Commentary Human Rights

Excuses for Anti-Choice and Misogynist Harassment Grow Flimsier

Amanda Marcotte

The circle of victims of misogynist harassment is getting bigger, and the Supreme Court is playing a role.

In recent years, we’ve seen anti-choice harassment campaigns expand beyond the typical target—abortion—to other forms of gynecological care. There have been anti-choice protests of family planning clinics that don’t even offer abortion, and now, in Alabama, anti-choicers have taken to harassing women who are trying to give birth.

The website Breitbart Unmasked has been keeping track of anti-choice leader James Henderson and his comrades as they expand the scope of their relentless abuse of women, which they are justifying with ever-flimsier excuses. This is indicative of a larger trend of misogynist abuse in our society, one that I fear the Supreme Court has just given a big boost to by striking down clinic buffer zone laws.

In his decision striking down Alabama’s targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) law, Judge Myron Thompson has an interesting digression about how serious the growing circle of anti-choice abuse has become in Alabama. A clinic in the state hired a doctor, referred to as Dr. H1 in the decision, to cover the clinic’s new hospital admitting privileges requirement. There were efforts to keep her role quiet, but anti-choicers found out anyway. From the decision:

Although she was not performing abortions herself, protestors came to her private practice and began to confront her pregnant patients, just as they had Dr. Palmer’s. Again, they held signs depicting third-trimester abortions. The local leader of the pro-life movement told Johnson that he would protest Dr. H1’s practice for as long as Dr. H1 continued to serve as covering physician for the clinic.

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She had to pull her kids out of Catholic school and eventually discontinue offering obstetric care because of all the abuse. Having lost her income delivering babies, Dr. H1 then started to perform abortions full time.

This type of abuse is particularly aggravating because anti-choicers claim that they want clinics to have hospital admitting privileges to protect women. The argument is that, even though the hospitalization rate for people who have abortions is among the lowest of all outpatient procedures, clinics need a doctor who can admit patients just in case. So, this clinic goes ahead and hires a doctor whose sole responsibility is to be there in case a patient needs hospital care, and anti-choicers harass her out of her job—for taking on a responsibility that they themselves demanded that someone take on.

In other words, they harassed someone who wasn’t doing abortions until she ended up doing abortions.

While I do believe antis fully intend for their harassment campaigns to make abortion harder to access, in the face of a story like this, it’s clear that goal is secondary to the larger purpose: expressing inchoate rage at women and anyone who dares help women get the medical care they need, particularly if it’s related to sex.

Anyone who spends time online knows that kind of inchoate misogynist rage runs rampant in our society. Women online get targeted for massive harassment campaigns for equally silly and flimsy reasons, often involving the fact that they have sex or even just have reproductive organs—facts that continue to send significant numbers of people into a screaming rage.

Take, for instance, Zoe Quinn, a video game developer who has been subject to weeks of unbelievable amounts of abuse after her vindictive ex-boyfriend accused her of cheating on him. The claim is she somehow “bought” a good review of her game by sleeping with someone for it—a claim that’s already so silly it hardly needs debunking—but the review she supposedly bought doesn’t exist. It’s clear as a whistle that this is about something deeper and more subconscious: a loathing of female sexuality, especially if it’s perceived as being out of male control, and this unfortunate soul, much like Dr. H1, is just the latest target of a madding crowd.

In another disturbing example, feminist writer Jessica Valenti was the target of a harassment campaign for arguing in a piece that tampons should be free, or at least more affordable. The flimsy excuse for the harassment against Valenti was the “free” part, but the tenor of the abuse made it clear that the harassers are more upset about the “tampon” part. Many seemed angry and disgusted by the very fact that women menstruate.

The pretenses for blasting someone with white-hot misogynist anger are becoming so thin as to be transparent, both online and off. Just as anti-choicers holler about “life” while targeting people trying to get any kind of care—prenatal care, contraception, sexually transmitted infections testing—at women’s health clinics, the misogynist crowd will use a bunch of bad faith excuses for why it’s acceptable to target someone for choices that are really none of their business.

Unfortunately, the problem hasn’t been helped much by the Supreme Court’s recent decision overturning the Massachusetts law requiring protesters to stand 35 feet away from a clinic entrance. Part of the rationale for the decision was the argument that the people standing in the clinic entrance are just trying to “help” by “counseling” women. That argument was clearly made in bad faith, as anti-choicers involved in the McCullen v. Coakley case offered no evidence that their “help” was actually helpful or that women were seeking it. Furthermore, if “help” has to be shouted directly in someone’s face, it simply isn’t help by any normal definition of the term. It’s harassment.

But that bad faith argument worked. In its decision, the Supreme Court blessed the use of bad faith arguments to excuse the harassment of women, even when those arguments are laughably flimsy. That, taken with the way the Internet makes misogynists feel like they have a real community, suggests that what we’re seeing in Alabama may be just the beginning. There’s no cap on how silly the argument justifying misogyny has to be now, and the circle of eligible targets is growing.

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