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.