Commentary Abortion

The Sex-Selection Gambit: What Antis Turn To When They Have No Basis for Their Arguments

Amanda Marcotte

PRENDA was the legislative equivalent of a troll writing, “Have you considered that HALF of fetuses aborted are FEMALE?”, before high-fiving himself for finally achieving the rhetorical chops necessary to flunk high school composition.

One of the more frustrating aspects of dealing with anti-choices is their tendency to lean on arguments that are so shoddy that they’d be laughed out of a junior high school debate tournament. It’s the result, naturally, of their knowing they can’t actually use the arguments that convinced them — that female sexuality is evil and needs to be controlled — but still, the faux arguments they use in lieu of what they really believe are, at times, so laughably bad you have to wonder if they’re doing a performance art piece testing how much nonsense they can get away with injecting into the political discourse before they’re finally banned for life on the grounds of irredeemable silliness. This problem isn’t restricted to the moron parade in comment threads and on Twitter, either. It’s flourishing in the halls of Congress, specifically in the House of Representatives.

Luckily, the latest example, PRENDA, was too silly even for the heavily anti-choice House, which rejected the bill on Thursday. (The news was overshadowed by the John Edwards verdict.) The bill was taken up under the rules of suspension, normally reserved for non-controversial votes, and requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. The vote on PRENDA was 246 to 168, it’s worth suggesting that Rep. Trent Franks never had any real intention of passing this bill at all. It was the legislative equivalent of a troll writing, “Have you considered that HALF of fetuses aborted are FEMALE?” before high-fiving himself for finally achieving the rhetorical chops necessary to flunk high school composition.

The whole thing did generate discourse about sex selective abortion in the United States, which is like having a week-long debate over who should play the American Dr. Who or what kind of coffee you’d drink if you didn’t hate coffee. Which wouldn’t even be a problem, except anti-choicers are so clearly arguing in bad faith. They obviously don’t care about sex-selective abortion, or they’d give credence to experts who say that restricting access is the least effective approach to the problem. (I know conservatives struggle with understanding this generally, but people who actually care about a problem are known to be interested in solutions.) Their interest in sex-selective abortion is limited to using it as a phrase they can throw around when all their other arguments for restricting abortion access have been discredited. It has no other value to them outside of trying to push buttons and say, “What now, feminists? Don’t you want more ladies around, you lady-loving weirdoes?”

There’s also a strong conflation here between “not finding someone’s personal motivations compelling” and “wanting to ban something outright and toss a person in jail for it.” I don’t think sex selective abortion is good, no, but I also don’t think much of people who listen to Rush Limbaugh, either. Doesn’t mean I think they should go to jail.   

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Of course, the fussing over sex-selective abortion is rooted in a weird ideological tic of the anti-choice movement, one which once again points directly the psycho-sexual issues underlying the opposition to abortion rights. Most people who live in the real world assume correctly that women who have abortions have no personal animosity towards the child they’d have if they didn’t have any abortion. Most of us have no animosity towards hypothetical people as a rule. But anti-choice activists don’t believe that at all, but instead assume that abortion is somehow about having a personal vendetta towards fetuses. Applying the logic to other situations means that if you don’t answer your door to your friends at 2AM, it must mean you hate people. Or that if you personally aren’t into country music, you think record stores who sell it must be burned to the ground. That some women aren’t ready now or not that into having kids at all doesn’t mean they’re obsessed with hating children, much less hypothetical children. It just means they don’t want to be pregnant right now.

But the “fetal genocide” language has so overwhelmed the anti-choice movement that this fairy tale about women having abortions for no other reason than daughter-hate makes sense to them. Most people who aren’t fed a steady diet of misogynist anti-choice propaganda are just bemused by all this. Franks probably thought PRENDA would create more hand-wringing on the Hill than it did, for instance, but failed to understand that the anti-choice myth of fetus-hating has zero traction outside of anti-choice circles. The only thing that we learn from the widespread claims in the anti-choice movement that women are aborting pregnancies because they hate their daughters is that it’s very easy for anti-choicers to imagine hating a hypothetical child just because she’s a girl. Even in places where sex-selective abortion is genuinely a problem, it’s not out of daughter-hate, but son preference. Still upsetting, but has no relationship to the “genocide” language that anti-choicers lean so heavily on.

