Correcting Assorted Conservative Misinformation

As the week ends, I wanted to touch on two pieces of news I saw earlier in the week but didn’t have the time to respond to at the time. I’ll combine them here and respond to both, as the two relate to similar topics. The first piece I want to address is this Facebook status by Chris McDaniel, a state senator in Mississippi:

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Text is as follows:

So a group of unhappy liberal women marched in Washington DC. We shouldn’t be surprised; almost all liberal women are unhappy. Perhaps there’s a correlation.

Nevertheless, I’m fascinated to see them exercise their First Amendment rights (however objectionable the message).

But I do have a question: if they can afford all those piercings, tattoos, body paintings, signs, and plane tickets, then why do they want us to pay for their birth control?

I was at one of the marches on Saturday. It wasn’t at all unhappy. The mood was actually extremely upbeat and positive—it was energizing! That was one of my biggest takeaways from the event—the numbers, and the upbeat mood.

But note that McDaniel’s claim goes farther than this—he claims that “almost all liberal women are unhappy.” This is a wider conservative talking point—that liberal women (i.e. feminists) are unhappy, unfulfilled, and discontent. This idea is profoundly sexist, given its connection to the supposition that it is marriage and motherhood that fulfills women and make stem happy, and that childless career women are by definition unhappy and unsatisfied, mask it as they may.

The unfortunate thing about this conservative talking point is that as soon as you attempt to counter it, arguing that you or other liberal women really are happy, you start to look desperate and you play into their narrative—that you’re trying to hide your underlying unhappiness by denying it. It’s one of those narratives that is set up in such a way that it can’t be countermanded—because the narrative itself assumes that liberal women will deny their unhappiness and claim they are happy. Given that the conservative image of a happy woman is a modest, demure woman surrounded by children and planning the next church potluck, just happily living out our lives may not be enough to put this lie to bed either.

But let’s move on to McDaniel’s last point—and one that I have seen conservatives continue to raise. If these women can afford to travel to D.C., McDaniel asks, why do they want taxpayers to pay for their birth control? Note the lie this claim is founded on—that women want U.S. taxpayers to pay for their birth control.

Guess what? They don’t.

The birth control mandate covers private health insurance providers and is not paid for by the government. The mandate requires private insurers to cover birth control, the cost of which is passed on in premiums to those who buy health insurance (which includes women). Private insurance covers viagra, too, but we don’t talk about men with erectile dysfunction wanting “us” to pay for their boners. Now yes, under the ACA women in certain income brackets get subsidies offsetting the cost of their health insurance—but this isn’t about birth control, it’s about health insurance.

I am baffled as to how so many conservatives came to believe that the health insurance mandate was about government-funded birth control. This is especially baffling given that most of these conservatives are also anti-abortion, and that such individuals should want government-funded birth control. When experiments in government-funded birth control have been tried (namely, offering poor women free long-lasting forms of birth control, which are far more expensive than methods like the pill or the condom, but also more effective), abortion rates have dropped.

In other words, the concept of government-funded birth control ought to be championed by abortion opponents, rather than pilloried.

One more thing—there’s a common idea in conservative circles that birth control is cheap. I’ve seen some claim the pill costs only $4/mo. This is false. For one thing, women have to have a prescription to get the pill, which means a visit to the doctor—and speaking from my own experience, it’s virtually impossible to visit the doctor without running up a bill of over $200. For another thing, while there are generic versions of the pill that are inexpensive (though not, to my knowledge, that inexpensive), bodies are different and the same pill doesn’t work for everyone. I have friends who have had to use versions of the pill that run $100/mo., because the other versions didn’t work for them.

And finally, we’re not just talking about the pill, here! I have an IUD. Getting it inserted would have cost me over $800 out of pocket if my insurance hadn’t covered it. That is a lot of money for people on a budget. Heck, that’s a lot of money for anyone but the most wealthy among us. I have a friend who got an IUD before the ACA, and didn’t realize it wouldn’t be covered. She spent months fighting an $800 bill, which she believed should have been covered. This isn’t peanuts, people.

Okay, next thing:

In an interview with the Texas Observer, [Republican lawmaker Tony Tinderholt] explained that women need to know there are “repercussions” for their actions.

“Right now, it’s real easy,” Tinderholt said. “Right now, they don’t make it important to be personally responsible because they know that they have a backup of ‘oh, I can just go get an abortion.’ Now, we both know that consenting adults don’t always think smartly sometimes. But consenting adults need to also consider the repercussions of the sexual relationship that they’re gonna have, which is a child.”

See, I’m not sure “real easy” is how I’d describe getting an abortion. For one thing, getting an abortion ing ing to run you $500. That is a lot of money. For another thing, you’re going to have to figure out logistics, take time off work, travel to the clinic, etc. For a third thing, getting an abortion is no piece of cake—it’s a painful procedure. I don’t see people lining up to get their teeth drilled, and the same thing applies here.

Is it possible that the existence of safe, legal abortion makes women more willing to be sexually active than previously? Technically. While women have always had premarital sex, there are stats that suggest that the age at which women engage in premarital sex has changed over time (interestingly, the age is currently going up again). But all of this is complicated, and women in previous eras may have been more concerned about the stigma associated with having a child out of wedlock (stigma that has decreased in recent decades) than anything else. Still, women in the past had premarital sex nonetheless, and in some areas of colonial New England as many as 38% of births were conceived out of wedlock. This is on top of the fact that abortion was an option in the past (it was more dangerous, but so was childbirth).

One more thing to note—most pro-choice individuals consider the choice to abort an unintended pregnancy a form of taking responsibility. A woman who is unintentionally pregnant has to decide what to do next out of a range of options, all of which involve taking responsibility for her situation. She can carry to term and parent the child, she can carry to term and give the child up for adoption, or she can have an abortion. The problem, of course, is that Tinderholt appears to believe that an embryo is a child, so he sees only two responsible options—parenting or adoption.

When it comes down to it, Tinderholt wants couples to consider more seriously the possibility of pregnancy before having sex. He thinks that banning abortion will make them do this. But what is his goal, exactly? Does he hope couples will use more effective methods of birth control, or does he hope they will decide not to have sex if they’re not ready to have a child? He doesn’t say, but his website does state that he’s against the Medicaid expansion, which would give millions more low-income women access to affordable birth control.

We’re talking a lot today about how facts don’t seem to matter in a Trump administration, but then facts haven’t mattered to a wide swath of conservatives for a long time. There are tens of millions of Americans who are convinced, today, that liberal women want them to pay for their birth control (Sandra Fluke, anyone?) and that abortion offers women an easy way to have irresponsible sex without dealing with the consequences. And a lot of this is tied to concerns about women being “sluts,” which in turn goes back to patriarchal notions about gender, value, and sex.

I’m honestly not sure how to most effectively combat this misinformation, or whether it can be combatted. We need strategy, we need organization, we need a plan. And perhaps most of all, we need to admit that much of what we’ve tried doing thus far hasn’t worked. Still people believe this nonsense, and still it impacts policy.

It’s ironic, really. Growing up in a conservative evangelical family, I often heard about the evil of “postmodernism,” which held that there is no truth, no objective reality. I was given to believe that this philosophy controlled modern liberalism. Once in college, I found this was not true. My professors definitely believed in reality, and in objective truth. Now I’m starting to wonder whether it is conservatives, and not liberals, who have been swallowed by this dreaded “postmodernism,” where truth no longer matters and fact is anathema.

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