A Particularly Ugly Episode in the Christian Culture Wars.

(Content note: Abortion, women’s rights, misogyny. I would also like to remind readers that nobody has any quarrel with anybody who personally wouldn’t choose abortion for themselves but who would never, ever seek to deny others that right. All people are allowed to make whatever decisions they wish about their own bodies. I am writing here about people who would seek to deny others that same right.)

It’s been a rather mind-blowing week over in Christian Bizarro-land. The anniversary of the landmark decision Roe v. Wade was coming up, and it happened to coincide with the start of a legislative session in Congress, so naturally there’s been quite a lot of grandstanding and showboating going on as Christianist politicians and religious leaders alike jockey to demonstrate who loves fetuses the most.

Christian extremists have always hated that court decision. The day that an American court decided that women’s reproductive decisions were their own business and nobody else’s was the day that zealots got smacked in the face with the fact that their opinions of other people’s private lives don’t matter. Every decision further made to remove Christians’ opinions from impacting other people’s lives has been one step further taken to end Christian supremacy over society. It’s that lack of supremacy they’re upset about, not abortion itself. Abortion is just the emblem and symbol of that erosion of control. But it’s a powerful emblem. Though this opposition is, as Fred over at Slacktivist phrases it so well, “younger than the Happy Meal”, Christian leaders at this point take it for granted that of course abortion is some kind of grave moral wrong that of course Christians must fight tooth and nail to stop–for women’s own good, of course, though the implication is clear that these Christians think that women are too stupid, dense, immoral, and sex-crazed to realize how bad abortion is (or even sometimes to know what abortion is).

The problem isn’t so much that women are getting abortions; it’s that they’re getting abortions despite Christians’ attempts–by any means fair or foul, though mostly the means are foul–to stop them from doing it. It’s that Christians are saying “You shouldn’t do this” and women are either ignoring them or outright disagreeing–and getting abortions anyway, because this is a secular country and not a theocratic hellhole, and women own their own bodies here, which means nobody else gets to decide or override what another human being will or won’t have inside their own body, not even when the people trying to deny women their bodily rights are doing it for what they are totally convinced are the very best of reasons.

Nowhere does toxic Christianity’s pulse thump as loudly as it does when abortion gets mentioned. And oh yes, I know that there are “pro-life” dupes involved here who aren’t Christian, all of them trying to find non-religious arguments for denying women their bodily rights and turning their bodies into public property. And largely the arguments for doing so are already non-religious in nature because misogyny is a dogma that transcends all religious labels. Anybody who believes deep down that women aren’t really full people with exactly the same rights as men have, anybody who thinks that sometimes a woman’s rights and consent should be stripped from her the moment someone else needs to use her body or even just disagrees with her decisions, can be a “pro-life” advocate and hop into the party van.

Yet, despite the presence of some non-Christians in that party van, the “pro-life” movement is a Christian movement first and foremost–though some Christian groups reject this position, making the fight not between “Christians” and “the mean ole secular world and mean ole atheists and feminists,” but rather a fight between “misogynists, many of whom are Christians, and non-misogynists, many of whom are non-Christian.” (Kinda like how Creationism works, right? Not “Christian vs. atheist” but “a very narrow group of ignorant Christians versus everybody who understands and embraces science and reality, a group that very much includes a number of Christians.”) That said, I find it hilarious that these non-Christians don’t even realize that the entire movement was constructed from start to finish not to save pweshus baybeez but to get Americans used to the idea of losing their rights for the greater good–and to get us all used to having toxic Christians control our most intimate decisions. The movement is about keeping these Christian extremists in power and getting them back the authority and influence they’ve lost over the years as people have left the religion. It’s a great way to whip increasingly-alienated, angry, and disaffected Christian voters into enough of a frenzy to keep Republicans in power through pandering to a manufactured distrust and hatred of feminism and liberalism. And the leaders of the nuttiest wing of politics clearly think that they can accomplish that goal by fighting to keep women subjugated–women’s growing independence has always threatened Christian zealots’ conceptualizations of hierarchy and gender relations, just as LGBTQ rights do, so it’s a safe thing to pander with. Christian leaders are perfectly aware that reproductive rights are the linchpin of women’s progress and that control of women’s own reproduction is crucial to having and expressing equal rights. So trying to block women’s access to abortion performs a number of critical functions in right-wing Christianist politics.

