Commentary Religion

Alabama Anti-Choicers Want to Regulate Abortion Clinics Like Sex Predators

Amanda Marcotte

Alabama anti-choicers are at it again, and this time they're implying that abortion clinics are somehow a danger to children in the way sexual predators are. But the only way that could work is by magic.

If you ever want a full eyeball of the nosiness and sexualized hysteria that characterizes anti-choice attitudes about abortion, look no further than what’s going on right now in Huntsville, Alabama. There, anti-choicers evidently treat the local abortion clinic with an almost mystical fear that the supposed sexual perversion of the place will somehow leak out and infect the rest of the community by osmosis.

At ThinkProgress, Tara Culp-Ressler reports on the battle over an abortion clinic—which would be the only one serving the northern Alabama area—opening back up in the city after the instatement of standards required of ambulatory surgical centers. Upon finding out about the clinic’s reopening, local anti-choicers sued to stop it. While this isn’t surprising, it’s useful to take a step back and think about it: People sued because individuals they don’t know are providing medical services that doesn’t involve them. That’s an extraordinary level of possessiveness over women’s bodies, to sue strangers as if their private choices are somehow hurting you.

Yes, it was a zoning lawsuit, which does, in theory, regard community interests. But the details of the case—demanding that the place be zoned as a surgical center rather than a hospital clinic, thereby blocking its operations at that location—actually show that nope, it’s plain old buttinsky behavior. Suing over the specifics of a procedure you aggressively and publicly swear that you will have nothing to do with? It’s really one step away from asking if you can sit in the doctor’s office with him to monitor his interactions with patients, which is honestly a track I’m surprised anti-choicers haven’t tried.

Considering the lack of precedent for suing over stuff that has nothing to do with you, it should come as no surprise that the judge threw the lawsuit out for precisely that reason. “In his ruling rejecting the temporary restraining order,” reports, “ [Judge Alan] Mann wrote the plaintiffs failed to show how the clinic’s operation would cause them to suffer immediate or irreparable harm.” In legal terms, they had no standing. In common-sense terms, they need to mind their own business.

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James Henderson, the head of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, argued against this in the press, claiming that the mere presence of abortion in his community bugs him, and being bugged gives him justification to take legal action. It is worth noting that, by the same logic, if you find fundamentalist Christianity annoying, you should be able to sue to shut down the churches in the area. After all, if people going about their private affairs generates an intolerably provocative negative aura, that argument should apply equally to all.

Still, the judge did not agree with Henderson’s reasoning behind his “right” to control what other people do what their bodies in their own time. But the dogged, nosy anti-choicers of Alabama will not be deterred. Now, they’re trotting out a popular gambit with people who are desperate for an excuse to control other people’s private behavior: Think of the children!

Yep, now Henderson has decided to involve public schools in his crusade to end the sexual autonomy of women in the State of Alabama, by trying to push a bill that would prevent schools from being within about half a mile from abortion clinics. Culp-Ressler reports:

Now, the group’s executive director, James Henderson, has indicated that he will start pressuring lawmakers to support a measure that would require abortion clinics to be at least 2,000 feet away from schools—the same buffer zone that the state maintains between convicted sexual predators and schools. Since the Alabama’s Women’s Center is located across the street from a site that’s being remodeled to be a magnet school, that would require its owners to relocate.

Consider what the implication of this particular restriction would be, if Henderson gets his way: That abortion clinics represent some kind of sexualized threat to schoolchildren. Sure, you could consider that he’s just looking for any angle he can to shut down the clinic. It’s telling, though, that he settled on arguing that private medical care could hurt kids by dint of sheer proximity.

In a sense, he’s saying that getting an abortion is an even bigger, scarier sexual perversion than child molestation is. After all, the ostensible purpose of forcing convicted sex offenders from being around schools is the fear that, if they get too close, they could physically access a kid. However, under no circumstances is there a legitimate argument for how having an out-of-sight abortion take place within 2,000 feet of a child could have any impact on that kid. Just like with Henderson’s failed lawsuit, the implied threat here is more of a metaphysical one: a sense that the supposed evil generated when women choose to not have a baby somehow sends magical rays out that will do some unnamed, intangible harm, this time to local children.

Of course, the alternate explanation is that Henderson and his people are arguing that the school is not threatened by the abortion clinic per se, but by his comrades screaming nonsense at people going in and out of it all day. Certainly, the clinic owner, Dalton Johnson, points out that the only reason anyone would even notice the abortion clinic in the area is because of the protesters. Gross, bloody fetus pictures do constitute an actual disturbance that could negatively affect children—but I imagine Henderson and company would not agree with banning picketing within 2,000 feet of a school.

Instead, they’ll continue to imply that allowing individuals to go about their private business will cause supernatural ill effects on a community—consistent with other fundamentalist ideology about God punishing us all if Christians don’t stick their noses where they don’t belong.

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