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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for June 2, 09

Killing Dr. Tiller

Like a malignancy returning, it was just a matter of time before that ongoing intolerable affront to the fundamentalist patriarchal mind-set forced a man to pick up his gun. To the shooter and his supporters, killing Dr. Tiller, the Kansas abortion provider, wasn’t murder. It was merely a correction in the proper order of things. Because the shooter and all those who believe as he does are incapable of acknowledging that women have the same moral autonomy and authority as men do, Doctor Tiller had to die.

It’s an old, old story.

In the state where Dr. Tiller was murdered, the law is clear; late term abortions, like those provided by Dr. Tiller, are only allowed to preserve the health of the woman and a second doctor, legally and financially independent, must agree with the diagnosis. These are not the whimsical abortion stories dreamt up by certain right-wing demagogues, filled with Freudian fantasies of thousands of idle rich white women killing their babies because a pregnancy would prevent them from wearing their latest Prada, or coked-out black welfare queens aborting their babies so they can go to a Saturday night orgy. The Kansas abortions were dangerous medical procedures offered to women whose pregnancies have gone horribly awry. They are a graphic sad glimpse of the often brutal indifference of reproduction -- Mother Nature seeks only to ensure that a species will survive; an individual life is of no consequence in that grand scheme. It is a reality that our smiley-faced culture and modern medicine conspires to keep out of the public eye, but a check of early cemeteries will confirm it; graves filled with young women dead of childbirth, buried forever with their babies. That reality is still there and it is a reality all women know deep in their bones.

It is a fearsome knowledge -- that profound awareness that for a woman, sex and birth and death are forever linked – that adds a special dimension to a woman’s moral and ethical autonomy. It is a cell-deep knowledge that men will never know in the same way, and it carries with it a heavy burden of responsibility and danger. And to a fundamentalist, patriarchal mind-set, that knowledge is an intolerable threat to a system that sees women as morally inferior to men, beings lacking a head who must be guided by their husbands, silent in church, half-formed creatures who should be seated at the kids’ table with the other children. To grant such beings full moral and ethical autonomy over their own bodies and wombs, or to even acknowledge the power of such special knowledge, is simply not to be tolerated. And so, Dr. Tiller, and all other abortion doctors, has to die in order to restore male control over these headless, half-formed creatures. To grant women full moral autonomy over their lives and pregnancies would be to invite chaos and a fundamentalist world turned upside down.

So the killing spasms will continue, the rhetoric will ramp up, the culture wars reignite, all signs of dark, unresolved fevers still raging in the body politic. Meantime, anti-science reproductive ignorance, shame, and fear, a failed medical delivery system, a failing education system, a crumbling safety net and an economic crash, will continue to contribute to the hypocritical public debate about the “sanctity of life,” a piece of hokum that’s only useful to fuel various political bases and continue this religious-based, misogynistic culture war over women’s bodies.

Enough. We know how to do better. We know how to be better. We have so many choices, so many middle-paths, so much wisdom to draw from. But we cannot move anywhere until we see clearly – life is a beautiful, fragile, often ugly, deadly dangerous process that can break bad at any moment. And each of us, men and women alike, must be accorded the presumption of having full ethical and moral autonomy and authority to make choices for ourselves and then bear the burdens or blessings that come with those choices.

And those choices must be made by us, not by a strange man with a gun.

6 comments:

Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Beautifully written, Ann, but I think your basic premise -- that Dr. Tiller's murder was of a piece with a mindset that regards women as "morally inferior" to men -- is bunk. Only an overwrought imagination could regard the shooter as some kind of enforcer for "the patriarchy." In fact, his actions have been rightly condemned by everyone with a functioning moral compass, because "thou shalt not kill" doesn't come with an amusement park codicil saying "must be this tall to ride."

As to one of your secondary themes, there is a considerable gulf between "equality before the Lord" (standard Christian doctrine as understood even by those children of the Enlightenment who hashed out the Declaration of Independence) and the radical autonomy that devolves into "might makes right." Margaret Sanger would not have befriended Sojourner Truth.

Occasionally rotten popes deserve all the lumps they still get, but Christianity has done more to affirm the dignity of women than the religions it supplanted ever did. (Novelist Dan Brown says different, but Dan Brown knows less about the "sacred feminine" than, for example, an illiterate sixteenth-century peasant like Juan Diego). Even that alleged misogynist Paul of Tarsus singles out female assistants for praise in his unabashedly retro and (ahem) patriarchal letters.

Mike Green said...

Been through Kansas twice now, and I can honestly say the whole place just creeps me out.
You can not drive five miles in any direction without a huge anti-abortion billboard in your face.
I have met some nice Kansans on our travels, but they were all, of course, not in Kansas at the time.
Perhaps the relentless wind drives em nuts, who knows?
Great article Ann, Kudos

Alon Perlman said...

It is a taking of a life while doing works in ones church. Had the murdered man mortally wounded been able to grasp the alter or the cross or a relic.
Would that had afforded him a sanctuary?
Would the murderer's sin be greater if he then denied that sanctuary? Last confession, rites of that church?
And by murderer i describe a man described by his kin as mental.
This is a tragedy, two or more families affected forever, not an invitation to generalise on,s prejedices.
Ann is proasic today
Word verification: proasi

Alon Perlman said...

OOps Sorry Ann I did not mean prosaic in any other sense than "factual".
Other wise you are poetic. The bearing capacity of a healthy woman could easily be 20 children. in different cultures, in addition to religion, there is differing levels of the ability of women to participate in the choice of when they will have a child and how many times. The differences in opinion are sometimes geographical as MG noted.

In Kansus many women are as convinced as the men. they do beleive themselves in choice in choosing rules that made sense to their great great great grandfathers.
other parts of america and the world they may not


No group acheives maximal fruitfullness and multiplication. every group has some form of control on its reproduction. In the enlightened west technologies are in existance that that Doctor utilised and had spared his female patients the risk of delivering and facing deformed doomed fetuses.

We are now hearing and seeing the rumblings of mother earth who has finally noticed that the motes on her crust figured out how to turn on the electric blanket. There are too many of us (Though reading and writing this are Carbon average americans who leave more garbage out per week than a third world village).
Should we have the right to reproduce till there will be no space for the four skeletal horses of the apocalypse to land?

Churadogs said...

Alon, with poetics of his own, sez:"Should we have the right to reproduce till there will be no space for the four skeletal horses of the apocalypse to land?"

"Rights" have no meaning to Mother Nature. We can do whatever we wish; She will have the final word. And it's unlikely to be pretty.

Churadogs said...

Patrick sez:"Only an overwrought imagination could regard the shooter as some kind of enforcer for "the patriarchy." In fact, his actions have been rightly condemned by everyone with a functioning moral compass, "

How the shooter viewed his role in the context of "justice" and "retribution" and "God's Justice," etc. is key. As for "moral compasses," Guess that leaves out various anti-abortion groups and a whole bunch of media comentators? No moral compases there since they're cheering. While the Kansas shooter is being portrayed as a mentally ill lone shooter, what's critical is the religious/social context he operated in. Also, while you aptly defend the Catholic Church, my comments are directed at fundamentalists (of all stripes and all religions, into which I'm sure it would be fair to lump Catholics of the Inquisition stripe?). It is that patriarch/fundamentalist mind set that creates the context within which our shooters think and move. Plus, there is the langage trap as well: Once you use the term, "murder" to describe all abortions and "murderer" to describe/define all abortion doctors, you've set the tar-baby, sticky yellow brick road to its logical conclusion -- i.e. more murder.