Whether in the name of traditional sex roles or in the name of a traditional sexual morality, much opposition to abortion seems really to be about the control of women.
– Laurence Tribe, in Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes (1990)
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
Many have called the murder of women’s choice advocate Dr. George Tiller what it really is: an act of domestic terrorism. The deployment of increased security for some abortion clinics and staff ordered by Attorney General Eric Holder illustrates that the Obama Administration might see the issue in such a light, though they haven’t yet phrased it that way.
What is not mentioned is that Tiller’s murder is part of the global war on women. The anti-choice movement is an anti-woman movement. There are dozens of examples of how sexism and misogyny have inflamed and informed anti-choice beliefs and rhetoric. It should be no shock that a movement influenced by hate would foster such terrible violence as was unleashed in a Wichita church this Sunday.
The long history of violence originating from supposedly pro-life activists is a natural outgrowth of the hatred felt by this group for women’s rights advocates. Sadly, Tiller’s death this past Sunday was not necessarily a surprise, though the fact that he was gunned down in the foyer of his church was a depressing twist. He had been attacked many times before; he often wore a bullet-proof vest and was accompanied by a security guard.
But the right-wing fringe has become more active of late. The Department of Homeland Security recently warned that right-wing extremist groups are ramping up in the wake of the election of the country’s first black president. Many on the right feel newly marginalized after the election, and the economic uncertainty isn’t helping stability. This recent change feeds into the somewhat older idea of Angry White Male Syndrome, which is supposedly caused by men having their sexual and cultural hegemony taken from them by equal rights advances.
Indeed, early descriptions of Tiller’s suspected murderer, Scott Roeder of Merriam, KS, indicate that he is tormented by economic and political impotence and looking for a scapegoat. Roeder’s connections with extremist groups are being uncovered as the investigation continues, but it’s clear that the rabid community of anti-choice advocates who tacitly support the suspected murderer have some issues with misogyny.
In this chilling list of hate-filled Tweets unleashed on Twitter in the wake of Tiller’s death, this one from user Sami Shamieh of Walnut Creek, CA illustrates that the assertion of male dominance is definitely part of the perception of the murder: “The person who shot Tiller the baby killer simply excercised [sic] a man’s right to choose.”
The sad truth is that laws prohibiting abortion cause plenty of death and societal dysfunction. And those who oppose abortion rights also often oppose birth control, the most effective policy for preventing pregnancy. How else do you explain the continued popularity among conservatives of abstinence-only education, when it’s repeatedly been found to increase instances of teen pregnancy?
In today’s New York Times Science section, the feature article investigates the massive toll of the illegality of abortion in Tanzania. But the writer notes the problem occurs all over the planet:
Worldwide, there are 19 million unsafe abortions a year, and they kill 70,000 women (accounting for 13 percent of maternal deaths), mostly in poor countries like Tanzania where abortion is illegal, according to the World Health Organization. More than two million women a year suffer serious complications. According to UNICEF, unsafe abortions cause 4 percent of deaths among pregnant women in Africa, 6 percent in Asia and 12 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.
There is no doubt in my mind that the toll of clandestine abortions in this country would be similar if women were not afforded the legal right to pursue the procedure in the safety of a clinic or hospital.
Anti-choice activists don’t seem to be very motivated to reduce the number of abortions, but they are clearly compelled by some strong force. When trying to figure out what that thing is, it’s important to note the ideological package pro-lifers bring with them to protest rallies.
Those who are adamantly against abortion also often endorse sexist ideas of a woman’s role in society, such as in the case of religious orders that prohibit the full participation of women. Another example is the outright paternalism expressed in the South Dakota bill banning all types of abortion, regardless of threats to a mother’s health or rape cases. The bill sought to protect “the mother’s fundamental natural intrinsic right to a relationship with her child,” as if all women are wired to be automatic baby making machines and little else. And, of course, the state of South Dakota needs to protect a woman’s right to bear a child against the woman herself, because we all know women are much too irrational to make decisions themselves.
