The mainstream media has always, shall we say, struggled to understand that the anti-choice movement is anti-contraception, anti-STD prevention, and anti-sex education. It just doesn’t fit the official narrative, which posits that anti-choicers are somehow “pro-life,” people who are deeply invested in fetal life, but who, for some mysterious reason, mostly don’t extend their concern for life into opposition to war or support for life-saving health insurance reform. Even in explicitly pro-choice media outlets, the narrative tends to be about abortion, without little acknowledgment that attacks on contraception are part of the larger agenda of the anti-choice movement, even as news stories about abstinence-only and conscience clauses keep trickling out.
This was by anti-choice design. Anti-choicers realize that if they make their arguments about sex and female liberation, and especially if they attack contraception overtly, they lose. Contraception is just too mainstream and too popular, and 95 percent of Americans have premarital sex, making the anti-choice view (roughly, strictly controlled sex within heterosexual marriage should be the only legally sanctioned sex) a form of crankery that surpasses even theories that the moon landing was faked or that 9/11 was an inside job. But by fronting on fetuses, anti-choicers get taken seriously in the mainstream media, and have been able to get to a point where they basically control the conservative movement. And lately, with victories on both state and federal levels, they’ve been feeling invincible. Which led where hubris often does, to overplaying your hand and exposing your true self to the public.
The House using the continuing resolution as an opportunity to defund Planned Parenthood is a classic example of overreach that exposes someone’s true motivations. The cuts to Planned Parenthood are an attack strictly on contraception, cancer and STD screening, and other non-abortion services. But it was clear that anti-choice Republicans thought they could still play the game of calling everything they don’t like “abortion,” and figuring they could get away with it. Even though the cuts had nothing to do with abortion, supporters of the cuts kept yammering on about abortion in the hopes that people wouldn’t notice that they were giving a big kiss to the radical and tiny minority of Americans that oppose contraception.
It’s not working this time. Even though most media organizations are still filing this one under “abortion,” the actual content of the reports focused on the fact that this was about contraception. The Twitter hashtag #thanksPPFA lit up again with women and men sharing stories of getting contraception, cancer screening (and treatment), and general health care from Planned Parenthood. Bloggers spoke out about their experiences. Hiding our heads in the sand and pretending this was about “life” was no longer an option when the policy was a direct assault on access to contraception for millions of people, a move that will hurt men and children, but is clearly at its heart a war on women.
That the anti-choice movement is anti-contraception is something pro-choicers have known for a long time. As prominent pro-choice writer Scott Lemieux wrote:
The House vote to end Planned Parenthood funding would make very little sense — in some alternate universe where people who want to criminalize abortion were primarily concerned about protecting fetal life rather than regulating female sexuality. In our actually existing political universe, it makes perfect sense.
But now it seems that for everyone else who wished to believe anti-choice activists when they yammer about fetuses, the ugly truth—that this is and always was about sex and women’s roles—can no longer be denied. And especially not when the same conservatives who support a forced birth ideology also wish to destroy any policy that makes it easier for women to have paid employment, explicitly on the grounds that women shouldn’t be financially independent.
One of the biggest problems that anti-choicers face is that their usual weapon of telling lurid lies doesn’t work so well when it’s applied to an organization as familiar to the average American as Planned Parenthood. Lies about abortion get a little more traction, because most people don’t talk about abortion, and so knowledge about it is thin and lies can flourish in that vacuum. But when someone like Lila Rose runs around trying to convince people that Planned Parenthood is colluding with sex traffickers, and kind of implying that Planned Parenthood is a front for prostitution, that lie is going to sound especially silly compared to the actual experiences people have with Planned Parenthood, which is basically going to a health clinic that’s clean and professional, and generally more laid-back than most gynecologists. As I joked to some friends over the weekend, if Planned Parenthood really keeps rape rooms in the back, as Lila Rose slid into implying on Glenn Beck, I figure I would have noticed something in the five years they were my main health care provider. Anti-choicers are so used to having people take their lies seriously, they got bold and started to think they could lie about stuff people actually know something about. And that’s a little harder to pull off.
So, now there’s been a nationwide revelation that the anti-choice movement that the rest of the conservative movement is beholden to not the Fetus Lovers Club, but really the Anti-Sex League (with a side dose of trying to destroy the middle class by making it harder and harder for women to hold jobs that keep their families afloat). The real question is, will this revelation go down the memory hole? Will the mainstream media, now clued into the facts, change the narrative, or will they go right back into telling the same tired story about pro-choice vs “pro-life” in a week? Will they let these new facts allow them to see that this fight is and always has been about women’s roles and control of female sexuality? Will they start to see how anti-abortion views generally line up with anti-gay views and adherence to religious ideologies that teach female subservience?
I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.