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What the Baby Joseph cases tells us about the anti-choice movement

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, March 23, 2011 13:23 EDT
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The Terri Schiavo case should have put to rest, I hope, any objections to paying attention to right wing stunt-stories that are flying through right wing media but not getting much mainstream attention. I’ve never been a fan of the “ignore it and they’ll go away” philosophy when it comes to these things. On the contrary, the fact that there are stories and theories known to pretty much everyone on the right but are rarely examined or even acknowledged by anyone else should trouble us. The urge is to ignore this stuff because it’s so clearly wrong/sadistic/morbid/stupid that you can’t take seriously the people who invest in it. Also, I think it’s painful to believe that your fellow Americans can be so incredibly mean-spirited, stupid, and nosy. (Certainly, an unwillingness to accept this has fed the mainstream tendency to ignore the anti-contraception beliefs of the anti-choice movement.) But millions of people are making their voting decisions based on these lies and myths. I do think increased media attention to birtherism and Glenn Beck’s ravings is helping wake everyone up to the fact that ignoring the right wing media and social media that flies under the radar of thinking people is just a poor idea.

With that disclaimer out of the way, I want to talk about a case that I doubt ignoring will make it go away: the baby Joseph situation. Kevin Keith has a rundown of the situation, and one of the most critical things to understand is most of the information coming out about it is coming through the anti-choice movement, and so it should be assumed up front that it’s full of lies, holes, and distortions. If you have questions about why anti-choicers lost the benefit of the doubt, please go do some reading and come back here. And remember in the Schiavo case that the right wingers painted Terri Schiavo as practically walking and talking, and it was only when the brain scans that showed how little brain she had left came out that it became clear how much they were lying about her condition.

So what’s going on is more a rough guess than anything else, but piecing together the right wing hysteria, the best guess is this: A bay in Canada was born with a disease that it seems likely put him in a vegetative state from birth on. As Keith explains, the odds are high that right wingers are downplaying the severity of this baby’s condition, but we don’t know the exact diagnosis. What we can be reasonably sure of is that baby Joseph is terminal, and the fight between his parents and the hospital is over whether or not to take him off the ventilator now or administer a tracheotomy and a home ventilator so that he can be taken home to undergo a much longer but just as certain death. As far as I can tell, once you peel away all the right wing hysterics, this is the crux of the fight. The right is painting the “die at home” side as “Save Baby Joseph”, but this is a lie. There is no saving baby Joseph. It’s all very sad, and worse, it seems this is the second child that this has happened to with these parents.

The problem is that Frank Pavone of Priests for Life—a truly wretched and ghoulish man who was practically dancing on Dr. George Tiller’s grave within hours of the announcement of his murder—has involved himself. (If the pedophilia scandals didn’t terminate any faith you have in the judgment of the leadership of the Catholic church, then spending some time with Pavone’s videos and writings should do it. That they gave this man a collar should indicate that they have no standards whatsoever when it comes to hiring people who are supposed to be ministering others.) Oh yeah, and so has Terri Schiavo’s brother. So we’re talking a three ring circus of lies and bullshit, and the people whose hard choices about their son are at stake are being swiftly reduced to pawns to use to score points.

And the people that are being scored on are, ultimately, Democrats. Even though Democrats have nothing to do with this. Not just because it’s a matter of a family versus a hospital bureaucracy (that may be in the right—read Keith’s post for more), but because this is happening in Canada. But for right wingers opposed to health care reform, Canada is a stand-in for Democrats. Bashing Canada is a way to bash Democrats. At least, it is when you’re talking about health care. Even though Democrats actually pushed for a system that preserves private health insurance, a high percentage of right wingers believe that we’ve got a Canadian-style single payer system coming down the pike. They also believe that this means that the government will be doing things like executing old people or retarded people in order to save money. That’s what the whole “death panels” thing was about. And so if they can find a story that “proves”—even through lies and distortion—that Canada is willing to kill babies that have a chance to live, they can score some points on the Democrats. That this is not what Canada is doing is beside the point. The truth never matters one bit. (What appears to be going on is that baby Joseph has been declared a futile situation, which is something that goes on in all sorts of medical settings, both private and public, and is more about medical ethics than funding sources.)

What this tells us about anti-choicers is twofold: 1) They’re ghouls. 2) They are nothing but Republican partisans, full stop.

The first should be obvious, but if you need more help in that direction, read Kevin’s post. The second is what’s I want to focus on in this post. Anti-choicers paint themselves as “pro-life”, people who are dedicated to preserving life against the imaginary demons of the world that kill fetuses for fun and unplug people who are totally going to recover for profit. Non-partisanship is a major part of this image, which is why they all fronted like they were betrayed when anti-choice Democrats voted for health care reform after it was clarified that women would be second class citizens under the new law. Of course, that situation should have made it clear that anti-choice activists are just fronting about this “life” stuff. They pretended like their objections to health care reform were about abortion, but when all abortion funding was stripped from it, they still opposed it, exposing that the abortion stuff was just a tactic employed for their real goal, which was stopping this legislation that will save thousands of lives. Since they put Republican victories over saving lives, they aren’t “pro-life” in any sense of the word.

Same story with this. These kind of hard decisions happen all the time in American hospitals and private hospitals and I’m pretty damn sure in Catholic hospitals. As Kevin notes, every ventilator being used on a futile case is not being used on someone who can recover. But anti-choicers are using this to grandstand on the Evils Of Universal Health Care. Even though, objectively speaking, a true pro-life person would want there to be health care for everyone, not just those who can afford it. There is nothing whatsoever “pro-life” about fighting for a baby to die at home instead of at the hospital. Either way, the baby is going to die. This is solely and completely about bashing government interventions that allow everyone to have health care. That makes anti-choicers not just anti-life in the most blunt sense, but it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that their non-partisan stance is simply a lie, and that they’re using women’s bodies and exploiting private and often difficult medical decisions to score points for Republicans, and that’s it.

And if you think about how much the Republicans have come to depend on these ghouls to mobilize voters, it’s quite chilling indeed.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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