. . . the legal status of abortion reverts back to the individual states, of course. I've read many arguments that most states will keep it legal with restrictions, because that's where the center of gravity of the country is. I've read many other arguments that once the federal right to an abortion goes down, the pro-life movement will take the fight state to state. It's unknown territory post-Roe.
Maybe it's an inappropriate analogy, but I keep thinking of welfare reform -- an idea Bill Clinton stole from the Republicans, a sort of political bastardization that I as a moderate heartily approve of. The result of that reform was that a lot of women who'd been living on welfare went to work, because they had to. Most of them joined the ranks of the working poor, with, one hopes, more benefit to their self-respect than to their economic well-being.
What's the analogy, then? If abortion is made much more difficult and dangerous to get (it's already more difficult), will more women . . . think long and hard before having sex? (No, dammit, no pun intended!) practice contraception religiously? (Catholic joke!) get married? Will behavior change in desirable ways? Will the level of self-respect rise, will women hold themselves and their capacity to give life in higher esteem? Does culture follow law?
In other words, is force and fear the only way, or the best way, to get human beings to stop doing things the easy, sloppy way? Is a police barrier the only way to keep most people off the path of least resistance?
This gets to the heart of my Ambiva-lence. I have to admit that when I contemplate this country becoming ever more conservative and even religious -- in defiance of the postmodern trends exemplified by Europe -- a part of me is frightened, and another part of me is secretly satisfied. Which parts are those?
They both go back to the 1950s.
When I interviewed Stephen King for my '60s-generation oral autobiography back in the '80s, he said that the '60s seemed to him completely insubstantial and silly. The '50s, now -- there was a decade, serious in the ways it both sheltered and suffocated the spirit. He was right.
The part of me that is satisfied by the turn toward conservatism is the part that loved running wild and unsupervised as a child in an urban neighborhood, going trick-or-treating on Hallowe'en without an anxious adult in sight. It was a safer world for innocence, at least in public, though the dark side of that was denial: those whose innocence was violated (probably at home) suffered in silence and isolation, their age-old experience never validated.
It's the part of me that was deeply romantic about sex, love, and marriage -- and motherhood -- a faith absorbed from the grown men and women all around me. However wretched the reality of some of their marriages, the romantic, monogamous ideal celebrated in the popular ballads and novels of the World War II era was as real and central to my parents' generation as their patriotism.
The part of me that is frightened by the turn towards conservatism is the part that saw no options for myself but wife-and-motherhood, no outlet for or serious recognition of any human talents I might possess. As a girl in the 1950s, and even as a Harvard-Radcliffe student in the 1960s, my womb eclipsed my brain.
More than that -- because today's appointment notwithstanding, I'm pretty sure women on the Supreme Court and the space shuttle are here to stay -- the part of me that revels in diversity fears the marching monoculture, the rise of intolerance, the reimposition of mandatory uniformity. This is a tricky subject because there have to be limits to moral diversity. Anything does not go. Exploitation, addiction, and violation are practiced in the name of privacy and freedom. And profit. I'm okay with judging people's conduct, but not their category. Gay people aren't going away, whoever's in charge made them that way, the world would be much more boring without them, and if they want to get married, God bless them!
On my good days, I think the people fanatically fighting that are fighting a rear-guard action, and if the good middle-of-the-road Americans aren't too provoked by the crazies at the other extreme, they will fade. But not before correcting the course of American culture back toward true center. Both parts of me would be satisfied to see the decency of the '50s (at their best) combined with the honesty of the '60s (at their best), a quiet, basic moral consensus clothed in all the colors of the sun.