"FEMINISTS" AGAINST WOMEN. Admittedly, when it comes to illogic on the part of supporters of criminalized abortion, the rape and incest exemptions are relatively small potatoes. What really gives away the show is their unwillingness to apply criminal sanctions against women who are allegedly committing something akin to murder. Hack politicians, of course, respond to questions about how the Republican Party platform can support a constitutional amendment that would make abortion first-degree murder in all 50 states but would entirely exempt women from punishment by babbling nonsense. But even serious, usually principled pro-life intellectuals like Ramesh Ponnuru are willing to claim that abortion can be comparable to murder as a moral act but a matter of less import than spitting on the sidewalk when it comes to legally punishing women who obtain them. Surely one of these premises must be incorrect.

Or, to be more precise, the Republican position on abortion is incoherent...if you believe that women are rational citizens, fully responsible for their actions. As Reva Siegel and Sarah Blustain report in their terrific article in the October Prospect, however, what might seem to be banal assumptions about women in 2005 are by no means universally shared by pro-lifers. When you consider the atavistic findings of South Dakota's (egregiously stacked) task force, it's not surprising that their draconian new abortion law doesn't punish women for allegedly taking a life:

South Dakota based its ban on a 70-page set of findings contained in the "Report of the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion" -- by far the most comprehensive government account of the arguments and evidence for protecting women from abortion. A transparently one-sided publication -- even the anti-abortion chair of the task force voted against it to publicize her objections to its abstinence recommendations and abortion "facts" -- the report includes a variety of findings explicitly endorsed by the legislature as the basis for the ban. Some are the more familiar, fetal-focused items, emphasizing that a fetus is a "whole separate unique living human being." But more than half of the 10 findings focus on women. The task force found that abortions cause long-term emotional and physical damage to women, everything from suicidal ideation to the possibility of breast cancer. But the task force's report went even further: It argued that the state needed a ban because of the epidemic overriding pressures on women to abort -- from a family member, a husband or boyfriend, or an abortion clinic -- that make extra protection from abortion necessary. Finally, to make credible its claims about women's health and women's choices, the task force made repeated claims about women's nature. It asserted that women would never freely choose an abortion -- even absent outside pressures -- because doing so would violate "the mother's fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child." The task force took as a statement of biological and psychological fact that a mother's connection to her unborn baby was more authentic than her own statement of desire not to be pregnant. These gender-role convictions are at the heart of the movement's claim that the nation must now combat an epidemic of dangerous and coerced abortions.

This is how the circle can be squared: import 19th century conceptions of women as passive vessels, unable to make rational choices, whose nature is defined by childbirth. (You can recognize the task force's understanding of women in the language of the 1873 Supreme Court decision that upheld an Illinois law that prevented women from practicing law: "The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood...The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother. This is the law of the Creator. And the rules of civil society.") Which makes it all the more remarkable, then, that as reported by Stephanie Simon these profoundly reactionary conceptions of gender are being advanced in South Dakota by activists calling themselves "feminists." This a rather strange name for people who believe the assumptions underlying the 19th century legal status of women are correct. Perhaps after they're done in South Dakota, these activists can start groups called "Jews for anti-Semitism" or "steak-eaters for PETA."

--Scott Lemieux

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