At its worst, the “pro-life” movement is about erasing and negating women entirely. For a long time these zealots have painted pregnancy as this happy skip in the park that any woman should be totally okay to do, a favor on par with dropping a friend off at the mall on one’s way to work, like women just carry fetuses around in shopping bags during pregnancy rather than what pregnancy really is: a life-altering, incredibly dangerous medical procedure with literally hundreds of risks and complications, up to and including psychosis and death. Painting abortion as a purely frivolous, gratuitously mean-spirited and shallow decision is a big part of demonizing it–and an even bigger part of undermining the women who need to make that choice. And slowly, slowly, by pushing imagery like that, these zealots are insinuating the idea into our society that rights can and should only be granted to those who deserve them and will use them the way that those in power want them to use those rights. If someone doesn’t deserve the right to control her own body, goes the unspoken logic, then that right should be removed from her for her own good before she does something really bad with it, sort of like taking a teenager’s car keys away if the kid gets a speeding ticket. Think about what that attitude says about the person whose rights are being stripped and the person doing the stripping-away, because I’m deliberately using the image of a child being punished. If a woman doesn’t use her right to consent the way the men around her think she should use it, then maybe she shouldn’t have the right to consent to how her body gets used at all. Every single day, American women’s rights hang precariously from a crimson thread that can be cut the moment those rights are judged to be too much for them to handle.

In short, misogynists look at a photo of a pregnant woman and see a fetus riding around in some anonymous body and don’t care what the owner of that body thinks of the matter because whatever risk that fetus represents, whatever unwanted violation that fetus brings with itself or catastrophe it is going to wreak on its host’s body, its needs are what matter in the situation, while non-misogynists look at that same picture and see a woman–and they ask that woman if she wants to be pregnant or not, and most of all they care what her answer is.

How emphatically do forced-birthers negate women’s existence when it comes to abortion? Well, here’s a story about a ridiculous video some fundagelical men put out lamenting about how they “let” their partners get abortions. I know, “let”? But they don’t put it that way exactly. I want you to read this post while you look at that video, and I want you to hear the outright contempt and dismissiveness expressed in it toward these men’s ex-partners.

It begins with SHOTS FIRED. An ultra-somber, ultra-sincere bald bro says in the most sad and weepy tone imaginable, “I got an abortion.”

What?

“I got an abortion.”

Oh, he did? Really? Huh, how neat. That must have been very interesting for him, given that he doesn’t have a uterus or a vagina, much less the ability to carry a fetus in his body.

One after another, men gaze soulfully into the camera and sadly declare, “I’ve had an abortion.” One guy even claims he’s had two of ’em.

Um, how’d that happen? Are they transgender? No, they’re all cis. They’re apologizing for abortions they did not actually have. Like the parade of forced-birthers through the movement’s history, they are all eager to write the women carrying these sacred fetuses right out of the picture. The women whose lives are directly affected by pregnancy don’t even exist in this video. The abortions referenced were not any woman’s own decision, but instead those of these ultra-earnest, ultra-sincere bros; the fetuses all sound like they were in these men’s bodies, not someone else’s. It’s like their partners weren’t even involved. I’ve read Naruto fanfic that more plausibly handled men having babies than this glib appropriation of pregnancy language to advance a self-serving agenda of false victimhood.

One after another, they swallow painfully, purse their lips, and gaze off into the distance, their pious eyebrows knitting and their eyes misting up as they haltingly recall “their” abortions and confess “their” sins. One home-group leader says at about the 00:30 mark:

So I was 28, and I didn’t know god; I called myself a Christian though. . . I had just started dating this gal, and, uh, she got pregnant.

The sheer contempt he displays for this partner–calling her a “gal” rather than a woman, distancing himself from the sex he engaged in with her–glitters brightly. He wasn’t some teenager. He was an adult man, pushing 30, and apparently premarital sex was totally okay by him. Presumably his partner was an adult woman as well. But he acts like her pregnancy came out of the clear blue sky. He doesn’t say “I got her pregnant.” He takes no responsibility whatsoever for having had unapproved premarital sex. He doesn’t even admit he had unapproved pre-marital sex. He uses only passive language to describe his actions and role in the situation.

There’s a reason for this choice of phrasing.

In a rather chilling snippet, one bro does discuss that he regrets not having “fought for the opportunity to save my child.” Others whine about not having “rescued” their partners from their own stupidity. We already know what “fighting” and “rescuing” looks like to people who deny women their bodily rights; domestic terrorism, manipulation, deception, and fearmongering. It’s not “his” child anyway–hell, it’s not even a child; it’s actually part of another human being’s body if it’s a nonviable fetus, and the only opinion that really matters here is the opinion of the human being being volunteered to host that fetus and who is taking huge medical risks on that fetus’ behalf. Mangling and misusing medical terminology is a big part of how forced-birthers manipulate emotions, and we need to call this dishonesty out when we see it.

And the video just keeps rolling on. Amid manipulative images of cute babies and playing children, the bald dude–who I’m calling Pastor Bro–sadly talks about how he regrets “his” abortion to this very day, then goes on to say that about 1/3 of Christian church members “have participated in an abortion.”

Wait, what?

Who exactly is he talking about here?

It’s hard to tell what he means by “participate.” He could be talking about anybody from the women getting the actual abortions to their partners to the people driving them to the clinic or making them soup afterward to the people putting up the money for the procedure to the employers giving those women time off work. We have no idea who or what he means. He never explains.

This dishonest hedging is completely intentional. We’re not supposed to wonder.

This blurring of lines is part of what makes forced-birther ideology so recklessly dishonest. About 1/3 of American women have chosen abortions, and that number doesn’t change a whole lot in Christianity (studies vary from “about as often” to “slightly less often” to even “way more often,” but oh yes, Christians definitely do have abortions; just as with their sex lives, Christian women don’t differ much regarding abortion from the standard population–they just feel guilty afterward and happily campaign for laws and rules they themselves can’t live under). But we already know, thanks to Pastor Bro and his buddies’ hangdog “I had an abortion” rhetoric earlier, that none of these guys even consider their partner’s private medical decisions to be anything but completely their business and moreover something they can feel free to spread around in public to score a political point and pander to their audience. We’re going to devote some special time to this blurring of lines soon, but for now, just be thinking about how toxic Christians often dishonestly take ownership of and claim a say in other people’s private business–especially when those other people are marginalized Others that Christians disapprove of (such as how cake decorators think that selling a cake to a gay couple is somehow participating in their wedding).

Then we get to watch these Christians concern-troll in a truly sickening display of paternalistic condescension. Looking right at the camera, Pastor Bro and his buddies say very earnestly, “I’m so sorry,” over and over again, most of them with a catch in their voices that suggests they’re just on the verge of breaking into manly sobs.

This “me so sorry” whining is nothing but more dishonest emotional manipulation. They want women who’ve had abortions to feel like there’s something to be sorry about and something to apologize for.

And there just isn’t.

Abortion’s a very simple, quick procedure that is one of the safest procedures any woman can have done–when legal, that is; illegal abortions, like the ones that absolutely would result if these “so sorry” bros got their wish, can be quite dangerous as well as way more common in countries that ban and criminalize abortion. Abortions are much less dangerous than pregnancies, which are way more likely to cause death. Though they can be expensive, especially for the poor and vulnerable women who need them most, abortions are a lot less expensive than a full-term pregnancy would be, not to mention a mere drop in the bucket compared to the cost of raising a baby; I seriously doubt these bros have in mind supporting all the babies that would result from their sanctimonious showboating or the astronomical rise in costs to government welfare programs that absolutely would result from such restrictions. And the “abortion regret” they clearly think women suffer–and which they giddily, gleefully appropriate for themselves to paint themselves as victims–was something even I knew was nothing but a myth back in the 1980s. But they keep on yammering about “the burdens and the weight” that their partners had to bear, implying that there is actually a burden or weight.

This, too, is a falsehood.

