With the legal struggle in Mississippi working through what may be its last phases and North Dakota on the brink of closing down its last clinic through a TRAP law requiring unnecessarily that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals, it seems that the NIMBYism strategy of anti-choicers may finally have reached the end goal of completely eliminating access to legal abortion in some states. Beyond just the gross misogyny on display in these efforts, what we’re seeing here is the triumph of symbolic politics over real world issues such as realistic policy goal-setting and the health of the population. Not that this should be any surprise. Like fundamentalist hypocrites from the beginning of time, anti-choicers have always been more interested in putting up appearances than dealing with people’s lived realities.
Make no mistake, these efforts have nothing to do with fetal life or preventing abortion, but are simply a symbolic gesture to enshrine fundamentalist piety about sex and gender roles into law, regardless of the damage that doing so does to actual women. Despite all the talk about “ending abortion” from politicians, we know that shutting down this clinic here or that clinic there doesn’t do much to end abortion. Banning abortion in North Dakota doesn’t stop women from crossing state lines to get abortions, though it does increase the punishment for disobeying the woman-haters by exponentially increasing the price of abortion through increases time and travel expenses.
And, of course, eliminating access to abortion in one area definitely profits one group of people: Those peddling black market abortion drugs online, some of which are somewhat iffy in effectiveness, safety, and origin. As chronicled in The New Republic, there’s been an explosion of websites that sell Cytotec (an ulcer medication that can cause abortion) and RU486, or at least what the sellers claim to be RU486. To be blunt, no one would be putting all this effort into selling if there weren’t women buying. So much so that I have concerns that the recent drops in the abortion rate may be an illusion, as more women turn to black market drugs rather than try to figure out how to get abortions in an increasingly empty and draconian legal market. So far, there’s not been any reports of an uptick at ERs of women who have had illegal at-home abortions go wrong, unlike in the sixties, but that may be a result of these drugs being relatively safer than the coathangers that desperate women turned to back in the bad old days.
Obviously, all these abortion restrictions have nothing to do with life, but, as with the quest to eliminate access to contraception and the attempts to kill off comprehensive sex education, are more about fundamentalist Christians trying to impose their anti-sex views on the rest of us. That’s well-established, of course, even as anti-choice nuts online routinely and unconvincingly deny their anti-sex views. But, in a sense, it’s even nastier and uglier than that, because as much as anti-choicers are really pushing an anti-sex agenda, they are doing so with the full understanding that they will never actually convince people to stop having sex for pleasure. That ship has sailed; the sexual revolution was well underway before the birth control pill and legal abortion, and it’s unlikely that taking those things away will change that. In fact, one reason they tend to be cagey about their anti-sex views is that they know that people will think they’re mad if they’re too blunt about them.
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So really, what’s at the heart of the anti-choice movement is an attempt to create a hypocritical society where non-procreative sex is officially condemned but everyone is doing it anyway. They also intend to create some scapegoats, primarily women and especially poorer women, who will be made to suffer from botched illegal abortions and forced childbirth to pay for the sexual “sins” engaged in by the rest of the community, including most fundamentalist Christians. It’s like looking back on the era of Prohibition and longing for a system where everyone is breaking the law, but only a handful of mostly underprivileged people are paying the price. Except even worse, because far more Americans have non-procreative, recreational sex than ever drank alcohol on the regular.
If you doubt this, look no further than Idaho, which is in the belt of states where abortion access has become so hard to get that we know women are looking to the black market. The state congress overwhelmingly passed, by a vote of 57-13, a resolution basically demanding that the federal government censor depictions of premarital sex on TV, on the grounds that a sexual choice made by 95 percent of Americans is immoral. It is true that “premarital” (boy, how those of us who don’t want to marry really hate that term) sex is ubiquitous on television. That’s because it’s ubiquitous in life.
The resolution, which the Idaho governor has already and correctly pooh-poohed, gets to the heart of how the anti-choice movement thinks about these issues. Only the extremely dim-witted can actually believe that scrubbing sex from TV will somehow scrub it from our bedrooms. I don’t think they really care. This is all about creating a culture of hypocrisy, silence, and shame. The goal is making people feel bad about their perfectly normal and healthy sexual expression, simply on the grounds that there’s something upright and moral about making people feeling bad about who they are. And, of course, with the restrictions on access to abortion, it’s also about making sure that some people are horribly punished with forced childbirth, expensive out-of-state abortions, or taking serious risks with their health for doing the same thing that everyone else is doing.
Unsurprisingly, the people targeted to be punished by hypocritical conservatives are a group that couldn’t look more different from the people passing the laws. Most conservative lawmakers are men, but anti-choice laws target women. Most conservative legislators are older, but women who need abortions tend to be younger. Most legislators are financially well-off, but those affected the most by expensive obstacles to abortion are generally low-income. Anti-choicers routinely deny that they’re a bunch of hypocrites trying to work out their weird sexual issues and hang-ups on a group of people that they just so happen not to be a part of, but their actions, I’m afraid, are speaking louder than words.