Tag: abortion

Fun with Abortion Polls

Two recent polls on abortion provide yet another demonstration of lack of adequate care in designing and reporting on polling results. Conservatives are furious about a Washington Post poll for its wording of questions concerning recent efforts to restrict abortions.

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Legitimate Rape: A Weberian Analysis

On Facebook, someone familiar to readers of this blog wrote: “As readers of Weber know, there are three forms of legitimate rape: forcible, fraternity, and rational-legal.” But enough of that neo-Weberian claptrap. As a good paleo-Weberian knows, the ideal types here remain traditional, charismatic, and legal-rational. And these help us to understand the political backlash over Rep. Aiken’s Aken’s “unfortunate” choice of words.

Aken subscribes to a traditional view of rape. Indeed, his understanding harkens back to late medieval Europe. That’s pretty traditional.

His opponents, on the other hand, adopt legal-rational conceptions of rape. These depend on entirely different warrants, such as consistency, equal application, and other justificatory schema alien to Aken’s wing of the Republican party. Or, as Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association nicely summarized, “What Akin meant by ‘legitimate rape:’ actual forcible rape, not consensual sex that later gets called rape. Come on, people.”

Indeed, since women cannot, for people such as Aken and Fischer, become pregnant from rape, pregnancy provides an excellent basis for distinguishing between traditional rape and faux rape — the latter including mere threats to inflict harm, the exploitation of power differentials, and the droit de segnieur that our great democracy has extended to all men encountering women with short skirts, low-cut tops, or lesbian tendencies.

Ah, traditional justice. So much easier and more accurate than that demanded in legal-rational systems.


Where was I?…. Ah, yes. The problem for Aken is that he failed to translate traditional understandings of legitimate rape into legal-rational ones of the kind demanded by the lamestream media. Many Republicans, however, depend upon making appeals to segments of the electorate whose traditions are more thoroughly laced with legal-rational lifeworlds. They have therefore thrown Aken under the proverbial chariot. But not to worry, for as Weber teaches us a Charismatic figure may create a genuine rupture in existing modes of legitimate rape and build a new order.

And that figure is at hand.

No. Wait. 
Wrong picture.

Sorry. I meant this one:

Credit: TMZ via Salon

I admit none of this was terribly funny. But there’s a serious point here: Weber’s ideal-typical accounts of legitimate domination provide a useful way of parsing contemporary debates in the United States. It isn’t just a matter of content, nor of communities of discourse, but of styles of legitimation.

Transnational Battle over Gay Rights

The transnational battle over gay rights took an interesting turn last week when the Obama administration announced that it would work hard to promote gay rights worldwide. The gay community welcomed the news. But more strategic thinkers also raised questions. As Neil Grungras of San Francisco’s Organization for Refugee, Asylum and Migration cautioned:

“In countries where U.S. moral leadership is not high and where increasingly Western values are [seen as] negative . . . there is a real danger people can use this issue and say, ‘No, we are cleaning up here, we are going to reject this American imposition of decay.’” As an example, Grungras pointed to last year’s gay pride event at the U.S. embassy in Pakistan. This sparked large demonstrations against the U.S., gay rights, and homosexuals.

Also of interest is the reaction from American religious conservatives active in the fight against gay rights. They decried the Obama initiative, and vowed to oppose it. In the past, they have scored successes. They have formed a “Baptist-burqa” network of religious conservatives, both state and nonstate, including Mormons, Catholics, Muslims, and more, spanning the world, just like the gay rights network. They have successfully blocked major new UN initiatives on gay rights and excluded gay activists from participation in international institutions. They raise rival norms, primarily to religious freedom and cultural autonomy, as a means of attacking gay rights. And they are supporting the backlash against gay rights in many countries, especially in Africa.

This may be a rearguard action, but there is little doubt that it has and will slow the progress of gay rights around the world. True, there have been major, hard-fought advances for gay rights in some countries in recent years. But many countries remain indifferent or, if anything, have become more overtly hostile as gay rights advance. Uganda’s horrific Anti-Homosexuality Law, complete with death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality,” is an example.

Scholars who study such issues sometimes ignore “retrograde” networks, in favor of studying progressive new norms and their moral entrepreneurs. Yet in the transnational battle over gay rights at the UN and in many countries, opponents are powerful and important. One can’t understand the politics of gay rights without examining their sworn enemies. One can’t appreciate the framing of a “new” norm without noting its rivals’ frmaing. One can’t explain the shifting policy outcomes without analyzing the bitter conflict among hostile sides.

Beyond gay rights, this is true of countless other policy issues, from global warming to global health. One side’s solution to what it portrays as a pressing crisis will itself be a problem for another group, generating fervent opposition activism. One side’s initiatives are invariably matched by a rival’s counterpunch.

[SELF-PROMOTION WARNING!] For those interested in transnational battles over gay rights and other issues – as well as the implications for understanding global public policy more broadly – my book, The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics – is due out next month from Cambridge UP. [STORY IDEA for Brian Rathbun: Things PSers Like: Ironic attitude toward shameless self-promotion.]

The Ethics of State Involvement in Women’s Health

I have been fortunate to be a part of a number of interesting conversations over the last few weeks, and am currently attending the conference linked above, hosted by the Levan Institute for Humanities and Ethics, the University of Southern California Global Health Institute, and the Center for International Studies at the University of Southern California. Conversations are centering around global norms and international agreements on women’s health, health aid, human trafficking, economic empowerment, violence and war, and medicine distribution. These conversations are extremely interesting to me, and just outside of my research agenda enough that I’m learning a lot without having preconceived notions of what I should be thinking on particular topics.

When I was invited to be a part of this conference, I decided to revive my interest in legal research and discrimination law, and pair that with my interest in gender in global politics. My presentation discussed the differential impacts of different grounds on which abortion is legalized in providing the expected women’s health benefits from legalization. A couple of themes in my paper have come up in other panels, and lead me to be more generally interested in researching the role of taboo in the protection of rights and the provision of goods and services to women. I’ll provide a skeleton of what I’m thinking about …


When abortion is illegal, illegal abortions take place frequently. The complication rate for illegal abortions is much higher than for legal abortion, where fully 1% of people who have illegal abortions die from complications and almost 5% have permanent health complications, while legal abortion is actually less likely to cause fatalities than childbirth. Worldwide, almost 80000 women die every year from complications from illegal abortions, and abortion-related deaths drop around 90% in the first five years of legality.
Fully half of abortions that take place every year are illegal and most of those take place places where abortion is illegal.

I couldn’t help but wonder if there is more to it. While legalizing abortions is necessary to decreasing the death rate from unsafe abortions, it is not sufficient. Particularly, I approached it by thinking about the grounds on which abortion is legalized.

Whether abortion is made legal by a court case (as in the United States) or by legislative process, a “grounds” on which abortion is legal almost always accompanies the jurisprudence or legislation. For example, in the United States, privacy is the grounds for abortion legality. Other places, involuntariness of the pregnancy, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, “maternal” health, and other grounds maintain the general taboo against abortion but make exceptions for certain circumstances understood as extreme. Other grounds for the legality of abortion eschew the taboo, characterizing abortion as generally acceptable behavior rather than acceptable only in extreme circumstances. These grounds include women’s rights and women’s labor arguments.

It is easy to say that the grounds don’t matter, abortion is legal or it is not. But practically, that’s not true at the most basic level because the grounds impact to whom abortions are available and when. Still, the grounds also affect availability in other ways …both in terms of the ease of obtaining abortions and the permissiveness (or lack thereof) of social norms and social culture surrounding the obtaining of abortions.

In theory, the “taboo-maintaining” grounds for legalizing abortion relegate women’s abortions specifically and their bodies generally to the private sphere of social and political life, a reification of the personal/political divide that feminists have always found both insidious and materially harmful to women. The division of the political and social world into ‘public’ and ‘private’ marginalizes those interests which are in private places, like inside the home, or inside their bodies. When issues fall on the “private” side of the public/private dichotomy, they are considered rights of individual bodies, which are often negative rights and even more often subject to situational enforcement.

On the other hand, grounds for the legality of abortion that remove it from the private sphere argue that it is a gender-based right, either in terms of equal protection of the laws or in terms of inequities in labor performed or the labor market. In countries where these are the grounds, the interconnections in women’s inequality between forced sex, economic deprivation, and reproduction are recognized as a matter of law.

In the early results of my study on these issues, controlling for poverty and the degree of abortion legality, the grounds on which abortion is legal are a significant predictor of the marginal effects of legality on women’s health as a result of abortion – abortions are safer places where the grounds lift the abortion taboo in addition to legalizing abortion. This is significant at the .001 level in a number of different coding variations.

The question of the “abortion taboo” has come up elsewhere today, and I have spent most of the morning thinking about the potentially fruitful relationship between feminist theorizing in IR/comparative politics and the study of (sexual and gendered) stigma and taboo in IR. What are the functional impacts of taboos? How are they gender-differential? And is a taboo a norm like we talk about in the literature on norms, norm diffusion, and norm entrepreneurs in IR? Or do we need some other framework through which to evaluate the idea of a stigma or taboo and its influence in global political and social relations?

Women’s Bodies on the National and International Agenda

David Kirkpatrick yesterday wrote in the New York Times about how the health care debate is reviving the abortion debate in US politics. I read this article right after I saw a film that several of my feminist colleagues and friends recommended, called “Not Yet Rain.” Among other things at issue in this film is the Helms Amendment to the U.S. 1973 Foreign Assistance Act, which prohibits the use of U.S. aid funds to “motivate or coerce” or “perform” abortion as a method of family planning, but has been interpreted to deny assistance to clinics that mention abortion as an option or perform it in cases of rape. The Helms Amendment has made the news a number of times recently.

