It was a small news item in Politico, but one that unwittingly revealed the truth behind one of the most persistent myths about the anti-choice movement, which is that they are “single issue” voters. The story is simple. A number of anti-choice groups have decided to target anti-choice Democrats who voted for health care reform, even though there’s no reality-based reason to think the law provides funding for abortion. In other words, the anti-choice movement is coming closer to coming clean about how they simply carry the water for the entire conservative movement, and cynically use fear-mongering over abortion to push for a whole host of right wing agenda items.
Let’s be clear: There is nothing “pro-life” about opposition to universal health care. In a reality-based world, in order to earn the moniker “pro-life”, one should support life, and few things do much better at achieving that goal than demanding inexpensive, efficient, universal health care. Even if you’re just pro-birth, you should love universal health care, since having it is the major reason most other industrialized nations have lower infant mortality rates than we do. If you’re motivated by loathing for sexually-active women, it’s hard to say why you should care much about health care reform in any direction, since the amount of health care dedicated to protecting the sexual health of women is a small amount of overall health care spending. If you’re a single issue voter on abortion, health care reform shouldn’t really matter to you one way or another.
Yet you have the anti-choice movement working as a single beast to attack Democrats who, by and large, give anti-choicers all sorts of support in their “forced childbirth/punish the sluts” goals. Poor Bart Stupak, for instance, couldn’t catch a break with these people. He bore a heavy load for anti-choicers, shoring up the single issue credentials they crave and bashing everyone female in sight, from internet feminists to pro-health care nuns. His reward was that they harassed him and called him a “baby killer”. Why? He didn’t change his mind on abortion. (Still against it.) He didn’t change his attitude towards women. (Still condescending.) He voted for a series of regulations and bureaucratic adjustments that have no real relationship to abortion, for better or for worse. But he and all other anti-abortion Democrats are targets.
The official excuse for why anti-choice groups can campaign against life-saving health care reform while still wearing the farcical label “pro-life” is that they believe that the law provides federal funding for abortion. But they could not have come to this conclusion through a sober-minded assessment of the facts, since such a sober assessment would lead one to the truth, which is that Congress and the President went out of their way to stop federal funding for abortion precisely to placate the anti-choice Democrats. So if this belief isn’t grounded in reality, where are they getting it?
The most logical explanation is that anti-choice groups believe something that isn’t true about the law because they oppose health care reform, and want a politically expedient and even Christian-sounding reason to oppose it. Coming right out and opposing health care reform for the standard issue conservative reasons—i.e., their real reasons—would blow the cover story that many anti-choice groups have, which is that they’re interested in “life” or human welfare. Groups like the Susan B. Anthony List try to steal the identity of feminism, for instance, in order to promote an agenda that’s anti-woman and anti-life. Their cover story of pro-feminism is weak to begin with, but coming straight out against health care reform for the standard conservative reasons would make their already ludicrous claims to be anti-abortion feminists even more ludicrous. After all, how “pro-life” and “pro-woman” is it to support a system where getting breast cancer means getting kicked off your insurance? Can you really continue to front like you’re pro-life if you’re supporting a system where small children can’t get health insurance because of pre-existing conditions, where many infants and mothers die unnecessarily because of gaps in maternal care, where thousands die every year from lack of health insurance?
Most importantly, if you think that insurance company profits are more valuable than the lives of living, breathing people, then your enthusiasm for stripping women’s rights away looks cruel indeed. It’s clear then that this is the ranking in your mind: profits, embryos, real people, women’s rights.
The breath-taking cynicism of the anti-choice movement is on full display with this campaign against anti-choice Democrats. It’s hard to take anti-choice claims that they feel deeply for fetuses seriously when they use abortion as nothing more than a tool to distort and raise emotional stakes on issues that have little to do with abortion. Anti-choice leaders increasingly use “abortion” as a buzzword to rally the troops against whatever issue the larger conservative movement worries about, if they can even find the slimmest of an angle.
The use of abortion as a cynical political ploy does great things for individual politicians on the right, who need some way to wrap themselves in a humanitarian cloth while pushing policies that don’t do much good for most people. But for the shock troops of the anti-choice movement, I see no real benefits. Most people lured into opposing health care reform with dishonest, scandalizing language about abortion probably stand to benefit from the legislation in the long run. Few of us are independently wealthy, and so we can’t get out of engaging in the increasingly dysfunctional health care system.
Still, even setting aside this specific example, you have to wonder about a movement that lies to its base to motivate them. Most anti-choicers are already stalwart, across-the-board conservatives, and yet here their leadership is lying to them about abortion and health care reform to get them to open their wallets and dedicate their time to throwing out anti-abortion Democrats. I don’t know about you, but I’m not usually one to enjoy having my leaders lie to me in order to get me motivated.