It seems that anti-choice extremists have declared all-out war on pro-choice gynecologists, health care workers, and their patients in the wake of a contentious debate over a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The latest attack in a series took place at a Cobb County clinic and is notable in that the arsonists attacked not just clinic workers, but also threatened the lives of patients. Most anti-choice terrorists fall in line with the larger movement, which tries to avoid charges of sexism by disingenuously refusing to blame women themselves for abortion, instead painting women as thoughtless children misled by supposedly evil doctors. This fire, however, was deliberately set during the day and it’s only by a measure of extreme luck that no patients were under anesthesia when it happened, which would have dramatically increased the chance of a fatality.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that this attack happened in a state where debate over 20-week abortion bans is the current focus. Traditional, bad faith anti-choice arguments that avoid blaming the woman for abortion don’t work particularly well when it comes to the 20-week ban. Usually, anti-choicers prefer to paint women who have abortions as imbeciles who, being too stupid to know they want a baby, allow evil doctors to pressure them into abortions they then supposedly regret. That doesn’t work so well when addressing women who are 20 weeks along, and presumably have had some time to think about it. (Usually who struggled against other obstacles or who have medical problems necessitating an abortion.)
So instead what comes out is the older stereotype: The stupid, evil slut. The woman who has an abortion on a whim. The notion that women wait five months and say, “Nah, I changed my mind,” is the only one that works that doesn’t create sympathy for women who need these abortions, and so that’s the argument that gets more play when discussions about later term abortions are going on. It’s an image that gets a lot more play within the anti-choice community than when they’re communicating in public, where they need to be mindful of their image. (See this bit of internal anti-woman propaganda.) No doubt the proliferation of this argument — that women get abortions because they’re careless sluts — makes it that much easier for someone who makes the choice to cross into violence to attack patients themselves in a clinic.
As Rachel Maddow demonstrated in Friday’s episode, there’s a direct line between what’s going on in the legislation in Georgia and the increasing levels of harassment and violence directed not just at abortion providers, but any gynecologist suspected of pro-choice sympathies. (Which, statistically, are the majority.) This is the second suspected arson in a week in a Georgia women’s clinic, and before this clinics were being burglarized, presumably by anti-choicers trying to punish doctors who opposed anti-choice legislation. The doctors in question were trying to conceal their identities precisely because they fear terrorism, and clearly the terrorists feel emboldened by the political climate to override security concerns and make those doctors feel threatened.
All the glib disavowals of violence don’t change the obvious facts here, which is that the Georgia anti-choice movement has been moving from giving quiet comfort to would-be terrorists to more openly supporting them, both in the ugly rhetoric and in the attempts to pass laws that work to rationalize more anti-choice violence.
That violence is the result of anti-choice activism isn’t an anomaly, either, but the natural result of the ideology of control and fear that created the movement in the first place. The violence of the anti-choice movement is baked into their most basic belief, which is that women should be punished with unwanted pregnancy, unwanted childbirth, and children for having sex. But it’s more than that, and goes back to how women’s second class citizen status has always been enforced through violence, especially rape and domestic violence. For millennia, the reaction to women standing up for their full person-hood has been a violent, often sexualized, smackdown. Setting fires to clinics, attacking doctors, and harassment that veers into stalking is just an extension of that basic tendency.
The FBI has taken on the situation in Georgia and seems to be pursuing it strongly, which is good and will hopefully squelch any escalation of the violence. But the only thing that’s really going to have a long-term effect on the violence is the cessation of the ideology that holds that women are public property, and that their bodies should therefore be under the control of others and not themselves. That ideology can’t help but rationalize violence. That’s why it’s laughable to call the anti-choice belief “pro-life”; it tends towards being anti-life, since violence always lurks in the background as the ultimate punishment for women who don’t fall in line with their demands.
Luckily, we’re finally seeing the mainstream media willingness not to see these obvious connections getting challenged, as well. Rachel Maddow spending a solid chunk of her show covering the direct line between anti-choice activism and anti-choice terrorism is making the feigned ignorance harder to maintain. The FBI’s strong response shows they aren’t messing around, either. While it’s perhaps too much to expect most people to grasp the in-depth understanding of how violence is always lurking behind misogynist ideologies, we can at least stop pretending that the instigators of these sort of attacks are working on their own, with no relation to the larger movement or political situation.