Tag Archives: 1980s

Right to Control

Many of the cases that arrive before the U.S. Supreme Court begin with individuals either trying right a wrong or make their own lives better.  They rarely expect to launch a national movement.  That was pretty much the case when Norma McCorvey found herself pregnant with her third child in 1969.  An unemployed carnival worker living outside Dallas at the time, McCorvey apparently had led a rough life and had given up her first two children for adoption.  She didn’t need – and couldn’t afford – to bring another child into the world.  However, the state of Texas didn’t allow for abortions except to save the life of the mother.  Even rape and incest victims couldn’t end their unwanted pregnancies.  Like so many women in her situation, McCorvey was too poor to travel to another state where abortions were safe and legal.  She even tried to obtain an illegal abortion, but again the cost was prohibitive.  She sought legal help and ended up under the guidance of attorneys Linda Coffee and Sarah Weddington.

In 1970, after McCorvey had given birth and given up the baby, Coffee and Weddington filed paper work challenging the Texas law and bestowed the name “Jane Roe” upon their client.  They targeted then-Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade.  Wade had entered the national spotlight nearly a decade earlier when he prosecuted Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald who had been accused of assassinating President John F. Kennedy.  (Wade would later come to light as a ruthless prosecutor who engaged in unscrupulous legal maneuvers to ensure criminal prosecutions, no matter the cost and despite evidence to the contrary.)

After McCorvey’s suit was filed, a Texas district court ruled the state’s abortion ban violated the constitutional right to privacy under the 14th Amendment.  Wade persisted, however, and vowed to prosecute any doctor who performed what he deemed unnecessary abortions in the state.  The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court and, in a 7-2 ruling on January 22, 1973, abortion was fully legalized in the United States.

That was pretty much the end of the issue until the 1980s, when right-wing religious leaders began stoking the fires of anti-abortion rhetoric.  It accompanied the presidency of Ronald Reagan who openly stated he wished for a return to an America before the 1960s.  That should say enough about his bigoted state of mind, but it aligned with a growing hostility towards progressive ideology and civil rights legislation.

Earlier this week the unexpected news arrived that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe vs. Wade by the end of its current term in June.  We wouldn’t know anything about this if it wasn’t for the leak of a draft opinion by Associate Justice Samuel Alito who declares the Roe decision “egregiously wrong” in terms of constitutional practicality.  Chief Justice John Roberts has confirmed the veracity of the statement, but has joined many others in condemning the leak.

For many of us the leak isn’t the main concern.  It’s what it says.  There is now a very real possibility that nearly a half century of protection for that part of women’s overall health care could end because a handful of conservative extremists on the High Court want to inject their personal views into it.

For their like-minded ilk in the American public, the overturning of Roe marks the end of a long-fought battle in their alleged “pro-life” agenda; a perverted early Mother’s Day gift.  It doesn’t matter that a majority of Americans don’t want to see a complete ban on abortion.  They’ve been working for this moment over the past four decades.

For liberals, though, this is a much more dire situation.  While the current case that brought Roe back into the forefront is limited to just abortion, progressives see other seminal SCOTUS decisions in the judicial crosshairs.  It really isn’t extraordinary to see such cases as Obergefell vs. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage, reversed.  Along with abortion, queer rights have been a target of far-right conservatives.  But, if the Court sees fit to outlaw abortion at the national level (and leave it up to individual states), it could also reasonably overturn Griswold vs. Connecticut, which ruled that states could not deny birth control to married couples.  Before that decision, married residents of Connecticut (and a few other states) couldn’t legally purchase birth control.

To some conservatives, abortion has become another form of birth control, which is not what contemporary feminists who jump-started the modern women’s movement desired.  The latter group had always declared that abortion should be a woman’s last choice.  But, with the overall concept of birth control in mind, is it possible a woman who has a tubal ligation could be criminally prosecuted?  For that matter, could men who have vasectomies be subject to criminal jurisprudence?  How about condoms or IUDs?  Could those be outlawed?

