The “Pro-Life” Movement’s Hot Rhetoric and All-Out Lies

Amanda Marcotte

One of the most contentious issues now in the news, in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, is how much moral culpability the anti-choice movement bears for motivating the man who took Dr. Tiller's life.

One of the most contentious issues now in the news, in the aftermath of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, is how much moral culpability the anti-choice movement bears for motivating the man who took Dr. Tiller’s life.  I’ve had innumerable discussions with folks who are confused about the extremism and anger that characterizes the “right to life” movement, people who mistakenly believe that it’s a mostly harmless group of rosary-shuffling grandmothers who, at worst, sit around abortion clinics looking doe-eyed. Or that the picketers at women’s clinics could be reasonably described as peaceful.  Discrediting these myths isn’t fun or easy, but something that fell into my lap in the past week coincidentally turns out to be quite helpful in convincing people that the anti-choice movement, rather than being composed of generally good-hearted folks who just have a thing for fetuses, is in fact composed of hard-hearted
sexist ideologues.
  I’ve got my hands on a 113-page training manual (PDF) for protesters working for Justice For All, an anti-choice organization that targets college campuses (in keeping with the anti-choice obsession with singling out young, middle class women, whom they wish to preserve as symbols of virginal innocence).  Don’t worry. My sources got this manual the old-fashioned way, by asking.

As a long-time observer of the anti-choice movement, I thought I’d really seen it all in terms of lying, phony sanctimony, and heated rhetoric that will push anti-choicers to commit violence, but still, reading this manual, titled “Abortion: From Debate To Dialogue,” was distressing. The book assumes that its protesters will be sent into a field where they actually have to engage arguments instead of merely yelling abuse and scaring women seeking abortion care. Since my scanner is slow, and time is limited, I didn’t turn all 113 pages into a PDF, and since much of it is just Q&A sections and scripture, I didn’t feel I had to.  But I did grab some interesting pages on arguments to make and rhetorical strategies to use against pro-choicers who try to engage anti-choice activists.

What I first learned was that Justice For All has no problem instructing its activists to use deception to lure people into a conversation.   In the section titled “Why Don’t You Pass Out Condoms and Promote Birth Control?,” the authors tacitly admit that sensible people might be put off by the anti-choice movement’s willingness to increase the abortion rate by standing as firmly against contraception, especially the birth control pill, as they do legal abortion.  So instead of allowing members to admit their hostility to all forms of contraception, they instruct them to conceal their beliefs until a target has been softened up to hear about their true message–sexual abstinence for all not trying to procreate–through a series of dodgy, misleading arguments, including misinformation about how the birth control pill works.

This tactic is a mainstay of the  anti-choice movement: it shows one face to the initiated, and another to the public, especially on the topic of contraception.  Once you realize this, the movement’s half-hearted denunciations of Dr. Tiller’s murder, coupled with the enthusiastic return to calling Dr. Tiller a monster, become all the more
chilling.

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Throughout the handbook, you find a willingness to ignore or outright deny inconvenient facts.  The section “What If The Mother’s Life Is In Danger” is particularly outrageous, in light of the fact that it spreads many of the lies that led directly to Dr. Tiller’s assassination.  Dr. Tiller performed a number of medically indicated late term abortions, and anti-choice attempts to use legal persecution to catch him fudging the ugly realities proved fruitless.  Despite this, Justice For All encourages its activists to believe they know better than medical doctors what constitutes a medically necessary abortion, and the handbook claims there is only one instance where a pregnancy can threaten a woman’s life.  Conveniently, the one dangerous condition they’ll admit exists (and consider a justifiable reason for an abortion) happens to be the one that is most likely to threaten her future fertility–the ectopic pregnancy–so they can rest easy knowing that even if a woman’s life is saved through abortion, she’s paid a steep price. Other dangerous conditions caused by pregnancy–eclampsia and placenta previa being the two biggies–are dismissed as myths used to get away with abortions.  Other life-threatening illnesses like cancer are ignored, and it’s assumed that a woman’s health is certainly an acceptable sacrifice for a pregnancy.

This casual disregard for women’s lives is acknowledged as a credibility-wrecking problem in another section “Women Will Die in the Back Alleys with Coat Hangers.”  It’s clear that Justice for All activists have convinced themselves that making abortion illegal actually doesn’t hinder access to safe abortions (!), but followers are instructed to pretend to concede that illegal abortion is dangerous, to gain credibility. (Which means they have to pretend to believe what they don’t, but ironically what they don’t believe is true. It’s a rabbit hole of deceit and misinformation.) The important thing is creating the illusion of concern for women’s lives, apparently, and the manual even offers a small section titled “Sound Bites For Showing Concern,” which the activist is supposed to use to soften up the target before comparing an elective abortion (most commonly performed in the first trimester) to shooting a toddler.  One does wonder when reading this section if Justice for All offers role-playing classes so you can practice your “concerned” face when someone brings up the problem of women who are mutilated and die due to illegal abortion.

