“Personhood”: Banning Abortion, Contraception…And More?

Amanda Marcotte

Florida is the new battlefield of the so-called personhood movement and anti-choicers are trying to convince voters there’s little people lurking inside your neighbor’s ladyparts.

For those of us who hoped that the attempts to sneak in bans
on abortion, hormonal contraception, and IVF under proposed laws called
“personhood amendments” would disappear after the first attempt at passing such
a law on a ballot initiative was thoroughly trumped at the polls in Colorado,
well, I hate to tell you, but the anti-choice extremists aren’t going away. The
next new battlefield is Florida
, where anti-choicers hope they can use the
invisibility of most female reproductive processes to convince the voters that
there’s little people lurking inside your neighbor’s ladyparts, even if there’s
no biological evidence to support that proposition, and that this law will save
the wee mythical people.

Obviously, there’s a good reason for pro-choicers to be
alarmed when personhood amendments seem like they’re really going to get onto
ballots.  If they pass, that means
that anti-choicers not only have a platform to issue challenges to abortion,
but also that they have a chance to go after other anti-choice goals, namely
pushing for bans on reliable, female-controlled contraception like the birth
control pill and the IUD.  Hey, we
don’t know that female-controlled
contraception doesn’t kill “babies”, since it’s all invisible behind that wall
of flesh that separates the uterus from its proper Bible-thumping owners (a
wall of flesh most of us call “the woman”), so better to be safe and ban the
pill.  Those doctors who say the
birth control pill doesn’t work that way can’t be 100% sure, so we can discount
their opinions entirely.  Or,
that’s the general gist of the argument, anyhow.

Clearly, a large scale challenge not only to abortion but to
all of the most effective female-controlled forms of contraception is a very
bad thing for women, on the grounds that anti-choicers might succeed and start
forcing more women to bear children against their will.  But there is a reason for cautious
optimism when it comes to the personhood amendment push.  Personhood amendments are a classic
example of a political group overplaying their hand, and in this case,
personhood amendments offer a great opportunity to take away the cover of
fetus-concern that anti-choicers use to push their real goals of oppressing
women and making sex fraught in the hopes people will have less of it.

Regular readers of Rewire are no doubt familiar
with the most taxing obstacle for the anti-choice movement in its goal to push
its ideology into our laws, which is that they can’t be upfront with the public
about what they believe without facing rejection. The organized anti-choice movement is hostile to
contraception, and especially hostile to female-controlled contraception.  This gives lie to their claims that
they’re indifferent to women’s liberation and sexual behavior, and only
interested in saving fetal life. 
Actual behavior indicates a pattern of hostility to sexual liberation,
from the promotion of abstinence-only programs to the dishonest claims about
the safety of the HPV vaccine.  The
public is willing to accept that an anti-choicer who is fascinated by fetus
life is a good person with a legitimate claim.  They’re not so sympathetic to people who just want to clap
chastity belts on everyone and issue permission slips before you get to indulge
your sexual desires.

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The anti-choice tactic to deal with this problem is, to put
it bluntly, to be two-faced.  The
face offered to the public is sentimental about fetal life, so that the public
assumes that anti-choicers are well-meaning, if a big silly.  The fact that there’s a larger anti-sex
agenda is to be kept on the down low. 
As I’ve reported before, anti-choice
protesters are trained to feign compassion for women and to dissemble about
contraception
in order to keep up this façade.

Of course, when you actually write ballot initiatives that
are about banning the birth control pill, it’s a lot harder to keep up the
façade.  Not that the anti-choicers
behind this aren’t trying to adapt the “just lie about what you’re up to”
tactic. As
Wendy Norris reported,
they’ve softened up the language about a “fertilized
egg” to “from the beginning of biological development”, a softening-up that is
probably not only there to hoodwink the public but also to broaden the
definition of what shedding of sex cells will be illegal.  Squeezed hard enough, I could see how
“the beginning of biological development” could be even be used to define male
masturbation and female menstruation as an exciting 21st century
version of “baby-killing”.  Hey,
all that sperm you left in a gym sock is kind of sort of the beginning of human
development, especially if you’re daft enough to think that suppressing
ovulation (which is what the birth control pill does) is “abortion”.

No matter how vaguely worded the assault on contraception
along with abortion is, it’s still an assault on contraception.  (And IVF, as well, and probably a whole
host of things that fit into this vague category.) And contraception is
incredibly popular. 98%
of women will use it at some point in their lives,
which means that even
the people railing against the evils of contraception are probably sneaking
around and using it, while lying to their anti-choice buddies about it.  All pro-choicers need to do is make it
clear to the voters that this is an assault on contraception, and assume that
the secret ballot will do the rest.

This
strategy worked in Colorado,
with 73% of the voters rejecting a challenge
to legal female-controlled contraception. 
I’m going to charitably assume that most of the 25% of people who use
contraception and voted against it were simply confused, with a smattering of
blatant hypocrites to round it out. 
 A 25% confusion rate is low
enough not to swing an election, but it’s still way too high.  It’s clear that our main goal in
fighting back against these personhood amendments should be education.  If I may, I suggest starting with the Reality Check video on why the birth
control pill is not abortion.  Once
the biology’s out of the way, you can move on to explaining to your audience
why anti-choicers are deliberately misrepresenting how the birth control pill
works in an effort to get it banned, despite its widespread popularity.  

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