Once is an anomaly, but twice is a trend.
First you have Focus on Family playing the victims of “censorship” attempts by feminists trying to get an anti-choice ad off the air because it violated CBS’s long history of not airing advocacy ads, and now you have the dishonestly named Feminist for Life sending out a press release decrying censorship of ads at the University of Victoria, under that university’s rules against student clubs harassing other students.
I’m not a big fan of censorship and probably think it’s a bad idea in this case, but it’s also disingenuous of Serrin Foster to pretend that the ads are simply highlighting, to quote the press release, “resources and support.” If you click the link, you can see that in fact the ads accuse pro-choicers and the one in three American women who will have an abortion in their lives of doing so out of hatred for cute babies and disabled people. So, it’s definitely harassment, though of course the sort that I think should be protected speech.
But what is funny about this trend of anti-choicers crying censorship is how ridiculous the whining sounds from them. This is the religious right. You know? The people who spend millions on direct mail campaigns to harass the FCC into censoring sexual stuff on TV, the people for whom Banned Books Week was created to resist, the folks who pushed abstinence-only education, which is based on the idea that we should censor information about safer sex practices on the grounds that those who don’t know won’t do? They don’t have some philosophical objection to censorship. They love censorship! Free speech is a liberal value!
Well, exactly. What they’re doing here is creating a wedge issue—using a group’s own values against it in order to sow dissent and confusion. As the anti-choice movement has not done a good job garnering support either under blatant anti-sex arguments or through disingenuous concern for fetal life, they’re increasingly putting their resources into developing and advertising these wedge issues.
Censorship is only the newest one. In fact, Feminists for Life are pioneers of this strategy—using faux concern for women’s well-being to suggest that we ban abortion for women’s own good (since we’re just too dumb to make our own decisions, which is not a feminist position)—and as such, this specific ad campaign is a perfect storm of anti-choice wedge issues. The ads use only black models, invoking the insulting “black eugenics” claim. Foster’s claim that the harassing ads are about “support and resources” refers to FFL’s claim that the proper feminist position is depriving women of rights but giving them diapers for those unwanted babies. And the use of a model in a wheelchair employs the anti-choice wedge tactic of hijacking disability rights to argue against a woman’s right to choose.
Of course, the great “concern” that anti-choicers show for women, disabled people, and black people is an inch deep, stopping right at the point that this concern can’t be used to beat pro-choicers over the head and sow confusion. Attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood in communities of color aren’t accompanied by attempts to replace the badly-needed reproductive health services that Planned Parenthood supplies—and sometimes is the only supplier of in a community. For all that Sarah Palin claims to speak for disabled people, her support begins and ends with opposing abortion, but doesn’t encompass any actual measures that would improve the lives of people living with disabilities outside of the womb. In many cases, anti-choicers fight actual efforts to help disabled people, as you see with this threatened boycott of the March of Dimes.
Stated concerns about women’s mental health and well-being don’t translate into any anti-choice activism against the real causes of women’s distress. In fact, anti-choicers often belong to religious groups that encourage the kind of sexism that keeps women in bad marriages or from fulfilling their own desires, and leads them to depression. And now that they’ve picked up anti-censorship as a cause, we can guess anti-choicers aren’t going to demand that CBS stop censoring pro-gay ads any time soon.
The shallow nature of these wedge issues leads one to ask what their value is. Are any liberals “chipped off” with these strategies? There might be a few, but I don’t think that’s the major value of wedge issues for the anti-choice movement. Instead, wedge issues are there to sow confusion in the mainstream media and to embolden the base.
That anti-choicers are able to get “muddy the waters” type of stories— like this one about the claims of eugenics—should just be a reminder of how much the mainstream media has abandoned their duty to get the facts on record, and instead employ a “he said/she said” narrative. Facts-based journalism would ask who here is really doing the hard work of improving the lives of people of color, and the results would not favor anti-choicers. Laziness and cowardice in the mainstream media makes the wedge issue a viable option, and helps conceal the ugly nature of the anti-choice movement from the less politically plugged in public.
But these wedge issues are also about emboldening the base. The overt sadism of being anti-choice conflicts with a lot of people’s self-image as good people, so if they’re sold rationalizations about how they’re the good guys, they’re going to cling to those rationalizations, no matter how thin. For conservatives, the opportunity to avoid real advocacy for women, people of color, and disabled people while pretending to do those things while actually oppressing people is just too tasty to refuse.
Plus, it achieves the most important goal of all: annoying the liberals. Bad faith arguments about racism or disability advocacy can be put on liberals, who then have to spend their time refuting your lies. Certainly, I get more taunts from anti-choicers on Twitter about these bad faith wedge issue arguments than any other factor; there’s a sadistic delight in being full of it and putting someone else in a situation where they feel they have to correct the record for the good of the nation.