Abortion is an issue my (inner) lawyer has thought a lot about, both in terms of gender equality and in terms of the constitutional justification for its legality in the United States. I’ve written about the importance of abortion rights for gender equality, and the shakiness of privacy as a legal grounds to justify it. I’ve worked up an argument about abortion as a 13th Amendment right in the United States, arguing that the instances in which we deny the right to abortion are among the very few times that the United States government can compel someone to do labor (we do still call it that, right?) against their will.

But the simultaneous presence of abortion rights on the national and international agenda is more than an issue for the U.S. constitution, and more than a two-level games question. While some work has been done on the embodiment of the state, and some work has been done on individuals in international relations, the question of the role of the (actual) body in global politics is an important one that needs more attention in IR.

Katherine Moon, in Sex Among Allies,
examined how the bodies of women prostitutes in South Korea were crucial to the U.S./South Korea security negotiations in the 1970s. Fundamentally, the abortion/aid debate is about the foreign policy of/about women’s bodies. These are times when the embodiment of IR/foreign policy is, in some sense, obvious, though the role and meaning of the body in these debates requires exploration. Study of the body in IR, though, could go even further, to study the essence of embodiment and physicality in global politics, considering that the body is a fundamental part of political economy, security and war, and everyday political interactions.

While I don’t have a whole lot deep to say about it right now, it seems to be like there is an important research program to be had in the global politics of the body and the body in global politics, building on (feminist and other) work that has addressed physical/sexual exploitation, civilian immunity, and other phenomena and exploring new questions about how physicality impacts politics not only at the individual level, but across levels of analysis (like the abortion debate), and specifically at the state and international levels.

Some thoughts on the American politics topic du jour

There’s no substantive difference between the attempts by right-wingers to define Nazism as a phenomena of the left and Marxist attempts to define Soviet Socialism as “state capitalism.”

Anyway, I think the speed with which the right-wing blogsphere has circled the wagons over the shooting at the Holocaust museum speaks for itself.

It should be patently obvious that any disagreements your typical conservatives have with someone like Von Brunn are far more important than relative location on a one-dimensional political spectrum.

So why bother? The two major theories right now:

• They realize they look pretty silly for their attacks on the DHS right-wing extremism report, i.e., it’s CYA time.

• They’re freaked out that people will draw a connection between the increasing paranoia found online (and on conservative talk radio) and both the Holocaust Museum attack and the George Tiller murder.

I sympathize with the second concern, but not at all with the first.

I find it pretty hard to blame typical right-wing bloggers and message-board posters for the actions of an octogenarian neo-Nazi, or even the murder of an abortion doctor [update: maybe I’m being too generous when it comes to the Tiller murder].

But they should recognize this strategy is a total loser. For example, arguing that a racist couldn’t be right-wing because right-wingers oppose Affirmative Action just makes you look like an idiot. No one outside the bubble is buying it. In fact, we’re in “don’t think of an elephant” territory here: the more they protest, the more the rest of us think about the possible connections.

(They also need to muzzle people like Randall Terry. Now.)

And frankly, they need to take a long and hard look at themselves. Because violent resistance is the logical conclusion of their rhetoric; if they really believe the US is turning into a left-wing police state run by a foreign agent, then they should be at least planning for insurrection.*

I almost have to wonder if some of the people peddling this stuff might be, perish the thought, insincere.

*Note the difference between this and, say, claiming that the Bush administration’s interrogation and executive power policies justified impeachment or voting the bums out of office. But, of course plenty of left-wingers made parallel accusations about the “fascism” of the Bush regime. I seem to remember right-wingers excoriating them for doing so.

Domestic terror

Remember the controversy in April when someone leaked a report from the Department of Homeland Security warning against the threat of right-wing extremism and domestic terrorism? Fox News, for example, reported that the intelligence document was aimed at Republicans — and military veterans.

Look at the report yourself (using the pdf link above). It warns specifically against “Threats from white supremacist and violent antigovernment groups.” A bit later, the DHS report says:

Anti-Semitic extremists attribute these losses to a deliberate conspiracy conducted by a cabal of Jewish “financial elites.”

The report also noted “white supremacists’ longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion.”

Within the last two weeks, a radical anti-abortion advocate gunned down a Wichita, Kansas doctor outside a church — and then warned that more violence would be forthcoming so long as abortion is legal.

Today, a neo-Nazi opened fire with a rifle inside the Holocaust Museum in DC. He killed a security guard after firing up to 5 shots. Fox:

Law enforcement officials identified the suspect to FOX News as James W. Von Brunn, who has a history of virulent racism, ties to white supremacy groups and a criminal record that includes an attempt to take members of the Federal Reserve board hostage,

So, it appears as if DHS was on to something.

Seizing the Middle Ground?

This is an open thread about President Obama’s remarks about abortion at Notre Dame’s Commencement Speech.

Comment away.

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