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I discuss politics far more often on this site than I do in person (save for with my spouse).  I fear that sharing my political thoughts face-to-face, with those whose views are unknown to me and/or are likely to differ, risks derailing whatever reason we happen to be together. It is certainly not that I lack strong beliefs or the will to express them.  It’s a decision.

But I take exception when, in the course of discussion, others claim to know my positions absent any such sharing on my part.  This only seems to happen when I am talking with a conservative — the person may say something like, “Well, you’re a liberal, so you think x.”  The last time this happened, I objected and said that I had not told her my opinion on x.  In response, the person demanded to know whether I had ever voted for a Republican for president — as if my having done so would confer a hint of legitimacy on what I might say.  Or, had I not done so (as she assumed), her stereotype of me would be confirmed and whatever I had to say would be redundant.

Either way, that conversation was over, and it was really over before it began, which is precisely the intended effect of telling other people what they think.

Something important is missing when a relationship lacks openness and one has to hold one’s opinions in check.  My friends, by definition, are those people whom I can share my thoughts with and be myself with.  I have seldom compromised on that stance and I’m too old to start now.  As a result, I don’t have many friends, and that’s the way it is.

All that is preface to this series of posts, in which I intend to address: What kind of liberal am I?  Where do I stand on issues xy and z?  I have several reasons for doing this series. A) I would rather define myself than let others define me, as noted above.  Liberals are not part of some mind-collective — we do not all think the same.  B) It gives me an incentive to research and more carefully consider my stances.  We expect this from our candidates for public office, why not ask the same of ourselves?  C) Perhaps my reasoning and analysis will help readers compare and contrast, and thus sharpen, their own positions.

There is clearly some risk doing this, even though our discussion will not be face-to-face.  People avoid talking politics because politics are about values, and people get tetchy about their values.  (“I’m not here to stir up trouble,” I say, as I slowly lay my six-shooter down on the bar.  “Just tell me where I can find Fast Jack Ballantyne.”  A tense silence hangs over the saloon.  And then… )

Okay, there won’t be any fistfights or shootouts, but it is true that I’m pretty much obliging my readers to take issue with me, which is not exactly the best recipe for making friends or maintaining a following these days.  But as I said before, that’s the way it is.  I will do my best to write thoughtfully and succinctly and hope that this will carry the day.

Due to the length of this intro, my first foray will consider only one topic: abortion rights.  I figured I may as well start with one of the most straightforward, least controversial items on the so-called liberal agenda.

Abortion Rights

Some would contend I have no business weighing in on abortion, since men can never face this decision.  I agree that men should not have sole province to make and interpret laws that mainly impact women.  But we do vote, so it does matter where we stand.

I have always supported choice, but until now I had never read the text of the important Supreme Court decisions on abortion rights, Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey (1992).  When I did, I found I had the wrong idea of what our “settled law” actually comprises.  So allow me to recap. 

The Roe decision established a trimester-based compromise between the interests of the pregnant woman and those of the state — read society — on behalf of the “potential life.”  The first trimester was to be a matter between the woman and her physician, essentially free of state interest.  In the second, a state could “regulate the abortion procedure in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”  In the third, abortion could be regulated or prohibited by the state.  The intrusive role of the state in the third trimester (from the 26th week onward) was based on the viability of the fetus, i.e., its ability to survive outside the womb.  To cite Roe:

… Courts have agreed that the right of privacy, however based, is broad enough to cover the abortion decision; that the right, nonetheless, is not absolute, and is subject to some limitations; and that, at some point, the state interests as to protection of health, medical standards, and prenatal life, become dominant. We agree with this approach.

