Deny and Disparage, Pervert and Betray

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

– U.S. Constitution, Ninth Amendment

To use a history of discrimination to deny people their constitutional rights is a perversion of logic and a betrayal of justice. … Women are indeed missing from the Constitution. That’s a problem to remedy, not a precedent to honor.

– Jill Lepore, “Of course the Constitution has nothing to say about abortion

This week’s featured posts are “What Alito Wrote” and “Who’s to blame for overturning Roe?

This week everybody was talking about overturning Roe v Wade

For Mother’s Day, my mom would like the activism of her youth not to be for nothing.

One featured post goes through what Justice Alito’s draft opinion says. Another lists the people to blame for this finally happening, assuming it does. Here I’m going to discuss the politics of the decision.

Republicans have been oddly silent about the approaching culmination of their decades-long effort to overturn Roe. At a rally in Pennsylvania Friday, Donald Trump talked for almost 90 minutes and mentioned abortion only in passing.

The reason they’re restraining their urge to crow is obvious: Yes, the GOP has accomplished something, but it’s not something the American people want. (How they managed that in a country widely regarded as a democracy is discussed in one of the featured posts.) For decades, people who favor at least some level of abortion rights have greatly outnumbered those who don’t, but anti-abortion voters have been more fervent. Many on the Right considered a politician who wanted to preserve Roe unacceptable, a baby-killer. But on the Left, abortion was somewhere in the middle of a laundry list of issues. Republican politicians talked endlessly about ending abortion, but for most swing voters life went on as before. The upshot was that, in spite of the polls, standing against abortion might win you more votes than it lost you.

Now that it’s actually happening, though, things are getting real. Parents in about half the states have to wonder: “What happens if my daughter gets pregnant?” Will she have to drop out of college to raise her rapist’s baby? Will she marry that guy she never should have gone out with in the first place? Can she really go through nine months of pregnancy and then give the child away? What if there are major birth defects? What if the pregnancy endangers her life? What if she gets desperate enough to seek out an illegal abortion, and then something goes wrong?

Younger women are realizing that their lives are no longer their own. A failure of birth control can wreck all their plans for the future. Married couples can no longer decide not to have children (as my wife and I did), and be confident their decision will stick.

All along, abortion has been a deal-breaking issue for the religious Right. Now it’s becoming a deal-breaker across the board.

But polls on abortion vary wildly, depending on how you ask the question. Asking about preserving Roe, as Gallup has in the graph above, is basically a proxy for maintaining the status quo, whatever it is. People who don’t understand exactly what Roe means are really saying, “I can live with things the way they are.”

Other polls get different results, though, because most Americans’ views on abortion are complicated. Practically no one (including a lot of people who will tell you otherwise, I suspect) really believes that an IUD commits murder when it prevents a newly fertilized ovum from implanting in the uterus, or that a clump of cells sitting in an IVF clinic’s freezer is a “baby”. A similarly small number are comfortable with the idea of a healthy woman aborting a healthy fetus that is only a few days away from a normal birth. Most of us sympathize with a woman who wanted a baby but whose life will be in danger if she carries her fetus to term. We have less sympathy for one who just couldn’t be bothered to use birth control.

So the answers you’ll get depend largely on the examples people imagine when they hear your question. Most women who get an abortion don’t publicize it, so until now the Right has largely been free to paint whatever picture it wants, especially to captive audiences like Evangelical congregations. But as more and more women are forced to bear children against their will, or start dying from illegal abortions, the real situation will be harder to hide. “What ever happened to Jenny?” you ask, remembering the bright ten-year-old you taught in Sunday school. And then someone tells you.

Based on little more than intuition, I suspect a large majority of Americans could accept this general framework, which is not terribly different from the status quo:

  • The moral value of life in the womb increases with time. A newly fertilized ovum evokes little empathy, a ready-to-be-born fetus a great deal.
  • Before the abortion option is closed off, a woman deserves a fair chance to discover that she is pregnant, to consider her situation, and to discuss the matter with people she trusts.
  • Given the growing significance of the fetus, the woman has a responsibility to make a timely decision.
  • She should be allowed to reconsider if significant new information becomes available about her own health or her potential child’s quality of life.

My own preference would be to keep the government out of the decision entirely, but I could live with this kind of compromise.

NPR’s “7 persistent claims about abortion, fact-checked” is essential to having an intelligent discussion of this issue. The part I found most surprising was the graph of abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age: The number of abortions did rise sharply between 1973 and 1980, but has been declining ever since. Today, there are fewer per capita abortions than in 1973.

