Presidential Forums, Divorce, and Plan B

Chris Mooney discusses the implications of the HHS decision on Plan B. Highlights from the Personhood USA presidential forum, and a report on how the economy is keeping people stuck in bad marriages.

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Stephen Colbert reviews April 2011

Santorum denies biological facts

Biologists actually don’t think life begins at conception

Economy traps people in bad marriages

We’re all sure that’s exactly what happened

On this episode of Reality Cast, Chris Mooney will discuss the implications of the HHS override of the FDA’s decision on Plan B. I listen to the Personhood USA presidential forum so you don’t have to, and a report on how the economy is keeping people stuck in bad marriages.

Stephen Colbert did a review of 2011 on his show, and naturally, he had to talk about one of the great moments in the ugly fight over reproductive rights, when Jon Kyle claimed that 90% of what Planned Parenthood does is abortion, and when confronted with the fact that it’s actually 3%, Kyle responded by claiming that his original claim was not intended to be a factual statement.

  • Colbert *

I maintain that it was the lie of the year. Maybe not in terms of impact, but certainly in brazenness. Up there with Bachmann saying Gardasil will make your kids retarded.


Personhood USA decided to hold a presidential forum. Personhood USA is an organization that wants the law to declare that fertilized eggs are human beings, which means that any woman of reproductive age would have to be assumed as potentially have a person inside her with more rights that she does, basically making it a blanket denial of your full human rights if you’re female and between ages of around 11 and oh, 60. This organization is so nakedly misogynist that even some anti-choice organizations have shunned it. But for some reason, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry went ahead and joined the organization for a “presidential forum”, where they competed the hardest to deny that women had much to offer this world other than life support for male seed.

Mitt Romney abstained, which is unsurprising since he got burned so badly offering support for a personhood amendment on Mike Huckabee’s show.  Once that created a situation where women were challenging him in public about why he supports a bill that antis hope will ban the birth control pill, I think he backed off. He’s likely to win the nomination, and so he’s looking to get that moderate vote, and moderate voters don’t like the idea of banning the pill or forcing women to die in emergency rooms rather than perform life-saving abortions.

But these four candidates are all clearly eyeballing a win in Iowa, where many conservatives are single issue anti-choice voters. I listened to this forum, so you don’t have to. Some highlights. I’m ranking them in order of bloviating capacities.

  • personhood 1 *

That was Newt Gingrich, and as usual, he huffs and puffs and pretends that he’s a historian in order to make his conservative pandering sound more interesting than it is. To sum up what he said, Newt believes men make babies when they ejaculate, and that women are nothing but receptacles for the almighty seed. And that women have no right to say not to the magic seed once it’s been planted. Everything else in hand-waving.

Gingrich also made a bold and almost surely false claim that he knows how to craft legislation that puts it out of the reach of the Supreme Court’s review. I’d play it for you, but he rambles on for a long time about the “Jeffersonians”, and listening to Gingrich pretend to be an expert on history has been known to cause seizures, so I’m going to go ahead and skip that. Just know that he’s out there claiming he knows how to deprive the Supreme Court of their right to review legislation and strike it down if found unconstitutional.

Now for Rick Santorum:

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Huh. Strange that Santorum seems to think he’s such an authority on “biological facts”. After all, he’s more likely than not to actually deny actual biological facts when confronted with them.

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Of course, that human evolved, like all other animals, is as close to a biological fact that it gets. If you actually support biological facts, you support that one. Meanwhile, the claim that “life begins at conception is a biological fact” is simply false. Biologist and blogger PZ Myers, when asked directly if life begins at conception, answered, quote, “It’s an utterly nonsensical position to take. There is never a “dead” phase — life is continuous. Sperm are alive, eggs are alive; you could even make the argument that since two cells (gametes) enter, but only one cell (a zygote) leaves, fertilization ends a life. Not that I would make that particular claim myself, but it’s definitely true that life is more complicated than the simplistic ideologues of the anti-choice movement would make it.” End quote. So, in fact, Santorum is against the science at every turn. To say that “life begins at conception is a biological fact” is a lie, as is the implication that Santorum cares very much about science. 

Rick Perry’s answer to the question of how he would enforce any legislation defining life at fertilization was just plain alarming:

  • personhood 4 *

What he basically just said what that he would commit a presidential coup that overturns the Constitution in order to deprive women of the right to abortion or emergency medical care while pregnant. A lot of anti-choicers enjoy saying that they’re eager to go to war to deprive women of basic human rights, and Perry fed them a bloody red steak. I’m not even entirely sure he understood the import of what he just said, and how he basically prescribed overturning our Constitution in order to attack abortion rights.

