In all the years I’ve worked as a pro-choice writer and social media activist, one thing I’ve really learned about the anti-choice movement is its relationship to truth is like a vampire’s to sunlight. And I don’t mean the Mormon sparkly Twilight vampires. I mean old-fashioned vampires who screech and burn up when exposed to sunlight. Anti-choicers exhibit as much dread around the truth as the sewer-dwelling minions on Buffy the Vampire Slayer displayed towards the sun.
A recent example involves the MTV special No Easy Decision. The special was remarkably free of ideological concerns over abortion, and they seemed to take all their cues from the pro-voice organization Exhale, which partnered with MTV on the special. The show simply chronicled the experience of one young mother who has an abortion, and then supplemented that coverage with Dr. Drew Pinsky interviewing that woman, Markai, and two others, Natalia and Katie, about their experiences. Of course, it’s always been my opinion that non-ideological approaches to abortion—including pro-voice approaches that value the individual experiences of women—are automatically pro-choice, since pro-choice is about letting individual women decide, instead of forcing a decision on them. If you have all the access to the facts and a completely free choice, that’s all pro-choicers want, and all anyone who positions themselves as anti-ideological should want.
And this special took that non-ideological, experience-and-science-based approach. The women were allowed to talk about the good and the bad of abortion, and their differing feelings. No one was “right” or “wrong” in how they felt. “What if” feelings were expressed beside relief. Dr. Drew’s statements were scrupulously fact-based. He noted that the taboo against speaking about abortion didn’t do much to slow down the abortion rate. He barely talked about the politics of it at all. If you object to the legality of abortion or the morality of it, but are otherwise pro-facts and pro-science, you shouldn’t have objected. A worldview should be able to withstand basic logic and facts.
But anti-choice activists knew their worldview cannot withstand basic reality. Before the special even aired, Jill Stanek protested it, making sure to note that one of her main objections was that MTV works with sex education and pro-contraception groups. (I know I sound like a broken record on this, but it’s important never to forget that anti-abortion activists also object to the means to prevent unintended pregnancy, and hence the need for abortion, and are better understood as forced-pregnancy activists than anti-abortion in any meaningful sense.) Clearly, the mere threat that the program would have real information in it created a vampire-like recoil in Stanek.
Stanek also threw a fit because MTV didn’t include an anti-choice opinion. Of course, they didn’t include a pro-choice one, either. There was no real discussion of abortion rights as an ideological matter at all, just as a personal experience and a real world fact. Injecting two minutes of some activist who denies the science and doesn’t know the women involved would have not only been pandering to misogynists, it would have really stuck out as strange and silly. It would be like putting together a show about how the Earth rotates, and then having two minutes from someone who denies the Earth is round for “balance.”
After the special aired, and those dangerous facts and realities were just out there in the world, there was only one thing for anti-choicers do: Demand we ignore what we saw and heard, and listen instead to their lies.
My favorite had to be the conspiracy theory paranoia that cropped up immediately. Jill Stanek and Bryan Kemper immediately decided that MTV had to have had covert funding from the “abortion industry” (which of course they claim is what Planned Parenthood and companies that make contraception devices are), because certainly a popular for-profit network that easily makes millions of dollars a year needs that sweet, sweet cash from non-profits that channel 100 percent of the money they make into providing education and services. The “evidence” for this claim of covert funding was that Dr. Drew talks up using contraception. Reality-based folks might point out that contraception actually reduces the need for abortion—and Dr. Drew talked up contraception precisely for this reason. But, obviously, anti-abortion forces are only using opposition to abortion as cover for their real agenda, which is hostility to sexuality and women’s health care, and if you look at it from that perspective, this weird conspiracy theory makes more sense.
But the main strategy of anti-choicers trying to suppress facts and information was to diagnose the women on the show from afar as suffering from some kind of “post-abortion syndrome,” something anti-choicers made up, and which has been repeatedly shown not to exist.
But anti-choicers never let a little truth get in the way of a good story! Anti-choicers flooded the comments at MTV to claim the women would pay for their abortions with their mental health, which sounded more like a threat than the concern it was disguised as. Bryan Kemper accused MTV of only showing a little of the sadness and struggle that accompanied the decision, sure to his bones that the women walked off camera and probably had to be put on suicide watch. Too bad for him the internet allows women to talk back, as one of the women who described feelings of sadness denies strongly that she has a mental illness or regrets her decision. Natalia is also fighting back against anti-choice lies about her.
It’s interesting that anti-choicers insist that every time a woman who has abortion asks “what if?” or sheds a couple of tears, that must mean that she should have been forced to have a baby. Are they willing to stand by this notion that any ambivalence or sadness after a choice means that your absolutely made the wrong one? Does that mean a woman who cries after ending an abusive relationship was wrong? Dolly Parton wrote the song “I Will Always Love You” to express her sadness at leaving her singing partnership with Porter Wagoner; do they believe that means Parton regrets moving on to become one of the most successful country musicians of all time? Some times people get two great job offers and can only pick one. Do their moments of wondering, “Would I be happier with the other job?” mean they shouldn’t have been allowed a choice?
The show that this documentary spins off of is called 16 and Pregnant, and it features many tears and recriminations, indicating that women who choose to have babies also have their moments of doubt and regret. Will anti-choicers suggest this means they’re suffering post-non-abortive syndrome?
In fact, the vast majority of us have had the experience of coming to a fork in the road, and choosing one path over another, only to occasionally wonder what life would have been like if we’d gone the other way. Are anti-choicers suggesting that 99 percent of Americans are suffering from untreated trauma because we occasionally ask, “What if?” before reminding ourselves that we made the best decision we could? If the trauma of “what if” is so great, perhaps people should be denied the right to make any choices at all, never mind just choices about reproduction.