Christmas: A time for getting together with family, exchanging gifts, eating yourself silly, and falling asleep in front of a sporting event while sugar-high children play with their new toys. Or, if you’re an anti-choice obsessive, it’s a time of year to double down on women who get abortions, demonizing them as the worst people who have ever existed in the history of the world.
This year, instead of the usual comparisons between abortion and the Holocaust, anti-choicers have decided to imply that women who have abortions are stealing Jesus. As ThinkProgress reports, anti-choice activists are holding “empty manger” harassment campaigns at clinics and putting out risible press releases with quotes like: “Would Planned Parenthood have aborted Jesus?”
To give them the benefit of the doubt, this is probably not meant to be a literal-minded protest. The whole thing doesn’t make sense. It is quite likely that few to no women going into abortion clinics have had recent visitations from angels explaining that their virgin conception is the result of God’s desire that they bring forth the new Christian savior. Presumably, God is all-mighty enough to know ahead of time if the lady he’s selecting for savior-bearing is “up to the task,” so the possibility of abortion is moot anyway. Also, if one lady opts out, we know there are plenty of volunteers.
The argument seems to be that Jesus was a baby once, and babies are good, therefore you have to have a baby right now, regardless of whether you think this is a good time to have one. Otherwise… we won’t have any babies, and therefore we’ll have empty mangers? Abortion has been legal for 40 years now, and the fear that women will simply cease to have babies if they are not forced to has been proven utterly false. Or maybe the concern is that any babies you do have or will have in the future will somehow be less Jesus-like, or maybe just less cute? In what case, they should clarify that position and see where it gets them.
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Obviously, “We like this particular baby, so everyone else should be forced to have more babies” is not an argument. It hardly even pretends to be an argument. It’s not really a metaphor or any other rhetorical device like it, as those only work in service of an argument, and there isn’t one here. What’s really going on, therefore, is just plain old demonizing and bullying: Implying, for no reason whatsoever, that having an abortion is somehow about taking Jesus away from people. It’s a claim latched onto for no other reason than to maximize hurtfulness and demonize women who get abortions as much as possible, even if it’s trussed up in the disguise of “persuasion.”
Conservative anti-choice Christians like to champion themselves as compassionate, loving people who follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, but stunts like this force people watching to instead regard them as angry, judgmental people whose obsession with controlling other people’s sex lives has sucked all compassion out of them. We are, after all, talking about people who specifically seek out women, many of whom are having a difficult time as it is, to bully and shame. They’re so lacking in compassion, in fact, that they can’t wait to use the Christmas season to accuse women of wanting to take away Christmas with their private sexual and reproductive health decisions.
Make no mistake, there are lots of Christians out there who are compassionate, who do take the need to be kind and loving to others to heart. Many of them, in fact, work in the world of reproductive justice. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Catholics for Choice are two very important groups that demonstrate that there are people who turn to faith for moral reasons. But with the Christian right, stunts like the “empty manger” nonsense end up showcasing the mean-spirited and frankly irrational heart of reactionary politics wrapped up in religion. And the claims that these kinds of cruel actions are “just” an expression of faith and shouldn’t be criticized as the expressions of sadism that they actually are increasingly sound hollow.
Take, for instance, Sean Hannity trying to give cover to Phil Robertson, who was recently suspended from the reality TV show Duck Dynasty for racist, sexist, and homophobic comments he gave to a reporter from GQ. Hannity tried to play off the suspension as some kind of religious bigotry towards Christians, by downplaying the comments Robertson made as “old-fashioned traditional Christian sentiment and values.”
Setting aside the notion that calling something “religious” somehow exempts it from being criticized, I have to point out the actual content of the quote that Hannity specifically singled out as an example of that old-time religious sentiment:
“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying?”
Interesting theological statement, there, Robertson. Can you point to the part of the Bible where it says a man should marry a woman because she’s got two holes down there instead of one? I must have missed that one in Sunday school. (He also dismissed the civil rights movement as unimportant, something that I’d love to hear the supposed religious arguments for.)
At a certain point, people figure out that what’s going on here is less deeply religious people acting on faith, and more people who have ugly, reactionary attitudes dressing them up in faith to deflect. Subjecting women to irrational nonsense and emotional strife because they’re trying to enter an abortion clinic is bullying behavior for its own sake—but dress it up in religion, and suddenly the people doing it can pretend they’re trying to be compassionate when they’re actually being cruel. Nowhere is that more obvious than when people take Christmas not to be a time for peace and love, but a time to double down on their abuse of women who are having a tough time as it is.