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Robert Lipsyte, Abortion — Not for Women Only

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It’s easy to forget just how long we’ve been waiting for Samuel Alito’s “opinion,” signaling that Roe v. Wade is going down the tubes. Back in 2019, I already took it for granted that the Supreme Court would indeed put an end to Roe and wrote then that, as I did, I couldn’t help but think “of my own involvement with abortion as a man.” My wife and I had indeed decided to abort a fetus because of a medical anomaly, even though we both wanted a child then. That was 10 years after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. Now, I feel nothing but horror and sadness for couples like us who will indeed face such crises in an increasingly Trumpian America.

And honestly, I also remember the years of my youth before Roe became the law of the land in 1973. In fact, there was a moment then when, filled with horror, I ventured into the back-alley world of illegal abortions to help someone I cared deeply about who was, I thought, pregnant.  We were lucky.  She proved not to be, but I’ve never forgotten the fear (and, strangely enough, the fascination) of that abortion journey into what was then an everyday American underworld and undoubtedly will be again.  More than a half-century has passed since then and I still haven’t forgotten that moment, which makes me truly sad for all the young people today who are going to face a similar hell on Earth thanks to Donald Trump, Samuel Alito, and crew.

They have no hesitation, I know, about sending the rest of us into the flames of hell.  Looking back, the failed coup at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, may not have been the worst of Donald Trump. His seizure (with the help of Mitch McConnell) of the Supreme Court will, I fear, leave that riot in the dustbin of history when it comes to changing this country.

And they have a nerve.  Truly they do.  Which is why, today, I turn this site over to Robert Lipsyte, former New York Times columnist, TomDispatch regular, and author most recently of SportsWorld: An American Dreamland. Let him remind us all of what it was like, not just for women but for men, too, in the pre-Roe years and why it’s up to us not to let this stand. Tom

Where Are the Men?

No More Bystander Boys in the Post-Roe Era

For 50 years now, people have told desperate, heart-breaking stories about what it was like to search for an abortion in the days before Roe v. Wade. These were invariably narratives of women in crisis. They sometimes involved brief discussions about economic inequality, police-state intrigue, and unwanted children, but for the most part men were invisible in them, missing in action. Where were they? And where are they now that a wall of fundamental rights seems to be crumbling away not just for women, but for all of us? This is another example of what I used to call the Bystander Boys.

As a sportswriter, my work over these decades often brought me into a universe of male entitlement and the sort of posturing I thought of as faux masculinity. Even in that chest-beating environment, I was struck by the absence in abortion stories of what in another time would have been called manliness. What happened to that mostly storybook ideal of the brave, modest, responsible, big-hearted protector? I figured out early on not to waste time searching for him among football quarterbacks or baseball coaches, or even cops and Army officers. Much, much later, I found more people with the right stuff -- that "manly" ideal -- among single mothers and feminist lawyers.

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Nan Levinson, “I’ve Seen What Bombs Do”

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As we think about the nightmarish war in Ukraine, let me just offer you a few figures: almost a million dead, nearly 400,000 of them civilians; at least 38 million people turned into war refugees or internally displaced; and perhaps $8 trillion in money squandered on that hell on Earth. Oh wait, sorry, that’s what happens when you get old and things start to blur in your mind. Yes, the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine is indeed a horror of slaughtered civilians, mind-boggling numbers of refugees and internally displaced Ukrainians, and untold amounts of money already squandered on death and destruction. The figures I just gave you, however, come from the invaluable Costs of War Project’s calculations about what used to be called this country’s “Global War on Terror,” which includes the invasions, occupations of, and disastrous conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As we face a Congress that can’t agree to spend any reasonable sums on needy Americans but is racing to raise staggering billions of dollars to arm the Ukrainians (no questions asked), it’s worth remembering that, in this century, when it came to invasions and horrifying wars, our leaders were functionally Vladimir Putins. Now, thanks to him, we’ve suddenly become the “good guys” again, a phenomenon in which Washington is, of course, reveling.  If only, as the other major invader nation of this century, we had learned that making peace is so much better than making war and were putting at least some of our efforts into brokering negotiations between the warring parties in Ukraine rather than further revving up the conflict and glorying in doing so.

As far as I’m concerned, TomDispatch regular Nan Levinson embodies the antiwar spirit on this planet.  She’s worked for years with American military personnel who, in an up-close-and-personal fashion, turned their backs on war. She even wrote a book about them, War Is Not a Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built. So, as the conflict in Ukraine only intensifies, as the Russians, Americans, Europeans, and Ukrainians pour ever more into the battle there while the very possibility of peace seems to fade from view, let her explore the difficulties the antiwarriors of our world now face dealing with just such a situation. Tom


An Antiwar Dilemma

I've been watching this country at war for many years now and, after 9/11, began spending time with American veterans who came to disdain and actively oppose the very conflicts they were sent to fight. The paths they followed to get there and the courage it took to turn their backs on all they had once embraced intrigued and impressed me, so I wrote a book about them. While doing so, I was often struck by a strange reality in that era of American war-making: in a land where there was no longer a draft, most Americans were paying remarkably little attention to our ongoing wars thousands of miles away. I find it even stranger today -- and please note that this takes nothing away from the misery of the Ukrainian people or the ruthlessness of Vladimir Putin's invasion -- that the public seems vastly more engaged in a war its country is not officially fighting than in the ones we did fight so brutally and unsuccessfully over the past two decades.

