We’ve been documenting for years at RH Reality Check the dishonesty of the anti-choice claim that their objections to reproductive rights is rooted in some love of life, as their behavior is more consistent with people who object to sexual liberation and women’s rights. Indeed, screaming “life” and “abortion” is fundamentally a con being run on the mainstream media to the exploit the good faith assumption that rules over actual investigation of the story behind the claims. Since anti-abortion activism is part of a larger umbrella of efforts—including opposition to gay rights, fighting sex education, blocking condom distribution in HIV-torn areas, writing pledges that suggest it’s better to live in slavery than have a single mother—it’s actually pretty surprising how capable the anti-choice masses are at least grasping that they’re supposed to just yell “abortion” a lot when they have a potential audience outside of their own circles.
The attack on Planned Parenthood is beginning to degrade the ability of anti-choicers to front that this is about abortion. The official line that contraception has to be cut off because of abortion is a bit complex, and defies the rule of politics that if you’re explaining, you’re losing. And many anti-choicers have decided to choose simplicity instead of trying to tie all this to abortion, and going straight for the “dirty sluts should be forced to have babies, that’ll show ‘em” argument.
This really became evident in the coverage of New Hampshire cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood to distribute contraception. One of the executive councilors who voted for this defunding used the “dirty sluts” argument repeatedly, and you get the impression that he flagged down every reporter that would talk to him so he could pompously inveigh against women who have the nerve to enjoy sex. To two separate reporters he said, “If they want to have a good time, why not let them pay for it?” and “If you want to have a party, have a party but don’t ask me to pay for it.” You can imagine how much he’ll be refining this line if more reporters make the mistake of speaking to him.
As I argued at Pandagon, I know it when I’m hearing a right winger use an intra-conservative argument that is common behind closed doors and in email exchanges, but is usually concealed from the larger public. These are often the arguments that are most persuasive to conservatives, but they know will cause outsiders to reject their point of view. Some times these arguments jump what you might call the Goldbug Barrier (named after the way that Glenn Beck turned gold hysteria into something that’s talked about openly by right wingers), where suddenly the unspeakable becomes more normal for conservatives to say out loud. The “dirty sluts” argument against contraception subsidies is really inching across the Goldbug Barrier, in part because it’s just the only non-complex argument against funding Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion services.
It’s worth noting that Lila Rose set the tone for this with her round of videos that kicked off the current defunding craze. While abortion was mentioned in the videos, by and large the claims Rose were making had nothing to do with abortion. The videos were an attempt to scandalize people by showing Planned Parenthood offering legal services—including STD prevention and contraception—to young people who presented themselves as sex workers. When the young people made claims to illegal sex trafficking, Planned Parenthood duly turned them in. Thus, the only reason to release the videos and act like something scandalous is in them is to suggest that the “dirtiness” of some people should prevent them from obtaining reproductive health care. When Rose and other anti-choicers put out a list of clinics they claim could replace Planned Parenthoood in Indiana for Medicaid patients, many of the clinics on the list didn’t provide contraception or cancer screening, indicating underlying hostility to the health care needs of sexually active women outside of abortion services.
This stuff has been right under the surface of anti-choice claims for those of us willing to scratch, but not it’s sitting right out in the open for anyone to see. But as anti-choicers push harder and demand more incursions on women’s rights, these anti-sex arguments will be harder to conceal. It’s not just in the media, either. In kitchen table arguments, some confused nonsense about cutting off contraception because of abortion is going to fall apart in the hands of ordinary people trying to argue the point, and the simpler “if you don’t want babies, just keep your legs shut” will win out. The problem is that in a society where the vast majority of people enjoy procreative sex, this argument will sound strange and outdated.
Of course, this in no way means that pro-choicers should lean back and wait for anti-choicers to hang themselves with their own rope. For one thing, they can do a lot of damage on their way out, especially with so many anti-choice sympathizers in office. For another, while anti-sex arguments sound ridiculous now, they can start to sound more normal if not faced with a vigorous defense of women and of why sexual pleasure is a good thing, and punishing it unnecessarily is strange and misanthropic.