On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be talking to Kellie Copeland of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio about clinic closures in her state. A Missiouri lawmaker condescends to women to justify abortion restrictions and HBO sitcom “Veep” doesn’t hold back when doing an episode about abortion.
Nightline recently did an episode about the phenomenon of “purity balls,” which are a fringe but growing Christian right phenomenon where men assert an extremely creepy level of ownership over their daughter’s bodies by telling the girls they owe it to Daddy to not have sex until Daddy hands them over to their husbands. A clip:
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Not only is it creepy to hear things like, “Your father is your boyfriend,” it sends a message that could damage girls for life, because implicit in it is the notion that husbands and boyfriends are people who own and control you. It’s all about establishing for young girls the notion that their bodies never belong to themselves, but are always the property of men.
Boy, do I have mixed feelings about conservative politicians saying ignorant things about women’s lives and bodies. On one hand, it frequently stresses me out to hear men who know less than nothing about women hold forth like they’re experts who have a right to pass all sorts of terrible policies regarding women’s access to sexual health care. They’ve never given a moment’s thought to what, say, pregnancy prevention looks like but that won’t stop them from saying that the law needs to interfere and make pregnancy prevention that much harder to pull off. On the other hand, shockingly arrogant and ignorant comments from anti-choicers is also a reliable way to get media attention paid to the ongoing state level attacks on reproductive rights. It’s hard to come up with new and interesting ways to say, “Well, state Republicans are trying to ban abortion again,” and any angle—even if it’s just dumb stuff they say—helps get these stories back into the news.
Which brings us to Missouri. Unsurprisingly, there’s new attempts in the state of Missouri to make abortion harder to get.
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These “both parents” laws really don’t get a lot of attention, but they really should. They are such a strong reminder of how the anti-choice movement is all about male dominance at its core. The obvious concern here is that most kids who live with only one parent live with their mother. The law is there to shore up the notion that, if you’re a girl, your father straight up owns your body, even if he’s not living with you. Even if he never speaks to you. Even if you’ve never met him. The notion that a woman’s sexuality belongs to her father before he transfers ownership to her husband is sacrosanct on the right.
But it was the waiting period part of the bill that drew national attention, because, inevitably, one of the bill’s sponsors in the state house had to talk about women like we’re just too stupid to know what decision making looks like. Here is Chuck Gatschenberger, y’all.
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He’s very proud of how he thinks about buying a car, and thinks you little ladies have never considered thinking over your decisions properly and so need to be forced. He seems to literally think women are out, say, shopping for shoes or whatever it is that women do and we walk by a Planned Parenthood and think, “Hey, let’s just go get abortions! What do you think, girls? Sounds like fun. We did mani-pedis last time, so let’s try something new!” It’s asinine.
As with all pompous asses who have a lot of opinions they feel the need to share without knowing a single thing about what they’re talking about, he felt the need to hold forth at length.
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Notably, despite Gatschenberger’s insistence that carpets and cars are something you need to think long and hard about before buying, he is not proposing bills that ban buying a car the same day you walk on to a lot or buying carpeting without a waiting period. No, he’s talking about abortion, something he clearly knows nothing about, or he would know that women don’t do it spontaneously but think about it long and hard before they even call the doctor’s office. And that this is how medicine usually works, since abortion is not a consumer item like cars or carpeting, but a medical procedure. Gatschenberger puts a lot of effort into picking a car! Too bad he can’t be bothered to put even a fraction of that effort into learning about women’s lives and bodies before passing bills putting unfair restrictions on them. We don’t need an abortion waiting period here. What we need is laws requiring lawmakers who want to take away women’s rights to have a 72-hour waiting period where they’re forced to listen to a series of women talk about their abortion decisions before they’re allowed to write any legislation. After all, we wouldn’t want anyone to make their decisions hastily, now would we?
Premium channels like HBO have long been a place where TV writers and producers can be a little edgier than they can on network TV. They can curse and show nudity and have more violence than other networks, mainly. But recently, and probably because of competition from basic cable and other providers like Netflix, I feel like HBO is beginning to realize another way to get an edge is to be more politically blunt than network TV. Nudity is easy enough to cue up with your Xbox or Internet browser these days. But being willing to do something like make fun of political cowardice on the subject of abortion? That’s something you won’t see on ABC any time soon.
