Whilst whiling away my time in a manner greatly pleasing to myself—reading the Tumblr STFU Conservatives—I was genuinely startled to see that the blogger had curated this amazing bit of anti-choice propaganda from Live Action.
I couldn’t have created a better distillation of how anti-choicers actually view women who are facing unintended pregnancies. I can just imagine how this particular ad came to be. One of the folks working at Live Action was flipping through stock photos of pregnant women—concentrating on very pregnant women in order to mislead people about the flat-tummied realities of abortion—and they were drawn to this one because it’s such a vicious stereotype. The woman pictured is clearly supposed to be young, adolescent even, and poor. You can tell she’s likely a teenager because she’s wearing trendy clothes like you get at Forever 21. And the clothes don’t fit well and are clearly supposed to be clothes from before she got pregnant, the implication being that she’s too poor to afford maternity clothes. This image characterizes young, poor women as stupid sluts who can’t manage basic responsibilities. And our youthful right wing propagandist saw this picture and thought, “Perfect! This is exactly how I imagine life is like for the kind of women who get pregnant on accident.”
The text indicates that whoever wrote this ad thinks that the intended audience—presumably young and likely poor women—is really stupid, and that the only reason a person might conclude that aborting a pregnancy isn’t the same thing as killing a baby is that they’ve been brainwashed by the condom-pushers at Planned Parenthood. In reality, people draw the conclusion that embryos aren’t babies so much as potential babies because they look at the obvious evidence on hand. They notice that people don’t have funerals for miscarriages, that we start counting someone’s age from their birth date and not their conception date, and that unlike babies, embryos can’t experience emotions or sensations, due to the lack of a functioning brain.
This particular ad further reinforces my sense that the anti-choice movement is increasingly moving away from the strategy they embraced for the past decade of feigning concern for pregnant women, and instead they’re moving back to old school hysterics about women’s sexual freedoms mixed in with overt classism and racism. The most obvious example of this turn has been the right wing reaction to the HHS ruling that will require insurers to cover contraception without a co-pay. All feigned concern for women flew out the window the second the possibility of free contraception was even raised, and so far the theme of the criticisms of the HHS has been, “Dirty, stupid, irresponsible sluts don’t deserve squat.”
I was particularly impressed with Dana Perino claiming that women can all afford contraception because Perino believes contraception costs less per month than a Frappuccino, and I guess she thinks Frappuccino’s are within the budget of every American, even though 15% of Americans are now on food stamps, meaning they don’t really have enough money to buy regular food, much less Frappuccinos. But even though Perino’s statement was nonsensical from a logical point of view, her claim was really meant to hit an emotional, prejudice-based center. Sandy Rios was doing something similar when she said that the government might as well pay for manicures and pedicures, if they’re going to force insurance companies to pay for contraception. The strategy is to connect contraception to goods and services deemed frivolous femininities in our culture, and thereby insinuate that contraception is in and of itself a frivolous femininity, damning it both with sexism and with the implication that it’s not important. Perino went with the girliest drink she could think of and Rios didn’t compare contraception to, say, baseball card collecting. The idea here is to push sexist buttons as well as make the “frivolous” suggestion, putting a woman’s desire to control when she gives birth into the same sexist framework as the sneering disregard for frivolous femininities like rom-coms and fro-yos.
The realities, needless to say, aren’t so frivolous. Getting pregnant against your will isn’t some minor bump in the road, like going to the frozen yogurt shop and discovering it closed ten minutes before you arrived. It’s a huge and often life-changing ordeal, and one way or another, you’re going to be getting some medical attention, either for an abortion or during pregnancy and childbirth. Rios and Perino know this, but they’re just steadfastly ignoring it in favor of whipping up anxiety about sex.
Because that’s what all this comes down to: sex. By comparing contraception to pedicures and Frappuccinos, Perino and Rios are insinuating that safer sex is a frivolous indulgence, and therefore shouldn’t be available to women who can’t afford frivolous indulgences. But that’s not really how most people experience sex, which is felt by most people more to be a part of the rhythms of everyday life, like sharing meals with family or having regular conversations with friends.
Yes, sex is fun. (So should be your meals and your conversations with friends.) But so what? Fun is an important part of life, and liberals should dispute this notion that people who are already suffering from poverty somehow owe it to the world to avoid feeling pleasure. At the heart of a lot of anti-choice thinking is that large groups of people, simply by virtue of not having much in the way of material wealth, should therefore live gray, dull lives with few, preferably no pleasures and a life geared strictly towards surviving. With economic stresses growing by the day, this side of anti-choicers—this hostility to the idea that someone less fortunate might actually have moments of pleasure and joy without paying some steep price—is only becoming more obvious. The poverty-baiting of women’s sexual choices is probably going to get worse, not better, for at least the next few years.