Generally speaking, I prefer to write these columns about local issues, or political matters that are less covered in the national media. But there are times when national (or even international) issues are extremely relevant to our state and district-level politics.

This is one of those times.

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Supreme Court Draft Decision re: Roe v. Wade

The draft decision from the Supreme Court, as leaked, suggests a final version would have huge adverse effects across the country, including in our state. Revoking the protections of Roe V Wade would not only directly impact the bodily freedom of women, it would also open the door to restricting or eliminating many other established rights, such as marriage equality and availability of birth control. The latter issues are not directly discussed in the draft decision. But a Supreme Court determination that the Constitution only protects our privacy when explicitly enumerated would undermine many rights that our evolving society has recognized. Even interracial marriage could become illegal in some states.

Election for Maricopa County Attorney

A key race in Maricopa County has become a particular focus for this issue. Democrat Julie Gunnigle is running for County Attorney; she is unopposed in her primary. Even before the Supreme Court leak, she made it clear that she would not enforce Arizona’s new law that criminalizes abortions after 15 weeks into the pregnancy. This got a lot of attention and was echoed by the Democratic candidate for Arizona Attorney General, Kris Mayes.

A common reaction to this stance was roughly, “as the County Attorney, aren’t you required to enforce every law?” Gunnigle’s response (also paraphrased) was that every prosecutor makes decisions about which laws to focus on and which cases to pursue, based at least partly on which cases are likely to succeed in court. This is often referred to as “prosecutorial discretion.” In fact, she noted that what is unusual about her statement is that she is being transparent about what she will and won’t enforce – usually, people in that position are not open about this. Gunnigle stated that only about half of the crimes that the County knows about are ever prosecuted.

I very much appreciate Gunnigle stating forthrightly what her views are, and how she intends to perform her job – the authenticity is admirable (in addition to the fact that I happen to agree with her views).

Aside from this one race, though, how do we speak about this issue to others, particularly to potentially persuadable voters? While a significant majority of Arizonans oppose severe restrictions on abortion, it is a tricky issue; few would say that they are “for” abortion; rather, a majority would say they are for the right of women to choose. How should this be framed?

Talking About Abortion

Fortunately for us, messaging expert Antonia Scatton has been thinking about this. In a recent Facebook post, she suggested a number of “dos and don’ts”, including:

Do: “Talk about how Americans believe in freedom and how bodily self-determination is the first and most essential condition of being a free person.”

And

Don’t: “Do not talk about the fetus, heartbeats, partial birth abortions, when life begins, or anything biological, anything that happens ‘below the neck.’”

In her Facebook post she also linked to a more complete discussion of the matter, here.

I also like seeing this issue through the lens of religious freedom. There is a minority of Americans who feel confident that life begins at conception; in fact, in some religious traditions (such as Judaism), life (and “personhood”) begins with the first breath[1]. I don’t want someone with a different religious view to determine what others must do or not do based on that view.

Succinctly: the issue is about human rights and freedom, not about children. Or, as another posting (from Pete Alex Harris, reposted by Scatton) noted: “If you don’t accept that bodily autonomy is an essential unconditional liberty, it’s a waste of time talking to you at all. No other liberties survive without that one, more fundamental than property rights: if you don’t own yourself absolutely, you own nothing.”

To which Antonia noted: “This is what I am talking about. Freedom for Women.”

[1] The frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until sometime between 25 and 30; so as an old guy, I sometimes think personhood begins at age 30, but I won’t press the point …)

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