Roe’s 40th Inspires Thoughtful Journalism, and How to Love Yourself


Rachel Maddow and NPR had good coverage of Roe’s 40th anniversary. Amanda takes a look at what they got right. Also, Captain Awkard comes on to tell everyone to love themselves. Well, most of you, anyway.

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Embryos are all female for the first 5-6 weeks

Rachel Maddow interviews providers

Dr. Willie Parker at a Stupak rally

Rachel Maddow show interviews providers

History of Roe

More abortion history

Limbaugh recommends abortion by gun

On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be covering the way that Roe’s anniversary was covered in the media. Great stuff. Jennifer Peepas of Captain Awkward will also be on to talk about feminism, self-help, and giving yourself permission to not be perfect all the time.

This little bit of science knowledge about how every embryo is “female” for the first 5-6 weeks was fascinating.

  • development *

This is also why men have nipples. I’ll leave it to the audience to speculate how the female-centric origins of all humanity may have contributed to the desire to oppress and control women.

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In honor of the anniversary of Roe vs Wade, the Rachel Maddow show decided to do an in-depth report on the people who work in some of the most beleaguered abortion clinics in the country, the ones that are the last remaining ones in their states, and therefore the target of special attention from anti-choicers clamoring to say they were the first to run abortion providers from their state. One of the clinics, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, is in very immediate danger of being closed by a TRAP law that requires their doctors to have hospital admitting privileges, even though they’re not medically necessary. Unsurprisingly, no hospitals were willing to put up with anti-choice grief and give those privileges, so it looks like the clinic is not long for this world. The people who work there are very inspiring people. They interviewed Betty Thompson, a counselor at the clinic.

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They didn’t interview Dr. Willie Parker, who leaves DC sometimes to work in Jackson, because they are in such dire need of abortion providers. Unfortunately, because of the political situation there, he was unable to get admitting privileges, which means that no matter how much he wants to help, he can’t do it if the state decides to shut them down. He’s an inspiring doctor, as you can tell from this speech he made a few years ago at a rally against the Stupak amendment.

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This is the sort of thing that’s going to get worse if and when the Mississippi clinic closes. According to Guttmacher, 69% of women who have abortions are economically disadvantaged. It’s wrong to force anyone to have a child, but for poor women, forcing them to have children they don’t have the means to take care of is doubly wrong: bad for women, bad for families, bad for the whole community. But of course, the anti-choice nut lingering at the gates of the Jackson clinic doesn’t care about any of that. His complete and utter contempt for women who have abortions radiates off him.

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“Lemmings”. What a monster. He just assumes, having spoken to none of them about their life circumstances, that they are stupid and that they are just doing this for the hell of it, and that they don’t think about their decisions. Because anti-choicers are sexist, full stop. It doesn’t even occur to many of them that it’s possible for a woman to make a decision, because this is what they think of women: that we’re lemmings. That we’re stupid. That we choose abortion because we’re too dumb to know better. Of course, the irony here is that the people who are working out of total ignorance are the antis, who are too busy believing false stereotypes about women’s mental incapacity to actually bother to get real information about why women have abortions.

Rachel’s show also interviewed people in four states that have only one abortion provider: South Dakota, Mississippi, Arkansas, and North Dakota. These are people who have sacrificed a lot to help women, because they believe, correctly, that it’s the right thing to do. It’s a 12 minute segment, so I can only quote a teeny fraction of it, so I recommend checking out the whole thing. The doctor from Arkansas was particularly moving.

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People should not have to reconcile themselves to the possibility of murder in order to provide basic, necessary health care for women. It’s been 40 years since Roe vs. Wade, and one thing that has happened in that time is that we, as a country, have become tolerant of terrorism and harassment as the price people need to pay for the right to abortion. That is completely unacceptable in a country that’s supposed to be free.

