HEY, PADRE: In my punk-ass prime, I used to call the friars at the Old Mission and question them about the theology of masturbation. Was it a mortal sin for men because at climax millions of sperm plunged to unconsummated deaths? And what about for women, for whom the release of an egg from ovaries is wholly disconnected from orgasmic release? And was I the first one to discover masturbation was not the same damnable sin for women that it has been for men?
I thought I had them. I thought I was funny. The friars responded only with the greatest of forbearance. They patiently explained that any sexual satisfaction obtained outside the bounds of holy matrimony and the possibility of pregnancy was verboten. In canonical texts, the act of “voluntary pollution” is “objectively” deemed a “gravely disordered action,” and hence is categorized as a mortal sin. That means you can go to hell for it. But, the friars stressed, there were many subjective considerations that had to be taken into account.
I mention this because the Supreme Court — now populated by a two-thirds majority of Roman Catholic jurists — has all but consigned Roe v. Wade to the dustbin of history. Should this leaked opinion be finalized, reproductive choice will be obliterated as a practical matter in 26 of the 50 states. Abortions will be available only to women in those states who have the means to travel to the other 24. Based on initial estimates, California could see an influx of 1.4 million women traveling here for just this reason.
It is, I suppose, beside the point to observe that two-thirds of the population supports keeping Roe v. Wade just the way it is. It is legally irrelevant that Samuel Alito, the Supreme Court Justice who penned the leaked opinion, was appointed by a president — George W. Bush — who may or may not have actually won the 2000 election. I know it’s bad form to talk of “stolen elections” these days, but as I recall, the Supreme Court stopped the Florida recount before an actual victor could be ascertained. As a result, the record books say Bush won with 50.7 percent, but with an asterisk as big as Al Gore’s ass. Either way, it’s a far cry from the two-thirds Roe v. Wade now enjoys.
Not to belabor the irrelevant, but Justice Alito was the keynote speaker last fall at the 50th anniversary jubilee for Thomas Aquinas College in Ventura, a school nationally renowned as an intellectual hub for the anti-abortion movement. At that event, Alito said that though he’s an originalist, he “almost always follows past decisions.” Words indeed matter, and the one that matters most in this sentence is “almost.” In other words, Alito — like the three justices recently appointed by Donald Trump — must have had his fingers crossed when he vowed fealty to established precedent during his Senate confirmation hearings.
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Leaking a Supreme Court draft opinion is extremely rare. The smart money says it’s highly likely the document was leaked by abortion opponents working inside the court who were eager to prevent Chief Justice John Roberts from marshaling support for an opinion that leaves Roe intact. It is a scheme that will probably work.
So as we march bravely into the past, it’s worth remembering former UCSB biologist and ecologist Garrett Hardin, who from 1960 to 1975 helped women in Santa Barbara get safe abortions. In 1963, Hardin packed UCSB’s Campbell Hall with 900 people when he gave a talk urging the legalization of abortion. Another 300 had to be turned away. Women shouldn’t have to subject themselves to laws written by men, Hardin argued, and find themselves conscripted into “mandatory motherhood” and “compulsory pregnancy.” And the planet, he charged, could ill afford the steep costs of unwanted children. At the time, the world population was about 2.8 billion. Today, it’s nearly 8 billion.
The morning after that talk, Hardin’s phone started ringing. It didn’t stop until 1967, when abortion was legalized in California. Even at dinnertime, the phone would ring. One of Hardin’s kids would answer. “Somebody wants an abortion,” the young Hardin would call out. Hardin — a lifelong Republican, by the way — helped create a network that found safe, clean clinics in Mexico and Sweden that provided abortions. He never referred to local doctors for fear of possible police action.
In an oral history, Hardin described being stopped on State Street by women eager to share tales of their own abortion experiences. “These were pillars of the community,” he noted. “These were ‘nice women.’” His activism would peter out after California’s governor — a guy named Ronald Reagan, by the way — signed a bill decriminalizing the procedure, making California the first state in the nation to do so.
Unless the Supremes reverse course, “nice women” in 26 states will have their choices dramatically curtailed. But far more impacted will be all the women — not just “pillars of the community” — for whom abortion is a crucial option. Those who most avail themselves of abortions now are in their late twenties with at least one child already. They are disproportionately poor. And they are disproportionately Black. Not everything is always about race, but it’s not an accident or coincidence either that abortion became outlawed nationwide — at the beginning of the 20th century — at a time of peak immigration when some White people feared they were losing the war of reproduction.
The good news, I suppose, is that we always have masturbation. But with this Supreme Court, that may come next.