Commentary Abortion

Political Battles Over Abortion Are About So Much More

Amanda Marcotte

While it is true that Republicans are attacking abortion rights at every turn, rhetorically, “abortion” is a dog whistle word to stir up conservative anxieties about sexual freedom.

Imagine if a politician tried to argue that people with broken legs don’t need casts, because “whole people” are focused on gas prices.

Or imagine the same politician saying that since you don’t choose the man you’re going to marry every week, but you do fill up your gas tank, having control over who you marry isn’t important and you should let the government choose for you.

If a politician said either of these things, she would be accused, at best, of tossing out non sequiturs in order to distract from her awful policies regarding forced marriage and/or denying people the ability to get broken bones set. At worst, she’d be accused of having lost the plot completely. And yet Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster working to increase the Republican Party’s appeal to women, made an equivalent statement to the National Journal.

“There are very few Democratic women who can begin or finish a sentence without mentioning a ‘woman’s right to choose,” Conway said, noting that she’s actually had her researchers go through hours of remarks by Democratic members to find a single woman who failed to mention abortion. They haven’t found one yet. “There is a tremendous opening for the ‘whole women,’ if you will, to step up and run for office as a Republican … What do you do every week, gals—do you fill up the gas tank or do you have an abortion?” she said.

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Even if you accept the notion that electing Republicans leads to lower gas prices—an assumption that the actual evidence shows is not true—this comment makes no sense. As Maya Dusenbery at Feministing wrote, “However, if I had not been able to get an abortion that one time, gas money would be pretty hard to come by because all my income would be going toward diapers and baby food and preschool.” She added that abortion access is “inseparable from economic well-being.” The only thing as intimate and personal as the choice to have children—whether to, how many, and when—is the choice to partner with or marry someone. Even if a politician could lower gas prices and the tradeoff was that she got to choose your spouse and wedding date for you, I highly doubt the public would go for it. Conway’s statements are no different.

So why did she say such a foolish thing? It’s because while it is true that Republicans are attacking abortion rights at every turn, rhetorically, “abortion” is a dog whistle word to stir up conservative anxieties about sexual freedom. The insinuation here is that Democrats are talking to “gals” who have “abortions” as often as “whole” (that is, supposedly morally superior) women buy gas. That’s not really a literal claim, so much as a wink-and-nod insinuation that liberal women and feminists are a bunch of sexually loose women who are obsessed with sex. Suggesting that women have frequent or routine abortions is a way of insinuating that someone has too much sex—the literal realities of her abortion history are not actually being discussed so much and the insulter’s beliefs about her sexual choices.

Rush Limbaugh did the same thing by equating taking a lot of birth control pills with having a lot of sex—he claimed activist Sandra Fluke is “having so much sex … that she can’t afford it.” On a literal level, it was an utterly idiotic statement, since the dosage of hormonal contraception is not affected by the amount of sex you’re having. But it’s clear that Limbaugh was engaging in similar rhetoric as Conway here, though more bluntly: trying to turn a conversation about reproductive rights into a conversation about what is and isn’t the correct amount of sex for a woman to be having, and insinuating that the only reason a woman might be concerned about reproductive rights is because she is a “slut” who has “too much” sex, whatever that means.

Conway is right about one thing: Most women are not single-issue voters who focus only on reproductive rights. Ironically, however, by insinuating that reproductive rights is just a matter of a small minority of sluts acting out, she actually demonstrates exactly why Republicans are having increasing trouble reaching out to women. As the National Journal article shows, Republicans are struggling because they can’t talk to or about women without resorting to demeaning stereotypes. It’s not just the “slut” stereotype, and trying to bully women into voting Republican by insinuating that a vote for the Democrats makes you an oversexed bimbo, though that certainly doesn’t help.

Take, for instance, this quote:

[Rep. Ann Wagner] argues that women bring an important perspective on some of the biggest issues the country is dealing with, such as family budgets, health care, entitlements, and energy policy—all things women tend to handle in their households. “We’re the ones filling the minivan up,” she said.