Trying to make this more about female fetuses is nothing but a base attempt to confuse the issue. It’s the same as the strategy of putting up female leaders to make misogynist claims, and petulantly claiming that because they’re women, they can’t be misogynists. Even though we have long-standing cultural traditions of understanding that there are embittered women who take their hatred and rage out on other women, embodied in traditional forms such as the “church lady” or the “evil stepmother.” Anyone who has heard the story of the evil stepmothers in Cinderella or Snow White can quickly grasp why a woman might hate other women so much, which is why the “women agree with our misogynist views!” strategy is so transparently bad. Shifting the focus to female fetuses doesn’t change the obvious bad faith of the strategy. At the end of the day, the anti-choice movement is motivated by  a desire to keep women as second class citizens, and their attempts to distract from that often just make it even more obvious. 

News Health Systems

The Crackdown on L.A.’s Fake Clinics Is Working

Nicole Knight

"Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options," Feuer said. "And therefore every day is a day that a woman's health could be jeopardized."

Three Los Angeles area fake clinics, which were warned last month they were breaking a new state reproductive transparency law, are now in compliance, the city attorney announced Thursday.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer said in a press briefing that two of the fake clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers, began complying with the law after his office issued notices of violation last month. But it wasn’t until this week, when Feuer’s office threatened court action against the third facility, that it agreed to display the reproductive health information that the law requires.

“Why did we take those steps? Because every day is a day where some number of women could potentially be misinformed about [their] reproductive options,” Feuer said. “And therefore every day is a day that a woman’s health could be jeopardized.”

The facilities, two unlicensed and one licensed fake clinic, are Harbor Pregnancy Help CenterLos Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Feuer said the lawsuit could have carried fines of up to $2,500 each day the facility continued to break the law.

The Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care. Unlicensed centers must disclose that they are not medical facilities.

Feuer’s office in May launched a campaign to crack down on violators of the law. His action marked a sharp contrast to some jurisdictions, which are reportedly taking a wait-and-see approach as fake clinics’ challenges to the law wind through the courts.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Some 25 fake clinics operate in Los Angeles County, according to a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California, though firm numbers are hard to come by. Feuer initially issued notices to six Los Angeles area fake clinics in May. Following an investigation, his office warned three clinics last month that they’re breaking the law.

Those three clinics are now complying, Feuer told reporters Thursday. Feuer said his office is still determining whether another fake clinic, Avenues Pregnancy Clinic, is complying with the law.

Fake clinic owners and staffers have slammed the FACT Act, saying they’d rather shut down than refer clients to services they find “morally and ethically objectionable.”

“If you’re a pro-life organization, you’re offering free healthcare to women so the women have a choice other than abortion,” said Matt Bowman, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents several Los Angeles fake clinics fighting the law in court.

Asked why the clinics have agreed to comply, Bowman reiterated an earlier statement, saying the FACT Act violates his clients’ free speech rights. Forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs,” Bowman said.

Reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, Googling “abortion clinic” might turn up results for a fake clinic that discourages abortion care.

“Put yourself in the position of a young woman who is going to one of these centers … and she comes into this center and she is less than fully informed … of what her choices are,” Feuer said Thursday. “In that state of mind, is she going to make the kind of choice that you’d want your loved one to make?

Rewire last month visited Lost Angeles area fake clinics that are abiding by the FACT Act. Claris Health in West Los Angeles includes the reproductive notice with patient intake forms, while Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Culture & Conversation Family

‘Abortion and Parenting Needs Can Coexist’: A Q&A With Parker Dockray

Carole Joffe

"Why should someone have to go to one place for abortion care or funding, and to another place—one that is often anti-abortion—to get diapers and parenting resources? Why can’t they find that support all in one place?"

In May 2015, the longstanding and well-regarded pregnancy support talkline Backline launched a new venture. The Oakland-based organization opened All-Options Pregnancy Resource Center, a Bloomington, Indiana, drop-in center that offers adoption information, abortion referrals, and parenting support. Its mission: to break down silos and show that it is possible to support all options and all families under one roof—even in red-state Indiana, where Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Mike Pence signed one of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion laws.

To be sure, All-Options is hardly the first organization to point out the overlap between women terminating pregnancies and those continuing them. For years, the reproductive justice movement has insisted that the defense of abortion must be linked to a larger human rights framework that assures that all women have the right to have children and supportive conditions in which to parent them. More than 20 years ago, Rachel Atkins, then the director of the Vermont Women’s Center, famously described for a New York Times reporter the women in the center’s waiting room: “The country really suffers from thinking that there are two different kinds of women—women who have abortions and women who have babies. They’re the same women at different times.”

While this concept of linking the needs of all pregnant women—not just those seeking an abortion—is not new, there are actually remarkably few agencies that have put this insight into practice. So, more than a year after All-Options’ opening, Rewire checked in with Backline Executive Director Parker Dockray about the All-Options philosophy, the center’s local impact, and what others might consider if they are interested in creating similar programs.

Appreciate our work?

