February 19, 2017

Thoughts on the death of Roe — that is, Norma McCorvey

Norma McCorvey (Washington Post)
Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff, as the anonymized Jane Roe, in the famous Roe v Wade case that legalized abortion, in general, across the US, died yesterday at 69.

In one sense, other than being white and not minority, one might argue that she was not the ideal candidate for the challenge to Texas' abortion laws, and ultimately, similarly restrictive ones elsewhere.

I don't mean the observation about her skin color to be pejorative to people of any skin color or socially constructed "race." It's simply an observation that, with America even more white-majority 45 years ago than today, I think many dispassionate observers would agree with.

Outside the "other"? She obviously had some degree of depression at the time of wanting an abortion, whether she really had cut her wrists, as she claimed.

And, she felt — whether totally accurately, totally inaccurately, or somewhere in the middle — that she was "used" by the pro-choice movement.

That said, her mental health issues did make her, both then and now, an ideal candidate for allowing for, then, and preserving, today, maternal mental health late-term abortion rights.

And, speaking of, it appears that McCorvey, out of her own mental health issues, might not have a totally accurate story about being "used," and might have done some "using" herself. And that judgment comes from both pro-choice and pro-life leaders:
Harsher judgments presented Ms. McCorvey as a user who trolled for attention and cash. Abortion rights activists questioned her motives when she decamped in 1995, after years on their side, and was baptized in a swimming pool by the evangelical minister at the helm of the antiabortion group Operation Rescue. 
The minister, Flip Benham, told Prager, who profiled Ms. McCorvey in Vanity Fair magazine in 2013, that he had come to see her as someone who “just fishes for money.”
That's pretty blunt. But honest. 

She was allegedly bitter that her attorneys, Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington, wouldn't find her an illegal abortion site. She found one herself, per her Wikipedia page, but it closed before she got there.

That said, while attorneys don't have a Hippocratic oath (insert "legal ethics" joke here), surely it is legal malpractice to deliberately suborn criminal behavior. McCorvey may not have understood that, but that nonetheless stands.

Also, among the people who claim she was "used" by the pro-choice movement is Gloria Allred, who's no stranger to using people herself, although I think there's a degree of truth about this.

But, behind it all, I think there's an issue of neediness, along with mental instability, that surely goes back to her childhood. Yes, she wasn't asked to speak at Roe v Wade rallies. That said, that case ultimately became a class action, and also was decided by the Supreme Court the same day as a lesser-known case, Doe v Bolton. The "Doe," Sandra Cano, claims, like McCorvey, that attorneys lied to her. You think McCorvey's life was complicated? It had nothing, arguably, on that of Cano.

That said, pro-choicers should at the same time acknowledge that her regret was probably at least to some degree legitimate. (Ditto for that of Cano, who died in 2014.) After she allegedly became pro-life, she still supported first-trimester abortions, so she didn't jump into being a pawn of the Religious Right.

And, she remained a lesbian, in a relationship, for a full decade after that.

In short, her relationship to the issue of abortion was somewhat convoluted and certainly messy, other things aside. And, you know, overall, that's where most Americans are at. They, like McCorvey, certainly support first-trimester abortion by a clear majority. A smaller majority, but still a sound one, supports second-trimester abortion with some restrictions. Of course, the Casey case has replaced the trimester structure with one of fetal viability. (And, "Brave New World" artificial wombs and lustful hopes of some aside, I don't think fetal viability will be moved much further back. And, note to the Religious Right: The Old Testament/Tanakh says nothing about abortion per se, and has one passage about induced abortion by assault of a pregnant woman that treats even that like only a minor crime, and the New Testament says nothing, period.)

And, on the third hand, per Idries Shah talking about "sides of an issue":
To 'see both sides' of a problem is the surest way to prevent its complete solution. Because there are always more than two sides.
And, given the general unreliability of memory and oral testimony decades later, I wouldn't take either McCorvey's or Cano's regret stories at 100 percent face value. I think both of them were angry at being pushed forward, even under pseudonyms — or rather, being put on the spot more than pushed forward, as both of them had given birth multiple times and put all of their babies up for adoption. But, as noted above, I wouldn't totally dismiss them either.

Abortion will remain messy — no matter what the Religious Right tries to do. And, it will remain messy, despite some on the pro-choice side who may want to present it as a relatively simple or clean decision.

And, as someone in that muddled middle, who would use the phrase pro-choice to describe himself, within the fetal viability strictures, but used to be pro-life when religious, I think some people on "both sides" could use some learning.

Some pro-choicers, without giving credence to the Religious Right idea that all women who have abortions have guilt trips later, could acknowledge that some women indeed do have that happen, and work with them.

Some, or many, pro-lifers, could stop guilt-tripping women in general. The Religious Right portion of pro-lifers could also acknowledge the reality of, and real concerns of, feminism. It could also acknowledge secular pro-lifers like the late Nat Hentoff. But, moral superiority may come off as easier than expanding their circle.

Speaking of secular pro-lifers? Some pro-choicers, who reject the idea of fetal viability in general, might want to realize they too are off-putting to some of us in that muddled middle, that "third side."

(And a sidebar: "Pro-lifers," by self-label, who support the death penalty can drop the label, as the Vatican, for example, has opposed the death penalty for decades — and we haven't even talked about its still-racist application in the US.)

And, I haven't even mentioned, until now, related issues, such as access to birth control, both ease of availability for something like RU-486 today, and its coverage, or non-coverage, by insurance plans. The Protestant portion of the Religious Right, if it doesn't buy Catholic arguments on contraception, doesn't even have a good theological leg to stand on here.

So, while the pro-choice side of "both sides" isn't always perfect, it's in general more accurate, more honest, and more concerned for the broader issues that pregnant woman face — and the gamut of options to address pregnancy-related concerns — than is the pro-life side.

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