Civility? For the Anti-Choice Movement, It’s An Alien Concept

File under “least surprising story ever:” Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Ellen Goodman recently had an invitation to speak at St. Francis University on the topic of “civility,” but ended up having her invitation revoked because she’s pro-choice and St. Francis is a Catholic university.  This sort of thing is happening more frequently nowadays as the anti-choice movement gets more radical, and Catholic schools are feeling more pressure from the movement to put misogynist religious dogma ahead of their academic mission to encourage free discourse. Goodman herself reacted by saying, “Imagine my disappointment at having my plea for civility returned with a pie in the face.”   

I think the lesson in all this is that there are limits to the concept of civil discourse. I appreciate Goodman’s desire for people to turn down the volume on the hostility and anger—her lecture was to be titled “A Civil Tongue: Welcome to the era of polarized politics, food fight cable shows, and ballistic blogging. How civility was shattered, who is winning, who is losing, and how do we call a truce to the mud wrestling”—but there’s really no way for anti-choicers to conduct themselves civilly when promoting their cause. After all, the cause itself is uncivil. Civil people don’t nose around in other people’s private lives, try to impose their weird religious dogma on the unwilling, or try to destroy other people’s pleasure just for the sake of doing it. But that is functionally what the anti-choice movement is about. If they applied their approach to sex when approaching food, they’d be running around jeering at people in restaurants for eating for pleasure, and they’d run ads showing the contents of the toilet after #2 with language suggesting that since poo is disgusting, the practice of eating for pleasure should be ended. Civil people mind their own business when it comes to other people’s sexual and medical choices, so long as everything involves consenting adults.  Being anti-choice is simply the opposite of civility.

In this sense, a call for civility is likely as big an offense to anti-choice sensibilities as being pro-choice is. My conception of an ideal civil political discourse has less to do with turning down the snark and the name-calling than it does turning up the reliance on facts and reason.  If our political system became more civil, it would do serious damage therefore to the anti-choice cause.

A civil political discourse, for instance, would not have room for lying in it.  This would destroy the anti-choice movement as we know it. The movement relies on a number of different kinds of lies to function. There’s the most basic lying about medical facts: the claims that fetuses are more developed than they are at certain ages, the claims that women have late term abortions for capricious reasons, the claim that abortion causes depression and breast cancer, the claim that condoms don’t prevent HIV, etc. Then there’s the lying to misrepresent themselves, especially in the way that anti-choicers will claim to mainstream media that they’re only in this for the fetuses, but when they are speaking to each other, they’re very clear that this is about repressing sex and putting women back into the kitchen.  Then there’s what may be the most troubling lying of all: pretending that people who act out violently against clinics and providers are lone wolves, when in fact they tend to come right out of the movement.

A civil political discourse doesn’t feature direct abuse of the people most affected by the policy being debated. For instance, the debate over welfare reform, while ugly in parts, didn’t feature people from the conservative side of the debate showing up at welfare offices and screaming vitriol at people showing up to apply for benefits.  (Of course, if we had that debate now, such is the level of discourse in this country that Tea Partiers probably would.)  But that’s not how the anti-choice movement rolls. No, they are perfectly happy to express their dissatisfaction at women having their legal rights by finding women exercising them and yelling at them in order to make what’s already a bad day for those women even worse. And worse, if you call clinic harassers out for their behavior, they act quite uncivilly and lie about what they’re doing, claiming that they’re just trying to “counsel” the women and pray for them.  Which is a lie that’s particularly easy to see through if you’ve ever had someone do the tight-lipped, passive-aggressive “I’ll pray for you” maneuver in your direction; that’s when it becomes clear that “I’ll pray for you” is just a euphemistic substitute for calling someone an awful name.

Pro-choice activists have been struggling with the problem of dealing with an opposition that’s inherently uncivil for decades now.  What I see with the Tea Party is that the character and strategies of the anti-choice movement have expanded dramatically, taking over other conservative issues until the norm for conservatives is this heavy dependence on lying and this vicious attitude not just towards your political opponents, but towards ordinary people who are affected by policy decisions. Anti-choicers harassing people at clinics have become the Tea Partiers showing up at Republican debates and cheering wildly for the idea of a man dying from lack of insurance or the idea of deporting kids who were raised (but not born) in the U.S., instead of allowing them to get an education in the only place they’ve known as home.  

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  • canbuhay

    Well it looks like Amanda is projecting again. As pro-lifers we are constantly facing a barrage of hate, irrational dialogue and ad hominems from abortion advocates. I personally have been shouted down by abortion advocates who refused to even to let me speak at a room legitimately booked by pro-life campus clubs at universities – and we’re uncivilized? For someone who claims to want to be civil, this is some of most uncivil writing I’ve read. In fact, it lays out a justification for abortion advocates to become tyrants.

    Really if this is the best abortion advocates can do – asserting that we are wrong and therefore can never be civil – then pro-lifers really are winning this debate and we will make abortion unthinkable very soon.

  • freetobe

    as you lie as to the real cause behind your anti-abortion facade. Why don’t you just speak the truth for a change( not just you personally) but all of you anti-choicers. The truth is that you hate women to be in the work force,having any power or control, and a job to support themselves.

    The anti-choicers want total control of women as in property. They do not want women having sex unless it is with their husbands.

    As a pro-choicer I will take control of my own body and life regardless of what anti-choicers say or do. I will NEVER be owned by a man or anyone else and if I ws still of reproductive age i will only have children when I am damn well ready!


    As for you Canbuhay it sounds like you are just looking for excuses to KILL someone. Some pro-lifer you are. LOL!! snark snark

  • canbuhay

    The head of our pro-life group and half the staff are young women – and my mom was a full-time working professional before she started her own business. But of course facts don’t really matter to you – that’s why you can make these bigoted assertions.

