For Anti-Choicers, “Abortion” Often Has No Relationship To Abortion

The number one mistake anyone can make when dealing with anti-choice activists is to take them at their word.  Believing that they’re in this strictly because abortion itself offends them, and seeking ways to reduce access to abortion?  Reproductive rights activists would be the first in line to tell you that’s never going to work.  And if you stick around and listen to reproductive rights activists dispensing advice, the second thing we’d tell you is that people who enjoy going to clinics to yell at patients live for opportunities to harass people, and you’d be much better off avoiding them in the first place. If anti-abortion House Democrats had actually listened to this advice, they wouldn’t be facing the situation they’re in now. 

Politico is reporting that a cadre of anti-choice groups, led by the misnamed Susan B. Anthony List, have taken to dumping millions of dollars into advertisements and a bus tour opposing anti-choice House Democrats who voted for health care reform after restrictions were attached that dramatically reduced women’s access to insurance coverage for abortion.  Naturally, said Democrats are feeling betrayed.  Politico quoted Rep. Kathy Delkamper, an anti-abortion Democrat who voted for the health care reform bill:

“It’s been extremely frustrating at times,” Dahlkemper told POLITICO. “All along, I have donated. I have marched. I have been an unmarried pregnant woman who chose life. I have lived this. Now I’m 52, and in the last six months, all of a sudden, people are questioning who I am.”

I imagine that it’s doubly frustrating because the anti-abortion Democrats gave the anti-choice movement what they said they wanted: a federal rule that makes it impossible for a single red cent of taxpayer money to go towards elective abortion.  They even did them one better, by getting an executive order that will make it likely that insurance companies that currently offer abortion coverage will simply drop it.  They gave the anti-choice movement what they said they wanted, and the anti-choice movement is still crying foul!  It turned out they were always against the health care reform bill in its entirety, and abortion was simply a cover story to give moral weight to their opposition to universal health care.  And, as Politico demonstrated, folks like Charmaine Yoest have no problem lying about abortion and health care reform, if it suits their goal of resisting health care reform:

“That being said, the fact that [the] Democratic Party advanced the biggest expansion of abortion with health care is something they have to answer for.” 

How does drastically cutting off women’s access to insurance coverage for abortion constitute “the biggest expansion of abortion”?  Answer: it doesn’t.  But it’s politically useful to say so if you’re hijacking people’s anxieties about abortion to oppose health care reform.

A cynic might suggest the anti-choice movement is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Republican party, but I would actually say that partisanship  isn’t the issue in this case.  What anti-abortion Democrats have failed to do is understand the cardinal rule when dealing with the anti-choice movement: It’s never about abortion.  It’s about sex and it’s about reinforcing their belief about women’s roles.  But it’s never really about abortion.  Opposing abortion rights is simply their best weapon in achieving their larger goals. 

Health care reform may have reduced women’s access to abortion, but social conservatives still have reasons to believe that the new health care system will run against their goals of punishing women for sexual choices they don’t like and keeping women dependent on men.

That the first concern—that expanded access to health care will allow women to have sex with fewer negative consequences—is somewhat true.  On one hand, women won’t have insurance funding for abortion.  But on the other hand, health care reform has the potential to greatly improve women’s access to contraception, STD testing and treatment, general gynecological care, and the HPV vaccine.  (And the herpes vaccine, when it’s released.)  So when you hear anti-choicers complain about “abortion” being covered, even though it’s not covered, it isn’t a leap to realize that by “abortion” they mean “prevention of cervical cancer and unintended pregnancy.”  It’s just less politically popular to run to the press and complain that this health care reform bill will mean fewer deaths from cervical cancer.     

The second concern is a bit more of a logical leap, but nonetheless still an article of faith for social conservatives: that a social safety net undermines the patriarchy by making it easier for women to leave bad marriages. Phyllis Schlafly outlined this argument at a Michigan fundraiser, saying, “And this is because when you kick your husband out, you’ve got to have Big Brother Government to be your provider.”  And there is some truth to this. When women don’t have to rely on their husbands for food, shelter, and health care, then those husbands lose a lot of leverage. 

