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Monday, June 01, 2009

Abortion is Murder: Why the right is responsible for domestic terrorism

posted by Silvana

As you've all surely heard by now, Dr. George Tiller, a physician who provided health care to women, including abortion services, was shot and killed yesterday morning. The post below contains a lot of great links; you should read them all. Though I usually prefer to keep mum on topics that I sense are being widely and thoroughly covered, I feel that there's a hole in the analysis so far: why is it, specifically, that the anti-abortion right is morally—if not legally—responsible for heinous acts of domestic terrorism such as this one?

Several people have put forth facts and explanations that get close to why the right is responsible. But none quite get it. I have seen several people point to the Twitter feeds of people gleefully celebrating Tiller's murder and characterizing it as just. But that's a symptom, rather than the cause. I dismiss those comments because I hate to give any microphone to Assholes On The Internet, of which there will always be plenty. Anytime anyone whose life can be characterized as "left" or "right" wing dies, there are people willing to take to the internet and spout off disgusting tripe about how He Deserved it or It's Karma. Always. So I don't take the fact that there are people cheering Tiller's death to be worth much.

Bitch said yesterday:
Nonetheless, I think that when the leaders of a movement make statements that condone or deflect blame for violence, the movement deserves some blame for what happens.
I think it's much worse than that, and I think the blame that the movement bears for Tiller's assassination and other acts of terrorism runs much deeper than their lukewarm condemnation.

In order to understand why the anti-abortion right is responsible for terrorism, even when the organizations that comprise the movement do not organize, sponsor, or pay for the violent acts themselves, we have to dissect the case against abortion.

Turn the clock back to a video that made waves a few years ago. In the video, abortion protesters in Libertyville are asked how much time they think women who receive abortions should spend in jail (were abortion to be made illegal, as they all so fervently desire). The responses were shocking, given the protesters' militance: none wanted to name a number. "It's between them and god." Some weren't even sure that women should actually go to prison for getting an illegal abortion.

Watch the video. As Bitch said way back then, "[E]ven the seeming extremists who stand out on street corners with signs...are less extreme than we think they are: they dislike abortion and want to protest it as an act, but they don't, when push comes to shove, think it should be criminalized."

The political right needs the abortion debate like a fish needs water. Without it, their power is greatly diminished. Proclaiming one's opposition to abortion is an easy way to get support from people who very well might not otherwise pay attention to you, because it stands in for so many things. It stands in for religious fervor (no one cared that John McCain wasn't particularly religious, because he was pro-life). It's stands in for sexism. It stands in for moral disapprobation for women who happen to believe that they have the right to have sex and control their own reproduction. The abortion debate is the Right's morality play, and the fight against it is their Jihad.

But it's a fight they're losing. Abortion is legal, and has been for almost forty years now. Public opinion has drastically shifted against them. More and more people have shifted to intellectually and morally incoherent positions on abortion, like "it's okay if the woman was raped" or "as long as it's not used as birth control."

So they needed to ramp up the emotion on the abortion debate, because without a whole mess of people inconsolably angry that women have the right to control their own reproduction, the Right is totally screwed.

Enter "Abortion is Murder." It's plain as day to me that the vast majority of people who are pro-life don't actually believe that abortion is murder. If abortion were murder, it would not be okay in the case of rape. If abortion were murder, it would not be okay for moms with too many mouths to feed, but forbidden to 19-year-old sluts. If abortion were murder, you would not find people on the street waffling about whether women who obtain abortions should receive jail time. If abortion were murder, it would not be okay in "some" circumstances.

There are, of course, a small minority of people who actually believe that abortion is murder. These are the people who also oppose the death penalty and are anti-war; they are a very small group of people indeed within the American Right, and they tend to be Catholic. But they are not among the vast majority of the people who are militant in their opposition to abortion rights, and there are nearly none counted among their leaders. What their leaders, Protestants and Evangelicals almost all, did is take the position of the small group of Catholic, anti-death-in-all-circumstances people, and adopt it as if it were their own.

They did this to mask the truth about the anti-abortion movement: it is not about whether a fetus is a life. It is about controlling women. It is about heaping "consequences" on women who dare to live their lives as full, autonomous human beings who are not beholden to the male patriarchs and the male god who demand women serve as reproductive vessels fully under their control. It is about judgment, and it is about punishment.

But the leaders realized that this justification for their opposition to abortion was becoming less and less palatable to all but the most virulent misogynists. So, they adopted "Abortion is Murder," which is a philosophy that any old conservative can get behind, at least for show. "Abortion is murder" is brilliant because it shifts the focus to the fetuses, rather than where it actually belongs, which is on the women who are the real targets of anti-abortion policies and politics. Everyone can get behind not killing babies, right? Because babies are cute and fuzzy! Without "Abortion is Murder," you do not have people out on the streets protesting. You do not have people championing candidates for political office merely because those candidates oppose abortion. You do not have rivers of money flowing into the Republican party. You do not have any stand-in for moral disapprobation of sexually autonomous women.

But what you also do not have, is domestic terrorism against abortion providers. You do not have intimidation, threats, blocked access, actual murder.

The right chose "Abortion is Murder" as its rhetorical firecracker, because it gets them the fervor they need to remain politically relevant and politically powerful. But it also begets terrorism, because who doesn't want to be the righteous martyr that takes out the mass-murderer? Without the right's re-framing of the debate to co-opt the Catholic position, the vast majority of their supporters would never have been singing "Abortion is Murder" in the first place. Because they don't really believe it.

When they chose "Abortion is Murder," they chose this.

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