The Divine Right of Senators

With the checks and balances of the Constitution, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the others sought to put the final nail in the coffin of what was left of the divine right of kings. Their hope was that American legislators and presidents would never legislate with such royal arrogance.

Well, they had a right to hope. And much of the time that arrogance was avoided. The most glaring and fateful exception was the long and dismal history of legislation concerning slavery and segregation, those long decades when white legislators -- governing like King George III -- believed that they had a perfect right to arrange the lives of African Americans without ever consulting them. Most Americans acknowledge with some contrition the long tragic history that ensued.

But there seems to be little legislative empathy or contrition in a parallel area -- women's reproductive rights. Last Sunday's New York Times front page brought the news that four Republican senators are introducing a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks. Senators Rand Paul, Mario Rubio, Rob Portman, and Ted Cruz all seem to feel that that they have a perfect right to arrange the lives of women without ever consulting them. These senators are merely the latest wave in a storm of anti-abortion legislation proposed and passed by groups of legislators (overwhelmingly male) in state capitals across America.

Did King George ever truly wonder about the lives of his American colonists? Did he ever put himself in their place and ask himself, how would I feel being governed by a distant monarch who seemed not to know or care anything about my life. Do these legislators wonder about the reality of the lives of the women they are affecting?

As a longtime minister and close student of the history and current status of the abortion issue in America, I can find no instances where these senators have pondered what they would do if they were a woman and legislators ordered them to have medical tests which their doctors said were unnecessary. Have they ever wondered what they would do if they were a woman in the sixth month of a wanted pregnancy only to learn from an ultrasound that their fetus was hopelessly compromised and would not live? They never display any detailed knowledge of the role of abortion in women's lives. If their legislation were to pass, such a woman would now have to fight for her right to end such a pregnancy. In fairness to these senators, they may have had these thoughts, but as yet, I have found no indication that they have shared any of it in their public statements about abortion. They seem, like the Hanoverian king, not even to consider the wishes of those whose lives they seek to regulate.

They appear to have a strange sense of entitlement, a belief that though they are men who can never experience what women experience, they know what is best for a woman and have the right to impose their will. What is even stranger is the fact that so much of the press seems not to question such sexism the way they would question racism.

In recent days Pope Francis stunned and pleased much of the world when he said of gay people, "Who am I to judge?" What a blessing for women's lives it would be if these senators picked up his spirit instead of that of King George the III.