When Nancy Pelosi visits these shores, she generally basks in the goodwill of the Government and the warm embrace of Northern nationalists. Any froideur towards her might be expected to come from unionists, given her opposition to their protocol position. Nothing could be further from the truth. The pastoral cover picture of St Anthony on the June 3rd edition of Kildare-based Catholic Voice belies its content. Inside, pages – and considerable invective – are devoted to Pelosi’s apostasy, namely her “advocacy for the legitimacy of abortion”.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco refuses her communion until she “publicly repudiates [her] advocacy for abortion and confesses”. Other bishops are quoted denouncing her, one even explaining how he lobbies other churches to ensure that Cordileone’s restriction follows her everywhere. Pope Francis sent an envoy when this inquisitorial tide threatened Joe Biden and others with excommunication. No surprise, however, that the campaign against Pelosi continues. She’s a woman. Public repudiations and confessions? Papal envoys? Vague dystopian feelings of a dark age on the horizon are now fully formed fears. Last Friday, in Washington six supreme court judges walked backwards from their sanctuary in Washington. In one fell blow they removed a 50-year-old law that protected women.
There is a terrifying symmetry about the whole process. Six judges ruled in favour. Three of them were put there by Donald Trump precisely to press this nuclear button – it’s now clear that the fallout of chaos and conflict, like the attack on Capitol Hill, was planned. And three judges dissented. Justice Stephen Breyer foresaw in the decision something even more sinister than the erosion of the rights of women: the American constitution, which protects the rights of all Americans, is now threatened. “Rescinding an individual right in its entirety and conferring it on the state, an action the court takes today for the first time in history affects all who have relied on our constitutional system of government and its structure of individual liberties protected from state oversight.” In short, a state that claims the right to dictate the uses to which a woman’s body must be put, will stop at no individual liberty.
For Americans, his warning is a harbinger of revolution. Civic revolt on the proportions of the 1960s civil rights marches have already begun. Much will change and not just in how Americans see their beloved constitution. Change will be in the very demographic and in the debate. Within hours of the judgment, Google announced that its employees could relocate “without justification” to states allowing abortion. Given that 25 states intend to implement the ban, Google Maps has a whole new meaning. This extraordinary vision of a nomadic workforce heralds more than an Irish solution to an American problem, it clearly heralds the recrudescence of the worst kind of misogyny, a kind we knew all too well in this country until four years ago – gynaecological tyranny.
But it could also herald the renaissance of feminism at its bravest and best. The rights of women are being eroded. But the battle lines, trampled beneath the crust of the earth during the culture wars, are already carbon dated and clear as ever. And the exhumation of much maligned second wave feminism has found no decomposition. Because once more the battle has crystallised around women’s rights. And fighting injustice both public and private, for basic rights, for reproductive rights and for equality, was its lifeblood.
LGBTQ communities in the United States are on high alert. And rightly so. Judge Clarence Thomas has already indicated he has marriage equality and contraception in his sights. Rebecca Walker’s famous declaration on Thomas’s confirmation to the supreme court in 1992 rings shockingly fresh. “Let Clarence Thomas’s confirmation serve to remind you that the fight is never over. Let this dismissal of a woman’s experience move you to anger.”
The “woman” was Anita Hill and the “experience” her humiliation at losing a sexual harassment case against him. But Justice Clarence Thomas sat implacable for 30 years while the women’s movement swerved violently to the left and wokeism. Last week it woke up. At every level of society – from the streets to the groves of academe. From the moment Roe vs Wade was upturned, august university faculties have leapt into action, encouraging members to engage in the civic process and express their opinions. One can’t help thinking that it will make a welcome change from beating off millennials finding new and specious reasons for “no-platforming” or cancellations on a daily basis.
The Roe vs Wade overturning also has ramifications for the “trans” or biological sex debate. No transwoman can be directly affected by the ruling because at this moment a transwoman won’t find herself with an unwanted pregnancy – and since the ability to have babies has never defined a woman, this is beside the point. But it would not be impossible for a transman or non-binary person to have a crisis pregnancy in a state that bans abortion. In these scenarios, they will need, not intolerance, but all the support, empathy and grace that feminism offers.
While our legislators in Ireland have ensured a safer law than Roe vs Wade, some of the debate resonates. Sr Simone Campbell, leader of Nuns on the Bus, a group campaigning for social justice during the 2016 presidential campaign in the US, framed the dilemma. Anti-abortionists are not pro-life, Sr Simone said, they are pro-birth. If they were pro-life, they would make a better world for babies and children. That much is universal.