The reason, if you chase their link to data from the Guttmacher Institute, is fewer pregnancies, presumably leading to fewer unwanted pregnancies. This is consistent with the abortion-prevention strategy that has been so successful in the Netherlands: Don’t drive abortion underground by banning it, but make contraception readily available and teach everyone how to use it. (That is, of course, the polar opposite of what the Religious Right wants to do in America. I have to suspect that they don’t really care about fetuses; they just want to control women’s sexuality.)

One of the more bizarre takes on the end of Roe came from the NYT’s Ross Douthat:

Worth noting that in the 50 yrs since Roe, men have become less likely to find a spouse, less likely father kids or live with the kids they father, and less likely to participate in the workforce.

Equally worth noting is that in less than two decades after Roe was decided, America won the Cold War.

If Ross thinks he can beat me in a non-sequitur contest, he needs to think again.

Because they don’t want to accept responsibility for the consequences of what they’ve done, Republican politicians want the national discussion to be about whoever leaked the Alito’s draft. The leak certainly violates normal court procedure, and deserves to get somebody fired or even disbarred. But unless you work at the Court, the leak’s significance doesn’t compare with being forced by law to carry a fetus to term.

In the cartoon below, Nick Anderson pokes at the hypocrisy of cheering a leak when an enemy of America does it to favor a presidential candidate (and potentially put the next president in his debt), but being outraged by the much less serious leak of Alito’s draft. (I would also point to the “Climategate” leak, where illegal hacking was just fine when it provided fodder for climate-change denial.)

If you do care about the leak, which I mostly don’t, the most solid theory I’ve heard is that there were actually three leaks: a conservative leaking the result to the Wall Street Journal, a leak to Politico of which justices voted which way, and then a liberal leaking Alito’s draft opinion to Politico.

and primary elections

Tuesday got us into primary election season. In Ohio, J. D. Vance, the author of Hillbilly Elegy, won a tight race for the Republican senate nomination with 32% of the vote. Vance’s win showed both the power and the limits of a Trump endorsement. 32% is not that impressive, but second-place Josh Mandel (24%) claimed to be even Trumpier than Vance. Matt Dolan, a non-Trump but not anti-Trump Republican, got only 23%.

Meanwhile, Democrats united around Tim Ryan (70%), who faces an uphill race in what is increasingly a red state.

and the pandemic

The numbers keep getting worse: new cases are up 50% in the last two weeks. Hospitalizations are up 21%. And the longest-lagging statistic — deaths — has turned upward as well, up 1%.

I would expect this wave to turn around first in the Northeast, because it started there earlier. But so far it hasn’t.

I also wonder how accurate these new-case numbers are, now that we have access to home tests. I think many people test positive, have mild symptoms, and just wait it out at home. Their cases never get into the statistics.

and Esper’s book

Trump’s final Defense Secretary Mark Esper has book coming out, titled A Sacred Oath. In it, he relates a number of anecdotes about President Trump that make him appear even more unfit for office than we already thought he was.

  • Trump proposed shooting missiles at drug labs in Mexico and denying we did it. “No one would know it was us,” Trump improbably suggested. Maybe it was one of those other missile-shooting countries.
  • In response to the George Floyd protests of police brutality that erupted in D.C., Trump wanted to put 10,000 troops on the streets. About the protesters, he asked: “Can’t you just shoot them?”

Esper also tells about bizarre suggestions from Trump advisor Stephen Miller, who wanted 250,000 troops sent to the southern border to meet refugee caravans, and proposed mutilating the corpse of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

What Esper doesn’t say is that he ever went to Vice President Pence and offered his support in invoking the 25th Amendment, which to me seems like the most rational response to his experiences. When NPR asked him why he didn’t resign, he said that he feared some “uber loyalist” would get his job and do the bad things he was stopping Trump from doing.

I am reminded of what James Comey wrote three years ago:

[Trump’s] outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now. …

Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.

And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.

I have not read Esper’s book, but I suspect a better title would be How Trump Ate My Soul. It would probably also sell better.

and you also might be interested in …

The Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine continues, but we’re also hearing about Ukrainain counter-offensives. It’s hard to know who’s winning.

Many suspected that Putin would use the annual commemoration of the Russian victory over Nazi Germany to make some major announcement about the war, but he seems not to have.

Anonymous American “senior defense officials” have been taking some credit for Ukrainian successes. American intelligence helped sink the Moskva, and also has helped target Russian generals.