And I agree with this approach as well.  Where I disagree with Roe is the point at which society’s interest (vis-à-vis respect for life) outweighs the liberty of the pregnant woman to obtain an elective abortion.  Fetal viability — about 22 weeks at the very earliest — seems like an unnecessarily late decision point to me.  How long is reasonably long enough for the pregnant woman to assess her situation, decide to pursue abortion, and obtain one? My sense is that, given unhindered access to the procedure, 18 weeks — or roughly the halfway mark of the pregnancy — should suffice for elective abortions, i.e., those that do not involve maternal health or fetal development.  Until that point, society and the state should step aside, except to offer educational material on the likelihood of complications from the procedure vs. gestational stage and in comparison to those of childbirth [1].

I was curious to know, when during pregnancy do women in the U.S. obtain abortions?  The CDC has published 2015 data for “selected regions” (which unfortunately excludes New York, California, Florida and Pennsylvania) from which I prepared the chart below:

About two-thirds of abortions in 2015 were performed during the first 8 weeks of gestation and 90% were performed in the first trimester.  Only 3% were done at 18 weeks or later. The CDC did not indicate which procedures were elective and which were performed for reasons of maternal health or fetal abnormality. [2]

• • •

But Roe is not the law of the land — Casey is.  The authors [3] of Casey took great pains to insist that it upheld the tenets of Roe, but even a casual reading of the text reveals a shift toward state interests and extending them to early pregnancy.  The Casey decision held that “the State has legitimate interests from the outset of the pregnancy in protecting the health of the woman and the life of the fetus that may become a child.” (Emphasis mine.)  Casey set aside Roe‘s trimesters as obsolete and emphasized the state’s role in promoting live childbirth far more than it espoused women’s liberty.

We have Casey to thank for mandatory waiting periods, consent requirements and the misleading and/or inaccurate anti-abortion counseling that must be endured before the procedure [4].  The Casey majority held that such practices were not an “undue burden” on the woman seeking an abortion.  Tell that to Missouri resident Robin Utz, who shared her heart-rending story on The Moth Radio Hour and her own website, Defending Grace.  Her sad experience is evidence enough that the state has gone where it does not belong.  Yet her state, Missouri, is going even farther:  As of August 28, 2019, it will be illegal to perform an 8-week abortion in Missouri, and there will be no exceptions for rape or incest or fetal anomalies.  I do not see how this law possibly squares with Roe or Casey — or me.

So what kind of liberal am I with respect to abortion rights?  As you can tell, pretty liberal.  I would not vote for anyone who favors more restrictions.  I would support state and/or federal funding (i.e., Medicaid) for early medically-induced abortions, even if elective, for low-income U.S. citizens.  I want the states to end their puritanical intimidation of women seeking abortions and those who provide abortions.  If states want fewer abortions within their borders, I suggest they increase funding for education and make contraception more affordable and accessible.  That said, I do not view abortion as the moral equivalent of contraception, and I doubt most people do.

• • •

I now introduce the Liberal EEG, a high-tech app that will help me explain my stances to conservatives who don’t have time to read or listen.  Here is how it works — I contemplate the issue at hand and, while I’m thinking about it, I place two fingertips on my left temple and two fingertips on a special sensing area displayed on my phone.  The Liberal EEG app reads the electrical signals produced by the left half of my brain and stores them in a file on my phone.  It then emails this file to the I.T. department of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in Burlington, Vermont, where my brain signals are processed and interpreted.

I get the result the next day [5] conveniently boiled down to one number between 0 and 5, where 0 is wishy-washy and 5 is so liberal that 90% of conservatives would put “Hanoi” in front of my name.  Here is my Liberal EEG reading on the current topic:

ABORTION RIGHTS ➤ 

My score might have been higher if I had ever rallied for the cause or donated time or money to it.  In any event, if the topic ever comes up, I can now just tell my conservative friend that I’m a 4.2 on this and we can continue the discussion if she wants.

• • •

That’s it for the first installment of What Kind of Liberal Am I?  Thank you for reading, and I suggest you follow the informative links in the text for more details.  This need not be a one-sided conversation — other points of view are welcome, with or without the help of a Liberal EEG reading.