Vote now! And help Rewire earn a bigger grant from CREDO:


Rewire: What led you and Shelly Dodson (All-Options’ on-site director and an Indiana native) to create this organization?

PD: In both politics and practice, abortion is so often isolated and separated from other reproductive experiences. It’s incredibly hard to find organizations that provide parenting or pregnancy loss support, for example, and are also comfortable and competent in supporting people around abortion.

On the flip side, many abortion or family planning organizations don’t provide much support for women who want to continue a pregnancy or parents who are struggling to make ends meet. And yet we know that 60 percent of women having an abortion already have at least one child; in our daily lives, these issues are fundamentally connected. So why should someone have to go to one place for abortion care or funding, and to another place—one that is often anti-abortion—to get diapers and parenting resources? Why can’t they find that support all in one place? That’s what All-Options is about.

We see the All-Options model as a game-changer not only for clients, but also for volunteers and community supporters. All-Options allows us to transcend the stale pro-choice/pro-life debate and invites people to be curious and compassionate about how abortion and parenting needs can coexist .… Our hope is that All-Options can be a catalyst for reproductive justice and help to build a movement that truly supports people in all their options and experiences.

Rewire: What has been the experience of your first year of operations?

PD: We’ve been blown away with the response from clients, volunteers, donors, and partner organizations …. In the past year, we’ve seen close to 600 people for 2,400 total visits. Most people initially come to All-Options—and keep coming back—for diapers and other parenting support. But we’ve also provided hundreds of free pregnancy tests, thousands of condoms, and more than $20,000 in abortion funding.

Our Hoosier Abortion Fund is the only community-based, statewide fund in Indiana and the first to join the National Network of Abortion Funds. So far, we’ve been able to support 60 people in accessing abortion care in Indiana or neighboring states by contributing to their medical care or transportation expenses.

Rewire: Explain some more about the centrality of diaper giveaways in your program.

PD: Diaper need is one of the most prevalent yet invisible forms of poverty. Even though we knew that in theory, seeing so many families who are struggling to provide adequate diapers for their children has been heartbreaking. Many people are surprised to learn that federal programs like [the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC] and food stamps can’t be used to pay for diapers. And most places that distribute diapers, including crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), only give out five to ten diapers per week.

All-Options follows the recommendation of the National Diaper Bank Network in giving families a full pack of diapers each week. We’ve given out more than 4,000 packs (150,000 diapers) this year—and we still have 80 families on our waiting list! Trying to address this overwhelming need in a sustainable way is one of our biggest challenges.

Rewire: What kind of reception has All-Options had in the community? Have there been negative encounters with anti-choice groups?

PD: Diapers and abortion funding are the two pillars of our work. But diapers have been a critical entry point for us. We’ve gotten support and donations from local restaurants, elected officials, and sororities at Indiana University. We’ve been covered in the local press. Even the local CPC refers people to us for diapers! So it’s been an important way to build trust and visibility in the community because we are meeting a concrete need for local families.

While All-Options hasn’t necessarily become allies with places that are actively anti-abortion, we do get lots of referrals from places I might describe as “abortion-agnostic”—food banks, domestic violence agencies, or homeless shelters that do not have a position on abortion per se, but they want their clients to get nonjudgmental support for all their options and needs.

As we gain visibility and expand to new places, we know we may see more opposition. A few of our clients have expressed disapproval about our support of abortion, but more often they are surprised and curious. It’s just so unusual to find a place that offers you free diapers, baby clothes, condoms, and abortion referrals.

Rewire: What advice would you give to others who are interested in opening such an “all-options” venture in a conservative state?

PD: We are in a planning process right now to figure out how to best replicate and expand the centers starting in 2017. We know we want to open another center or two (or three), but a big part of our plan will be providing a toolkit and other resources to help people use the all-options approach.

The best advice we have is to start where you are. Who else is already doing this work locally, and how can you work together? If you are an abortion fund or clinic, how can you also support the parenting needs of the women you serve? Is there a diaper bank in your area that you could refer to or partner with? Could you give out new baby packages for people who are continuing a pregnancy or have a WIC eligibility worker on-site once a month? If you are involved with a childbirth or parenting organization, can you build a relationship with your local abortion fund?

How can you make it known that you are a safe space to discuss all options and experiences? How can you and your organization show up in your community for diaper need and abortion coverage and a living wage?

Help people connect the dots. That’s how we start to change the conversation and create support.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify the spelling of Shelly Dodson’s name.


Vote for Rewire and Help Us Earn Money

Rewire is in the running for a CREDO Mobile grant. More votes for Rewire means more CREDO grant money to support our work. Please take a few seconds to help us out!


Thank you for supporting our work!