I share Josh Marshall’s trepidation about this:

What I take from these leaks is that there is a specific message the U.S. is trying to send the Russians. They have decided that these leaks are the best way to send that message. I’ve heard it suggested that the message is somehow connected to the May 9th Victory Day celebrations which many fear will be the pivot point for Putin declaring a national mobilization and expansion of the conflict. I have no idea whether that’s true. But this isn’t loose lips. It’s not bragging. It’s strategic and intentional. This is clearly a specific message being sent. I wish I knew what that was. Because on its face it seems like a very bad idea.

Student loan forgiveness is a topic that rings a lot of people’s bells, both positively and negatively. On the one hand, it’s crazy that getting an education costs students so much, and that we expect them to go into debt to cover it. The nation needs educated people, and the benefits go well beyond the students themselves. (When I go to my doctor, for example, I hope she got a good education.) Forgiving debt would be a way of acknowledging the mistake we’ve been making in the way we structure our educational system.

On the other hand, the issue seems almost tailor-made for the conservative politics of envy: Somebody who is already better off than you (because they went to college) is going to get a benefit you’re not getting.

The easiest target for envy is someone who is just slightly better off than you (or someone slightly worse off who might be gaining on you). Corporate welfare and trillion-dollar tax cuts for the ultra-rich seem abstract, but the idea that your cousin who went to college is going to get some debt forgiven, or that you could have gotten debt forgiven if you’d just waited longer to pay it off — it boils people’s blood.

Personally, I know that I got my education cheap, because I graduated from high school in the 1970s. Government contributed a lot more of a university’s budget in those days, so my parents were able to cover my state-university expenses without me taking on debt. In grad school, I got a fellowship from the NSF. So again, no debt.

Primarily, that’s not some virtue of mine, it’s the luck of when I was born. So I don’t begrudge student debt forgiveness now.

This farewell exchange between Fox News’ Peter Doocy and press-secretary-about-to-leave Jen Psaki reminds me of the old kind of politics, when competition didn’t imply personal animosity. Reporters didn’t used to be part of that political game, but the game was played like this.

and let’s close with something photogenic

Apple has an annual contest for macro photography. My favorite of the winners is this photo of strawberries dropped into a carbonated beverage.

Though I also like this close-up look at sea glass.

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  • Nat Kuhn  On May 9, 2022 at 1:21 pm

    I was also very surprised by the leak about targeting of Russian generals, until I got to this paragraph in the NYT story: “Not all the strikes have been carried out with American intelligence. A strike over the weekend at a location in eastern Ukraine where Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, had visited was not aided by American intelligence, according to multiple U.S. officials. The United States prohibits itself from providing intelligence about the most senior Russian leaders, officials said.”

    I figured that the idea was to telegraph that we are in fact observing limits on the sharing of intelligence, and the only way to make that credible was to acknowledge what we actually *are* doing. That made sense to me.

    Then the thing about the Moskva came out, and I returned to the sense that this is ill-advised and provocative.

    (NYT story link:

  • Kenneth  On May 9, 2022 at 3:15 pm

    I have a different take on the intelligence leaks. Putin is already accusing Europe and the US of being at war with Russia. I personally agree: we are at war with Russia,. I believe it is a war which we must win. I am beyond glad that it is not a shooting war, and I’m glad we haven’t declared war (since that would only rally Russians). So sending a signal that tells Putin we mean business without declaring war doesn’t seem provocative.

  • thebhgg  On May 11, 2022 at 9:08 am

    If Ross Douthat wants to beat *me* in a non-sequitur contest, whales are going to have to eat a lot more mustard!

  • Thomas Paine  On May 11, 2022 at 4:04 pm

    That the insipid Ross Douthat is given a platform by the NYT to spew his nonsense on a regular basis is one of the reasons I refuse to give it any of my money; there are ways to read w/out financially supporting the joke of ‘standards’ the Paper of Record has become.

    It’s not that he’s a supposedly conservative voice; rather, it’s that there are plenty of principled voices on the right who can cogently and intelligently present substantive, logically consistent and cohesive arguments, and they need to be heard. All Douthat succeeds in doing, column after column, is demonstrate that he is not one of them, and he is, at best, a self-parody on the level of what the Onion would publish should it decide to waste some time making fun of him. It’s nothing short of embarrassing that the NYT continues to print his dreck.

  • Eric L  On May 11, 2022 at 4:40 pm

    For a more fleshed out version of what Douthat send to be gesturing at you might read this old Brookings paper:

    … though they attribute the cultural changes to contraception as well as Roe.

  • Dan Cusher  On May 15, 2022 at 8:46 am

    My wife’s life became at risk two weeks before her due date so they INDUCED LABOR and we had a healthy baby. There is no such thing as “a healthy woman aborting a healthy fetus that is only a few days away from a normal birth.” That’s a complete myth and I’m really disappointed that you gave it some credence here.

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