Why stop with Roe?  Aside from Obergefell and Griswold, could the Court target Loving vs. Virginia, the case that struck laws against interracial marriage?  How about Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, which outlaws racial desegregation in schools?

Remember that, when Antonin Scalia died in 2016, Republicans in the Senate displayed their usual contempt and disdain for President Obama by refusing to hold hearings on his nominee to the Court, until after Donald Trump got into office.  They stated that, since Scalia’s death occurred during an election year, the incoming president should select his replacement.  Yet, upon the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 2020, they rammed through the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett – a character straight out of “The Handmaid’s Tale”.

That social and religious conservatives want to dictate what women can and cannot do with their own bodies conflicts with the long-held American vision of individual freedom.  Many of these people screamed at the thought mandatory mask-wearing or forced vaccinations at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic; crying they should have autonomy over their own bodies.  Really?  What an original concept.

Conservatives herald the beauty of life, but a life costs hard dollars in the very real world of child-rearing.  Since 2019, for example, the state of Texas has experienced a 1,100% rise in children placed into foster care.  Love and compassion alone won’t pay those bills, no matter how much prayer one puts forth.  Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie once emphasized that pro-life means the entire life cycle – not just up to the moment the fetus is born.

The reasons why an individual woman wants to end a pregnancy are myriad, but it is no one else’s business.  As painful a decision as it may be, I’d rather see a woman end a pregnancy she doesn’t want than give birth to a child she doesn’t want.  Children who come into the world unwanted are often unloved.  That’s an awful fate for someone.

Regardless, pregnancy and birth are individual choices.  No one – not the Supreme Court and not a politician – has the right to interfere with that.

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A Centerfold Turns 40

I happened to see this classic music video the other day: “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band.  Both the song and the video came out in 1981; meaning they’re both FORTY YEARS OLD!  Yes, folks, those of us who recall when this song was brand new are officially – mature.  Yeah – mature.  To make you feel even more vintage, this video was among the first that appeared on MTV, which debuted in 1981.  That’s the same year I began my senior year in high school.  Um…good God!

Well…whatever!  It’s still a great song!

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About the Last Decade…

“I saw the decade in,

When it seemed the world could change,

At the blink of an eye.”

Jesus Jones – “Right Here, Right Now

I have to wonder what is it about this last decade that makes it unique.  How do we define the 2010s?  It seems to be a modern quandary.  Since the 1920s, the United States – and perhaps, much of the world – has viewed itself in terms of decades.  Every ten-year period for the past century has been defined by certain cultural and political events and movements.

The 1920s were known as the “Roaring 20s” and the “Jazz Age”.  It was a decade of extraordinary prosperity, the maturity of the film industry, jazz bands, raccoon coats, flappers, bootleggers and marathon dancers.  The 1930s were dominated by the “Great Depression”; a calamitous effect of those “Roaring 20s”.  It also became renowned for the equally disastrous “Dust Bowl”, bank robbers, the rise of fascism in Europe and many precursors to World War II.

The 1930s started as the previous decade came to an end and spilled into the 1940s, which then became known as the “War Years”; its connection to the Second World War sealed in blood and stone.  Sorrow and patriotism marked that period, but hope also rose up from the sands of despair.  American dominance across the globe began to take shape in that decade.

The 1950s saw the greatest economic expansion in modern world history, as a new “Middle Class” took control of the American experience.  The Second World War metastasized into the Cold War, as Communism began rampaging across Europe.  The Korean War was a brutal stain on this time of prosperity, which also became known for a dual sense of conformity and fear.  The various civil rights movements that would dominate the latter half of the 20th century began fomenting in the 1950s.

The 1960s were a cataclysm of generational clashes, which started with the election of John F. Kennedy.  The decade commenced as a mirror of the previous decade.  But all of the chaos that defined the 60s had begun rumbling in the 50s, like a volcanic caldera.  People who had done everything possible to secure their right to freedom and happiness exploded with anger that they had achieved little in many respects.  Their hostility shocked the staid American populace, as the decade also saw the space race take shape; political assassinations; the Vietnam War; drug and sex revolutions; and finally, a man on the moon.