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insert interview

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NPR decided to handle the anniversary of Roe v Wade in a really marvelous way, which is having a couple of segments looking at the history of the struggle for legal abortion, and specifically how differently it actually played out in the real world than in the myths. The dominant myth is that after feminists made a bunch of demands, the Supreme Court, in an unprecedented move towards radical feminism, suddenly legalized all abortion for all time, creating a massive backlash. The claim is that if it had been a slower build or handled by the legislature, it wouldn’t have created a backlash. None of this is true, and the NPR coverage really overturned a lot of myths.

To begin with, there’s the myth that the Supreme Court was wowed by feminist arguments about women’s equality and autonomy and decided to legalize abortion. That myth has some traction because the women who brought the cases before the court were, in fact, feminists who wanted legal abortion for that reason. But the justices and the legal infrastructure generally thought of it more in terms of a doctor’s right to determine what care he wanted to provide than a woman’s right to autonomy. Linda Greenhouse and Neal Conan explained on Talk of the Nation.

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This is why, I think, the backlash was both so serious and so surprising. It’s important to remember that states were quietly liberalizing abortion laws at the time, and this court’s decision reflected this switch in understanding of doctor’s rights regarding sexual health care. But opponents of abortion rights and feminists both understood that this was going to be about women’s rights, regardless of the actual argument of the courts. The fact of the matter is that there was a backlash against women’s rights brewing in right wing and heavily Christian parts of the country and right around this time, they finally coalesced into a movement with its eye on getting women back into the kitchen. It wasn’t just the anti-abortion movement. If anything, the biggest example of the time was the movement to prevent the Equal Rights Amendment from passing. Anti-feminists knew that feminism was going to be a profound shift, not just in legal rights, but in how men and women view themselves and each other, and they were against it. And making sure that women were deprived of reproductive autonomy was a big part of that.

But most of the public didn’t quite realize how alarmed the Christian right was over feminism, and so initially, Roe was received favorably as a common sense expansion of sensible health care.

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So what happened? Well, contrary to popular myth, it wasn’t that people revolted against a court deciding to take this issue up. What happened was that a lot of prescient right wingers realized that this was going to be a huge boon for women’s rights, and therefore they could stir up anxieties about changing gender roles and the loss of male dominance in the home. After all, this was an era when opponents of the ERA scared people about the supposed emasculation that would happen if women had equal rights, including claims that women would be in combat and gays would get married. What’s interesting is that they were right. Their fears that giving women equality and autonomy would mean that women couldn’t be trapped in bad marriages and that men would have to compete with women in the workplace came true. The problem is that these are good things! But back then, conservative politicians and churches realized pretty quickly that they could prey on these kinds of misogynist fears to gain power for themselves. In another segment, they focused on how deliberate a move this was.

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They also detail how most Catholics were, then as now, pro-choice, but the church started astro-turf campaigns of putting people in their organization in charge of faux grassroots organizations to create the illusion of widespread hostility to abortion rights. The strategy worked. By stoking gender anxieties and fear of female sexual autonomy, the extremely masculine conservative movement was born. Nowadays, everyone is in on the big con. You have gun manufacturers stoking masculine anxieties to sell guns, churches promoting a super manly image of Jesus to fill seats, and a right wing media that sells, day in and day out, this claim that men can only find themselves through dominating women in order to get ratings. It all started with some opportunistic politicians and priests who realized abortion would be a great wedge issue.

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And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, Rush Limbaugh responds to terrorism by widening the circle of potential victims edition. As noted earlier, abortion providers have to endure being terrorized, threatened, firebombed, and even shot and murdered in this country. That’s the context in which Rush Limbaugh said this.

  • Limbaugh *

By and large women who are trying to get abortion have been spared being targets of violence. But Limbaugh put on the table the notion that a few “abortions” performed by shooting pregnant women would stop abortion. In an environment where militants routinely argue that violence is acceptable to stop abortion. 

Follow Amanda Marcotte on Twitter: @amandamarcotte