding to raise taxes once he became president.  Along with lower taxes and smaller government, Republicans also claim to support “family values,” a vapid phrase that basically means whatever you want to read into it.  I’m not a fan of Obama’s priorities and policies, but one thing I can say for the man is that his life, his wife, and his teenage girls have exuded family values, Thanksgiving controversy or no.

So we know Republicans are supposedly for lower taxes, smaller government, and family values.  What else are they for? Abortion, of course, as in restricting it further or even eliminating it.  Voter ID laws, because we all know how the “wrong” kind of people are being bussed in en masse to skew voting results in favor of socialism (talk about an urban myth!).  And more gun rights, like open carry laws and easier approval for concealed permits to carry.

Egads!  These are the issues that sway the activist base of the Republican Party?  Fetuses, the specter of more disadvantaged people of color voting, and guns.

Wow.  Our country faces serious issues.  A crumbling infrastructure.  An unsustainable prison system.  Perpetual wars.  Climate change (even Republicans admit it’s real, though they won’t blame humans for it).  Ever widening gaps between rich and poor.  Student loan and credit card debt that threaten a fragile economic recovery.  Mediocre education.  Ever rising health care costs (still the number one cause for personal bankruptcies in America).  But forget all that: let’s talk about fetuses, non-existent voter fraud, and guns.

And Republicans like Santorum wonder why “too many people don’t think we care about them.”  Gee… I wonder why, Rick.

(A personal note: In 1976, though too young to vote, I supported Gerald Ford rather than Jimmy Carter.  In 1984, I voted for Ronald Reagan because I believed Walter Mondale lacked the gravitas to be president at a crucial moment in US-Soviet affairs.  Ever since then, the Republican Party has lost me with its cynical culture wars and active suppression of democracy, among other reasons.)