As those of us who’ve been following the anti-choice movement for years can attest, the biggest stumbling block for them has been finding a way to make a move towards restricting access to contraception while still trying to keep something like a decent reputation with the public. Attacking sexual liberation and women’s rights has always been at the heart of the anti-choice movement, but in order to sell such a radical agenda as mainstream, they’ve had to make sentimental and often bad faith claims about simply wanting to protect fetal life. While making frowny faces in the direction of pregnant women who want to terminate has been an effective strategy for restricting abortion rights, however, it has its limits when it comes to attacking women’s ability to prevent pregnancy in the first place.
Not that there haven’t been attempts at using “pro-life” arguments to fight not just abortion but contraception. Some anti-choicers have floated the idea that contraception leads to abortion—claiming that women wouldn’t have abortions if they didn’t get it in their silly heads that they should be able to have sex for pleasure instead of procreation. (Never mind that women throughout history have attempted abortion by all sorts of means, whether their cultures had contraception or not.) A slightly more effective argument has been to claim, with no evidence in support, that popular, female-controlled hormonal birth control is the same thing as abortion. This hasn’t done much to convince anyone, but at least establishes a convoluted, disingenuous cover story about embryonic life that anti-choicers can hide behind while they attack contraception. But even then, it has limits, since while the “pill is abortion” argument can be used to attack hormonal contraception, even anti-choicers haven’t been bold enough to claim that condoms or other barrier methods are also abortion.
Then, just this year, it seems that the anti-choice movement came to a nationwide realization: Their past attempts to create some logical-sounding connection between contraception and fetal life were a waste of time and energy. Successful attacks on contraception don’t have to make sense or even look like they kind of sort of make sense if you look at them sideways while ignoring history, science, and true rationality. No, all they have to do is wave their hands around while yelling “abortion” and focus their attacks on those made vulnerable through economic duress, and they would have surprising success at separating women from the means to prevent pregnancy.
True, screaming “abortion” while attacking funding for contraception and other reproductive health services that aren’t abortion didn’t end up as successful as anti-choicers hoped when the Republicans nearly brought the federal government to a shutdown trying to defund Planned Parenthood. But overall, the entire debacle was a success for the anti-choice movement, because by the time it was all over, politicians who want to be viewed as social conservatives realized that it’s no longer enough to be anti-abortion. You must also be opposed to access to contraception for people deemed to be unworthy of sexual autonomy, namely, low-income women and young women.
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What this means is that politicians in conservative areas have taken a hard right turn on contraception. The biggest example so far is definitely Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels blew off the “truce” he claimed to support in the culture wars to sign a bill that defunds family planning aid to his state, which will inevitably increase the state’s budget problems in myriad ways. If this were 2010, Daniels probably wouldn’t have done that or even have been put in that situation. In the past few months, however, the last tentacle attached to the concept of attaching anti-choice lies to some semblance of truth has been released, and any politician who doesn’t want to be labeled “pro-abortion” had better start hating on contraception, no matter how many abortions it may prevent.
The pressure to move towards a more radical anti-contraception stance is quickly becoming localized, which was entirely predictable, as conservatives tend to organize on a local and state level far more than liberals do. A reader from Tennessee alerted me to this story about the commissioners at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department in the state suddenly turning on family planning, canceling a half million dollar contract for family planning services in the area on the grounds of “abortion”, even though (say it with me now) none of the funding in question goes to abortion.
The reasoning for this is scattered and nonsensical. The all-male commissioner board claims some times that the problem is that abortions are being performed in the same buildings as contraception is distributed, and some times they claim that contraception is abortion. Because of this ridiculous inability to even pretend like they’re making sense, the board has tabled the debate until this Wednesday, but it’s not looking good for the women of Chattanooga-Hamilton County who rely on subsides to pay for birth control and other forms of non-abortion reproductive health care. The arguments for cutting the funding probably won’t get any more coherent, nor will the politicians pushing them likely bother to do anything crazy like educate themselves on the realities of women’s health care before condemning it all as abortion. They don’t need to anymore; anti-choicers who are calling the shots don’t care what kind of hand-waving you employ, so long as the goal of cutting off women’s access to contraception is achieved.
Unfortunately, barring some miraculous turn of events in the courts that shut this all down, we can probably expect to see more of this on the state and local level in conservative areas. A switch has been flipped in the conservative movement, and it’s not enough anymore to simply oppose abortion rights anymore, but to move even more radically in a direction of denying women any right to control their bodies whatsoever.