Shocking as all this is, perhaps the most shocking is the section addressing what Justice For All believes about the motivations of doctors who perform and women who obtain abortion, in a section titled “Abortion Isn’t Genocide!”  Yes, they believe that abortion is genocide, and their rationales for this belief depend on a bunch of out-of-context quotes suggesting that terminating a pregnancy is exactly the same thing as targeting a people for elimination.  People commit genocide because they hate the group in question, so the implication (barely implied, and almost directly stated) is that doctors and women who have abortions do so because they hate fetuses.  Not because the woman can’t go through a pregnancy for a myriad of personal reasons.

Not because the doctor is trying to help the woman.  No, because pro-choicers hate fetuses.

This is the sort of vicious lie that led to Dr. Tiller’s assassination.  Realistically speaking, Dr. Tiller was a good man who loved children enough to have four of his own, who joyfully celebrated the pregnancies of women who wanted to be pregnant, who opened his home to women who wished to give their babies up for adoption, and who mourned the loss of very much wanted pregnancies with his patients who had to terminate. In the eyes of his detractors, Dr. Tiller was a genocidal monster who killed fetuses because he hated them.

That is why every person who trots out this nonsense about how abortion is “genocide” played a part in Sunday’s tragedy.  You paint good, moral, righteous man who lived by his principles, even in the face of grave danger as an
irrational monster who gets his kicks by killing babies, and the people who believe you will feel they have to do something.  Even if that something is murder.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

Commentary Economic Justice

The Gender Wage Gap Is Not Women’s Fault, and Here’s the Report That Proves It

Kathleen Geier

The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work.

A new report confirms what millions of women already know: that women’s choices are not to blame for the gender wage gap. Instead, researchers at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the progressive think tank that issued the report, say that women’s unequal pay is driven by “discrimination, social norms, and other factors beyond women’s control.”

This finding—that the gender pay gap is caused by structural factors rather than women’s occupational choices—is surprisingly controversial. Indeed, in my years as a journalist covering women’s economic issues, the subject that has been most frustrating for me to write about has been the gender gap. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked as a consultant for EPI, though not on this particular report.) No other economic topic I’ve covered has been more widely misunderstood, or has been so outrageously distorted by misrepresentations, half-truths, and lies.

That’s because, for decades, conservatives have energetically promoted the myth that the gender pay gap does not exist. They’ve done such a bang-up job of it that denying the reality of the gap, like denying the reality of global warming, has become an article of faith on the right. Conservative think tanks like the Independent Women’s Forum and the American Enterprise Institute and right-wing writers at outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart, and the Daily Caller have denounced the gender pay gap as “a lie,” “not the real story,” “a fairy tale,” “a statistical delusion,” and “the myth that won’t die.” Sadly, it is not only right-wing propagandists who are gender wage gap denialists. Far more moderate types like Slate’s Hanna Rosin and the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson have also claimed that the gender wage gap statistic is misleading and exaggerates disparities in earnings.

According to the most recent figures available from the Census Bureau, for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes only 79 cents, a statistic that has barely budged in a decade. And that’s just the gap for women overall; for most women of color, it’s considerably larger. Black women earn only 61 percent of what non-Hispanic white men make, and Latinas earn only 55 percent as much. In a recent survey, U.S. women identified the pay gap as their biggest workplace concern. Yet gender wage gap denialists of a variety of political stripes contend that gender gap statistic—which measures the difference in median annual earnings between men and women who work full-time, year-round—is inaccurate because it does not compare the pay of men and women doing the same work. They argue that when researchers control for traits like experience, type of work, education, and the like, the gender gap evaporates like breath on a window. In short, the denialists frame the gender pay gap as the product not of sexist discrimination, but of women’s freely made choices.

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The EPI study’s co-author, economist Elise Gould, said in an interview with Rewire that she and her colleagues realized the need for the new report when an earlier paper generated controversy on social media. That study had uncovered an “unadjusted”—meaning that it did not control for differences in workplace and personal characteristics—$4 an hour gender wage gap among recent college graduates. Gould said she found this pay disparity “astounding”: “You’re looking at two groups of people, men and women, with virtually the same amount of experience, and yet their wages are so different.” But critics on Twitter, she said, claimed that the wage gap simply reflected the fact that women were choosing lower-paid jobs. “So we wanted to take out this one idea of occupational choice and look at that,” Gould said.

