Now that Scott Roeder has been handed a life sentence with parole only possible in 50 years, it’s time to look at the effect his act of terrorism has had on the anti-choice movement. You’d think people who claim to be “pro-life” would be so ashamed of terrorist acts that they’d do anything to distance themselves from them. But instead, Roeder’s murder of Dr. George Tiller, the preeminent late abortion provider in the nation, seems to have emboldened anti-choicers to double down on the harassment of other late abortion providers. Not only have anti-choice protesters moved on to targeted Dr. Carhart for abuse and threats, but as Lynn Harris noted, legislators in Kansas and Nebraska seem to be emboldened by this act of terrorism to put further restrictions on late abortions.
What’s interesting is about the anti-choice focus on late abortions is that it really shows how intellectually bankrupt the anti-abortion rights position is. And not just because anti-choicers get energized by terroristic acts of murder. It’s because the focus shows how much anti-choicers really do think they get to have it both ways. By focusing on late abortion, anti-choicers demonstrate two major contradictions between their stated point of view and their actual point of view.
“Life begins at conception.” The major anti-abortion rights argument has always been that a fertilized egg has the same moral worth as a 5-year-old child, and that abortion is therefore murder. By that measure, an abortion at 8 weeks is the same kind of evil as an abortion at 25 weeks. So why focus more on the latter? Why spend more time trying to restrict the latter, or drawing attention to it? Why focus on doctors who provide late abortions, if they aren’t any morally different than those who perform early abortions?
It’s almost as if anti-choicers agree with the pro-choice view that there’s a difference between a fertilized egg, a fetus later in pregnancy (since most pro-choicers support some restrictions on later abortion), and a baby. Anti-choicers can’t have it both ways. Either a fertilized egg is a person or it’s not. If you think later abortion is worse than early abortion, you admit that you don’t really think early abortions are the same as infanticide.
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“We’re ‘pro-life’!” The official anti-choice argument is that they’re not against women, they’re just “for life.” But if that’s true, then abortion becomes more understandable if someone’s life is threatened by the pregnancy, or the fetus has defects incompatible with life. In other words, if you’re “pro-life,” late abortions that are all, by law, medically indicated would ostensibly be more defensible than an early abortion done because the woman simply does not want to become a mother.
To be intellectually consistent with both the argument that a fertilized egg is the same as a baby and that this is about life—and not about controlling and punishing female sexuality—the anti-choice movement should work to secure the right of women to obtain medically necessary late abortions. Instead, they work to restrict them even more, and during the recent health care debate, fought hard to make sure women had to pay for abortions out-of-pocket, even those getting abortions that save their lives or to end pregnancies where there’s no real hope of producing a live baby.
The anti-choice approach on late abortions is consistent with one viewpoint: the misogynist one. Let’s assume for a moment that the motivation behind anti-choice activism is not a love of life or a belief that a fertilized egg is the same thing as a baby. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, they’re motivated by a belief that the main role of women in this world is to be baby machines, and that women should mindlessly reproduce even if it kills them. Is this viewpoint consistent with the focus on late abortion?
Absolutely! If this is how you feel, you’d be extremely interested in portraying women as callous, stupid, and mercurial, then you’d be all about portraying late abortion as something that happens because stupid, heartless, fickle women change their minds 6 months into a pregnancy. You wouldn’t be interested in the truth about the medical indications that lead to late abortions, because in your mind, if they can’t have babies, they should die trying. You’d relish the opportunity to use graphic imagery and language to shut down people’s rational thinking, and get them to react to an “ick factor.” And you’d be indifferent to the suffering you caused real women, like Tiffany Campbell, who had to abort much-wanted pregnancies because of fetal abnormalities—their feelings don’t matter to you as much as the production model of their uteruses.
It’s true that some people are against late abortion because they’re ignorant. They’ve bought into anti-choice propaganda that paints women as so stupid and cruel they would wait so long in a pregnancy before aborting.
But once you’ve been educated to the realities of the medical reasons a woman might need a late abortion? I have no sympathy for your position. At this point, you are choosing the misogynist view of women against the prevailing evidence.
Considering that the most intellectually consistent reason for anti-choice obsession with the relatively rare procedure of late abortion is misogyny, the willingness to draw energy from terrorist actions like Scott Roeder’s murder of Dr. Tiller makes more sense. Could it be that fundamentalist Christian terrorists have more in common with fundamentalist Muslim terrorists than we usually like to admit? Could both kinds of terrorisms stem from an ideology that glorifies a violent patriarchy and sees female independence as a threat? The only major difference I see between the two is that right wing politicians in the U.S. seem eager to give Christian fundamentalist terrorists exactly what they demand.