Monday, July 16, 2012

George Lakoff and Elizabeth Wehling on Abortion Issue as About Male Control in Family Life

George Lakoff and Elizabeth Wehling think it's highly unlikely that Catholic leaders and the religious and political right are going to admit that they've been wrong about the "morning-after" pill now that exhaustive research shows the pill delaying ovulation rather than preventing the implantation of a zygote.  One of the central claims in the Catholic bishops' attack on the Obama administration's HHS guidelines is that the "morning-after" pill is an abortifacient, and the administration is requiring Catholic institutions to participate in abortions via its new HHS guidelines.

Lakoff and Wehling argue that scientific research and scientific truth simply don't matter to those promoting false arguments about abortifacients and the "morning-after" pill.  What matters is using overblown rhetoric about zygotes as persons to try to build up in the culture at large the emotional sense that a just-fertilized ovum is a baby, and should be treated as such if we don't intend to succumb to barbarism.  

(By contrast, as Lakoff and Wehling note, even as the religious and political right demand that we display intense emotion, intense consternation, about what happens to a just-fertilized ovum, these groups seem curiously unmoved by the lack of access to basic healthcare for everyone, by violence against women, by rapacious corporations' pollution of the environment and our food, by the shockingly high rates of infant mortality in the U.S. due to poor pre- and post-natal care in the U.S.)

So if the right to life movement isn't really about the right to life of living and breathing human beings (as in the right to basic healthcare, to unpolluted food, to protection from violence, etc.), what is it really about?  What's it really about for the political and religious right?

Here's Lakoff and Wehling's proposal:

The issue really has been control — who controls reproduction, men or women? Hence, the prevalence of parental and spousal notification laws governing abortions. The abortion issue is really about male control in family life — and in society in general. It also involves the notion that women who engage in immoral behavior, such as sex with partners they do not seek to have children with, ought to bear the consequences of their actions as a “just punishment.” To establish that control, both conservative Republicans and the Catholic Church propose taking a metaphor literally, that A Fertilized Egg Is A Person. Taking the metaphor literally allows for the claim that preventing abortions constitutes saving lives.

I hope this excerpt will motivate readers to read the entire piece.  It's very well worth the read.

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