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RH Reality Check

Anti-Choicers Longing for the Scarlet Letter "A"

Both the activist and political behavior of anti-choicers lately has made one thing excruciatingly clear: shame is the name of their game. The vague principle of “life” has always been a farcical cover story for anti-choice sentiment, of course, and much of this website lately has been dedicated to drawing a line between recent anti-choice antics and how little relationship they have to this cover story about “life”. If anything, however, the response to being so exposed hasn’t caused anti-choicers to retreat and look for new ways to convince people that they aren’t the anti-sex misogynist obsessives that they are. They’ve just been doubling down lately, as two recent news stories show.

The first and most obvious is the misleadingly named Protect Life Act. Misleadingly named, because the main purpose of the act is to increase the number of women who pay with their lives for the non-crime of being sexually active while female. The House passed this bill which, in part, allows hospitals to refuse to save the lives of pregnant women if doing so means terminating the pregnancy. This, of course, doesn’t save either the life of the woman or the fetus, because as much as anti-choicers pretend it’s not true, without the pregnant woman to live inside, a fetus cannot survive. The most obvious interpretation of this bill is that the House is sending a message to American women: if your body fails to properly incubate any one fetus, you don’t even deserve to live.

But it’s really more than that, though heaven knows the misogyny in that is reason enough to be thoroughly repulsed by HR 358. It all goes back to the right wing view of sex as a sinful act for which those who participate (especially if female) deserve to see any ill consequence befall them in return. You know, for not taking the “personal responsibility” of lifelong virginity. Katha Pollitt aptly described the Christian right view of sex by saying they perceive it as “some weird and semi-criminal activity.” In the far-right framework that guides the anti-choice movement, any ill that befalls you is something you probably brought on yourself by not flying right. Thus the massive cheers during the Republican debate at the idea of an uninsured man being left to die, and thus the notion that a pregnant woman who needs an abortion to live should simply die, as well. In this ever-stricter worldview, a few carcasses of the uninsured and the unvirginal will teach us all a lesson. Granted, not one that results in buying insurance or committing lifelong celibacy. Really, those sacrificed by deliberate neglect are more the 21st century version of scapegoats: those who pay with their lives for the supposed sins of us all.

The other recent story demonstrating that the anti-choice movement is more about sowing sexual shame and misogyny than about “life” involves---who else?---Troy Newman and Operation Rescue. The group has outed an abortion provider who travels around the country to help women in need of abortions, an act that is objectively anti-life, because it, like all other personalized targeting of abortion providers, could encourage terrorists to attack this woman. This act doesn’t resemble the choices of someone concerned with life. (People concerned with life work for universal health care, better access to contraception, nutrition, ending war, stuff like that.) This act does, however, resemble the millennia-long dance of lasciviousness disguised as judgment. Jesus came down pretty hard on the question of stoning women who commit adultery (he was against it), so in lieu of that, they’ll threaten abortion providers. It’s an act similar to peeping in windows and then judging people for what you see, except that Operation Rescue acts as a group, and makes it easier for individual members to convince themselves they aren’t really peeping perverts who need to mind their own business, though that’s what anyone who looks at them honestly can see that’s what they are.


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Peepers wrapping their tendencies up in a blanket of moral righteousness is hardly a new thing, though you do wonder if perhaps they shouldn’t move off the letter “A” when digging up reasons to drag someone out in the public square for public shaming. In Hawthorne’s famous book, the woman unjustly abused is treated like a public spectacle for adultery (and for actually having the baby from the pregnancy that resulted), but now the hypocritical Puritans sitting in judgment have moved on to targeting women who have abortions. Same thing, different word that starts with “A.” You get the strong impression that what especially angers them about abortion is that it deprives them of the chance to be Hawthornian Puritans. Back before safe, legal abortion, you knew who to single out to put in the stocks because of visible pregnancies and illegitimate children. Now many of the would-be scapegoats escape your judgmental, leering eyes by having abortions before you ever had a chance to titillate yourself with knowledge of their pregnancies, and the Puritans are pissed. But they will have their Hester Prynne, even if they have to stalk her to find out her private information.

In the end, what’s clear about all this is that it’s a dance of shame, titillation, and people who really need to get a life and stop butting into other people’s private business. It goes back to the desire to have sexually active women to put in the stocks for all to judge, or to throw out in the cold, even if doing so means the end of these women’s lives. It’s all about singling out women unlucky enough to have unintended or dangerous pregnancies and punishing them to exorcise some kind of collective sin of sexual longing. Understandably, those of us who don’t see sexual longing as some sort of ugly sin are confused by this, something that anti-choicers seek to exploit with all their talk about “life.” But even as we don’t fully understand the obsession with sex and belief that it’s dirty, we should never forget that this obsession is at the root of the anti-choice movement, and that “life” is nothing but a smokescreen. 


Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist and columnist who focuses on feminism and politics. She writes regularly for Slate, the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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