Gardyloo! Jumping Boundaries, Dumping Rights By Lisa Mayfield
Bound up in the current polarized state of politics in the U.S. there are lessons about boundaries.
When hyper-conservatives, allied with extremist Christians, start fiddling with the foundations of our government, it makes me nervous. Religious freedom, freedom of speech, association and privacy, all of them were built into our Constitution to avert just the sort of disaster upon whose brink we lately teeter. Pushing the rest of us to subscribe to their morals, powerful conservatives want all of us to behave according to the principles they believe ought to govern behavior in general. Not just their behavior, and not just their childrens’. Not just people they can muscle around, like employees, or whoever is afraid of them or dependent upon them. They want you and me to do it their way—or go to jail.
To these I say, BACK OFF. Live and let live is a useful guideline in a melting pot world.
Abortion is a bellwether, being a focus of struggle for decades. It illuminates the boundary question like few other issues do.
Recently, in a conversation with a good friend about abortion rights, she voiced reasoning that mirrors the reasoning of many anti-choice believers. She says that if she had had an abortion, she would not have her wonderful daughter now. For this reason she thinks abortion should be illegal. Through Alice’s storied looking glass, my friend’s gratitude and relief at having chosen to bear her children might appear as the pain and regret of the woman who has had, and now regrets, an abortion, and has therefore become an anti-choice activist.
By seeking to change the law of the land, and without so much as a Gardyloo!, both the Gratitude Believer and the Regret Believer overlook and cross significant boundaries, societal and personal. They forget that their personal experiences are not the universal experience of women. All other women do not feel similarly after having had an abortion—or a child. Society’s rules are not the source of the one’s suffering or the guarantor of the other’s joy. All women do not share their spiritual or religious convictions. In our society, at least for the time being, each of us has a right to live our own life, and make our own religious, spiritual, social, and private decisions.
Far from fostering personal responsibility, the impulse to legislate morality actually removes the opportunity for personal responsibility at its most important level—the level of being responsible for one’s own emotions.
We are surrounded by suffering. And we are forever trying to avert it, avoid it and deny it. We abhor old age, and the neediness and dependency that accompany it. When finally we must acknowledge its existence, we put it out of sight in a nursing home. Until then, we buy and sell procedures and products to stave it off or cover it up. Would it not make more sense to come to terms with it? Would it not be more rational to accept that we are grief-stricken by the loss of youth? Offended by the betrayal of our bodies? Sad that we won’t see how the story ends?
By attempting to take on the traditional family role of arbiter of end-of-life decision-making, as with Terri Schiavo, the federal government not only overstepped time-honored and law-supported boundaries, it supported a belief that anything and everything should be done to hold death at bay, unless prescribed by government (as in capital punishment or war). Tax structures we can control. But mortality?
By keeping the abortion debate alive, archconservatives hope to end a practice that has existed for eons, despite the best efforts of churches and states. If successful, they will merely replace one set of social ills for another, the same set that beleaguered women before Roe v. Wade. The solution to the quandary of the unplanned pregnancy awaits another day when people are more restrained and more responsible than they have ever yet been in human history. In that day, men and women will have intercourse only when they both consent, are willing to bear a child, and able to rear it. People will distinguish readily between sexual attraction and love. No woman will burden a baby or child with the job of being Mom’s purpose in life. No man will see an available or unguarded female as the fulfillment of his entitlement to personal gratification.
Until that day comes, we’ll just have to make do with the Bill of Rights—the only thing that stands between individuals and the tyranny of any majority—or powerful minority, as we see today.
Lisa Mayfield Stewart is an attorney/mediator and aspiring writer in Salem, Oregon. She can be reached at [email protected].