As with Ann Romney’s speech at the Republican National Convention, Republicans fall into the trap that Wagner does here: Stereotyping women as a beleaguered servant class whose fate is to handle domestic chores that are beneath men’s attention. It is true that women are treated that way all too often, but it’s not inherent to women’s character. This article paints a bleak picture of the Republican worldview as one where there are two kinds of women: dirty sluts who need to be put in their place and “good women” who are martyrs who have no hopes or dreams outside of providing service to their families. It makes sense that conservatives would think of these things as inherent qualities of women instead of rigid, dehumanizing roles forced on women—to understand the latter, you have to believe sexism is real, which is basically against the Republican brand. But you can’t talk about women in strictly sexist terms and accept that’s going to make your appeal broader instead of more narrow.

The reality is that abortion isn’t just about abortion. For both sides, “abortion” stands in for a general worldview of what a woman’s place in the world is and how much right she has to decide that for herself. The anti-choice movement is rooted in a belief that a woman’s role is very narrowly written and that any rejection of a rigid, submissive gender role makes someone a “slut” or some other kind of “bad” woman. (There are a few conservative women such as Ann Coulter who elide this, but mostly by selling women out: They are given a pass for their own personal choices because they sell the idea that other women shouldn’t have freedom.)

That’s why relentless attempts by Republicans to paint pro-choice politics as a “single issue” that is beneath “whole” voters is missing the point entirely. Support for abortion rights is linked to a larger worldview, a worldview that takes a broad view of what freedom means: economic security, access to health care, right to self-determination, and a belief that a person’s goodness is determined by how that person treats others and less about how closely that person adheres to narrowly written social roles. Even if the abortion issue disappeared tomorrow, women would still lean more left than men as a group, because women are more likely to buy into the overall worldview more—and no wonder, as it’s one that’s more likely to see women as people and less as broad, ugly stereotypes.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Politics

NARAL President Tells Her Abortion Story at the Democratic National Convention

Ally Boguhn

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, told the story of her abortion on the stage of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

“Texas women are tough. We approach challenges with clear eyes and full hearts. To succeed in life, all we need are the tools, the trust, and the chance to chart our own path,” Hogue told the crowd on the third night of the party’s convention. “I was fortunate enough to have these things when I found out I was pregnant years ago. I wanted a family, but it was the wrong time.”

“I made the decision that was best for me — to have an abortion — and to get compassionate care at a clinic in my own community,” she continued. “Now, years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”

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Hogue noted that her experience is similar to those of women nationwide.

“About one in three American women have abortions by the age of 45, and the majority are mothers just trying to take care of the families they already have,” she said. “You see, it’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families. We are the same women at different times in our lives — each making decisions that are the best for us.”

As reported by Yahoo News, “Asked if she was the first to have spoken at a Democratic National Convention about having had an abortion for reasons other than a medical crisis, Hogue replied, ‘As far as I know.'”

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards on Tuesday night was the first speaker at the DNC in Philadelphia to say the word “abortion” on stage, according to Vox’s Emily Crockett. 

Richards’ use of the word abortion was deliberate, and saying the word helps address the stigma that surrounds it, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Vice President of Communication Mary Alice Carter said in an interview with ThinkProgress. 

“When we talk about reproductive health, we talk about the full range of reproductive health, and that includes access to abortion. So we’re very deliberate in saying we stand up for a woman’s right to access an abortion,” Carter said.

“There is so much stigma around abortion and so many people that sit in shame and don’t talk about their abortion, and so it’s very important to have the head of Planned Parenthood say ‘abortion,’ it’s very important for any woman who’s had an abortion to say ‘abortion,’ and it’s important for us to start sharing those stories and start bringing it out of the shadows and recognizing that it’s a normal experience,” she added.

Though reproductive rights and health have been discussed by both Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) while on the campaign trail, Democrats have come under fire for failing to ask about abortion care during the party’s debates. In April, Clinton called out moderators for failing to ask “about a woman’s right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care” over the course of eight debates—though she did not use the term abortion in her condemnation.