Why Abortion Rates Are Down, and the ‘War on Women’ in 2014 Elections

Related Links

New HPV vaccination study and the SOTU GOP response

Equal pay is a “special handout”

O’Reilly’s Obama interview

Anti-masturbation video


On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be talking to Rachel Jones from the Guttmacher Institute about a new study showing abortion rates are down again. The 2014 election season is gearing up and the “war on women” is a big part of it. Also, clinic escorts talk about their work and I ask what it means for the abortion clinic buffer zone case.

New study about the HPV vaccine shows something anyone with a passing knowledge of human nature could have told you.

  • hpv vaccine *

I don’t buy people who argue that a vaccine against a virus most kids don’t understand that well will be a bigger factor than things like sexual desire, social reasons, and fears about the bigger emotional issues around sex. They have to know that kids don’t think about it much one way or another. They’re just looking for any reason to stigmatize the vaccine because it’s related to sex, full stop.


2014 is an election year. Granted, it’s not a presidential election year, but it’s of course important all the same. It’s widely accepted in the news media that January of a midterm election is a time when the big themes of the election get rolled out, and I’m here to tell you that the “war on women” is not going away just because Republicans got hammered in the last election cycle because of widespread public disapproval both on the existence anti-feminist policies and, especially, the perception that attacks on reproductive rights and women’s opportunities are being elevated above other concerns. What seems to be happening is that Republicans think they’ve got a strategy that will let them have it both ways, so they can both deny they’re waging “war on women” while continuing to support policies that are bad for women. They unveiled that strategy in the response to the State of the Union, which was given by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who talked about her son with Down’s syndrome, and used his story as a way to undermine pro-choicers.

  • 2014 1 *

She phrased it in as much upbeat, positive language as she could, but the message was clear: No reason women could come up with to decline giving birth now or ever will ever be good enough. Since you can give birth, you must give birth. Or else you are somehow denying the existence of human potential. Women’s real lives and struggles are flicked away as uninteresting and unimportant. But they put that ugly sentiment in the mouth of a woman, more worried about deflecting conversation than having it. Because it’s really hard to make the anti-choice cause if you have to look individual women in the face and tell them they don’t get to say no to giving birth.

It’s clear that the hope is by bracketing off opposition to reproductive rights and saying it has nothing to do with women, Republicans can shut down this whole “war on women” narrative. Republicans did applaud the president during the State of the Union when he mentioned equal pay, though most of them voted against the legislation to secure it. But Republicans are going up against a formidable enemy if they want to convince the public that just because they oppose abortion rights and easier contraception access doesn’t mean they hate women. And that enemy is conservative pundits. This is how a Fox news anchor responded to Obama’s call for women to be paid the same as men.

  • 2014 2 *

That’s just straight-up bullying. If you say you want women to get equal pay for equal work, then suddenly you’re a whiner who doesn’t know how to keep her head down and just do her thing without being a fussypants. Painting basic fairness as asking for special handouts is a way of shaming women for being women. The idea is to shame women by making them feel like they’re weak people if they demand fair treatment instead of stoically bear under unfair treatment. I’m sure that works on plenty of women, sadly, but it also makes it harder to deny that this isn’t about a war on women.

But the knee-jerk desire to blame everything on women really came roaring out during Bill O’Reilly’s interview with President Obama, where O’Reilly straight up decided to pin the entire problem of poverty on women’s sexual and reproductive decision-making.

  • 2014 3*

Obama pointed out that he does address it all the time, but in a sense, that’s beside the point. This claim that poverty is pretty much strictly a result of unmarried mothers has been playing on constant repeat on Fox News, for one simple reason: They don’t want anyone to do anything substantive on poverty. If they can convince people poverty is just the result of people making bad or supposedly immoral decisions, then it’s easy to convince people the only real solution is to throw their hands in the air and say, well nothing can be done. No need to address unemployment, low wages, income inequality. Just a few lectures about your sexual choices and giving up. But this whole notion that unemployment and poverty is a result of quote-unquote out-of-wedlock childbearing is really silly if you think about it. We’re in the midst of an economic crisis that is similar to the Great Depression, and, as with the Great Depression, there is chronic unemployment and poverty. But was the Great Depression caused by a sudden upswing in children being born out of wedlock? No, most children were born to married parents then. And the rate of single motherhood has been high for decades now, with economic upswings and downturns. The two things just really aren’t that related.