Future topics will include immigration, minority rights, gun rights, wealth inequality, health care and the environment, but not necessarily in that order.  Until next time.

__________

[1] The complication rate increases with gestational stage and the pregnant woman’s age.  For medically-induced abortions performed at 8 weeks or less, the complication rate is under 1%.
[2]  I was surprised to learn there were an estimated 19 abortions per 100 live births in the U.S. in 2015.  I would have guessed that the number was much lower, maybe 5 per 100.  Even so, 19 is the lowest rate since Roe was decided in 1973.  The peak rate occurred in the 1980s at about 35 per 100 live births.  In a given year, about 15 of every 1,000 women of child-bearing age has an abortion (2014 data from Guttmacher Institute).
[3]  The majority opinion in Casey was written by O’Connor, Kennedy and Souter, with Stevens and Blackmun concurring.  Rehnquist, White, Scalia and Thomas would have overturned Roe.  Only Thomas remains on the bench.
[4] “Even in the earliest stages of pregnancy, the State may enact rules and regulations designed to encourage her to know that there are philosophic and social arguments of great weight that can be brought to bear in favor of continuing the pregnancy to full term . . . Regulations which do no more than create a structural mechanism by which the State, or the parent or guardian of a minor, may express profound respect for the life of the unborn are permitted, if they are not a substantial obstacle to the woman’s exercise of the right to choose.  Unless it has that effect on her right of choice, a state measure designed to persuade her to choose childbirth over abortion will be upheld if reasonably related to that goal.”
[5]  They also send me a 50-cent coupon toward my next quart of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Great app.
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[For our first guest commentary, I’m pleased to share a note from across the pond by my friend Guy English, of Cornwall, UK.]

It’s blowing, it’s raining, feeling rough.

Really, the general situation is getting me down.  Always the optimist, that veneer is wearing thin, right through in patches.  At one level, it’s the whole planetary situation; above (or below) that is whether your bully-chicken president might start a nuclear war by accident or on a whim; and then right up front is the prospect of a Trump figure in charge of our island.  Is this really the best we can do?

All these people come and will go, but the damage we seem about to suffer is in my view irreparable.  As my spouse remarks, when the first Queen Elizabeth came to the throne we were an insignificant offshore island with poor weather.  When the Second leaves we shall be exactly that again.

I ceased to be defender of Empire (as I was brought up) years ago and detest the jingoistic chants of the Brexit mob about regaining our buccaneering past, supported by endless war-film repeats and incessant anniversaries of particular slaughters.  But I would like to think we could recover some shreds of integrity as a country: pushing for climate action, for human rights, for peace, against plastic.  Instead we support Saudis in Yemen — or anyone else who will buy our main export, weapons — and boast of our carbon reduction while opening coal mines.

Our likely new PM (refuse to say leader) had a fight with his girlfriend to which police were called this week.  When questioned by a journalist, he said, “People are not interested in character.”  I suppose that was indeed answer enough.

Johnson has done nothing to justify the PM post; he will have to deal with the Europeans he insulted as the worst Foreign Secretary ever; and he is no less hostage to his party than was his predecessor.  But neither PM contender actually has answers.  Surprised they both don’t want the other to win and burn.

Here is a London friend’s current take on the political scene: 

It is well known that Boris [Johnson] was born in New York and is eligible to become President of the US, while Donald [Trump]’s mother was born in the Hebrides, so he is eligible to be PM in the UK.

But the real joke would be for each to spend one week a month in each other’s house.  No one will notice.  A fat, blond, lascivious liar will appear at the door and make some vacuous statement, and the press will not know which one it is. 

Indeed there will be a prize for the first to identify which overweight adulterous bastard it is today.

Your field of competing Democrats looks ridiculously large — one would expect them to destroy each other.  Process sounds good on paper but does it bring out the best person?  How often?  Tell me something good!

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