What is most astonishing about a recent letter implicitly supportive of fetal-heartbeat personhood laws without actually mentioning them [“Clear lines drawn on death and life,” May 23] is that it managed to discuss a variety of imaginaries (God, fetal personhood, the rule of law as tyranny) without once mentioning the word “woman.” This would be merely a remarkable but harmless feat of murky thinking except for its pernicious denial of the autonomy of living, breathing citizens, a proposition considered self-evident by the framers of our Constitution and fundamental to their deliberations in creating a just society in which each of us is entitled to be the ultimate arbiter of what goes on inside the inviolable boundary of our own skin.
Laws privileging fetal heartbeat (imaged or imagined) have recently been passed by legislatures dominated by stupid, cruel, frightened men. (It may be no accident that such laws have found particular favor in former slave states, where white supremacist delusional pathology also remains endemic.) The result has been the erasure of women as persons with the competence and lawful agency to make decisions in accordance with their own moral convictions and the unhindered advice of their physicians.
It is ironic that the Republican Party platform in the 1970s, which affirmed the principles of reproductive freedom emanating from the court decisions in Griswold and in Roe, has done a complete about-face in the intervening decades to embrace a strategy of misogynistic bullying and the relegation of more than half the nation’s population to second-class citizenship through legal prestidigitation.
Perhaps a return to commonsense thinking is indeed in order, a textbook example of which occurred some years back on a New England highway when a pregnant woman in an otherwise empty car was pulled over for driving in the high-occupancy lane. She argued that since she was carrying a child, the fetus counted as a second person. Not surprisingly, the judge didn’t buy it. I wouldn’t either.
It has often been said that America’s strength lies in its diversity, including our robust breadth of religious imagination; in few other nations of the world is state-mandated religious orthodoxy less in evidence. The problem with freedom of religion is that we have not yet figured out that its necessary corollary is freedom from the other fellow’s religion. If yours dictates that my wife must become merely a sort of “assistant person” with the complicity of state laws monkeying with her insides, your imagination has simply run away with your reason — and if ours is not a nation grounded in reason, and in fair laws before which all citizens are equal, then we might as well all sail back home to wherever our ancestors immigrated from and declare our experiment in creating a truthful and just society to have been a failure. But I think with a little more common sense and a lot less anxiety, we can do better than that if we are brave enough to try.
Trenton and Painesville, Ohio