Which leads up to Bachmann:

  • personhood 5 *

Hers is the most boring, but she hits the same note the other candidates did, which was to claim that women’s right to control our own uteruses is the most important issue of our time, and taking that right away should take precedence over pretty much every other consideration. No wonder Perry was blithely willing to put an abortion ban over upholding the Constitution. Male dominance over women is apparently that important. What bothers me is that  we keep getting quote after quote from conservative legislators and activists claiming that stripping away women’s right to say no to having a baby at any point in time is the most important issue of our time, and many liberals, especially men, continue to treat this as if it’s a second or third tier issue. It clearly is not, and we need to understand how much importance the right actually puts on this.


insert interview


Along with contraception and abortion, second wave feminists put a major emphasis on no-fault divorce as an important feminist issue. Like these other issues, it targeted the lack of choices that women were offered in a patriarchy, and it tackled the way that women were pushed into young marriages that may not be the best matches for them, and trapped them in them, even in severe situation such as when you’re trapped with a batterer. No-fault divorce has, by and large, been accepted in a way that abortion hasn’t. I’d even argue that it’s less stigmatized in some ways than contraception, which still causes way more fussing and hand-wringing in religious right circles than divorce, even though divorce is, unlike contraception, explicitly denounced in the Bible. Because of this, divorce doesn’t get attention like abortion or contraception. But maybe it should get some of that, because like abortion and contraception, divorce is often a right in name only for many people. As with abortion and contraception, the price and the hassle factor may be putting choice out of many people’s reach, and the consequences can be severe.

NPR did a report on this problem. They started with the story of a woman whose horrible marriage and bad finances caused her to lose 40 pounds, making her seriously underweight. But she still struggled to end her failing marriage, because the few hundred dollars it took to file for a divorce put it beyond her reach. It’s a sad story, but how common is it? Turns out, more than you’d think.

  • divorce 1 *

The parallels to the contraception and abortion situation should be obvious. The bad economy is causing more women to skimp on contraception, putting them at greater risk of unintended pregnancy. But when that does happen, they’re less able to take care of a baby, so they’re more likely to get an abortion. Women are getting it coming and going. Same story with divorce. While divorce is perceived as being a non-gendered issue, unlike abortion, in reality women tend to suffer more from lack of access. Women are still more likely to file for divorce than men, as women are often the ones whose problems with a marriage outweigh the benefits of staying married.

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Unlike abortion, where lack of access is often straightforwardly about cost, the economic pressures that present obstacles to divorce are more complicated. Like abortion, there is the straightforward, upfront costs. If you’re lucky enough to have an uncontested divorce where you are in complete agreement about how to divide assets and custody—or if you have a marriage that doesn’t have wealth or children—-it still costs a few hundred dollars in many places. Additionally, some states require a trial separation before a divorce is granted, a period of instability that can be expensive.  That’s assuming everything goes well. A lot of the time, it doesn’t. If a divorce or distribution of wealth or custody is disputed, the cost rises dramatically. This is where women are often at a severe disadvantage. Women make less money than men on average, but that’s even more true when you’re talking about married men and women—men’s salaries go up on average when they marry, and women’s actually go down. After divorce, men tend to stay financially stable and women tend to get poorer. This puts men and women on a very uneven playing field if a divorce is contested or at least contentious. Which means that women are not only discouraged from leaving bad marriages, but doubly discouraged from leaving marriages that are bad because they’re married to controlling, abusive men.

The results are, needless to say, scary.

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Indeed, one of the major reasons women in abusive marriages cite for staying is that they can’t afford to leave. This economic downturn and the lack of employment prospects is no doubt making that worse. It’s probably time to start thinking about divorce in terms beyond just a legal right, and ask hard questions about access.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, what happens when you reject science for magical thinking edition. We know that the Christian right rejects the science when it comes to the HPV vaccine, abortion, and contraception, because the science undermines their belief that women are nothing but ambulatory baby factories. But once you open the door to denying science that conflicts with what you want to believe, what happens? Televangelists Cindy and Mike Jacobs told this awesome story on a recent episode of their show “God Knows”.

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I guess Jesus put the baby in her pancreas. This is what happens when you can’t imagine that women have value outside of baby makers. They’ve gotten so hysterical about this that even women who can’t have kids are now being subtly shamed for not being pious enough. 

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte