On Tuesday, former Minnesota Public Radio host and Lake Wobegon bard Garrison Keillor took a break from writing his book in New York to comment on the Supreme Court confirmation hearing for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
Democratic senators peppered Barrett with questions about how she would rule on several issues – including Roe v. Wade. Though Barrett's opposition to abortion rights is well-documented, she refused to say how she’d come down on the issue in court.
Keillor chimed in with his take on Facebook.
“It seems clear that Judge Barrett will sit on the Supreme Court and this will mean the reversal of Roe v. Wade and some deep dents in the Affordable Care Act,” he began. “I don’t think Roe v. Wade is worth fighting for anymore.”
Keillor thinks guaranteeing the right to a safe abortion has “torn the country asunder,” and wondered,“to what good?”
“We can accept a system of states’ rights, whereby abortion is legal in some states, illegal in others, same as you have a death penalty in some states, not in others,” Keillor wrote. “…Let South Dakota be South Dakota and if they wish to criminalize LBGTQ, then they can deal with the consequences. Let’s give the cultural war a rest and focus on the economy and tax policy and environment.”
The post, seen via screenshot below, has since been removed.
Keillor posted again to “clarify” his thoughts later that morning. This time, he said Donald Trump, a “cynical corrupt president,” had managed to appoint three Supreme Court justices, and that meant that “Roe v. Wade is doomed," regardless.
“But the Court is not able to make abortion illegal, only states can do that,” Keillor wrote. “So abortion will be legal most places and not others. Meanwhile, we need to focus on providing health care and support for women, that will lessen the number of women who feel forced to abort… Meanwhile, R v W is a toxic issue that has poisoned our politics for almost 50 years and succeeded in electing a great many cynical and corrupt men to public office who oppose abortion publicly but would provide it for their daughters without question.”
Here’s that post in its entirety.
Let me rephrase what I said about abortion. Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because so many people stayed home instead of...Posted by Garrison Keillor on Tuesday, October 13, 2020
First off – some facts. The idea that abortion would be legal in “most places” doesn’t necessarily reflect the reality of the situation. Last year, anticipating this very issue coming to the fore, the Guttmacher Institute put together a few maps showing how a repeal of Roe v. Wade would affect access across the nation. Only a handful of states actually have laws on the books protecting the right to an abortion; whether there are providers available, and how close they are to you, is another matter.
Even providers in fairly progressive Minnesota say access to care leaves a lot to be desired, especially in rural parts of the state.
A few replies to Keillor pointed out that leaving this up to the states is an easy opinion to hold when it’s not your body or your future on the line – and that “feeling forced” isn’t a necessary precursor to obtaining an abortion. Some people choose not to have children purely because they don’t want children, as valid a reason as any other.
As a followup to his followup, Keillor posted the following.
My Facebook page has been hacked by some fool expressing his ignorance of political issues and using my name. I am not...Posted by Garrison Keillor on Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Reached by City Pages, Keillor explained that he feels the Democrats grilling Barrett are fighting a “losing battle,” because abortion is a “religious issue," and therefore there is “no compromise.”
Keillor “of course” supports the right to an abortion, despite what some of his “women friends on Facebook” may have thought. But:
“[Roe v. Wade] really has divided the country for 40-some years, and it’s never going to be resolved… I don’t argue with the decision, but it’s led to some terrible, terrible things over the last 40 years, and we have to move on and try to solve our problems.”
He names homelessness, hunger, hurricanes, and out-of-control wildfires as some of those problems.
When asked if queer and trans rights also qualified as a “religious issue” that should therefore be set aside, he replied to the contrary, saying that’s “not an issue with me at all.” (When asked about people who do see LGBTQ rights as a religious issue, he repeated that it wasn’t an issue for him, personally, and mentioned various queer friends and acquaintances.)
Keillor's isn’t a new argument for anyone who’s had their basic rights – civil, reproductive, human, etc. – be a subject of national discussion and debate. Freedom of religion has often been the cudgel used to fight back against freedoms granted to other people, whether it’s the choice about an unwanted pregnancy, or to marry a consenting adult you love, or the right to not get fired because your boss doesn’t like that you’re trans.
Your right to swing your fist ends where your neighbor’s face begins, but the right to a personal belief has long been pushed past the borders of one mind, one body, or one relationship.
When asked what people should do if, say, South Dakota and various like-minded states do decide to do away with abortion, or “criminalize LGBTQ,” Keillor had a simple solution.
“I think a trans person out in the middle of South Dakota might feel a little more comfortable out in Minneapolis,” he said. “There are places in America where if you are trans or bi or any variation… where you as an individual will feel more comfortable… This is why people from small towns have been moving to big cities for hundreds of years.”
These are also words that have been repeated again and again, usually to the same groups of people. If your state refuses to treat you like a regular human being, move to another one. Go to the city. Seek out liberal enclaves where you can at least expect to be benignly ignored, if not loved. Godspeed, teens.
And maybe we shouldn’t expect much more from Keillor, who has also questioned the notion that white privilege exists (an interpretation he credited to “crazed self-righteous people” misunderstanding him). In 2016, Keillor said Keith Ellison, a “lackluster Black Muslim,” was an unfit leader for the Democratic National Committee. His take on Ilhan Omar’s historic election to Congress was that “Minneapolis liberals couldn’t help but vote for a Somali woman candidate.”
But it hits a little different when the man who spent a career romanticizing the quaint beauty of small towns and the homey comforts of close-knit, folksy communities tells you your best bet is to leave them behind.