Discussing Dobbs with the NYT
Seeking justice and mercy in a post-Roe world
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The New York Times invited me to join Michelle Goldberg, Lauren Kelley, and Lulu Garcia-Navarro to record a podcast in the immediate aftermath of the Dobbs decision. Our conversation is less about constitutional law, and more about the lived reality of women seeking abortions, as well as how to live together in a polity so divided on a moral question.
My fellow guests and I disagree on who a baby in the womb is, but I think we also disagree on whether abortion is a way to navigate a sexist society, or another expression of how our sexist society doesn’t have space for women as we are. As I said on the podcast:
Ruth Bader Ginsburg wanted abortion upheld, not as a right to privacy, but as a right to equal protection under the law.
And she made the case that abortion is really the price of admission to society we demand of women. And I think she's factually right. That's what we ask of women. We don't support women when they're pregnant, even with wanted pregnancies. We don't support parents nationwide. We place heavy burdens on parents who are most vulnerable. TANF, which is support for needy families, has been hollowed out. The child allowance didn't make it to parents who were the poorest.
So it's true, you can look around and say, our culture has no room for the vulnerable. It doesn't have room for babies who are vulnerable and it doesn't have room for women who are vulnerable. So abortion is a crutch that lets us navigate that hatred of dependence that's pervasive in our culture. I think it's one more mark of a sexist society that we take the burdens we put on the vulnerable, then lay them heavily on women and demand an act of violence to have equal access to society.
There’s one thing that got cut for time that I’d like to share with you. The quote that the NYT pulled for the title was from Lauren Kelley, “You cannot stop abortions.” In the short term, yes.
But, in the long term, the goal isn’t to have over 600,000 attempted abortions a year, with police tracking down and confronting practitioners. The goal is to change hearts and minds, and to expand what feels possible for parents (through cultural and material support), so that abortion isn’t stopped because it’s illegal or too difficult, but because it is unthinkable.
That may sound impossible, but it would have sounded ludicrous if you told the ancient Greeks and Romans that the practice of infanticide would stop. It is not primarily laws against infanticide that prevent it from being practiced after birth now. Infanticide isn’t thought of as routine, prudent, even necessary.
As Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses in The Honor Code, there are sometimes moral revolutions in history. We expect them, even when we’re not sure how to achieve them. Everyone has an answer to “What moral evil will future generations struggle to understand why we practiced?”
The hope, in all these cases, is that we can disentangle ourselves from an evil we’ve made foundational to our society. It will be hard, especially making sure the cost of the change doesn’t fall disproportionately on those least able to bear it.
But the hope is always that, when we rebuild to do without an unjust solution, that the world we create isn’t a narrower one, but one that is all the more spacious, because violence isn’t demanded of us as the price of entry into society.