Intimate Wars and Primary Drama


Merle Hoffman describes her many years working as a prominent abortion provider. Republican candidates clamor to be called “pro-life”, but what does that really mean? Also: “The Walking Dead” fails basic biology.

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Herman Cain hasn’t sexually harassed many women

Mitt Romney won’t answer questions about supporting personhood

Romney wants to cut Medicaid to pay for fighter jets

Bachmann opposes food stamps, public housing and the EITC

Gingrich opposes child labor laws

Depriving women of their rights is not “religious freedom”

On this episode of Reality Cast, Merle Hoffman will tell her story of becoming one of the most prominent abortion providers in the country. Republican candidates claim to oppose abortion, but I take a closer look at what that really means. Also, “The Walking Dead” has a mind-boggling biology fail in a recent episode.

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Check the whole thing out. After you donate to RH Reality Check.

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Herman Cain and the sexual harassment accusations have been sucking up a lot of the news cycle regarding the Republican nomination, which means that a lot of the other candidates have been on the trail saying things that pertain to sexual rights and health that haven’t been so much covered. I thought I’d do a quick round-up to update you on how the campaign is going on these workaday issues.

First, we have the front-runner, Mitt Romney. Even though the Mississippi ballot initiative showed the nation how radical the whole concept of a “personhood amendment” is, and how it’s intended to go beyond a ban on abortion and extend to a ban on IVF, birth control, and certain kinds of health care for pregnant women that are necessary to save lives, Romney still hasn’t backed away from supporting it. 

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I have no idea what he’s talking about. He’s implying there’s some sort of personhood amendment in Massachusetts, and there simply is not. In fact, not only is abortion legal in Massachusetts, under the state health care law, state-provided health insurance must cover abortion. This was something that was written into the law by the courts, who found, correctly, that denying abortion coverage is discrimination. Anyway, it doesn’t matter what the law in Massachusetts is when it comes to asking Romney what he specifically believes, since Romney openly claims to oppose many laws that were in effect while he was governor.  This answer is a dodge.

For all that Romney claims to be “pro-life”, however, he doesn’t seem to support policies that actually make it easier for women who find themselves pregnant to choose to have the babies.

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That’s all a complex way of saying he’d like to cut Medicaid to pay for more money going to defense contractors to make overpriced doo-dads for our military. Of course, getting access to Medicaid is, for thousands upon thousands of women a year, the difference between the choice to have a baby or  have an abortion. If you can’t get insurance and you can’t get Medicaid, having a baby is a terrifically poor idea. You won’t have good prenatal care, and paying for the childbirth alone will likely cost over $10,000. That’s money that a woman who needs Medicaid simply doesn’t have. In addition, many women rely on Medicaid to prevent unwanted pregnancy in the first place, since Medicaid pays for their contraception. If there was no Medicaid we can definitely expect the abortion rate to go up.  If there are deep cuts disguised as giving responsibility to the states, that too would cause the abortion rate to go up. But I guess there’s no price too high to keep the machine of war running. I’m unclear how this view can be construed as “pro-life”.

Romney isn’t the only candidate who claims to oppose abortion but supports policies that will jack the abortion rate right up. Michele Bachmann also seems to want to see a sky high abortion rate.

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The earned income tax credit is a big factor for lower income people in affording children. Without it, they will struggle even more to get by, so when unintended pregnancies happen, abortion will be a likelier outcome. Even Rick Santorum, of all people, gets this.

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What do you think a woman considering an abortion is likely to decide if she knows for a fact that she can’t feed a baby or house a baby? Yeah, that’s what I thought. On its surface, starving people and throwing them out on the street is just a bad idea. But if you’re supposedly “pro-life”, then it makes even less sense to increase people’s desperation. But hey, maybe Newt Gingrich has the perfect plan for how people can afford to have children without any financial support system in place.

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See? If you can keep them alive until about 5 or so, you can simply put them to work in a factory and they can buy their own food. Well sort of. It won’t be much food on the wages that children are paid in places that Gingrich idealizes, but hey, at least it’s not on you, parents! I’m sure that system will totally convince women to keep their pregnancies.

