We must never allow forced birth to become normal or ordinary

We must never allow forced birth to become normal or ordinary

July 23, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

Just two states over, another Republican candidate, Matt Birk, running for lieutenant governor in Minnesota, described arguments that abortion care should be permitted in cases of rape and incest as tantamount to “playing the rape card.” As Bess Levin reports for Vanity Fair:

“Rape is obviously a horrible thing,” Birk said. “But an abortion is not going to heal the wounds of that. Two wrongs, it’s not going to make it right. … One of the arguments that I saw probably 20 times online today was about rape. And you know, obviously, they always want to go to the rape card.”

Watch Birk express his appalling sentiments—which also include railing against women pursuing careers, and comparing abortion to slavery—below.

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As little as 10 years ago, statements like Birk’s and Dixon’s could alienate enough voters to sink most right-wingers’ political aspirations. Now they are considered by too many as legitimate discourse, and possibly earn a day or two of rebuke or shaming on Twitter before disappearing, lost in the shadows of the next outrage.

In Indiana, Republican legislators are being showered with gratitude for banning abortions in that state while magnanimously allowing exceptions for rape, incest, or where the “life of the mother” is at risk. To her credit, Democratic state Sen. Shelli Yoder characterized the Republican legislation as “irredeemable,” and an “infringement on women’s wellbeing, liberty, and livelihood.

Yet this is all a process of normalization in action. As described by the misogynistic enabler Aunt Lydia in Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale:

Ordinary, said Aunt Lydia, is what you are used to. This may not seem ordinary to you now, but after a time it will. It will become ordinary.    

As a practical matter, with Roe gone, so-called “exceptions” for rape and incest or the life of the pregnant person are effectively irrelevant within states that ban abortions. What doctor or clinic, facing criminal penalties including loss of license and imprisonment, would be willing to accept a patient’s word at face value regarding the cause of her pregnancy? What medical practitioner would not, as a matter of sheer self-preservation, insist on a legal determination—one that could take months—before performing such a procedure on a desperate patient?

And which will simply turn such pleas away, firmly shutting the door?

The forced-birth crowd knows this perfectly well; in fact, they’re banking on it. But it’s telling that this movement no longer feels constrained to offer even such fig-leaf displays of compassion toward anyone facing an unwanted pregnancy.

Jess Bidgood, reporting for the Boston Globe, interviewed Laurie Bertram-Roberts of the Alabama-based Yellowhammer Fund, an advocacy group for people seeking abortion:

“Exemptions [were] a way for the GOP to say you know, ‘Now, now, don’t worry or there, there, don’t worry your little pretty heads,’” said Bertram Roberts, of Yellowhammer, although she said it was telling that they are dropping them, given the optics. “They used to have to do at least the facade of ‘Hey, we’ll still be here when you need your good abortion.’ Now, they’re just being naked about it and saying, ‘Honestly, we don’t care.’”

And in fact there is a concerted, coordinated effort underway right now by the forced-birth legions and their enablers. They’re determined to convince Americans that what is being done to people who become pregnant is no big deal, nothing they should concern themselves with—because, really, nothing much has changed. 

As reported by Kiera Butler and Maddie Oatman for Mother Jones:

Late last month, shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court stripped away federal protection for abortion rights, Dr. Christina Francis, an OB/GYN based in Fort Wayne, Indiana, took to Instagram with an urgent message: She wanted her followers to know that even in states where abortion will soon be illegal, doctors still would be able to terminate pregnancies to save the life of the mother. “Treating ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages or other life-threatening conditions in pregnancy is not the same thing as an abortion,” she said in a video she took of herself from inside a car. “This is very important to clear up because I know that many women are feeling fearful that they might not be able to receive life-saving care if they need it.”

As Butler and Oatman explain, this wholly false post, which quickly went viral on Instagram and TikTok, “gave the impression of offering a clear path forward,” cynically reassuring thousands of viewers that their lives, should they suffer an unfortunate, life-threatening pregnancy, would not be at risk.

But the post was an intentional lie, knowingly dispensed on social media by the same people who promoted the legislation in the first place.