The 1970s began as an extension of the 60s, but it saw an explosion of artistry in music, television, cinema and literature.  It also experienced cultural and technological innovations.  On the down side, it was scarred by the first resignation of president in U.S. history; a humiliating end to the Vietnam conflict; energy crises; and finally, an even more humiliating hostage situation with Iran.

While the 60s were often called the “We Decade” and the 70s the “Me Decade”, the 1980s became the “Gimme Decade”; a time when greed became good, hair and women’s shoulder pads grew large and overpriced meals grew small.  It spawned the “MTV Generation” and saw the VCR become ubiquitous in American households.  It also experienced the rise of one of the greatest health crises in world history, as AIDS exploded.

The 1990s remains my personal favorite.  Although it began with the “Savings & Loan” crisis and the Persian Gulf War, we underwent economic growth that eclipsed the 1950s and an explosion of technology unmatched in modern history.  The 90s saw multiculturalism and the fruits of affirmative action; DNA science; the collapse of the Soviet Union; right-wing paranoia; and Y2K.

The first two decades of the 21st century, however, seem almost indistinguishable.  The horror of 9/11; a resurgence of patriotism; U.S.-led Middle East conflicts; and the “Great Recession” defined the first ten years.  But, if we had to classify the 2010s, how would we so it?  What would we say?

I feel it’s been almost a complete reversal of two centuries of civil rights progress.  The birth of the “Tea Party” in 2010 wasn’t so much a vitriolic dissatisfaction with the tax system in the U.S. (Taxed Enough Already), but rather, the election of the nation’s first biracial president.  That seemed to upend all that was considered normal in this country; an obliteration of long-held norms.  The “Tea Party” boasted a few Asian, Black and Hispanic members; all tokens working on behalf of the Old White Male, who went from just ‘angry’ to downright ‘enraged’.  So-called “birtherism” mixed with the complete and total disrespect Republican politicians had for Barack Obama.  In response, Republican-dominated state legislatures (including my beloved Texas) became determined to dismantle decades of voting rights by limiting early voting periods and enhancing voter identification methods; all in an attempt to undermine a mythical rash of voter fraud.  In reality, they were just appalled that a Negro (a half-blooded one, but a Negro nonetheless) could make it into the highest political office in the land.  Fortunately, they’ve been stalled by various judges at almost every step.  In retaliation for the Obama years, many voters became determined to get just about any old White man into the White House.  Thus, we ended up with the cantankerously disoriented Donald Trump.  I told myself repeatedly during the disastrous George W. Bush years that I’m not ashamed to be an American.  But Trump’s tenure has made that sentiment exceptionally difficult.

As with any serious economic downturn, the “Great Recession” made America turn inwards during the last decade; with non-Whites and immigrants suffering the usual brunt of antagonism and fear.  What should have been a time of extraordinary prosperity – coming off the 1990s – mutated into lackluster economic growth in the 2000s and ardent despair in the 2010s.  Literally millions of people lost their jobs, homes and savings, as the large corporations (particularly the monstrous financial institutions) that fueled the near-total collapse got bailed out.  And – with a few high-profile exceptions – no one went to jail.  Where was my tax relief?

The trickle-down economics bullshit that forms the basis of conservative financial ideology got a steroid-type boost with the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and intense deregulation of those dreaded banks.  That furthered the expansion of wealth inequality that makes the “Gilded Age” look juvenile.  The “Gilded Age” – to anyone wary enough – created an anarchist movement that took root in the slums of Europe and Latin America before seeping into the U.S.  It came close to a rebirth with “Occupy Wall Street”, but I still believe a full-fledged revolt is possible.

I guess how we define any period in our lives is how we define ourselves.  If we like where we are in life, then times are good.  It’s always purely subjective.  As introverted as I am and as pessimistic as I may seem to some, I still hope the 2020s experience an eruption of more progressive national ideologies; such as advances in science and medicine and greater funding for education and health care, instead of war and tax breaks for a select privileged few.  Where we go from here is often dependent more on our own aspirations than on fate and acts of God.  The sun hasn’t set on hope, if we look at hope as concept ahead and not behind.

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