But you can see why anti-choice groups realize that it’s a bad idea to argue in public that they oppose a bill that would allow an abused wife to walk away from her husband without losing her insurance.  Thus, that gets swept into the catch-all scare term “abortion” as well. 

Anti-abortion Democrats made the mistake of thinking that anti-choice activists use the term “abortion” to mean “terminating a pregnancy”, and that mistake is coming back to haunt them.  Hopefully, in the future, they will start to see that anti-choice groups use “abortion” as a catch-all term to condemn any choices women make that give them more power to control their own lives.  And if you doubt that, I recommend reading this story about Senators Coburn and DeMint are blocking a women’s history museum because of “abortion.” The fact that there is nothing about abortion or reproductive rights in general is irrelevant to this argument.  Under the new right wing definition of “abortion”, it’s millennia of male dominance that is being aborted, and it is this abortion more than any actual medical abortion that they object to. 

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  • ahunt

    Having  thoroughly investigated the “Demographic Winter” debate…I have to say that you are spot on, Amanda.


    Restricting the choices of women is the only way to get women to labor without pay, pension, insurance, and time-off…



  • panhandler

    It doesn’t matter what executive order Obama issued; it will not supersede a law which allows a state to direct public funds to be used for abortion, and the health care bill allows for a state to do just that. Anyone who argues otherwise is lying through their collective teeth.

  • mechashiva

    And here I thought conservatives liked less federal intervention and more state autonomy. You’d think the conservatives would be happy that they had won the right for their state to NOT fund abortions, rather than there being a federal law saying that they have to. But I guess for some people the glass is always half-empty.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Nice slip-sliding there. You’re basically objecting to something that’s been true for a long time, which is state taxes that pay for Medicaid in some states go towards abortion funding. Sorry if the federal government didn’t go in and force the states to defund programs they think are important. Due to being important.

    So much for conservatives loving “states rights”.

    Using weasel words (like “public funds”) to cause your people to believe, incorrectly, that federal tax dollars fund abortion is lying. It’s lying through implication and omission. And accusing people who point out that you’re lying of lying is projection.

    Amazing, always, to me that people who consider themselves moral, upstanding Christians lie with such ease.

  • crowepps

    Crouse made it as clear as any feminist could have that banning abortion means curtailing women’s autonomy: “To what end has this plague of abortion, this massacre of innocents, been directed?” she asked. “The pursuit of hedonistic pleasure? Women’s’ liberation? Liberation from what? So that a woman can engage in the pleasure of sexual intercourse without the demands of motherhood? No, this horrible slaughter has little to do with pleasure, but it has a great deal to do with the demands of motherhood. Radical feminists accurately see abortion as a women’s ultimate weapon in the battle to escape the control of men. The issue is of power, of having the power to call the shots. With abortion as an option, a woman can escape pregnancy. Abortion gives her the power to escape giving birth to a man’s child, a child she would otherwise be connected to for that child’s whole life, and who would likewise connect her to the child’s father.”

    Crouse admits that abortion, and birth control, are methods of ‘escaping the control of men’, and she wants to prevent that.  Crouse is connected with “Concerned Women of America (Who Want Men to Control Other Women)”

  • nick74

    Amanda, you’r exactly right!  It’s never just about abortion with the anti-choicers.  It’s about perpetuating sexual repression, marginalizing women, and imposing a predominantly theocratic viewpoint on a secular democracy.  Also, did you ever notice how so many of these people who claim to be pro-life are also in favor of the death penalty?  Finally, former surgeon general Joycelyn Elders had a point when she mentioned the love affair with the fetus; once these fetuses stop being fetuses and become infants and children, the prolifers say “see ya, you’re on your own now!”

  • catseye71352

    They want a government small enough to allow massive foreclosure fraud, but big enough to force women to carry life-threatening pregnancies to term.