The War Over Women Goes Hollywood


The war on women reaches the point where celebrities start fighting back aggressively. Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights explains. Also: Why we need to end abortion stigma.

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Swingers in swing states

Lady Parts Justice

Draw the Line

Leslie Cannold on abortion shame

Kirk Cameron compares being criticized to being imprisoned and crucified

On this episode of Reality Cast, Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights will be on to talk about the new Draw the Line campaign. I’ll do some coverage of that campaign and others, and also look into a small but hopefully growing push to end abortion stigma.

My only surprise upon finding that there’s a video of swingers in swing states talking about sex and Ohio is that someone didn’t seize on that pun first. But The Daily’s Justin Rocket Silverman decided interviewing swingers in swing states was too good to pass up.

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I am disappointed but not surprised to find that plenty of swingers are perfectly happy to vote away other people’s basic sexual rights while retaining their own. But not all!

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Mostly, for obvious reasons, the escalation of attacks on women’s rights in the past couple of years has been a bad thing. In 2011, a record number of statewide abortion restrictions were passed, and while 2012 wasn’t as bad, there were still more restrictions passed than any year before 2011. The restrictions are getting more mean-spirited, too. It’s not just waiting periods anymore. Or even mandatory ultrasounds. You now have to get a probe and a lengthy script and told to go home as if you were a small child being told to think about what you did, which in turn implies that having sex was some kind of shameful behavior. The anti-choice movement’s opposition to contraception used to be something they tried to hide, and now they’re openly fighting insurance coverage and federal subsidies for it.

But there has been one silver lining in all this: It’s waking people up.  Which, in turn, means that you’re seeing a lot more of the big guns speak out on this issue, but in the political realm but also in the celebrity realm. Places like “The Daily Show” and “Saturday Night Live” have gotten more overtly political on the choice issue, for instance. And now we’re seeing the big guns in the celebrity world take on the issue. Lizz Winstead, who has been a guest on this show and who founded “The Daily Show”, has a new project out called Lady Parts Justice, which is trying to get women involved in politics to defend their rights. She launched it with a comedy video that dramatized how outrageous mandatory ultrasound laws are.

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She then looks at the screen and sees an actor meant to be an anti-choice politician who has lodged himself in there and taken over her uterus.

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It’s a bit abstract, comedy-wise, but I think it nicely captures the way that these kinds of abortion restrictions are totally creepy and the men who pass them often come across as leering dirty old men who wrap their obsession with other people’s sex lives up in this faux morality.  But Lizz’s new initiative is far from the only one! I’ve got an interview in the next segment with Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights about their new campaign Draw the Line. The video for it, which I will disclose my boyfriend worked on, is some really great stuff with lots of celebrities. It starts off with Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgewick.

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They then show a bunch of celebrities getting the message to sign the petition on their social networks and passing the message along. It’s all very funny. I actually did laugh out loud watching it, and we all know how rare a gift that is when you’re dealing with these kinds of issues and people asking you to sign petitions and what not.

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In order, that was Martha Plimpton, Olympia Dukakis, Sandra Bernhard, and Tea Leoni, unleashing with the bleeped outs. They also got Meryl Streep to join in, and she filmed a separate video that’s a bit more serious, so that you can send it to your mom and stuff.

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If you go to Draw the Line dot org and sign the Bill of Reproductive Rights, you’ll be signing your name to something very simple, which is asking our leaders to support not just women’s legal right to obtain reproductive health services, but her actual right to have access to them. Technically having the right to abortion and contraception doesn’t mean much if you can’t actually get these things in your community. Next segment, I’ll be talking further with Nancy Northup about this Bill of Reproductive Rights and what it means for those of us with uteruses.

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insert interview

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Leslie Cannold is a famous Australian humanist, ethicist, and writer, and she chose abortion as the topic to discuss during her TED Talk at Canberra. Not just abortion as medical care or the need for it to be safe and legal, which are topics that women’s health educators have touched on in the past at TED Talks. No, she talked about something that’s a little bit bigger of a bite, but probably more important in the long run: abortion stigma. Her speech was about how it’s not enough for abortion to be technically legal but have everyone standing around holding their noses about it. No, abortion is something that needs to be treated like what it is, a normal part of women’s health care, something that 1 in 3 women will need in her lifetime. The entire talk is 19 minutes long, but I’ve excerpted some quotes I think are particularly important. She hit on what the real relationship between shame and abortion is, and it’s not that it prevents it.

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 I used to think anti-choicers shamed women about abortion as part of an attempt to stop them from having abortions, and assume that most people make this same assumption. But since I’ve started doing this, I’ve come to realize that’s really not the case. Sure, they yell at women going in to clinics and justify that by claiming they’re trying to change minds. But that strategy doesn’t work. They do it week in and week out, and it doesn’t work, so there has to be something else going on. And what that is is this: Shaming women is about making women quiet about their abortions. This was really obvious to me by the anti-choice reaction to a politician at Netroots Nation asking women who have had abortions to stand up. Conservatives were irate. But why? They know we’re pro-choice, so they can’t really be surprised. It’s not like keeping women from admitting the abortion in the past will do anything to make that abortion not have happened. I had to conclude that they believe shame is its own reward. They think women should be embarrassed about having sex and having pregnancies that don’t work out. They want us to hate ourselves. Shaming women about abortion doesn’t really serve any other purpose. Well, except one: Silence.

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As long as women are shamed about abortion, they don’t talk about it. Which, in turn, allows anti-choicers to paint women who have abortions as bimbos or moral monsters. As long as people don’t realize that they know women—women they trust, women they love—who have had abortions, they’re much less likely to stand up for abortion rights.

One thing she talked about that I really liked and very few people, including outspoken pro-choicers, talk about much is how the discourse around abortion impacts women who have had abortions. The discourse tends to be held at this level like the women we’re talking about aren’t in the conversation, as if they’re some third party that may not even hear what’s being said. That is, in part, because women who have abortions don’t talk about it much. In part, it’s because society is so very, very sexist and women are often treated like they’re not really listening. But women who have abortions are listening, and this is what they hear about themselves on a regular basis:

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Let it sink in: Women who have abortions get to hear that because they had intercourse, anyone who wants to put anything in their vagina from here on out has a right to, whether they like it or not. They hear that they’re worthless and debased, just because they had sex. They are told they are worse than men who exploit young children’s trust to rape them. It’s monstrous. The people who should be ashamed aren’t women who have abortions, who are just taking care of themselves and their families. The people who should be ashamed are the people who say horrible things like this. So I highly recommend checking out the whole talk!

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, freedom of speech really doesn’t mean freedom from criticism edition. Kirk Cameron described being able to go on Piers Morgan’s show to express his hatred of gays, abortion, and contraception. This is what he took from that experience.

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I guess Cameron would be in jail now, if not for his daring escape from the Political Correctness Police, who throw you in prison without trial for saying one negative word about abortion. Oh, wait. No, he wasn’t actually thrown in prison or even threatened with arrest. He was asked to go on TV to share his opinion, and others disagreed with him. But he’s a white male Christian, so being criticized for him is like being imprisoned for  political dissidence for you lesser human beings.

Follow Amanda Marcotte on twitter: @amandamarcotte