Here, for instance, are just a few notes I took recently while listening to NPR: A woman calls one of its talk shows, feeling guilty about celebrating her daughter's birthday in style when Ukrainians are suffering so horribly. A panel on a different NPR show discusses why Americans feel so involved and its members consider all-too-uncomfortably the rationale that the Ukrainians "look like us." The show's host does note that they don't actually look like all of us, but no one suggests that decrying atrocities is easier when they're committed by another country, especially one we never much liked to begin with.

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Rebecca Gordon, I Had an Abortion and Now I’m Not Ashamed

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[I feel strangely mournful reposting this 2019 piece by Rebecca Gordon (including my introduction of that moment on my own experience with abortion). Whatever happens to The Donald and crew in 2022 and 2024, thanks to his three Supreme Court appointments — two of them essentially gerrymandered into office — it’s a guarantee that we’re entering a Trumpist future from hell. It feels terrible to be leaving such a nation to my children and grandchildren, but all-too-grimly appropriate to put this piece up at TomDispatch one more time in the wake of the release of Samuel Alito’s “opinion” on Roe v. Wade. Tom]

Little has truly changed since I wrote this piece almost three years ago about my own abortion. Yes, Donald Trump went on to add his third appointee, Amy Coney Barrett, to the Supreme Court. In her confirmation hearings, like the two nominees he appointed before her, she hinted that, although she recognized Roe v. Wade as a precedent, she didn’t think it would stand. As Barrett said to Senator Amy Klobuchar, “I’m answering a lot of questions about Roe, which I think indicates that Roe doesn’t fall in that category” — the category, in other words, of decisions so settled that no one pushes to overrule them.

Even then, most of us knew what was going to happen. And now it (almost) has.

Many other writers have recently highlighted the rights that may soon join abortion in the dustbin of history, so I won’t mention them here. Except to say that I remember well how, in 1972, I had to pretend to a female gynecologist that my periods were irregular, so she would prescribe birth control pills to an unmarried woman. The Supreme Court’s 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut decision only affirmed the rights of married people to have access to birth control. I think we can imagine states that would happily outlaw it for the rest of us once again, even if the court never overturns Griswold. In fact, there are governors who are already eager to outlaw at least some forms of contraception for everyone.

I’m writing this on the day when I’ll teach the last class of my career as a college professor. Students will be presenting their final projects for the course. But I’ve promised myself to start the class with a presentation of my own. Im finally going to fill a gap in almost two decades of teaching ethics. Im going to tell my students, most of whom are women, that in 1974, a year after Roe v. Wade, their professor had an abortion — and she was damn glad it was legal then. Rebecca Gordon

Abortion is about women and women only, right? Their bodies, their pregnancies, their lives. This is a common enough assumption, even though my own experience 36 years ago tells me something different — and even though perhaps no one is playing a greater role, when it comes to abortion, than a man who is the center of everyone’s attention these days. You know, the fellow accused by at least 24 women of a wide range of sexual misconduct who, from Supreme Court nominations to “gag rules,” has been leading the charge of “his” evangelical base’s attempt to turn abortions, as in my youth, into back-alley affairs for desperate women.

Yes, when Donald Trump was still a New York entrepreneur, he publicly held a position on abortion that usefully fit his world. “I am very pro-choice,” he told NBC’s Tim Russert in 1999. He had even co-sponsored a dinner to honor the president emeritus of the National Abortion Rights Action League at the Plaza Hotel, which he then owned (though in the end he didn’t attend, possibly because of death threats). Now, he pushes quite a different but no less useful position for, well, Donald Trump — and that’s hardly a surprise since, for him, it’s never been about women, their bodies, or their pregnancies; it’s always been, and always will be, about him.

As I view, with a certain horror, the spread of anti-abortion legislation, red state by red state, across significant parts of the country and as I await a possible Supreme Court-ordered end to the Roe v. Wade era, I can’t help but think of my own involvement with abortion as a man. In fact, it’s hard for me not to write that my wife and I had an abortion in 1983, 36 years ago, 10 years after Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. Obviously, that would be a ridiculous thing to claim (though not to feel). My wife was the one who had the abortion of a fetus with an anomaly, a future child we had both wanted. But for me, as for her, it was a difficult, painful choice that would haunt me for years (though I believe that we made exactly the right decision for our family). I’ve thought often, in these years, of what that decision would have been like in an era when abortion was again under siege. And here we are. The Republican Party and the evangelical movement, with the help of a president who cares above all about staying in the White House, are literally on the war path again. (Evangelicals represented one quarter of the 2016 vote and 80% of them went Trump’s way.)  What a nightmare of interference in the lives and fates of both women and men. And all of this came to mind again when TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon sent me today’s piece in which, almost half a century later, she movingly comes to grips with her own abortion experience. Tom

The Personal Is Still Political

And It’s Planetary, Too

I have never said this publicly before, but in December 1974 I had an abortion.

I was 22 years old, living in a cold, dark house in Portland, Oregon, spending my days huddled in front of a wood stove trying to finish my undergraduate senior thesis. I did not want to have a baby. I didn’t know what would come next in my life, but I knew it would not include raising a child. Until the moment the doctor told me I was pregnant -- we didn’t have at-home tests in those days -- I’d always believed that, although it was perfectly ethical for other women to have abortions, I would never do so. In that electric instant, however, I knew that what I had believed about myself was wrong.

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