CORRECTION: This article has been updated to include context for Assange’s remarks about non-violence.
During a recent online Q&A session with Campus Reform, Julian Assange, founder of the government secret-leaking group WikiLeaks, admitted he’s a “big admirer” of former Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) and his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), for what he called “their very principled positions.” He spoke of their commitment to “non-violence,” highlighting the various ways in which he sees that commitment reflected in their political stances, including opposing abortion.
“The position of the libertarian Republican—or a better description, right—coming from a principle of non-violence which is the American libertarian tradition. That produces interesting results,” said Assange. “So, non-violence: well, don’t go and invade a foreign country. Non-violence: don’t force people at the barrel of a gun to serve in the U.S. Army. Non-violence: doesn’t extort taxes from people to the federal Government with a policeman. Similarly, other aspects of non-violence in relation to abortion that they hold.”
He went on to say, “I think some of these positions that are held by Rand Paul, while I can see how they come from the same underlying Libertarian principle, I think the world is often more complex and by taking a no-doubt principled, but sometimes simplistic position, you end up undermining the principle.”
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While he seems to suggest there is a contradiction with the libertarian movement and the politics of some libertarians, it is unclear, at least to me, how opposition to abortion is grounded in a commitment to non-violence. Non-violent for whom, exactly?
According to the National Abortion Federation, there have been 6,461 reported incidents of violence against abortion providers since 1977, including eight murders and 17 attempted murders. Abortion providers and clinics have faced numerous bombings, cases of arson, butyric acid attacks, death threats, kidnappings, and more, all from opponents of abortion rights. In 2009, Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed while at church with his family. His convicted killer, Scott Roeder, is heralded as a “hero” in some anti-choice circles.
In 1965, eight years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States, illegal abortion accounted for 17 percent of all deaths attributed to pregnancy and childbirth. And today, around the globe—mostly in the developing world—at least 47,000 women die from unsafe abortions each year (roughly 13 percent of maternal deaths worldwide) and many times that number suffer serious and sometimes lifelong health consequences.
It is impossible to quantify how many people in the United States avoid accessing safe and legal abortion care because of fear of harassment and intimidation, but with 5,165 abortion clinics reporting some form of disruption or harassment in 2011 alone, it’s safe to assume that it plays at least a small role; people often avoid accessing the basic reproductive health care to which they have a constitutional right because of virulent hostility from abortion opponents.
What’s that about anti-abortion views being non-violent again?
In a political climate so openly hostile and threatening to abortion rights, one in which states have enacted 43 abortion restrictions in the first six months of 2013 alone, where 37 of the 42 abortion clinics in Texas will be forced to close because of an omnibus anti-abortion bill, where serious legal threats to Roe v. Wade abound every day, women’s lives are literally at risk.
So why are men like Assange essentially telling women to get over the abortion issue and praise Ron and Rand Paul anyway? It’s simple: privilege.
While these white, cisgender men may be able to pick and choose which political positions they like from the Pauls, marginalized groups do not have that luxury. They are essentially asking women and people of color to praise politicians who disdain and combat their very existence. This is not petty partisanship; it is a fundamental lack of respect for who we are as people. A simple look at their political records proves this.
In 2011, Ron Paul sponsored the Sanctity of Life Act, which would define life as beginning at the moment of conception. He has stated that he favors abortion as an option only if a woman is a victim of an “honest rape.” He is listed as the author of some controversial newsletters from the 1980s that featured racism and other types of bigotry. In 1999, he voted yes on HR 2587, a bill that would have banned adoption for gay couples in Washington, D.C. He has run ads that vehemently state his opposition to granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants and has been critical of current efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
As Rewire‘s Adele M. Stan has pointed out in the past, Rand Paul opposes the 1964 Civil Rights Act because he believes it infringes on private establishments’ rights to refuse service to whomever they deem unfit. Earlier this year, he introduced a “personhood” bill that would give legal recognition to fertilized eggs and effectively outlaw safe abortion care in the United States. He has linked same-sex marriage to bestiality and opposed a bill that would ban workplace discrimination against LGBTQ people in the United States. He publicly opposed the creation of an Islamic community center at Ground Zero and has been accused of running anti-Muslim attack ads.
If, as Assange suggested, “pro-life” libertarians like Rand Paul are the “only hope” for U.S. electoral politics, that doesn’t bode well for women, people of color, or LGBTQ individuals. These aren’t small bumps-in-the-road in an otherwise spotless political record; this is evidence of general disdain for and bigotry against women, people of color, LGBTQ communities, and other marginalized groups. Yet civil libertarians expect us to put aside our partisan squabbles to cheer for these men? Please.
It’s easy for Julian Assange to endorse Rand Paul as “non-violent” when he doesn’t belong to the marginalized groups against which the younger Paul perpetuates violent oppression. Likewise, it’s easy for journalists like Salon‘s David Sirota to belittle reproductive and civil rights activists for their opposition to Paul when his rights aren’t on the line. And it’s easy for The Guardian‘s Glenn Greenwald to say that the elder Paul is “willing to advocate views that Americans urgently need to hear,” when the views of which Ron Paul speaks so often come at the expense of women and people of color.
For those of us on the front lines of the fight for reproductive rights, many of us women, it is both demoralizing and sexist to hear these men scold us for not embracing Ron and Rand Paul more fully. As people who will never need to access abortion care, it is telling that they aren’t more willing to check their privilege and listen to the individuals whose health care and basic reproductive rights are eroding before our very eyes. It is both offensive and absurd to ask that women put concern for something as fundamental as their own bodily autonomy aside in order to commend the very men working to erode it. And it is the embodiment of hypocrisy that Julian Assange, a so-called champion against governmental overreach, lobbies for an end to imperialistic foreign policies while supporting politicians who participate in the occupation of women’s bodies.
These men have the privilege of never having to worry firsthand about accessing abortion care or being disenfranchised because of their skin color. As men who are often heralded as progressive heroes, one would think that they would not only understand and acknowledge their privilege, but advocate for political candidates who embrace women’s and civil rights, in addition to civil liberties and anti-imperialism.
But as we’ve unfortunately witnessed, they largely don’t. They and other civil libertarians like them eulogize the duo for their opposition to drone strikes but remain conveniently silent on their virulent disdain for women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. Yes, it is possible to commend them on certain issues, even if they’re terrible on others. But it seems woefully hypocritical to support politicians who undermine the rights and liberties of people who don’t look like you.
When Julian Assange heaped praise on Ron and Rand Paul while equating abortion with violence, he simply reified what many of us already knew: Too often, civil libertarians like Assange prioritize other issues ahead of our own basic human rights, and then condemn us for being petty and partisan.
If you champion men like Ron and Rand Paul for their anti-imperialism, but casually disregard their bigotry, it isn’t women’s and civil rights activists who are being politically myopic. It’s you.