    BTW, the law already limits what you can do with your body. It is anti-choice for women who choose drinking and driving, doing drugs or stealing. Fact is, laws limit what we can do all the time when what we do is harmful to others. Even abortion advocates are anti-choice – that’s why you want to force pro-lifers to pay for abortions through public health programs or remove the choice of pro-life women to block abortion clinics.

    One of the things that you learn when you become a civilized adult is that we can’t “choose” to do whatever we want. As exemplified in this article, most abortion advocates have never have understood that.
    PS I am anti-choice when it comes to the choice of killing people. Aren’t you?


  • jennifer-starr

    Remove the choice of women to block clinics?? That’s a laugh. What you pro-lifers used to try to do in front of clinics pre-FACE Act constituted harassment and often assault. And even child endangerment–I remember instances of pro-lifers getting their kids to crawl under the barricades to block clinic entrances. Yes, I remember–I was a college student in the early- 90s and remember how bad it got.  And things like protesting in front of people’s private homes should be illegal under anti-stalking laws, but you guys still try to do that. 

  • person-0

    what bodily autonomy is and that a fertilized egg is not a person.

    What is “civil” about blocking an entrance to a clinic in which women are receiving healthcare? Your posts illustrate perfectly the gist of the main article. Thanks for playing….

  • crowepps

    How terrible for you.  All the ProLife movement wants to do is prevent women from having sex, prevent women who have sex from getting and using birth control, prevent women who get pregnant from having safe, legal abortions, prevent saving the lives of pregnant women who have complications, and prevent women whose families are complete from being sterilized.

    Weird isn’t it, how when you’re actively working to pass laws that will result in increasing the misery in the lives of sexually active women, laws that will regress children back to being a curse instead of a blessing, laws that will fill women with fear for their own lives and those of their daughters,  people just aren’t nice to you anymore.  There’s just something about moralizing busybodies, intent on punishing people for being human and increasing the sum total of suffering in the world, that generates hostility and nastiness in others.

    Poor you.

  • crowepps

    Has everybody seen the effective response of Todd Stavos, the clinic landlord, to being harassed?'s_bravely_fighting_back/

    The website he has founded to try and discourage the bullying tactics is here:

  • freetobe

    ” In fact, it lays out a justification for abortion advocates to become tyrants.” Justification? Says who? Sounds like another threat and totally uncivilized.

    You know back in my younger days I was pro-life until life happened -all the wrong kind of life- something you will never understand because obviously you must have had a charmed life. I grew up fast, you are the child because you only see black and white not all the grey inbetween or are you one of those brainwashed false christians?

    The LAW Roevs Wade a federal law makes it illegal for you to butt into womens personal buisiness with their doctors. and the hyde amendment makes it illegal for any federal funds to pay for abortions. What part of this don’t you understand?

    You know I hate the death penalty. I hate wars and people who promote them does that give me the right to harass and kill the people who are responsible for this I really hate people who eat dead animals and do not even try to cut back on meat. Does that give me the right to harass you and block you from going into the grocery store to stuff your face of bloody dead animal corpses?????? maybe I will get a bunch of us together and start doing it to make you feel guilty or shame you for eating meat and killing animals.

  • freetobe

    That is all well and good that you are working professionals what I meant was enjoy it while it lasts because if the tea baggers and the anti-choicers radicals to extreme who you are playing with get their way you won’t be “allowed” to work anymore. You will be forced back in the home pregnant and and enslaved to the house and a man hopefully not a tyrant like I had. Forget about owning your own buisiness or even voting. You think I am being a silly? ok don’t say I did not warn you.

    I personally would rather be dead than ever live with another tyrant.

    Nobody is killing anyone here but you and your kind want to because you are control freaks.


    “One of the things that you learn when you become a civilized adult is that we can’t “choose” to do whatever we want”

    Who made you my mommy or daddy? i don’t need anyone to tell me this I am a 54 year old woman your a freak!


  • purplemistydez

    Your laughable.  It was a so called pro-lifer that shoot Dr. Tiller in the head in a church.  Your kind knows nothing about civility.

  • forced-birth-rape

    Self-Described ‘Christian Counterpart To Osama Bin Laden’ Arrested In Plot To Bomb Abortion Clinic


    Justin Carl Moose describe “himself” as the Christian counterpart to Osama bin Laden. Moose wrote: “I have learned a lot from the muslim terrorists and have no problem using their tactics.”

  • forced-birth-rape



    Anders Behring Breivik christian terrorist, pro-forced-birther.

    What he thinks about womens rights, women need to breed, breed, breed.

    He has the same ideas for women as republicans, conservatives, and pro-lifers.


    1. Limit the distribution of birth-control pills (contraceptive pills): Discourage the use of and prevent liberal distribution of contraceptive pills or equivalent prevention methods. The goal should be to make it considerably more difficult to obtain. This alone should increase the fertility rate by 0,1 points but would degrade women’s rights.

    2. Reform sex education: Reform the current sex education in our school institutions. This may involve limiting it or at least delaying sex education to a later age and discourage casual sex. Sex should only be encouraged within the boundaries of marriage. This alone should increase the fertility rate by 0,1 points.

    3. Making abortion illegal: A re-introduction of the ban on abortion should result in an increased fertility rate of approximately 0,1-0,2 points but would strip women of basic rights.

    4. Women and education: Discourage women in general to strive for full time careers. This will involve certain sexist and discriminating policies but should increase the fertility rate by up to 0,1-0,2 points.

    Women should not be encouraged by society/media to take anything above a bachelor’s degree but should not be prevented from taking a master or PhD. Males on the other hand should obviously continue to be encouraged to take higher education – bachelor, master and PhD.