In a Tuesday feature in New York Magazine, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, seemed to offer a head-scratching stance on whether one can simultaneously be a feminist and an opponent of abortion rights.
Citing how he and his pro-choice wife get along perfectly well despite their disagreement on whether the government should be allowed to force women to push out babies, the 65-year-old man insisted, “Everybody ought to just take a chill pill.”
In essence, why can’t we just agree to disagree? Why can’t the social justice warriors and American Civil Liberties Union crusaders put down their pitchforks and just agree to disagree with lawmakers who are codifying their beliefs into reckless, dangerous abortion bans? Kasich’s callous suggestion that everyone should calm down highlights a frightening disparity in power.
When lawmakers “agree to disagree” with the women they’re hurting, they can still go on to pass and implement legislation that controls the most intimate aspects of women’s lives. When women “agree to disagree” with their lawmakers, this means passively ceding their bodily autonomy. One group, but not the other, suffers from this disagreement. One group, but not the other, is told that their right to decision-making power over their bodies is less important than an unborn fetus, less worthy of protection than a conservative legislator’s fragile sense of moral superiority.
Kasich is held in high esteem across the political spectrum as a moderate and “decent” Republican at a time when the party is increasingly being infiltrated by self-identified neo-Nazis. But what his liberal sympathizers seem to forget is that he opposes legal abortion except in cases of rape or incest — a stance that acknowledges rape is wrong, but regards reproductive coercion as just peachy.
He also has a record of voting against the legal transportation of minors out of state to access safe, legal abortion care during his tenure in the U.S. Congress, and promising to nominate only anti-abortion judges and court justices. Last year, Kasich signed a bill that sweepingly banned 20-week abortions in the state of Ohio into law. The law is not only recognized as unconstitutional by the ACLU and contradictory to Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of the right to safe, legal abortion until fetal viability at roughly 24-26 weeks. It’s also particularly cruel considering its disproportionate, life-threatening consequences for women seeking late-term abortion care due to health concerns or fetal abnormalities, the vast majority of whom are seeking abortions at 20 weeks.
The takeaway here is that despite Kasich’s insistence that we all need to calm down, that activists and women with unwanted pregnancies ought to quit fighting abortion opponents and take “chill pills,” he has ironically played a decisive, unforgivable role in creating the sources of their justifiable panic. Feminists aren’t inventing and imagining women’s rights crises just to march in the streets for fun.
The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world, with higher rates in states with more restrictions on abortion, according to data from the September 2016 issue of the Obstetrics & Gynecology journal. The last five years have accounted for more than one quarter of all abortion restrictions passed across the country since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, according to Guttmacher Institute. And according to the same Obstetrics & Gynecology research, the estimated U.S. maternal mortality rate grew by 27 percent between 2000 and 2014. Presently, about 90 percent of all U.S. counties lack an abortion provider, and with women about twice as likely as men to live in poverty, burdening women with the costs of travel and lodging to have what can already be an expensive procedure certainly doesn’t help.
These are real problems that, frankly, only people privileged enough to not have a direct stake in this issue can be calm and passive about. It’s difficult for women with unintended pregnancies, or women in general, to look away from direct threats to their bodily autonomy and pleasantly agree to disagree. It’s difficult for decent people to look at this public health and humanitarian crisis, shrug and pop a “chill pill.”
As for that divisive question of whether feminists are practicing elitist, ideological exclusivity by suggesting that abortion opponents can’t be feminists, it all goes back to whether you think the fundamental human right to a safe abortion is something that can be compromised on. Let’s also not forget that feminism is about inclusivity and empowerment of different types of people, and that there’s a very specific type of person that opposition to abortion rights targets: low-income women of color.
Historically, lacking the same access to family planning resources of wealthy white women, low-income immigrant and minority women were more likely to suffer from unsafe, illegal back-alley abortions. This remains true today amid the Republican crusade on women’s health centers like Planned Parenthood, which, to set the record straight, offer services and resources that are more likely to prevent an unintended pregnancy that may lead to an abortion than abstinence education, according to research from the American Journal of Public Health published last month.
Research repeatedly shows that restrictions and both legal and economic barriers to abortion, in their myriad forms, don’t affect the rate at which abortions occur. Rather, they burden women with costs and wasted time, or even endanger some women by pushing them to go to unsafe sources for abortions.
Those are the circumstances that “feminists” against abortion are subjecting some of the most vulnerable members of society to. And I’d like to emphasize that banning abortion won’t stop it from happening. These restrictions achieve nothing but the punishment of women, so the only takeaway for abortion opponents is one of pure selfishness — the gentle stroking of their moral superiority complexes.
On Monday, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly took to the podium to speak favorably of Robert E. Lee, Confederate general and supporter of the torture of black Union captives. He claimed the Civil War could easily have been dodged by compromise, that there were “good people” on “both sides.”
The words were appalling, especially from a man who, like Kasich, has made his name as a respectable, decent man. His comments about the possibility of a Civil War compromise — one that would most likely have decided whether or not non-white human beings are, in fact, human beings — imply that pacifying white supremacy in its purest, oldest form, just for the sake of avoiding war would have been a noble feat.
Calls to listen to both sides and make compromises have become increasingly glamorized since the election of President Donald Trump, a man who thinks NFL players who protest police brutality are “sons of b-tches,” but some neo-Nazis are “very fine people.” By no means is the well-meaning, centrist proverb of reaching across the aisle always wrong. But it can also be deeply damaging, as it buries a fundamental truth: Human rights are not something we can compromise on. Whether humans have ownership of and autonomy over their own bodies is different from a proposed tax plan — we can’t merely “agree to disagree” on something this fundamental.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs Thursdays.