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Right-Winger's Weird Proposal to Ban the Sale of Food That Contains Aborted Fetuses Trips on Ancient History

The newest anti-abortion scheme reaches deep into the past for inspiration.

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Freshman Oklahoma state senator Ralph Shortey recently introduced a bill that would ban “the sale or manufacture of food or products which contain aborted human fetuses.” After a collective brow-raise over such a bizarre proposal, Shortey told the Los Angeles Times he got the idea “while doing some research on the Internet.”

So is there an issue with aborted fetuses ending up as foodstuffs? No. And there never has been.

Shortey’s bill is a wild overstatement of the latest front in the anti-abortion fight, one being prosecuted on an obscure Oklahoma anti-abortion website that has been trying to organizing a campaign to boycott PepsiCo because of a research contract it has with a company called Senomyx for beverage sweetener research that the anti-abortion activist charge involves using the HEK-293 cell line in laboratory tests. HEK-293 is a cell line developed in Holland in the early 1970s through the fusion of a kidney cell from an aborted fetus and a virus that immortalized the cells, or allowed them to keep replicating in a laboratory. “Senomyx does not provide ingredients to PepsiCo, nor do they manufacture PepsiCo products. Our work with Senomyx is focused on beverage sweetener research to help us reduce sugar in future global products,” according to Pepsi.

But solving a problem is not the real goal of proposing a ban.

Shortey’s bill sits squarely in a tradition of vilification that’s existed longer than English, mass media, or even Christianity. It’s the timeless Blood Libel: the blood drinking straw man who’s been given different titles over the millennia. Not only do abortionists kill babies, the bill implies, they want us all to commit the most culturally repulsive of all offenses—cannibalism.

The first recorded Blood Libel is from 31 AD. It’s told by two Jewish historians, who lived in the first century in then-Roman Alexandria, Egypt: Philo, in his account of Flaccus the Lieutenant-Governor of Egypt; and Flavius Josephus, in his work, “ Against Apion.”

Here’s what these sources tell us: Apion was a skilled hyperbolist and Lieutenant-Governor Flaccus was a desperate politician who tried to avert Caligula’s wrath.

Around 30 AD, Apion, a Graeco-Egyptian grammarian and writer, had spent a great deal of time spreading nasty snipes about the Jewish citizens of Alexandria. His motives for this pastime have been lost to history, but Apion claimed Jews worshiped weird gods and refused to have images of the emperor in their temples. Oh, and to make this all worse, he whispered to many a curious audience that the Jews had been led out of Egypt because they were lepers.

Apion created a narrative. He wrote that it was a part of Jewish law to kidnap a Greek once a year and fatten him up and taste his entrails. Jews were cannibals

Lieutenant-Governor Flaccus used the suspicions about the Jews as a wedge to curry favor with the new emperor. Since the Jews of Alexandria were against Caligula, Flaccus appointed himself as the guy to remedy the problem.

Thousands of Alexandrian Jews—men, women and children—were tortured and killed as a direct result of Apion’s defamations, a pioneering set of slanders that have proved to have real staying power.

Propaganda depends on things sounding vaguely familiar, lending a veneer of credibility to false claims. This is also why repetition is a popular tactic to sway public opinion—the creation of familiarity, which is then mistaken for truth. The Jews are not the only group to have suffered from slander campaigns; they also have been waged against alleged witches, gypsies and many other outsiders, often with equally dire consequences.

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