What's most fascinating about the reactions to Emily Letts' video of her abortion is the role fantasy plays in criticisms from the right, and what that generally says about the state of debate over abortion in this country—specifically, the fantasy that there’s a “baby” or even a “fetus” involved in an abortion like Letts'.
The most interesting thing about the video abortion counselor Emily Letts made to chronicle her abortion is how simple and straightforward it is. Letts talks a little about her pregnancy, shows herself getting an abortion (not in a graphic way), and then talks about how glad she is that she did it. While there are many feelings women have about abortions, her trajectory is a fairly standard one: a little regret, a little self-forgiveness, mostly relief and joy that she was able to get help when she needed it. “Sh*t happens” appears to be a major message, which is much closer to how a lot of women who remain silent feel about their abortions than is generally acknowledged in the public discourse.
Of course, the public reaction to Letts’ video has been anything but simple. Charlotte Taft covers some of the more well-meaning but often misguided reactions here at Rewire, and on this week’s episode of the Reality Cast podcast, I’ll be discussing the attempts to slur Letts with misogynist stereotypes in an attempt to discredit her. What fascinates me the most about the reactions is the role fantasy plays in criticisms from the right, and what that generally says about the state of debate over abortion in this country—specifically, the fantasy that there’s a “baby” or even a “fetus” involved in an abortion like Letts’. It’s a fantasy that anti-choicers have angrily tried to assert in the loudest, most hyperbolic terms possible, no doubt hoping they’d drown out the evidence of how wrong they are.
To hear the lurid descriptions of what anti-choicers imagine abortion to be, it seems that they imagine someone killing an actual baby. Upending that narrative and reminding people, through incontrovertible visual proof, that during a first-trimester abortion the embryo is so small as to barely register as a potential baby, much less an actual baby, might be the most threatening part of the Letts video. Her stomach is flat. The abortion is quite obviously a quick gynecological procedure. If she had stayed pregnant, eventually there would be a baby. But it’s clear as could be, watching the video, that only fantasists have the ability to see “baby” where realists see nothing more than the beginning of a long process known as “pregnancy.” It’s no more a baby than a seed is a tree.
While the debate over abortion is really about sexuality and women’s rights, the official line from anti-choicers is that they’re against killing “babies,” and so this probably is pretty embarrassing for them, because it reveals that their cover story is perhaps even sillier than their fears about female sexuality. So, their effort to save face involves multiple variations of “Don’t believe your lying eyes! Just because you can’t see a baby doesn’t mean there isn’t a baby there!”
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“Of course, it wasn’t so pain-free and safe for the baby, but there is no mention of the baby in the entire article—or, for that matter, his or her father.”
That would be because there was no baby there to suffer, something people who actually watched the video were perfectly capable of seeing.
Then there was the National Review‘s Wesley J. Smith:
“Ah. good times. Becoming irresponsibly pregnant and then having a birth-like experience of destroying a fetus–complete with pictures!”
Here you have someone not only imagining that there’s a “fetus” in the situation (Letts is very early in her pregnancy, making the abortion during the embryonic stage), but also pictures of it. In reality, all we see is someone undergo a very short gynecological procedure. No pictures involved.
At Red State, Joe Cunningham said:
“I don’t know what degree of godlessness you have to have in order to not only film the slaughter of a child but feel fondness every time you re-watch it.”
Remember, what you see in the video is someone with her feet in stirrups undergoing a short procedure. There are no children slaughtered.
I think these guys are hoping that by promising you that there are “children” being killed and that the video is gross and disturbing and violent, you will be too afraid to watch it and just take their word for it. There’s clearly a lot of fear here that if people watch this video in a calm, rational state of mind, they will be able to see clearly that it’s not violent and there are no babies involved, alive or dead. Anti-choicers are invested in the visual, which is why they’re so attached to using misleading pictures of fetuses from stages much later in pregnancy than when most women get their abortions. The sheer honesty of the imagery in Letts’ video—the fact that abortion, as you can see with your own eyes, is not child-killing—has got to be terrifying for them.
There are a lot of lurid accusations flying from anti-choicers, accusing pro-choicers of trying to conceal the “truth” of what’s going on inside a woman in the early stages of pregnancy. Those accusations should be understood for what they are: attempts to mislead people and get them to believe that it’s a man’s ejaculation that makes a “baby” and not, despite all biological evidence to the contrary, nine months of a woman’s body building a baby, bit by bit.
Yes, it’s true that people who are pregnant tend to talk about their “baby.” But it’s generally true in English that we refer to potential or future events with that present-sounding language. We say “our wedding,” “our vacation,” or “my birthday” even when it hasn’t happened yet. That so many anti-choicers try to overread what is simply a linguistic tic of English is yet another example of how desperate they are to convince people not to believe the evidence of our own eyes and instead believe their fantastical imaginings where zygotes are the same as kindergartners and seeds are the same thing as a mighty oak tree. Good on Letts for interrupting their fantasies.
The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.
The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.
DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”
The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.
“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.
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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”
“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.
“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”
The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”
Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting periodand purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.
Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were strippedby the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.
“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight
In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.
Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.
Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.
“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.
“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued.
“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.”
McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.”
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.”
“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”
What Else We’re Reading
Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.
NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitanwhy she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.
Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”
Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”
A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazinetook on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.
With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.
According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.
Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.
“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote theNew York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”
“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”
Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equality; declaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.
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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”
Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.
But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:
Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations
Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:
We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.
Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:
We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.
The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.
Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.
Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”
Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt
In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:
We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.
The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewireexplained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:
As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”
All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”
Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain
The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:
Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.
Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.
Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.
Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”
In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:
Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.
Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”
There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”
As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.
Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”
Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:
We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.
Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.