Amy Coney Barrett, the consequence of dividing rights activism
The seating of Amy Coney Barrett on the U.S. Supreme Court is being treated by pro-choice activists as an existential threat to the federal protections for abortion rights, while their equivalents among the gun-rights community see this as an opportunity to roll back restrictions on ownership and carry. Barrett’s judicial record is thin, but her public statements and the few dissents she has participated in — in favor of restrictions on abortion and of allowing non-violent felons who have served their sentences to own firearms — are strong indications of where she will stand in future cases.
As a supporter of both reproductive and gun rights, I see the appointment of Barrett as an illustration of what is wrong with America’s political situation. These two collections of rights act as reliable diagnostic tests for one’s party identification. Yes, there are exceptions — obviously, I am one of them, and I meet more on social media from time to time — but support for a woman’s right to choose to remain pregnant or not indicates the presence of a Democrat, while support for an individual’s right to own and carry weapons for personal defense is a sign of a Republican, and support for one can all too often be taken as opposition to the other.
My personal solution to this practical dichotomy comes out of my understanding of the concept of autonomy. If a woman were to find an intruder in her home, I would support her right to remove the intruder. She has the right to be safe in her own abode and has the right to order it as she sees fit. In the same sense, if she no longer wishes to have something in her body, she has the right to remove it.
But this is not an answer that abortion opponents will be able to accept, and I do not expect to change their views. My argument here is to my fellow supporters of reproductive rights.
The choice of the Democratic Party to identify with gun control goes back to Franklin Roosevelt, the president who decided that we should allow Americans to buy a legal drink, but that we needed to restrict ownership of all types of guns, thanks to the violence that in part resulted from trying to ban alcohol in the first place. Much of Roosevelt’s program had the practical effect of pulling the balance of society back in favor of ordinary people, but his vision from time to time wandered off dreaming of a modern-day version of Plato’s republic with him as the benevolent philosopher-king, and gun control has been understood in those terms ever since — understood both by the would-be regulators and by American gun owners who do not appreciate the condescension.
The case for abortion rights is impossible to sell to the religious right, but large majorities of Americans — including almost half of Republicans — support keeping abortion rights protected. In narrow elections — in so many cases, narrow is automatically tied to election — a candidate only needs to sway a small number of votes to win.
A lot of people on the left are as committed to gun control as are people on the right to ending abortion, but in both cases, if we put more effort into social services — mental healthcare, contraceptives, education, addiction treatment, and job creation — along with reforming our criminal justice system to emphasize rehabilitation rather than retribution, we would see a lot less violence and a lot fewer unwanted pregnancies. Policy choices that seek to curtail gun and abortion rights sustain a needless culture war while achieving none of the stated goals of those who favor restrictions — presuming that their goals are stated honestly and are not merely a desire to punish political opponents.
Justices like Barrett are the result of this culture war. If we on the left would support all rights and would favor policies that show good results, instead of remaining committed to traditions that have not worked, we would win a lot more races and thereby have the opportunity to have more politicians from the left make nominations and appointments.