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Insert interview

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TV writers love unintended pregnancy. It’s just such an inherently dramatic experience in and of itself, but there’s so many ways you can play with it, too. You can have there be confusion over who the father is. You can use it to hustle along a character’s marriage decision. You can have it bring a couple together or drive them apart. Or you can have the pregnancy itself as a thing to be struggled over, that is, whether or not to keep it or terminate it. Unfortunately, throughout most of TV history, this last situation has been handled poorly and often downright offensively, with the choice to abort shown unrealistically. In real life, one in three women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies end in abortion. On TV, however, it’s portrayed as some unthinkable choice that women consider but never really do.

So it was unsurprising that the zombie apocalypse TV show “The Walking Dead” would go the oh-no-abortion-is-unthinkable route when dealing with an unintended pregnancy storyline. It was particularly frustrating, because the comics neatly dodged the problem by making access to abortion impossible for the character of Lori to get anyway. But for some reason, they decided to do a “struggle with the choice” story on the show, and in doing so, basically failed in every predictable way, and added some fresh new ways to fail. Mainly in screwing up the biology big time. See, Lori asks one of the other characters, Glenn, to go to the pharmacy and get her something she writes down on a piece of paper. He and his friend get attacked by zombies at the pharmacy, but survive and bring back the “something” and say this to Lori.

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But sadly for poor Lori, the “abortion pills” aren’t actually abortion pills. They are comically labeled, in a major prop department goof, “morning after pills”, which is like having a can of beans as a prop that’s “fart fuel”. No one calls the “morning after pill” in medical parlance. It’s called “emergency contraception”. The most popular brand says on its front: “Plan B, One Step, Emergency Contraception”. Which leads me to point #2: Emergency contraception is not abortion. Which is why it’s called “contraception” and not, say, “morning after pills”.  If the prop department had done a little bit of work in this department, perhaps that would have helped someone, anyone, realize that calling contraception “abortion” is just simply wrong and distracting.

Of course, the possibility has been raised in a number of circles that this is all about showing how ignorant and desperate the characters are. To that I say, hmmmm. Maybe. I watched the episode carefully looking for any indication that this was the intended interpretation and saw none. If it was their intention, however, I think they failed, because on screen it comes across as if it never occurred to them that contraception and abortion are different things. Either way, they failed. They either failed to do basic research, or they failed to tell the story in a convincing way. Neither fail is acceptable for a show that’s trying to get the critical acclaim “The Walking Dead” wants.

Lori takes the pills, then throws them up on purpose, because in TV land, unlike in real life, women are fickle and only think they want those abortion thingies, but they never really do. Mostly male TV writers know you better than you know yourselves, ladies. The inevitable conversation with her husband about her desire to abort also got under my skin, because it’s just so clichéd.

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Hey, I feel that’s about as justifiable a reason for an abortion as any ever created in fiction. I mean, why bother going through pregnancy and childbirth and getting attached to a baby if you think you’re all going to die any day now anyway? No need to hurry these things. You can always wait it out and see if that zombie apocalypse thing dies down before you decide to start building your family. Plus, really, what kind of prenatal care are you going to get living on scraps and running from zombies?

It made me hurt to hear her say she screwed up. I can see a character blaming herself for trying to take care of herself, but it still sucks.

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To make it clear, this character is supposed to be a good guy. Maybe a flawed good guy, but a good guy. But I found it really hard to feel anything but contempt for him for the “we can make it work” crap. Dude. Zombie apocalypse. If you can’t put off  having a second kid for that, you don’t really think that abortion is right. Which is why this line got under my skin.

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Trying to make him pro-choice with one line after he basically denies that even a zombie apocalypse isn’t a good enough reason for an abortion? Cheap attempt to rescue the character in the audience’s eyes. I’m not buying it. That said, they did get a couple points back in his column by making him forgiving when he finds out that she got with another man while thinking he was dead. If he’d reacted poorly to that, I would permanently hate the character and be unable to walk back from it.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, not really understanding bigotry in the slightest edition. Fox and Friends was hyping the notion that Barack Obama somehow hates Catholics because he supports pro-woman policies.

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This is basically saying black is white and up is down. Allowing the Church to force women to get pregnant or bear children against their will is not supporting religious freedom. It’s creating a Catholic theocracy that deprives women of their basic right to believe what they wish about reproductive rights. 


Follow Amanda Marcotte on Twitter: @amandamarcotte