Anti-Vaccination Activism and Fighting Back Against Harassment

 Elyse Anders puts the anti-HPV vaccine controversy in context. Pro-choicers in Maryland come up with an inventive strategy to fight back, and the 1 in 3 campaign highlights women’s stories about abortion.

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Links in this episode:

The Purity Myth

Voice of Choice

1 in 3 Campaign

Limbaugh calls Elizabeth Warren a “babe”

On this episode of Reality Cast, Elyse Anders will be on to fill us in on the anti-vaccination phenomenon that surrounds the hostility to the HPV vaccine.  Dr. Carhart’s landlord decides to fight back against anti-choice protesters, and a new campaign highlights the voice of women who have had abortions.

I’m happy to note that Jessica Valenti’s documentary of her book “The Purity Myth” is coming out.  Here’s the audio from the trailer.

  • purity *

If anything, Jessica’s thoughts on this are more important than ever, as the hostility towards young women’s sexuality grows through anti-contraception and anti-HPV vaccine campaigns.


One of the most distressing constants in the fight over women’s reproductive rights is the presence of harassment and terrorist tactics from the anti-choice movement. Anti-choicers call it “protesting”, but it doesn’t resemble what most people think of protesting, where public people and institutions are challenged in public ways to encourage public dialogue about public policy. No, anti-choicers get a rise out of targeting private citizens going about private business—the more private, the better.  I personally think there’s a lascivious side to it, that is, they really enjoy seeking out women getting abortions so they can shame them for being sexual beings.  Some anti-choicers put the women’s pictures on their sites with black bars over their eyes, as if they were in pornographic pictures or something.  But it’s indisputable that they get off on the bullying and intimidation.  This was evidenced by recent events, where anti-choicers decided to target a junior high school girl for abuse because her father owns the building that abortion provider Dr. Leroy Carhart works out of.

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It’s important to remember that children are being targeted in an atmosphere of violence. Anti-choicers know this and I suspect relish it. The message here is, “Nice daughter you’ve got there. Shame if something happened to her.” Antis will deny this, but the message comes through loud and clear to the people targeted. You don’t really bust out the “I know where you live, where you work, where your kids go to school, and don’t forget what happened to the last doctor that Dr. Carhart worked with” technique without it being a threat. This isn’t protesting. The FBI defines terrorism as the use of violence or threatened violence to intimidate not just the government but a civilian population for political ends. Anti-choicers skirt this definition by not directly threatening violence, but as anyone with two brain cells can figure out, the “I know where your children go to school” thing, coupled with the violent history of the anti-choice movement, is quite threatening.

The reason anti-choicers use the implied threat of violence is that it works. As Dr. Means in Kansas has discovered, no landlord is willing to put their families in danger from violent anti-choicers by renting to her.  But Dr. Carhart’s landlord Todd Stave, will not be intimidated. Instead, he’s fighting back.

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The tactic worked well enough that they’re formalizing it by starting an organization called Voice of Choice.  You can go to V-O choice dot org and volunteer. Basically, you would be called upon to call and email people who contact abortion providers who are being harassed.  Since they feel that addressing people in their private lives is acceptable political discourse, they clearly feel that this is okay. I wouldn’t recommend calling people who are unwilling to target private individuals, of course, but every person on the list they have has made it clear they think that’s acceptable political discourse by targeting private individuals going about their private business.  Be polite! The people you’re calling claim to believe these calls are “protests”, so please make it clear you are merely protesting their behavior with techniques they themselves have signed off on. Refrain, please, for going where they go, which is the “I know where you live” crap.  That’s a threat, and we don’t want to play dirty like they do.

Todd Stave came on to Maddow’s show to explain why he’s sticking to his guns even though anti-choicers have shown a willingness to target his family.

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It’s incredibly shameful the way our society simply accepts that anti-choicers will occasionally commit acts of violence, and then thousands of harassers will build on that violence to scare and intimidate people who are trying to help others make private, legal choices about their private lives.


insert interview


So I’m thrilled to announce that Advocates for Youth, Choice USA, and Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom have released a joint project called the 1 in 3 Campaign. The name, as I’m sure some of you have figured out, is a reference to the fact that one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime at current rates. The idea is a simple one that goes back to the days of early pro-choice activism, but it’s also the most powerful weapon we have in our arsenal: women’s stories. Anti-choice opinions form in the void of women’s silence about abortion. It’s easy for people to buy anti-choice stereotypes that women who have abortions are dirty sluts or emotionally broken trainwrecks. What this series does is put a very human face on women who have abortions.

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They’ve got the section divided up into pre- and post-Roe stories.  The pre-Roe stories are hard to take, as you can imagine. Extremely horrific stuff went down when abortion was illegal.  One woman tells a story of a friend who was blindfolded, taken to the clinic and operated on with no drugs at all, and then dumped in pain and bleeding on a street corner far away from where she had been picked up.  One woman describes an abortion technique involving packing gauze onto the cervix and drinking turpentine.  And one woman who was training as a nurse during the 60s told this story:

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Self-abortion was the main cause of septic abortions before Roe, because even the seedy, underground abortion providers at least knew what they were doing, mostly. And a lot of underground abortion providers were professionals.  Should abortion become illegal again, we likely wouldn’t have an underground network of providers, especially since anti-choicers will likely demand outrageous criminal penalties for it. So we’d probably see an even higher percentage of women who seek abortions doing things like sticking coat hangers in their uteruses and puncturing them. But what I want to do is contrast this nurse’s recollection of the 60s with this woman’s description of her abortion in what seems to be the past decade.

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One of the reasons stories are so important is that the debate gets so abstract. Anti-choicers prefer to talk about banning abortion in the most non-specific terms possible. They just simply like to assume that means it goes away and they never have to think about it ever again.  But in reality, the real issue here is access to safe abortion. Without legal abortion, that becomes fraught, as these women’s stories demonstrate.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, predictable sexism edition. Elizabeth Warren is outspoken. Elizabeth Warren is running for Senate in Massachusetts, and will almost surely unseat the Tea Party candidate that got Ted Kennedy’s seat in wake of his demise.  Elizabeth Warren, therefore, must be subject to a barrage of pointless sexism.

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Besides calling her a “babe”, Limbaugh also whined that Warren has held a lot of different jobs, and got paid for those jobs. Since he’s a multi-millionaire fat cat, one has to wonder why it is he thinks it’s scandalous for Warren to work and draw a salary for her work. Just kidding! He knows that women who make their own money is a big, red hot button for his audience. 

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte

  • reproductivefreedomfighter

    I was disappointed in the HPV discussion.  I’m very skeptical of Gardasil, and I would have loved to hear some really good refutation of the things I worry about, such as ingredients, side effects, and success rates.  Instead, Ms. Anders and Amanda agreed that there’s a large movement against this vaccine that is not coming from the right wing; us lefties aren’t worried about our kids having sex because they get the vaccine–our concerns are those I mentioned above.  But even though both women admitted that wasn’t the concern for lefties, that’s just about the only thing they mentioned during the convo.  It basically amounted to poking fun at those who feel differently.  I was hoping for a real discussion.