The most interesting thing about the video abortion counselor Emily Letts made to chronicle her abortion is how simple and straightforward it is. Letts talks a little about her pregnancy, shows herself getting an abortion (not in a graphic way), and then talks about how glad she is that she did it. While there are many feelings women have about abortions, her trajectory is a fairly standard one: a little regret, a little self-forgiveness, mostly relief and joy that she was able to get help when she needed it. “Sh*t happens” appears to be a major message, which is much closer to how a lot of women who remain silent feel about their abortions than is generally acknowledged in the public discourse.
Of course, the public reaction to Letts’ video has been anything but simple. Charlotte Taft covers some of the more well-meaning but often misguided reactions here at RH Reality Check, and on this week’s episode of the Reality Cast podcast, I’ll be discussing the attempts to slur Letts with misogynist stereotypes in an attempt to discredit her. What fascinates me the most about the reactions is the role fantasy plays in
criticisms from the right, and what that generally says about the state of debate over abortion in this country—specifically, the fantasy that there’s a “baby” or even a “fetus” involved in an abortion like Letts’. It’s a fantasy that anti-choicers have angrily tried to assert in the loudest, most hyperbolic terms possible, no doubt hoping they’d drown out the evidence of how wrong they are.
To hear the lurid descriptions of what anti-choicers imagine abortion to be, it seems that they imagine someone killing an actual baby. Upending that narrative and reminding people, through incontrovertible visual proof, that during a first-trimester abortion the embryo is so small as to barely register as a potential baby, much less an actual baby,
might be the most threatening part of the Letts video. Her stomach is flat. The abortion is quite obviously a quick gynecological procedure. If she had stayed pregnant, eventually there would be a baby. But it’s clear as could be, watching the video, that only fantasists have the ability to see “baby” where realists see nothing more than the beginning of a long process known as “pregnancy.” It’s no more a baby than a seed is a tree.
While the debate over abortion is really about sexuality and women’s rights, the official line from anti-choicers is that they’re against killing “babies,” and so this probably is pretty embarrassing for them, because it reveals that their cover story is perhaps even sillier than their fears about female sexuality. So, their effort to save face involves multiple variations of “Don’t believe your lying eyes! Just because you can’t see a baby doesn’t mean there isn’t a baby there!”
Adam Weinstein at Gawker collected a few of the more amusing “don’t believe your lying eyes” gambits, like this one from Breitbart’s William Bigelow:
“Of course, it wasn’t so pain-free and safe for the baby, but there is no mention of the baby in the entire article—or, for that matter, his or her father.”
That would be because there was no baby there to suffer, something people who actually watched the video were perfectly capable of seeing.
Then there was the National Review‘s Wesley J. Smith:
“Ah. good times. Becoming irresponsibly pregnant and then having a birth-like experience of destroying a fetus–complete with pictures!”
Here you have someone not only imagining that there’s a “fetus” in the situation (Letts is very early in her pregnancy, making the abortion during the embryonic stage), but also pictures of it. In reality, all we see is someone undergo a very short gynecological procedure. No pictures involved.
At Red State, Joe Cunningham said:
“I don’t know what degree of godlessness you have to have in order to not only film the slaughter of a child but feel fondness every time you re-watch it.”
Remember, what you see in the video is someone with her feet in stirrups undergoing a short procedure. There are no children slaughtered.
I think these guys are hoping that
by promising you that there are “children” being killed and that the video is gross and disturbing and violent, you will be too afraid to watch it and just take their word for it. There’s clearly a lot of fear here that if people watch this video in a calm, rational state of mind, they will be able to see clearly that it’s not violent and there are no babies involved, alive or dead. Anti-choicers are invested in the visual, which is why they’re so attached to using misleading pictures of fetuses from stages much later in pregnancy than when most women get their abortions. The sheer honesty of the imagery in Letts’ video—the fact that abortion , as you can see with your own eyes, is not child-killing—has got to be terrifying for them.
There are a lot of lurid accusations flying from anti-choicers, accusing pro-choicers of trying to conceal the “truth” of what’s going on inside a woman in the early stages of pregnancy. Those accusations should be understood for what they are: attempts to mislead people and get them to believe that it’s a man’s ejaculation that makes a “baby” and not, despite all biological evidence to the contrary, nine months of a woman’s body building
a baby, bit by bit.
Yes, it’s true that people who are pregnant tend to talk about their “baby.” But it’s generally true in English that we refer to potential or future events with that present-sounding language. We say “our wedding,” “our vacation,” or “my birthday” even when it hasn’t happened yet. That so many anti-choicers try to overread what is simply a linguistic tic of English is yet another example of how desperate they are to convince people not to believe the evidence of our own eyes and instead believe their fantastical imaginings where zygotes are the same as kindergartners and seeds are the same thing as a mighty oak tree. Good on Letts for interrupting their fantasies.