Gould and her co-author Jessica Schieder highlight two important findings in their EPI report. One is that, even within occupations, and even after controlling for observable factors such as education and work experience, the gender wage gap remains stubbornly persistent. As Gould told me, “If you take a man and a woman sitting side by side in a cubicle, doing the same exact job with the same amount of experience and the same amount of education, on average, the man is still going to be paid more than the woman.”

The EPI report cites the work of Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who looked at the relative weight in the overall wage gap of gender-based pay differences within occupations versus those between occupations. She found that while gender pay disparities between different occupations explain 32 percent of the gap, pay differences within the same occupation account for far more—68 percent, or more than twice as much. In other words, even if we saw equal numbers of men and women in every profession, two-thirds of the gender wage gap would still remain.

And yes, female-dominated professions pay less, but the reasons why are difficult to untangle. It’s a chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the EPI report explains, raising the question: Are women disproportionately nudged into low-status, low-wage occupations, or do these occupations pay low wages simply because it is women who are doing the work?

Historically, “women’s work” has always paid poorly. As scholars such as Paula England have shown, occupations that involve care work, for example, are associated with a wage penalty, even after controlling for other factors. But it’s not only care work that is systematically devalued. So, too, is work in other fields where women workers are a majority—even professions that were not initially dominated by women. The EPI study notes that when more women became park rangers, for example, overall pay in that occupation declined. Conversely, as computer programming became increasingly male-dominated, wages in that sector began to soar.

The second major point that Gould and Schieder emphasize is that a woman’s occupational choice does not occur in a vacuum. It is powerfully shaped by forces like discrimination and social norms. “By the time a woman earns her first dollar, her occupational choice is the culmination of years of education, guidance by mentors, parental expectations, hiring practices, and widespread norms and expectations about work/family balance,” Gould told Rewire. One study cited by Gould and Schieder found that in states where traditional attitudes about gender are more prevalent, girls tend to score higher in reading and lower in math, relative to boys. It’s one of many findings demonstrating that cultural attitudes wield a potent influence on women’s achievement. (Unfortunately, the EPI study does not address racism, xenophobia, or other types of bias that, like sexism, shape individuals’ work choices.)

Parental expectations also play a key role in shaping women’s occupational choices. Research reflected in the EPI study shows that parents are more likely to expect their sons to enter male-dominated science, technology, engineering, and math (often called STEM) fields, as opposed to their daughters. This expectation holds even when their daughters score just as well in math.

Another factor is the culture in male-dominated industries, which can be a huge turn-off to women, especially women of color. In one study of women working in science and technology, Latinas and Black women reported that they were often mistaken for janitors—something that none of the white women in the study had experienced. Another found that 52 percent of highly qualified women working in science and technology ended up leaving those fields, driven out by “hostile work environments and extreme job pressures.”

Among those pressures are excessively long hours, which make it difficult to balance careers with unpaid care work, for which women are disproportionately responsible. Goldin’s research, Gould said, shows that “in jobs that have more temporal flexibility instead of inflexibility and long hours, you do see a smaller gender wage gap.” Women pharmacists, for example, enjoy relatively high pay and a narrow wage gap, which Goldin has linked to flexible work schedules and a professional culture that enables work/life balance. By contrast, the gender pay gap is widest in highest-paying fields such as finance, which disproportionately reward those able to work brutally long hours and be on call 24/7.

Fortunately, remedies for the gender wage gap are at hand. Gould said that strong enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, greater wage transparency (which can be achieved through unions and collective bargaining), and more flexible workplace policies would all help to alleviate gender-based pay inequities. Additional solutions include raising the minimum wage, which would significantly boost the pay of the millions of women disproportionately concentrated in the low-wage sector, and enacting paid family leave, a policy that would be a boon for women struggling to combine work and family. All of these issues are looming increasingly large in our national politics.

But in order to advance these policies, it’s vital to debunk the right’s shameless, decades-long disinformation campaign about the gender gap. The fact is, in every occupation and at every level, women earn less than men doing exactly the same work. The right alleges that the official gender pay gap figure exaggerates the role of discrimination. But even statistics that adjust for occupation and other factors can, in the words of the EPI study, “radically understate the potential for gender discrimination to suppress women’s earnings.”

Contrary to conservatives’ claims, women did not choose to be paid consistently less than men for work that is every bit as valuable to society. But with the right set of policies, we can reverse the tide and bring about some measure of economic justice to the hard-working women of the United States.