But it also shows why the “war on women” isn’t really going anywhere, even though making everything about judging women’s personal choices keeps coming back to haunt Republicans. As this example shows, talking about women’s choices is a great tool for deflecting discussion about real issues, like poverty. Don’t want to talk about income inequality? Mention women’s personal choices and now the debate is about something else. Republicans have created a cage that they can’t really escape from with this one.


Insert interview


Freethought Blogs is one of my favorite places on the Internet, and late in January they really demonstrated a good reason why, by holding a conference online that covered a variety of issues that are interesting to people interested in skepticism, secularism and religious freedom, and science. Not only is it cool that they are trying to diversify the conference experience and make it more accessible by putting the panels online through Google Hangout, but they also really had a great diversity of topics covered at the conference. That included a lot of issues that are really important to the listeners of this podcast, such as reproductive rights, sex education, feminism, gay rights, and things like that. I was tickled specifically to see a panel on clinic escorting and what it’s like, because this is a topic that really needs to be better understood. That’s especially true now that an abortion clinic buffer zone case is in front of the Supreme Court. One of the clinic escorts on the panel talked about how hard it is, emotionally, to deal with people who spend hours taunting you.

  • escort 1 *

Clinic escorts have a non-engagement policy in most, probably all programs. When I’ve talked to people about this, a lot of them find that puzzling, because, I think, there’s this lingering hope that arguing back when people pick on you and bully you is an effective tactic. And it might be in some situations, but this is not one of them. The reason is pretty simple: Anti-choice bullies are there to shame and bully. They claim they’re there to change women’s minds, but let’s just say that if that was actually happening, abortion clinics would notice women not showing up for appointments. If you engage them and especially if you fight with them, they feel vindicated. Honestly, a lot of them are kind of wacky and are just desperate for attention. So it’s very important not to give it. To be blunt, anti-choice protesters are trolls, and feeding trolls is a very bad idea when doing so just encourages them. One of the panelists, Katie Klabusich, gave a good example of the kind of trollery they’re up against.

  • escort 2 *

I think that story is quite telling, because the “but they’re old people, be nice” argument is basically the argument that the anti-choicers brought in front of the Supreme Court when arguing against the 35-foot buffer zone in Massachusetts. They brought an elderly woman forward as the plaintiff and both insinuated that her age makes her harmless and that her age means she’s owed an audience. But as this anecdote shows, that’s ridiculous. Old people can be mean bullies. Old people are not entitled just by the year they were born to boss you around and tell you who you can hang out with and what you can do with your body. This is about entitled bullies who think they get to treat women however they want. That’s nonsense. Being polite means not bothering people who are going to the doctor. Since they can’t do that, they don’t really deserve basic politeness in return. They definitely aren’t entitled to the “right” to yell in people’s faces.

Clinic escort Niki M, who is African American, explained her frustration with protesters who white-splain at her or stereotype her.

  • escort 3 *

There’s the racism, and then there’s other stereotypes that they bring to clinic escorts.

  • escort 4 *

I find it incredibly telling how often I get this from anti-choicers online, too. They really do tend to think I’m more than a decade younger than I actually am, that I’m single and I have sex with a lot of men, and of course, that I’m just greedily gobbling up all the birth control pills in between my monthly abortions. It’s all very strange, but it’s telling, too. It’s really a projection of their anxieties about women, sex, and power. There’s a lot of resentment there for young women for being part of a generation that has been given a lot of freedom to have sex on their own terms, to make their own choices about education and career, and to get married when they want to instead of being forced into it at a young age out of social pressure and guilt. Along with the racism, the sexism really drives home how much this is about social control. I mean, that should be obvious, since duh, they’re bullies. But the lie that anti-choicers are somehow just super fetus lovers is so ingrained that it might actually be used as the disingenuous pretext to take away even basic protections for women against these bullies. And that would be a shame. Anyway, if you want to see this panel and others, check out ftbcon.wordpress.com.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, evading masturbation is like fighting off an enemy like the Nazis during a war [edition]. Yes, that’s the overwrought metaphor being used in this video trying to convince young men that masturbation will destroy them.

  • battle *

They recommend, and I’m not kidding, that young men team up to fight their urge to masturbate together, seeing themselves as allies in a war on, well, I guess themselves. It’s really a confused metaphor. It’s both funny and really sad, because teaching young men to hate their very normal desire to masturbate is about teaching them, on a deep level, to hate themselves for no good reason.