The anti-choice movement has worked hard to convince people that it cares about women and what they want. Its (public) rhetoric went from calling women murderers to telling them they “deserve better” than abortion. The movement swears its protestors are kindly grandmothers, not terrifying bullies. It has even started calling itself a group full of feminists!
But no amount of re-branding can hide the true goal of the anti-choicers: forcing women to carry pregnancies they don’t want, by any means. And the truth is that trying to forcibly stop women from getting abortions is a last-resort option for a stuck movement.
The anti-choice strategy to block access to abortion through legislation that shuts down clinics and burdens women has been hideously effective, but the narrow focus indicates the anti-choice movement could actually be conceding the war of public opinion. After all, Americans’ beliefs about abortion have remained steady over the last 10 years, and women who want abortions are not changing their minds about obtaining the procedure. Since it can’t effectively evangelize against the right to abortion – or eliminate that right – the anti-choice movement is throwing itself in front of that right, trying to make the right impossible to get to.
When Alabama’s US District Judge Myron Thompson found the state’s law mandating hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers unconstitutional this week, he found that protesters were not as interested in changing people’s minds as they were in threatening providers:
The protesters in Huntsville were not targeting abortion patients and trying to dissuade them from going through with the procedure. Instead, they were approaching women who sought to carry their pregnancies to term. Rather than attempting to change general public perceptions on the issue of abortions or dissuade women from obtaining abortions, the court must infer that these protesters sought to threaten economic destruction for any doctor who enabled the provision of abortion within the city.
Judge Thompson’s 172-page opinion also outlined the harassment and violence abortion providers face, writing that “this court cannot overlook the backdrop to this case: a history of severe violence against abortion providers in Alabama and the surrounding region.” Terrifyingly, this harassment and intimidation, activist or legal, may be all the anti-choice movement has left.
A 2013 study from the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California, San Francisco, showed that while protesters outside of clinics made women feel emotionally distressed, they had no impact on women’s feelings about getting an abortion. So if the anti-choicers aren’t engaging in debate that changes women’s minds, as they claim, what are they there for? To bully. To scare. To harass. (If only the violent backdrop that Judge Thompson refused to overlook was considered when the US supreme court decided this summer on buffer zones.)
Similarly, legislation like mandatory ultrasounds before abortions – which anti-choicers say will dissuade women from going through with the procedure – has almost no impact on a women’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. A study published in the January issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology showed that 98.4% of women who saw their ultrasounds had an abortion anyway. So why push the legislation? Well, it not only shames a woman with an unnecessary and sometimes invasive procedure, but it can add a financial burden that will forcibly keep her from obtaining care.
Even Crisis Pregnancy Centers – the major anti-choice initiative to change women’s minds about getting an abortion – use deception and fear rather than good-faith efforts to engage with women, because the truth only hurts their cause. CPCs routinely tell women there’s a link between breast cancer and abortion (there is not), that the procedure will make them sterile (it will not), or even lie to women about far along they are in a pregnancy so they’ll miss their state’s legal limit to obtain an abortion. Some CPCs deliberately misrepresent themselves as a medical clinic that offers abortion – down to using names similar to real abortion clinics in the area – only to intimidate the women who walk through their doors.
And while CPCs are being dealt major blows – from legislation curtailing their ability to deceive women to having their ads pulled by search engines Yahoo and Google – Trap laws are nonetheless on the rise. The Guttmacher Institute reports that more abortion restrictions have been enacted from 2011-2013 than in the entire previous decade.
Women know how they feel about abortion. They know if they want one or if they don’t. The anti-choice movement will not move them, so the only thing left to do is stop the anti-choicers – whether we like it or not. The movement doesn’t care about what women want, only what it can do to stop us. This desperation, while a weak spot pro-choice organizations should hammer on, also makes them all the more dangerous. And we should never forget that.