Monday, June 17, 2013

Book Notes — Perilous Times

When the military showed up for the Congressional Sexual Assault hearings in Washington, I nearly fell out of my chair.  This is hard to do because I have a considerable center of gravity these days.  But there it was: they were there to give evidence that after decades of failure to control assault crimes, after their proven inequity and ineffectiveness to protect victims, mostly women, from reprisal for even making a complaint and having self-serving resolution handed down by the male commanding officer, the military wanted to conduct business as usual.  There they were.  The military, a wall —  seriously a wall, half a dozen deep — of full-dress uniformed male officers, each wearing a comedy of medals on their chests that would make the most fanciful Pope blush.  What they seemed to be saying is that “they will look after the little lady.”

Last month, an eight-man panel began work on a new GOP federal anti-abortion bill for the U.S. House.

Also, last month, a jury in Texas found a man who shot an escort “not guilty of murder” because he had understood she was to perform more than a lap dance for what he paid and therefore she was in possession of property that belonged to him. He shot her. His action was determined legal. 

Few of us are unaware of what many of our Republican representatives have said about rape, even the biological consequences of rape — one goofy, nearly obscene comment after another.  Their understanding of science hasn’t reached rudimentary. Their understanding of the human condition is mind-numbingly nil. Yet they make laws that have to do with the survival of the species.

Also, I understand how two thoughtful, well-intentioned people can have seriously conflicting opinions on important issues.  But the discussion of such subjects as Roe vs. Wade is owed informed debate as well as a sense of perspective  — historic and personal. 

This is where Perilous Times comes in.  The full title includes the sub heading An Inside Look at Abortion Before — And After — Roe vs Wade.  The author is journalist Fran Moreland Johns who also wrote about important end-of-life issues in Dying Unafraid.   The perspective, or perhaps context, necessary to understand the issue, relates directly to the historic social domination by men and the roles society expected women to play — for the most part — essentially as property.  This is a political, therefore politically correctable, condition that was addressed by the top court, but as Johns points out, the details of interpretation were continually corrupted, usually by state legislatures, to deny women as much control over their own bodies as they could by slipping restrictions into a midnight amendment.

Johns tells real stories in a fair-minded minded manner.  She recreates the time before there were alternatives to “back-alley” butchers.  You’ll meet all sorts of folks along the way, none a stock character.  Quite possibly the girl who lived down the street when you were a kid scooted into the back seat of an old Buick late one morning, and was returned that afternoon all bundled up, missing only a couple of days of school — if things went well. The court decision went a long way to end the quiet and dangerous desperation.

But the news tells us everyday, this story is not over.  For example, Planned Parenthood, an organization that does far more to prevent unwanted pregnancies and create healthy families than the loudest of the anti-choice brigades, is under constant, massive attack from well-funded, highly passionate fundamentalist groups.  One would think the arguments they propose would stem from a debate about when life begins. That’s a damned good question, for which no current answer satisfies all the messy philosophy and science the question unearths.  However, the underlying fundamentalist message isn’t about what they say it is: It is not about life.  If so there would be greater emphasis on adoption and family planning. Instead, the incessant Roe v Wade challenge is to reestablish “traditional” male head of household status and relegate the wife-mother as someone who belongs to him as God’s will would have it — and if they have their way — as U.S. law will demand it.

John’s new book puts the past U.S. chapters in perspective and provides an important perspective on what is happening now, here and elsewhere.

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