Most women who get abortions aren’t sorry. Most of them are actually hugely relieved. It isn’t hard to imagine why. An unwanted pregnancy is an absolutely devastating catastrophe for a woman. It can affect her entire life in every single direction. It can impact her relationships and her employment, hijack her very body and mind, and even maybe kill her. I’ve only met a few women who regretted their abortions–and you know what? Most of them came from Christian rhetoric-laden environments like these bros want to impose on society again. Tell a woman her whole life that abortion is terrible, that it is “shame and darkness” as Pastor Bro terms it, and she might just come out of one thinking so. Shocking, isn’t it? Maybe the problem is that Pastor Bro senses–dimly at least–that most women don’t think of abortion as shameful or dark. He just desperately wants women to think that–and he’s happy to lie for Jesus if it leads to women agreeing with what he thinks about abortion.

But out here in reality-land, we know better. And as more and more women get abortions and talk about their experiences, demystifying the concept and discovering in the process that an abortion is not a big deal, the rhetoric and propaganda pushed by people like Pastor Bro is going to continue to fail. Indeed, the comedy site Funny or Die has already put out a must-see reaction video discussing this Orwellian travesty against decency and I recommend you see it to help detox yourself.

That increasing awareness of what the forced-birther movement is really about–the naked negation of women’s rights and the hamfisted, baldfaced attempt to bring back Christian dominance even if it means writing a bill that sounds like it’s actively negating rape victims–is why, when the American House of Representatives tried to pass a draconian anti-abortion bill this week, the measure died. It did not die because a bunch of progressive, feminist allies stopped it, nor because the President vetoed it–though both would likely have happened. No, this awful, ludicrously evil bill died because Republican women themselves spoke out against its weird rape provision, to the fury of both forced-birther domestic-terrorism groups and their party alike. And those Republican women immediately got censured by people they probably previously thought were their allies, with one asshole even hinting that one of those women, Representative Renee Ellmer, didn’t deserve the right to live because she had spoken out against the tribe (and he even went on to proudly declare that he doesn’t care if anybody thinks his question is “un-Christian, irresponsible, or just plain mean”–remember, misogyny transcends religious labels, and, clearly, even basic human decency). It sounds like the first time she actually has stepped outside the bounds prescribed for women in her party; Renee Ellmer’s record is pretty solidly in lock-step with fundagelical extremism. The good ole Christian boys in her Republican clubhouse grudgingly tolerated her presence as long as she said and did exactly what they wanted; when she refused to comply even one time, they turned on her like a pack of wild, rabid dogs. It’s tragic that the only “life” forced-birther zealots care about is that imaginary one they think fetuses have. Actual real women with real lives, even women who are forced-birthers themselves for whatever misguided reason, get brushed aside and even threatened by their male masters any time they get inconvenient to the narrative.

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“Once you’re born, you’re on your own.” /BOOM BAM MIC

This is one culture war that isn’t going to end until our society starts caring about the right to consent and understands how important bodily autonomy is–for men, for women, for everybody–and stops thinking that one person can or should have a say in what violates and uses another person’s body. The problem is that a society that truly values consent and bodily integrity would not be one that fundagelical Christians like these bros in this video would want to live in. They wouldn’t have influence over total strangers’ lives in that society, nor would their opinions, as fascinating as they would be to these bros, matter to a person making an intimate medical decision based on his or her own understanding. They wouldn’t even get to feel smugly superior and morally above anybody. Just think of all those women having all that unapproved sex and all those borshuns without even caring what these bros think of it! Won’t someone think of the children bros?

Are forced-birthers sorry enough that women choose abortions that they will campaign for the measures that actually work to lower abortion, though? I seriously doubt it. The movement as a whole is increasingly anti-contraception, anti-sex education, and anti-social justice. That their stated solution to the issue of unwanted pregnancies is a chirpy “WELL JUST DON’T HAVE UNAPPROVED SEX THEN, GYAHH, SILLIES!” and a concerted attempt to regulate strangers’ sex lives instead of anything that actually would affect abortion rates indicates that the real problem here is the unapproved sex being had. Instead of tackling the very real and pressing reasons why women need abortions so often in our dysfunctional society (poverty, poor education, lack of access to contraception, lack of support for domestic abuse victims and very poor women), they try to nip the supply instead by criminalizing this safe, completely simple procedure and shaming and terrorizing women to compliance with Christian “values.” But the need is still there. The reasons are still there. That’s why these measures fail in the real world and lead only to deaths for women desperate enough to seek abortions anyway.