I think that’s why HBO decided to go ahead and let the show Veep tackle the subject of abortion. The show is a hard-hitting political satire starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing the vice president [of the United States] who, of course, has an eye towards the White House. The show often shows them running around trying to craft these kind of middling, people-pleasing, toothless statements about policy designed to appeal to the broadest swath of Americans while saying nothing. It’s a particularly potent source of satire. So it was awesome to see them tackle the hypocritical, self-serving way abortion rights are often talked about by politicians, and let’s be clear, they did not hold back just because the topic is touchy. The episode starts with the president pulling a Bill Clinton and trying to find some middle ground between pro-choice and anti-choice. Except, instead a phrase like “safe, legal, and rare,” POTUS caves into anti-choice pressure and endorses banning abortion at 20 weeks.
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This understandably spins the VP, named Selina Meyer, into a tailspin, because she and the president have always been pro-choice but now he’s trying to hedge his bets and seem “moderate” by endorsing an arbitrary term limit. As any regular listeners to the show understand, that’s exactly why various states have been passing 20 week bans, to bait people into thinking that’s a reasonable compromise, when in fact it creates all these health problems since many to most abortions after that cut-off are done because something has gone wrong with the pregnancy. But these actual policy considerations are immediately abandoned by Selina and her team for what they consider the most important task at hand, which is coming up with a position that has broad appeal to folks who probably don’t know much about the issue anyway. So there’s some comedy with that.
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Just in case you didn’t get that this kind of political gum-smacking is disingenuous hooey, they make sure to give Selina a private moment to explain how she actually feels on the issue of abortion rights.
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At first, the VP’s advisors feel that she should simply state that she’s pro-choice or “pro-life” and leave it at that. But eventually, they start to take the bait like the president did, thinking that they can just settle on a number of weeks into a pregnancy that they would ban abortion at and hope that is the sort of thing that pleases everyone enough that she can escape the inevitable controversy. Selina keeps drifting back to the idea that this is a complex issue and that she shouldn’t abandon a woman’s right to basic health care to score political points, and eventually one of her aides cracks.
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I was, to be frank, falling on the floor laughing at this, even as dark as it is, because the writers correctly grasped that the 20-week cutoff—or whatever number is being tossed out there—is an entirely arbitrary number that is not informed by medical expertise regarding women’s health or even, to be frank, any genuine assessment of fetal development. It’s all pure politics, about choosing a number that seems far enough along as to not seem like a real infringement on rights without sounding so far along that it’s practically a baby, an attempt to find some kind of “middle ground” between pro-choice and anti-choice that doesn’t exist. The utter lack of interest in policy is driven home by the fact that a representative of Planned Parenthood never gets a meeting with Selina to discuss the actual ramifications of the policy.
Selina’s advisors also recommend that, no matter what she picks, she wield her gender as a cudgel to avoid criticism. She blanches.
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Unsurprisingly, she eventually caves and her public statement starts with “as a woman.” We never do find out what number of weeks she picks, which is brilliant and reaffirms the point of this episode, which is that all these decisions are being made for base political reasons and not based on any scientific or medical understanding. It wasn’t just unapologetically pro-choice. It was ruthless satire of the whole terrible debate and I highly recommend watching the whole thing.
And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, the far right pushes the life begins before conception line. We already know that conservatives are slowly trying to redefine pregnancy prevention as abortion in order to stigmatize it, so it’s inevitable that Christian right talk show host Gordon Klingenschmitt would try to come up with a theological reason to claim that pregnancy begins even before it begins.
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Recent years have shown an upswing in the effective use of contraception by a number of women, especially college-educated women and teenagers. No wonder, then, that right-wing attacks on reproductive rights are shifting towards attacks on contraception, since taking it away would help derail the careers of ambitious women and would punish sexually active teenage girls, two of the major if unspoken goals of the anti-choice movement.