Dr. Francis left out a few key pieces of information about herself: She is a member of the anti-choice organization American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG), as well as the anti-choice think tank Charlotte Lozier Institute. Her video was part of an all-out disinformation campaign by the anti-abortion movement to minimize the impact of the ruling on Roe—with an assist from powerful social media influencers who built their brand by spreading disinformation about COVID.

Other anti-choice groups, such as the Austin, Texas-based Live Action, have deliberately spread disinformation minimizing the devastating impact these laws will have on people needing treatment for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies. They do so even as it was reported that an Austin pharmacy had advised OB-GYNs in that state that it would no longer fill prescriptions for methotrexate, the only non-surgical treatment for ectopic pregnancies—as well as the only reliably effective drug against the many autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, for which it is widely prescribed.

Again, the point is to instill a sense of calm, a false reassurance: “Yes, we have taken away a basic right from you, but it really isn’t as bad as you’ve heard.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some of the biggest purveyors of disinformation regarding the actual effect of these laws are the same people who spread conspiracy theories and lies about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. These include self-made “social media” stars operating in tandem with QAnon conspiracists, for them, spreading abortion disinformation is only a small shift from their vaccine lies.

One prominent anti-vaxxer “personality” suggested that the Supreme Court overruled Roe to “cover up” the declining birthrate allegedly caused by COVID-19 vaccines. Others, such as anti-vaxxer Naomi Wolf, have equated the passage of such laws with a twisted sense of feminist “empowerment”: “An American woman does have choices and powers she did not have in 1973,” she writes. “She can buy contraceptives.”

Of course, as Butler and Oatman point out, the same groups that have now effectively outlawed abortion in several states are also targeting hormonal birth control such as Plan B, analogizing its use to abortion. And as Daily Kos’ Joan McCarter wrote Thursday, nearly 200 House Republicans voted against protecting access to contraception.

In a 228-195 vote, the House voted Thursday morning to enshrine federal protection of access to contraceptives without government restrictions into law, with just eight Republicans voting “yes” and two cowardly Republicans voting “present.” Yes, 195 lawmakers believe that the federal government should not guarantee that Americans have the basic right to plan their families. Put another way, 195 Republicans believe that a state government should be able to deny you that right.

One. Hundred. And. Ninety. Five.

That needs to be shouted out repeatedly. And the vote needs to be held in the Senate, were we can see again that Republicans think they need to be smack dab in the middle of controlling your private life.

The callous disregard of those capable of getting pregnant, and their forced regression to a status of mere reproductive vessels, is probably best illustrated in these anti-abortion groups’ rationale for opposing the termination of pregnancies in the event of severe fetal birth defects. 

Mother Jones:

And what about the tragic decision that some pregnant people are confronted with, when tests reveal a fetus suffers from serious genetic anomalies? Enter another strain of misleading posts, such as one promoted by Live Action, which seeks to convince readers that abortions aren’t necessary in cases where a fetus has severe birth defects—because, according to the group, the fetus will automatically die “on its own.”

All of these distortions and rationalizations, whether delivered by cynical Republican politicians, so-called “pro-life” tyrants on the misogynistic Christian right, or by self-promoting “internet doctors” seeking to monetize their social media presence, all share a common assumption: They expect that everyone who can become pregnant will slowly, gradually begin to accept their inevitable status as second-class human beings.; that they will eventually acknowledge this grotesque intrusion on their autonomy as something ordinary; and most crucially, that they will stop their efforts to codify the right to abortion care.

Leaving the gross audacity of that assumption aside, history does suggest that they are wrong. Whether it’s a matter of a Republican legislator’s daughter found face down and dead in a hotel after a botched abortion; whether it’s one of those young, idealistic right-wing women who claim to be part of the “Post-Roe” generation being denied the procedure she desperately sought after fleeing the blows from her boyfriend’s Christian fists; or whether it’s a corporate CEO caught ordering mifepristone online for his mistress, one thing is certain: The horror stories from these horrific laws are going to keep coming, and coming, and coming.

Yet we must never accept them as normal.

These 15 abortion funds are providing financial and practical support to people seeking abortion care in hostile states. Each abortion fund listed works in their communities to remove barriers to abortion access. Please chip in to support their work … and fight back.



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