On the way to my seventh Wild Goose Festival – an annual get-together thing that I do, more or less organized around spirituality, social justice, and the arts, or something – I told my traveling partner, a Lutheran pastor from Wisconsin, that something I wanted to talk to folks about over the proceeding days was the recent Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs case. That’s the one that overturned Roe v Wade and made it possible for states to ban abortion outright.
Over the coming weekend I heard a number of people say they wanted to be able to engage in reasonable conversation with social conservatives. A lot of the attendees are former social conservatives themselves, being ex-evangelicals, or reformed, or recovering evangelical Christians of one sort or another. There’s a common experience of struggle with organized religion, lots of trauma, but also a familiarity with the tropes and rhetoric of American evangelicalism. And many of those folks still have contact with social conservatives, friends, family, coworkers, and so on, and the last few years have been difficult. Most of these folks are white. Most people who are white and religious are socially conservative. The Goose is entirely progressive. But I had never heard anyone talk about abortion at the Goose. So I wondered what people would say.
I only spoke to two people – we were all three together at the time- about it. We were all just sitting there together Saturday evening, and I asked, “what do you think of the decision in the Dobbs case?” And I had to clarify that I meant the overturning of Roe. The first answer I got was about abortion as a political issue. Both sides of the argument make valid points. The other person there commented that they felt abortion was just wrong.
There are a couple of interesting things about the what the second person said. They told me they’d worked at a crisis pregnancy center, where they try to persuade pregnant women to carry to term, and assist with making arrangements in expectation of the child. So abortion was murder, the end. However, the first thing they said in response to the question about the Dobbs case was that there’s no way they’ll be able to maintain the decision, because once you give people a right, you can’t take it back. Abortion was murder, but the government should not stop anyone from getting an abortion. They made their position with the assumption that abortion is legal. Ultimately I tried to make the case to the other two that the debate isn’t really about abortion, but about political power. I’m not sure they were persuaded, but my arguments were not dismissed out of hand.
On the other side of things, both persons agreed that many abortions were de facto birth control – that the real problem was a lack of respect for life. People have abortions because they’re careless. Now this is the point where I should have jumped in with some statistics from economist Caitlin Myers, and tried to say that, no, the problem is that children are expensive. And also: abortion is not as simple as just people who are pregnant and for whatever reason do not want to have a child. Sometimes an abortion is necessary for the health and well being of the parent. But the thoughts didn’t get there in time. We moved on to other matters, other people arrived, and the conversation disappeared, as most conversations do.
A strange thing I noticed about the Goose this year: I was tongue tied a lot. Sometimes I tripped over my words, other times I just found I had nothing to say, smiling and staring blankly into someone else s eyes. I spent a lot more time this year at the Goose with other people than I usually do, that could have something to do with it, I suppose. I like these people a lot, and its always fun to chat with random folks at the festival, but I’ve always found it difficult to be part of the group, so maybe when I feel like I want to be part of a group of people I choke up out of anxiety? I dunno.
But to return to the discussion of Dobbs – I wanted to push on things, but was afraid to. These are my friends, they’re good people, you know? That’s how I often feel about these things. I read the news, try to pay attention. The Dobbs decision, to me, means border wars between the states, a more violent society with greater poverty. A return to old fashioned patriarchy in some parts of the country. I think if you evaluate abortion policy on the expected outcomes, bans clearly do more harm than good. I wish I’d been able to make that argument well, but in the moment I did not.
I did hear from time to time people saying that we need to protect reproductive rights or maybe women’s autonomy – but I never heard anyone say “abortion should be legal” outright. And I wonder if there’s not something to that.