Freedom’s Just Another Word for Punishing Women

Amanda Marcotte

When bigotry strikes women, the usual suspects don't object. William Saletan is only to happy to excuse pharmacists who would deny women emergency contraception.

The two traditional symbols
of inevitability in this world are death and taxes, but I would like
to propose a third: If women are the main victims of a policy built
around basic bigotry, then the common sense objections to bigotry usually
trotted out by ostensible liberals will fly out the window. Witness
William "Lord" Saletan convincing himself yet again that he’s
a contrarian. Why? Because he behaves in a way predictable for men like him — self-satisfied
sexists so convinced of their own liberal nature that they don’t even
realize how sexist they can be — and rushes to defend pharmacists
who single out women for abuse in their pharmacies, refusing to fill
prescriptions for those patients doing deplorably female things like taking hormonal contraception.

My favorite part of his immoral defense
of the right for pharmacists to treat women with bigotry
was when he excuses a pharmacist who
implies that a woman is a slut — or maybe even calls her a slut, because there’s bound to be a point
when purse-lipped refusals to provide basic pharmacy services won’t be satisfying enough and the word will have to be uttered.
Speaketh Lord Saletan:

    Humiliation? Sorry, but
    part of true equality is brushing off people who don’t respect you.
    If the guy behind the counter won’t sell birth control, he’s the one
    who should be embarrassed, not you. Walk out, and don’t come back.

First class evidence that Lord
Saletan thinks bigotry towards sexually active women doesn’t count
in the way other bigotries work. Imagine suggesting to civil rights
activists that the only proper reaction to widespread humiliations like
water fountains, lunch counters, and bathrooms marked "whites only"
was to walk out and mutter about how the bigot should be the one humiliated —
even as you know the bigot is the one preening over how awesome he is
because he showed the members of the hated class who’s boss.

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I like that part, but I also
like how he lies to make his point that the poor, poor pharmacists are
just religious rubes whose bigotry should be indulged by its targets.
He buys the false claim that anti-choice pharmacists are motivated by
the urban legend about birth control pills being abortions. Well,
yes, that’s what they like to say because it sounds a little less
bigoted than, "Really, I think that women are inferior to men and
should be forced to become pregnant against their will as punishment
for being sexual and really just for being women." Lord Saletan
plays along with the lie:

Because some pro-lifers
view hormonal contraception as potentially lethal. I don’t share their
anxiety about this theoretical risk to an early embryo, particularly
when the alternative, in the event of pregnancy, is a high likelihood
of fetal killing.

From the original
article Saletan is referencing:

    But anyone who wants
    condoms
    , birth control pills or the Plan B emergency contraceptive
    will be turned away.

Emphasis mine. Anti-choicers
oppose abortion, birth control pills, and condoms because they all see
these as methods that sluts use to escape their fate ordained by God: Forced childbirth. They come up with
lies about killing "babies" to sell this belief to the public, but
the fact of the matter is that they haven’t figured out a way yet
to convince anyone that condoms are "abortion," and yet they still
won’t sell it at pharmacies. Saletan won’t admit a fact that
appears in the first paragraph of the article because it destroys
his pro-bigot argument grounded in "religious freedom" for pharmacists.
Admitting that the bigoted pharmacists in question are using religion
as a shield to hide their blatant misogyny and bigotry towards people
who don’t share their fundamentalist beliefs would destroy his argument.

Unfortunately, that’s the
truth of it. If a pharmacist refused to fill out a Viagra prescription
for a black man he saw walking around with his white wife, we would
have no problem seeing this behavior as bigotry, even if said pharmacist
claimed that Jesus told him to do it. But if a pharmacist refuses
to sell birth control pills to a woman who isn’t wearing a wedding
band, somehow that’s legitimate religious expression, even though
his rights are extending well past her nose. If Muslim pharmacists
started refusing to fill out prescriptions for Christians because those
Christians don’t share their beliefs, we would have no problem seeing
that the religious freedom pinched was that of the customer’s, not
the pharmacists.

But if the victims are singled
out because of sexism, then somehow society can’t see the bigotry.
If the victims of religious bigotry are specifically women, we don’t see them as the victims of religious intolerance
that they are. But that is exactly what they are. The pharmacists
see a prescription for birth control and feels that’s good evidence
that the woman in question needs to be punished for having different
religious beliefs than theirs. It’s not much different from
a fundamentalist Christian who humiliated and ejects you from his restaurant
because he glimpses a business card in your wallet indicating that you’re
an atheist. Or a gas station attendant who refuses to serve someone
he suspects of being Muslim.

Look, Pharmacists For Life
doesn’t even go to great pains to hide that this is about women and
hating women. When the bloggers
at Feministing criticized them, for instance,

Pharmacists For Life used a common misogynist term that suggests that the
belief that women are men’s equals is comparable to a belief in fascism that led
to the genocide of 12 million people. Is it about imaginary
babies or about punishing uppity women for thinking we’re equal?

Saletan pooh-poohs the effects of pharmacy refusal
on the quality of women’s lives. How
widespread could this practice get? Well, in the cities, women probably always
will be able to get services. But as Deborah Kotz
notes,
a lot of
rural communities only have one pharmacy, and quite a few of them might
be facing pressure from local churches to start treating female customers
like they’re second class. Certainly we have a long national
history showing that it’s not difficult to get entire communities
to comply with bigoted policies that alienate a huge percentage of the
local population. That’s not only what segregation was about but also
more recent culture war battles–creationism in schools, abstinence-only programs, and even, when I was growing up, the banning of MTV from
local cable providers in the panhandle of Texas. That history
suggests that it would actually be pretty easy for powerful churches in
rural communities to deprive all the women of contraception with a few
strategic demonstrations of pressure on local pharmacies.

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