Commentary Abortion

The Mask of Concern Slips from the Anti-Choicers Face

Amanda Marcotte

Anti-choice activists have an interest in appearing to care about women, but recent events demonstrate that it's increasingly hard to keep up the facade.  

The cracks in the armor were always showing, but lately they’ve been getting bigger.  Anti-choicers, aware that blatant misogyny isn’t as popular as it was in the days they long to return to, and so they’ve put a lot of effort into pretending to care about women’s well-being.  Granted, they do so by relying on misogyny—the argument behind their “caring” is that women are literally too stupid to know what abortion is and too morally incompetent to be trusted with their own decisions—but it is true that a misogyny that paints women as overgrown children instead of as evil slatterns is slightly more palatable to the public at large.  But this armor of “we take women’s rights because we care!” has been falling apart in the recent misogynist frenzy on the right.  It turns out it wasn’t so much an “armor” as a tattered quilt wrapped up like a toga and wielded by people who can delude themselves into thinking it’s steel.

What would it look like if anti-choicers, as they claimed, didn’t hate women but instead were looking out for women and for children?  Nothing like it looks now.

Instead, now you have an unfortunate series of anti-choice politicians acting like rape is no big deal, and that being forced to carry a rapist’s baby is no more trouble than changing a tire. In Louisiana, anti-choice legislators completely abandoned the pretense that abortion bans are about protecting women, and instead prescribed jail time for women who get abortions.  Guess they didn’t get the memo from anti-choice South Dakota legislator Roger Hunt, who claims all women get abortions because they’re coerced.

But for my money, the most interesting example of the mask slipping was when Jill Stanek went on one of her obsessive crusades, this time against a woman who had lost a wanted pregnancy and who nearly lost her life. Mikki Kendall wrote a harrowing piece in Salon about how anti-choice sentiment and  policies nearly led to her death when she was admitted to a hospital where the doctors wouldn’t terminate her miscarrying pregnancy because they were anti-choice.  Luckily, a non-misogynist nurse took pity on her and called in a non-misogynist doctor to save her life. 

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Stanek’s response to all this was basically to call Kendall a liar. It was all projection of course—since Stanek herself has no love of the truth, she assumes everyone else is as quick to tell lies as she is.  But it wasn’t just that she so readily calls a woman who has gone through such an experience a liar.  Stanek’s tone revealed her gleeful misogyny, her love of having any excuse to bash and hector women who aren’t herself.  A quote from her rampage of hate:

Name the hospital, Mikki. Name the doctor. Show me the charting.

You may really believe your story, Mikki, but it is fiction, and the editors of Salon were irresponsible to print it.

I particularly like Stanek’s quick assumption that other people are as apt to flights of delusion and fantasy as she is, and that Kendall just imagined everything that happened to her.  Stanek went on and on in the comments on the article, abusing Kendall and making claims that she knew better than Kendall what her medical history says.  Stanek justified this by claiming to be a nurse, without noting that she had been fired from her hospital job over a decade ago because she kept running to the media with lurid, false tales that the doctors and patients were collaborating to kill babies (babies that were born, not fetuses) in the hospital. 

Of course, even when anti-choicers suck it up and try to pretend like they care about women, they do a poor job of it.  Anti-choicers tend to pass around lists of what they claim are the negative effects on women of abortion (which are invariably disproved by real science), but their reaction to these beliefs doesn’t resemble how you would actually react if you believed these things and were concerned about women.

For instance, anti-choicers claim to believe that abortion causes mental health problems in women.  There is no scientific evidence for this, of course, but if you did really believe that and were concerned about women, you wouldn’t react by wanting to drive abortion underground, where the mental health effects would be compounded.  You would instead demand free contraception for all, comprehensive sex education, of course.  But more than that, you would be demanding research to make sure the correlation that you claim exists is causal, or if it’s reflecting something else. If you cared about women’s mental health, you would demand federal funding for family planning clinics to do mental health screenings.  If you cared about women’s mental health, you would worry about the scientifically established link between giving birth and developing mental illness.  Instead, we get crickets from anti-choicers.

Same story with the feigned concern that anti-choicers have when it comes to breast cancer.  There is no link between abortion and breast cancer, but anti-choicers claim to believe in it.  But for all their supposed concern about breast cancer, their interest in preventing and treating the disease is limited to making false claims about abortion.  Sincere concern for breast cancer would lead to demands for a massive federal program to make mammograms available in every family planning clinic and grocery store.  It would lead to demands for more research into the causes of breast cancer (instead of spending money on another abortion-breast cancer study that will once again show no link).  Instead of screaming “baby killer” at women going into abortion clinics, anti-choicers would spend their weekends conducting breast examination classes for women.  That’s what caring about women looks like.

Let’s hope that the constantly slipping mask of feigned concern for women’s well-being continues its slide off the anti-choice face. As distressing as it can be to hear the overt misogyny of rape apologist legislators and the vicious trolling of Jill Stanek, it at least shows the anti-choice movement for what it really is: organized anti-feminism based around the belief that women don’t deserve their full human rights.

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