BEING A WOMAN, the first thing I Thought of when I heard the election results was what should I wear for the Swing to the Right? Part of the answer was obvious. I dug my old apron out of mothballs and put it on and announced to the family that from now on I was going to be spending more time at home. Not to worry, I told them. President-elect Ronald Reagan is going to fix up the economy in no time flat so we probably wouldn't be needing a second income anymore. Besides, I confided, I never did like my job. Secretly, I've always wanted to stay home and take of the kids and clean the house and do the laundry, and earn pin money by writing warm ditties for Hallmark while the children are napping.
I'm just kidding, of course. Honest. It's going to be wonderful. A lot of people in Washington are saying they didn't see it coming. Not me. I knew it last week when the word "bosomy" reappeared in The Washington Post. Never let it be said we don't have our ear to the ground.
A lot of people I know are very depressed about what's happened. Who, after all, would have predicted that Sen. Howard Baker would be the Great White Hope of moderate America? But this is not a time for depression. Let us look on the bright side of things. I have a 5-year-old child who doesn't know what a standing rib roast is. He a mother who has forgotten how to cook one. Now that the Republicans have taken over, we'll be able to eat well again. I can splurge on cook books. By the way there is one thing no one remembered to thank Reagan for. At least during all his talks about food and inflation, he didn't promise us a chicken in every pot.
What else is going to happen? For one thing, we won't have ERA to kick around anymore.
We'll have HLA.
Yes. You didn't used to hear much about HLA. HLA stands for the Human Life Amendment, which bans abortions except when the life of the mother is in danger. President-elect Reagan is in favor of it, and so are some of the new members of Congress. It used to get introduced in the Senate and be dispatched forthwith to the subcommittee on the Constitution, which was chaired by Birch Bayh. Bayh is gone. That subcommittee probably will now be headed by Orrin Hatch. You're going to be hearing a lot about HLA. .
Carl Anderson, a legislative aide to Sen. Jesse Helms, a big supporter of the HLA, says things are looking up for the amendment. He thinks this election is telling us that blue collar and ethnic voters will change parties on the profile question. Furthermore, he says that the swing senators will note that the prolifers hurt Birch Bayh and will be more anxious than ever to get rid of the issue by passing it and sending it to the state legislatures and let them battle over the abortion issue for a while.
There seems to be some confusion about exactly what this amendment would ban. Some feminist organizations interpret it to mean that a number of popular birth control measures which prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in the uterus would also be banned. Anderson says that's a straw man, that antiabortion language approved in the House in the past has specifically stipulated that it is not intended to prohibit the use of drugs or devices that work in this way.
For the record, the amendment's definition of a person includes "unborn offspring at every stage of their biological development." If you believe that a fertilized egg is an unborn offspring, then this raises an interesting question of just how you police this amendment.
Anderson isn't sure yet whether there are enough votes in Congress to pass the HLA, but he says there's another way to ban abortions. The American Covention on Human Rights, developed by the Organization of American States, has a human life provision. It has been signed by President Carter and was sent to the Hill with a note from the State Department saying that the United States would not be bound by the human life provision. But Carter is out and Reagan is in and he favors a human life amendment."So," Anderson says, "You might very well do by international law what we would do by amendment since both would be the supreme law of the land."
Eleanor Smeal of the National Organization for Women believes that the swing to the right is going to make a lot of people more politically aware than they were before the election. "I know when the American people were voting they were not voting against birth control and family planning, but that is what they were doing." What happened, she says, "is going to wake of people up."
Ronald Reagan did not get himself elected because of his stand for a human life amendment. That is not what is on the majority of people's minds and it is not the factor that led to Republican control of the Senate, but it is a factor that would deeply divide a nation that has just voted a mandate for change. Reagan got himself elected by talking repeatedly about inflation and about Carter and about foreign policy.
And he talked about one more thing. He talked about getting government off the backs of the people. I couldn't agree more. A terrific place to start would be by abandoning this human life amendment.
It interferes with something a lot more private than people's backs.