Gender

Anti-Choice Zealots' Latest Bizarre Ploy

The one good thing about these extremists is that they help reveal the anti-woman, anti-sex agenda of the anti-choice movement.

For those of us who hoped that the attempts to sneak in bans on abortion, hormonal contraception, and IVF under proposed laws called “personhood amendments” would disappear after the first attempt at passing such a law on a ballot initiative was thoroughly trumped at the polls in Colorado, well, I hate to tell you, but the anti-choice extremists aren’t going away. The next new battlefield is Florida, where anti-choicers hope they can use the invisibility of most female reproductive processes to convince the voters that there’s little people lurking inside your neighbor’s ladyparts, even if there’s no biological evidence to support that proposition, and that this law will save the wee mythical people.

Obviously, there’s a good reason for pro-choicers to be alarmed when personhood amendments seem like they’re really going to get onto ballots.  If they pass, that means that anti-choicers not only have a platform to issue challenges to abortion, but also that they have a chance to go after other anti-choice goals, namely pushing for bans on reliable, female-controlled contraception like the birth control pill and the IUD.  Hey, we don’t know that female-controlled contraception doesn’t kill “babies”, since it’s all invisible behind that wall of flesh that separates the uterus from its proper Bible-thumping owners (a wall of flesh most of us call “the woman”), so better to be safe and ban the pill.  Those doctors who say the birth control pill doesn’t work that way can’t be 100% sure, so we can discount their opinions entirely.  Or, that’s the general gist of the argument, anyhow.

Clearly, a large scale challenge not only to abortion but to all of the most effective female-controlled forms of contraception is a very bad thing for women, on the grounds that anti-choicers might succeed and start forcing more women to bear children against their will.  But there is a reason for cautious optimism when it comes to the personhood amendment push.  Personhood amendments are a classic example of a political group overplaying their hand, and in this case, personhood amendments offer a great opportunity to take away the cover of fetus-concern that anti-choicers use to push their real goals of oppressing women and making sex fraught in the hopes people will have less of it.

Regular readers of RH Reality Check are no doubt familiar with the most taxing obstacle for the anti-choice movement in its goal to push its ideology into our laws, which is that they can’t be upfront with the public about what they believe without facing rejection. The organized anti-choice movement is hostile to contraception, and especially hostile to female-controlled contraception.  This gives lie to their claims that they’re indifferent to women’s liberation and sexual behavior, and only interested in saving fetal life.  Actual behavior indicates a pattern of hostility to sexual liberation, from the promotion of abstinence-only programs to the dishonest claims about the safety of the HPV vaccine.  The public is willing to accept that an anti-choicer who is fascinated by fetus life is a good person with a legitimate claim.  They’re not so sympathetic to people who just want to clap chastity belts on everyone and issue permission slips before you get to indulge your sexual desires.

The anti-choice tactic to deal with this problem is, to put it bluntly, to be two-faced.  The face offered to the public is sentimental about fetal life, so that the public assumes that anti-choicers are well-meaning, if a big silly.  The fact that there’s a larger anti-sex agenda is to be kept on the down low.  As I’ve reported before, anti-choice protesters are trained to feign compassion for women and to dissemble about contraception in order to keep up this façade.

Of course, when you actually write ballot initiatives that are about banning the birth control pill, it’s a lot harder to keep up the façade.  Not that the anti-choicers behind this aren’t trying to adapt the “just lie about what you’re up to” tactic. As Wendy Norris reported, they’ve softened up the language about a “fertilized egg” to “from the beginning of biological development”, a softening-up that is probably not only there to hoodwink the public but also to broaden the definition of what shedding of sex cells will be illegal.  Squeezed hard enough, I could see how “the beginning of biological development” could be even be used to define male masturbation and female menstruation as an exciting 21st century version of “baby-killing”.  Hey, all that sperm you left in a gym sock is kind of sort of the beginning of human development, especially if you’re daft enough to think that suppressing ovulation (which is what the birth control pill does) is “abortion”.

No matter how vaguely worded the assault on contraception along with abortion is, it’s still an assault on contraception.  (And IVF, as well, and probably a whole host of things that fit into this vague category.) And contraception is incredibly popular. 98% of women will use it at some point in their lives, which means that even the people railing against the evils of contraception are probably sneaking around and using it, while lying to their anti-choice buddies about it.  All pro-choicers need to do is make it clear to the voters that this is an assault on contraception, and assume that the secret ballot will do the rest.

This strategy worked in Colorado, with 73% of the voters rejecting a challenge to legal female-controlled contraception.  I’m going to charitably assume that most of the 25% of people who use contraception and voted against it were simply confused, with a smattering of blatant hypocrites to round it out.   A 25% confusion rate is low enough not to swing an election, but it’s still way too high.  It’s clear that our main goal in fighting back against these personhood amendments should be education.  If I may, I suggest starting with the Reality Check video on why the birth control pill is not abortion.  Once the biology’s out of the way, you can move on to explaining to your audience why anti-choicers are deliberately misrepresenting how the birth control pill works in an effort to get it banned, despite its widespread popularity.  

Amanda Marcotte co-writes the popular blog Pandagon. She is the author of It's a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.