A serious question for Republicans is posed here. (Credit: Steve Rainwater, CC license.)

A serious question for Republicans is posed here. (Credit: Steve Rainwater, CC license.)

As one of these bros puts it in that video, the problem is that abortion is “available” at all–and the solution to the problem he’s creating in his head is quite clearly to remove that availability, which will solve everything. Except it won’t–remember, banning abortion just makes abortion rates soar. It’s the countries that allow abortion more or less freely that tend to have the lowest rates of abortion. Weird, isn’t it?

If there is any “shame and darkness” involved in abortion, then it’s imposed entirely by misogynists who hate and fear the idea of self-owning women. One of the bros in that video actually says he is sorry that his partner had to hide her abortion “from everyone.” Gee, ya think, asshole? Why do you suppose she’d want to conceal having had one, hmm? Did you even ask her first if it was okay to talk about her private life on this video? I doubt it’d be hard for people who are even vaguely acquainted with this guy to figure out who the woman in question must be. But her very real risk of humiliation doesn’t matter. When a poor widdle man-child bro feels man-pain, that man-pain matters more than protecting an ex-girlfriend from the fury of his own tribe. She’ll understand, right? He has man-pain here! MAN-PAIN!

This video–and the legislation that came along beside it–is grotesque. This is what the forced-birther movement is about: dishonesty. Manipulation. Excessive overreach. Negated existence. Blurred lines. Trampled rights. A total lack of understanding of consent and autonomy. Concern trolling. Grabbing control of and judging others’ lives under the mistaken conviction that good intentions shield the controllers from all criticism. This is the ultimate end-game of Christianism, and the ultimate evil it represents to all of us. And I use the word “evil” quite intentionally, because I think there is nothing more evil than someone who knowingly harms others while insisting it is for those others’ own good. This is nothing but more “ends justify the means” zealotry. Harm done out of “sincere” concern is still harm.

We should all feel outraged that this is the direction that forced-birthers are taking, and we should not ever tolerate this kind of overreach. We should not allow zealots to remove people’s bodily rights, or to dictate how those rights will be expressed. We should not allow them to think even for one heartbeat that they have the right to make other people’s private medical decisions for them, or to negate human beings. We should be aware of appropriation language and manipulation tactics such as those used in this video, and aware of the undercurrents of arrogance, presumption, and false ownership in forced-birther tactics nowadays. This video represents a trend that we need to keep in mind as we move forward.

Let’s sum up:

I am a woman and I have these human rights: the right to life, the right to privacy, the right to freedom, the right to bodily integrity, the right to decide when and how I reproduce. — Soraya Chemaly

I know this topic hits a lot of us very deeply, and it should. I don’t apologize for taking this subject personally. After all, there’s not much that’s more personal than having one’s bodily rights and autonomy stripped clean away. But I also want to end with a note of optimism–an optimism I do not feel is misplaced. The darkness assembling against women across the world (almost every bit of it at the hands of religious zealots, I’ll add) can look overwhelming sometimes, but you know what they say about it always looking darkest right before dawn. As right-wing politicians start noticing how badly these tactics backfire both on them personally and on their party, and as Christians themselves grow increasingly weary of this ridiculous, self-generated culture war their Dear Leaders have kicked up, I expect society to shudder free and move forward.

In fifty years, misogynists attacking women’s right to terminate unwanted pregnancies may well be considered much like how we consider anti-gay bigots today, and how we began considering fervent racists a few short decades ago. We may have to drag toxic Christians and other misogynists forward kicking and screaming every inch of the way, but eventually our forward tide will bring them forward to the point where there’ll come a day when they say with total certainty that they always supported women’s right to choose. If that idea doesn’t buoy you, I don’t know what else might besides a kitten going to town on a soft blanket:

Here's some help in detoxing. (Credit: Michael S, CC license.)

Here’s some help in detoxing. (Credit: Michael S, CC license.)


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About Captain Cassidy

Cassidy was raised Catholic, converted to Pentecostalism in her mid-teens, married a preacher, and deconverted after college. She blogs about religion, deconversion, video and tabletop gaming, psychology, modern culture, and other such topics at Roll to Disbelieve.

You can find the Captain on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.