Periodically, I take some time in this space to take the temperature of the anti-choice movement and, sadly, most of the time I’m forced to conclude that they are getting bolder all the time, moving further and further away from bad faith arguments about “life” and speaking more freely and aggressively about their true motivations: To control and punish people, particularly women, who engage in non-procreative sex. Unsurprisingly, a major Supreme Court victory against access to contraception has been emboldening on this front, but even just a couple of years of contentious debate about contraceptive coverage has, it seems, made the hardline anti-choicers feel that the public is ready to embrace their more draconian anti-sex arguments.
Take this response from Rebecca Taylor to the Hobby Lobby case posted at LifeNews a couple weeks ago titled, “Dear Hobby Lobby Haters: Birth Control is Not Medicine.” The title really says it all, but as you can imagine, the text is just delightful. Taylor is trying to deny that religious exemptions to insurance plans covering contraception will not lead to similar exemptions for religions that object to vaccinations and blood transfusions because those things are medicine, but “birth control is not medicine nor is it therapeutic.”
Of course, her reasoning for that is religious in nature, since actual medical authorities disagree, making her reasoning purely circular: Birth control is not medicine because she says so. But her reasons, unsurprisingly, come back to pushing an agenda about your sex life. “Really birth control is something that allows people to engage in baby-making behavior without making babies,” defining sex strictly as a procreative behavior despite the mountains of anthropological and biological evidence that suggests humans have evolved so that sex is mostly a social interaction that primarily serves to make us feel good and bond with partners. Taylor treats contraception as some kind of wild kink, therefore, calling it a “lifestyle choice” and denying that the ACA covers barrier methods tied to individual sex acts. (False, nearly all are. Condoms aren’t covered, but that’s because they aren’t offered by prescription and are not hard to get for free or on the cheap.) The pearl-clutching prudery is becoming less subtext and more text all the time.
That’s definitely on display with Lila Rose’s latest string of so-called “exposés” of Planned Parenthood where her investigators pretend to be teenagers asking sex advice and—gasp!—they get honest answers to their pointed questions from people whose job it is to give just such honest, non-judgmental answers. They try to add to the shock factor by mentioning the light erotic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey and asking about bondage and S&M, but that doesn’t really change the most salient fact about these videos, which is Lila Rose has dropped the pretense about “life” completely. Nothing about these videos has anything to do with “life,” but it’s all about trying to get people riled up about sex practices that Rose clearly thinks are kinky and weird, though tying up and spanking are practically vanilla these days.
The videos only work if you believe that there’s something wrong with sexually active people—either teenagers or people of any age—being honest and upfront about having sex because it’s fun and feels good. The reason people engage in bondage, as the educators calmly explain, is that it’s fun. (And they also convey that you shouldn’t do it if it’s not fun for you.) While Rose and her audience may be appalled at the idea that anyone would mention, much less to teenagers, that sex is supposed to be fun, that’s actually a very important message for young people to get. Knowing that sex is supposed to be pleasurable is, especially for girls, an important part of learning how to set boundaries and respect other people’s boundaries. Don’t do it or feel you have to do if unless everyone is having fun is a critical part of learning what sexual consent is and what it looks like. (Fun. It looks like fun.) Pleasure is a good thing in itself, but understanding it is an important weapon in the war against actual sexual assault. If your teenager is sexually active, you better hope they know that it’s supposed to be fun, because not knowing that opens the door for all sorts of pain and heartache.
Robin Marty, writing for Cosmo, shows how this increasingly bold and blatant anti-sex message is looking when it comes to anti-choice street protesters. A new Planned Parenthood in Richfield, Minnesota—a suburb of Minneapolis—has opened and is expected to help many residents who need affordable family planning services, especially since it’s available by public transit. The clinic does not offer abortion. Repeat: The clinic does not offer abortion.
But Pro-Life Action Ministries, which is apparently determined to erase any lingering hope that “pro-life” has anything to do with life and not sex, is throwing a major fit. “Two weeks after that, anti-abortion activists claim to have hung nearly 14,000 leaflets on doors throughout the neighborhood, urging residents to avoid the new Planned Parenthood, which they say offers ‘dangerous contraception,’ ‘promotes and encourages sex without limits,’ and is ‘destroying families,’” Marty writes. They ask people instead to go to a church center called the Sagrada Familia Services that explicitly opposes contraception with the usual anti-choice blather about how sex is only for marriage and sex should only happen if you’re “open to new life.”
As Marty notes, there have been anti-contraception protests and actions against clinics, but, “However, the multi-tactic, multi-level daily campaign being waged against just one clinic such as PLAM is doing is a new and unusual escalation.” Groups like the American Life League, however, have started to encourage more anti-contraception actions. Sometimes they offer disingenuous arguments equating contraception and abortion, but more and more often we’re just seeing them admit what should be screamingly obvious: They oppose contraception—and have always opposed abortion—because they object to people having sex for fun. There’s a bunch of reasons for this, from just basic prudery to hostility to women’s growing independence to plain old misery-loves-company sniping. But that this is about sex is getting harder to deny by the day.