I’m not saying that all people who oppose abortion are misogynists. After all, nobody likes abortions and lots of people like women. People who oppose choice do it for a variety of reasons. Many are driven, consciously or subconsciously, because they oppose women’s rights. In 1997, writer Ursula Le Guin noted that the mere presence of women in the anti-choice movement does not negate this idea (emphasis mine):
The preservation of life seems to be rather a slogan than a genuine goal of the anti-abortion forces. What they want is control: control over behavior, power over women. Women in the anti-choice movement want to share in male power over women, and do so by denying their own womanhood, their own rights and responsibilities.
The New York Times was quick to paint a picture of Tiller’s pragmatism by noting the pin he wore more often than his bullet-proof vest that said “Attitude is Everything.” The other pin Tiller wore they did not mention is the one that said “Trust Women.”
The phrase doesn’t immediately strike one as revolutionary, but when you consider G. Gordon Liddy’s remark about the supposed dangers of having a menstruating woman on the Supreme Court (although, how he knows 54-year-old Sotomayor is pre-menopausal is beyond me), there’s little doubt that many men have trouble putting any faith in the faculties of women. That lack of trust seems to translate to a hatred for female independence and those who foster it.
Debra Sweet, the national director of The World Can’t Wait, has seen this vitriol firsthand. She notes that the pro-life movement is about demonizing women, not preventing abortion (emphasis mine):
Having been nose to nose with anti-abortion leaders in front of clinics, and sometimes between them and doctors, for decades, I know them as the active base of a deeply dangerous, Christian theocratic, and fascist movement. They believe, as Randall Terry screamed in my face in 1987, that women must be kept subservient to men. Their god is a vengeful god, they remind us, and we deserve death for not obeying him. They’ve got the scripture, memorized from both the Old Testament and the New, and the worldview to enforce that male supremacy in their homes and in their movement. They believe that this country’s laws should be based on their interpretation of their God’s law, so you, too, would have no choice in the matter. And they want to kill us; the women who aren’t subservient, and the doctors who foster our agency.
Lynn Paltrow of National Advocates for Pregnant Women notes that pregnant women are lumped into a category with Hitler and Pol Pot by anti-abortion protesters:
I am tired of a public debate that treats seriously the claim that pregnant women, mothers, and the people who support them are killers. I am tired of a debate that trivializes genocide by saying that what women do to deal with their reproductive lives is worse.
Paltrow’s organization makes the little-known point that pregnant women are often denied rights afforded to the rest of the adult population in this country, documenting cases where the fact that pregnancy is not covered under sexual discrimination protections in the 14th amendment has led to the denial of human and civil rights and even the death of expectant mothers.
The hatred experienced by women’s advocates speaks loudly, but perhaps the best indication of those who are anti-choice being also anti-woman comes from those who would try to use Tiller’s own words against him.
This excerpt from a 2004 interview with Tiller done for a documentary by Alligator Cowgirl Productions was posted on an anti-Tiller Web site set up to demonize the doctor and his staff using “their own words.” It’s clear that the purveyor of the site believes that Tiller’s words supporting the rights of women are evidence of his supposed evilness (thanks to Women’s Space for the link, the emphasis is mine):
If you can deny women birth control before the initiation of, shall we say, a personal relationship, if you can deny birth control ahead of time, if you can deny a woman emergency contraception at the time of a personal relationship, and if you can deny women abortion services after a pregnancy has become established, then you can control women. Because you will overwhelm them with parenting and child rearing responsibilities.
You will be controlled. You will be subjugated. You will be marginalized. And when subjugation walks in, freedom walks out. Now what do I mean? That means gone will be equal opportunity in the work force. Gone will be equal education. Gone will be equal pay for equal work. Gone will be health care benefits. Gone will be retirement benefits. Your freedoms will be gone. Because this is not about babies, again. It’s about subjugation of women by male dominated societies. It’s no more; it’s no less.
Anyone who believes that the above quote is proof of a person’s moral corruption is clearly someone who abhors the idea of equal rights for half the planet. Today we mourn not only a pro-choice martyr, but a slain soldier in the ongoing war for women’s rights.
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS