As many of you may know, I am a fervent and committed believer in a woman’s right to choose: I support all six demands of the women’s liberation movement: equal pay, equal employment opportunity, free contraceptive services, abortion on demand. (The last demand, free 24-hour childcare, I think is brilliantly utopian, world turned upside down, but the first five are all achievable in our present political state….)
Pro-lifers generally run blogs that do not accept dissenting viewpoints. (They’re like gay marriage opponents in that way.) But for pro-lifers, the “dissenting viewpoint” can be anything like “Contraception is a good way of preventing abortions” or scientific facts about how methods of contraception work, to assertions that women have abortions for all sorts of reasons, including the purely economic fear of losing your job, and these reasons are none of them outrageous or wicked. If you don’t want a woman who works for a Catholic school to have an abortion because she can’t afford to lose her job, then – as the ACLU did – you fight the case of a woman fired for getting pregnant, so that Catholic schools in future will refrain from encouraging their employees from having abortions. If you think a high abortion rate is a bad thing, you fund free access to contraception, you put in place sex education in schools that encourages children to think about sex positively as a source of pleasure for themselves and each other and using contraception whenever they have sex unless they intend to engender a child, you provide maternity care and paid maternity leave and rights for working parents to have time to care for their children and earn a living. We know that pro-lifers are not interested in reducing the number of abortions because, as a political movement, and, mostly, as individuals, they support none of these things.
What are pro-lifers interested in?
They hate abortion. And they want you to know they hate abortion.
Part of this goes right along with hating abortion because it means women can have, in the pro-life euphemism, “sex without consequences” – why pro-lifers also oppose free access to contraception. Women, in this view of things, ought not to be allowed to have sex joyfully, for her own pleasure, without fear: the fear of becoming pregnant is something that ought always to be looming over a woman’s mind when she thinks about having sex. Especially an unmarried women: hence pro-life support for firing an unmarried woman who decided not to have an abortion. This hatred of women having sex for pleasure is very strong in the pro-life movement, and for many years I’ve assumed it to be the key motivator. There’s considerable evidence for this in the policies/campaigning of the pro-life movement, as this post by Ampersand outlines:
In contrast, the leaders of the abortion criminalization movement have consistently put their political weight behind policies which make little or no sense if they genuinely think that abortion is identical to child murder. And those same leaders routinely endorse policies that make a lot of sense if their goal is to penalize women who have sex – to, as I’ve heard many of them put it, make sure women “face the consequences” of having sex. And they’ve done so with the apparent backing and blessing of the vast majority of the rank and file. [Further analysis at Alas a Blog.]
This belief – that denying access to abortion is an effective means of turning pregnancy into punishment and babies into “consequences” – is why many pro-lifers say they think abortion ought to be allowed for rape or incest, or to save a woman’s life.
But for some pro-lifers, that’s still not acceptable. For them, the key is hating abortion, and hating people who support the right to have an abortion. They don’t care about women dying: they don’t care about fetuses dying, or babies dying: they certainly don’t care about preventing abortions, because where would their source of hate be then?
I read this post on Slacktivist about false witness some time ago; Fred illustrated his point with reference to an awful incident the paper he worked for had reported on, a “group of disturbed and disturbing children doused a kitten with lighter fluid and set it on fire” and other incidents in which disturbed and disturbing people had done this awful thing. Fred noted that people were universally and unsurprisingly against kitten-burning:
But one also came away from reading that thread with the sense that people seemed to think this ultra-minimal moral stance made them exceptional and exceptionally righteous. Like the earlier editorial writers, they seemed to think they were exhibiting courage by taking a bold position on a matter of great controversy. Whatever comfort might be gleaned from the reaffirmation that most people were right about this non-issue issue was overshadowed by the discomfiting realization that so many people also seemed to want or need most others to be wrong.
The kitten-burners seem to fulfill some urgent need. They give us someone we can clearly and correctly say we’re better than. Their extravagant cruelty makes us feel better about ourselves because we know that we would never do what they have done. They thus function as signposts of depravity, reassuring the rest of us that we’re Not As Bad As them, and thus letting us tell ourselves that this is the same thing as us being good.
Hating abortion is a political tool to get people to vote against their own economic self-interests: as Avedon at the Sideshow summarises succinctly: “the lie that the anti-abortion movement was an organic reaction to Roe v Wade, but of course that’s not true – like everything else, it was orchestrated by rich right-wingers as part of their ongoing program to polarize society.”
In the US in the 1970s, racism was becoming less and less acceptable as a means by which right-wing politicians could convince working-class white Americans to vote and even campaign against their own economic interests. (As an example: By the end of that decade,even the Mormon Church had had to receive a revelation from God that it was unacceptable to ban black men from the priesthood. But in the 21st century, the Mormon Church actively campaigns for discrimination against lesbians and gays.) In 2002, the then-Senate Majority leader, Trent Lott, had to apologize for saying that the United States would have avoided all these problems if the racist Strom Thurmond had been elected President in 1948: in 2004, George W. Bush could endorse a national campaign for homophobic bigotry and inequality.
But if you can’t, any more, use racism as a trigger to get people to vote against their own economic self-interest, what can you use to drum up hatred? In the 1970s, the LGBT equality movement wasn’t widespread enough for gay-hating to work as a national trigger – too many parts of the US where LGBT people just kept their heads down and tried to be invisible and inaudible – but women, everywhere, need access to abortion and contraception. Turn this natural human need into a hate campaign and you’re off to a winner.
Abortion is like setting fire to kittens not because human fetuses are like kittens (there is no lolfetuses website) but because pro-lifers get their buzz out of believing themselves to be better than others. The opposition of pro-lifers to intact dilation and extraction, and their invention of the non-medical term “partial birth abortion”, is otherwise inexplicable: IDX is an abortion technique, one which can be safer for a woman who needs an abortion in late pregnancy, but banning IDX will not prevent any abortions: it merely ensures that a method which may be less safe for the woman must be used. Many pro-lifers have reacted with anger and rejection when asked if their opposition to IDX is because they want women to be hurt or permanently damaged: apparently what they want is a return to the pre-IDX days when the only way to remove a dead or dying fetus from the uterus was piecemeal. This belief that IDX in particular is bad makes no sense to many people, but if what pro-lifers want is the reassurance that they’re better than people who support a woman’s right to choose, thus letting them tell themselves that this is the same thing as “being good”, then it makes sense that they want abortion to appear “extravagantly cruel“. Performing IDX means the fetus can be removed intact, allowing the parents to hold the body as they mourn their loss: to pro-lifers this is as unacceptable as legislation for social justice is to Trotskyites who believe in a worker’s revolution.
I was 27 weeks by this point. I was terrified. The moment I met the doctor, all of that ended. He was a wonderful and loving man. I came in on Monday and gave birth to our baby girl on Friday. We were able to hold her after, and say our goodbyes. That doctor will always be in my heart. (From A Heartbreaking Choice, the website set up to commemorate Doctor George Tiller’s work.)
Pro-lifers are the movement for setting fire to kittens. They are not interested in preventing abortions: they are not interested in protecting women from harm. They are not interested in saving fetal lives. What they want is to compare access to abortion with the holocaust, with slavery, with torture – they want abortion to be performed as dangerously as possible: they want to claim that abortion is dangerous and performed by uncaring people; they want to campaign against evil like brave, brave, brave Sir Robin without actually running any risks because the evil empire they tourney against is entirely of their own invention.
Unfortunately, the women condemned to suffer and die from their tourneying are not.