I’m so tickled about McCain’s inability to answer a basic question about Viagra vs. birth control pill, which is getting widespread coverage and is going to haunt him. In fact, it’s so widespread that Bill O’Reilly decided he had to argue for the double standard on his show. In doing so, he’s taking an enormous risk, because unfairness of it all is so evident that even his feeble attempts to defend it fall short, and he’s reduced (well, he likes it, so not reduced) to basically mocking women for having sex while simultaneously arguing that straight men have an enshrined right to have it. His audience is pretty dumb, but even they might see the holes in his theory.
So the assault on contraception is getting more mainstream. Anti-choice activists have had bans on contraception on their wish lists for years, which pretty definitively proves that they’re more anti-sex than “pro-life”. Of course, every time I bring up the fact that the organized anti-choice movement is formally anti-comprehensive sex education and anti-contraception, some yahoo in comments will try to play gotcha by saying that some anti-choicers (no doubt himself) support the right to use contraception. It’s of course up in the air if they agree with Bill O’Reilly that insurance companies should cover women who dare to have sex like dirty, dirty hoors.
Which brings me to my larger point. The existence of private, non-activist citizens who think abortion should be illegal but are tolerant of legal contraception doesn’t in any way prove that the debate is about the fetus more than it’s about women’s rights and women’s sexuality. The fact of the matter is that anxiety about women’s liberation and about sex exists on a scale, and that scale determines where people stand in relation to their opinion on reproductive rights. Let me describe the various spots on the scale as I see it to illustrate, starting on the right and moving leftward.
1) The American Taliban. A combination of the treacly subculture of Catholicism that worships women who died in childbirth as saints and the fundamentalist Protestants who organized the religious right after schools were desegregated. These folks are misogynists through and through, and think that a hardline patriarchy where women are channeled into wife-and-motherhood and nothing else, preferably at an early age, is what god wants. They oppose any and all attempts to liberate people from calcified gender roles, including contraception, comprehensive sex education, and tolerance of homosexuality. They’d like to see a return to throwing people in jail for sodomy and for distributing information about birth control or performing underground abortions. They believe that women who have sex outside of marriage are hellbound Jezebels or, more often, childlike creatures who simply cannot handle liberation and need to be controlled for their own good. They support chastity for men as well as women, but mainly because they realize that if men have sex outside of marriage, they’re defiling some other man’s virgin bride. The entire organized anti-choice movement is made up of these people, including Feminists For Life, who are left-leaning insofar as they lightly intersect with the next category.
2) The “Women You Fuck/Women You Marry” Brigade. Still hard to the right, and usually anti-abortion rights, though they tend to be somewhat softer on contraception because there’s a special subcategory of the “Women You Marry” category, which is women you have sex with before you marry them. They like the idea of virgin brides, in other words, but don’t think it’s mandatory. They have no problem with straight male sexuality, even though they still think the penis has magical defiling powers to turn women into sluts. These are the Bill O’Reillys and John McCains of the world, who tell unfunny rape jokes and think the double standard is obvious. They have no problem expressing opinions against women’s equal access to the public sphere. They might tolerate the right to contraception, but they’d easily be swayed against it, as Bill O’Reilly demonstrates, because they tend to think that it’s women’s lot in life to suffer. Dirty whores deserve to be forced to have kids/get back alley abortions to teach them a lesson, and the girls you marry should be willing to endure unwanted pregnancy with saintlike feminine good cheer and the belief in a reward in the hereafter.
3) Women Grow Up By Submitting Crew. These are the people who really sit on the fence, and I believe make up the mushy middle. They believe that teenage girls shouldn’t have sex, of course, but they’re also tolerant of pre-marital sex and don’t think that someone should have to suffer unduly forever for it. They support contraception rights, and are probably increasingly convinced that it is in fact unfair to cover Viagra and not birth control—at least the women see that as a blatant double standard. They believe there’s a difference between a slut and a good girl, but they accept that good girls might date around some in their youth before they settle down. The main thing is that women settle down and take part in the patriarchal marriage after a reasonable period of time. They’re easily swayed by the argument that abortion shouldn’t be used as “birth control”, because they think that good girls, if they get pregnant on accident, make honest women out of themselves by marrying the father and having the baby. They all too often see abortion restrictions as restrictions only on those women trying to escape this fate, which is why they like to entertain bans on abortion that make exceptions for rape. They also don’t have a problem with male sexuality, and like group #2, tolerate sexist expressions of it as “boys will be boys”.
4) I’m Gonna Fuck Random Bitches For The Rest Of My Life Dudes. These are the guys that see Hugh Hefner as a role model. They’re pro-choice because they like to imagine that it makes their lives easier. They’re not actually that big a group, but I’d be remiss not to mention them. They don’t like women at all, are egotists and think pregnancy is something women do to trap them. These are the guys won over by the idea that men should have a right to avoid child support payments by saying that they never wanted a baby and signing something. They don’t get along with #6s too well, not because they’re promiscuous, but because they’re assholes. They get on famously with men in #2 and even #3, because they can bond over a shared sense that bitches ain’t shit. (Except your own daughters, of course.)
5) Abortion Should Be Legal, But You Should Feel Bad Contingency. Usually these are politically involved people who have moved up from group #3 because they’ve been educated on the facts about how women are going to get abortions no matter what the law. They’re less sexist in general than group #3 in the sense that they don’t like the casual acceptance of male ruthlessness towards women. They like to hear about how men should step up and take responsibility, and are turned off by some of the more mean-spirited porn and cheese sexism like Hooters. That said, they still are wigged out by nightmares of sexual promiscuity and think the world would be a better place if everyone settled down and had babies and lived normal, middle-American lives. They do like traditional gender roles, but tend to have an idealized version of them that comes with mutual respect and male devotion to wives. They’re conservative Democrats/liberal Christians and the ones who are increasingly likely to support gay marriage because they see it as honoring their “marriage uber alles” morality. They understand that life doesn’t always take you in the ideal direction, but figure if you find yourself in a position of having an abortion, it’s time you took stock and ask yourself what you’re going to need to do to get yourself into the ideal marriage-with-babies situation. They like to hear about how abortion is a tragedy, because they do think it’s a tragedy that there are women out there who screw up the fall in love then get married then have babies life plan. They support feminist goals like pay equity and subsidized day care much of the time. Think: Amy Sullivan, William Saletan. Unfortunately, they empathize with anti-choicers, though they shouldn’t.
6) Abortion On Demand Without Apology. These are the people like me who scoff at talk abut how abortion is tragic. Unwanted pregnancy can be tragic, but we believe that if someone makes a mistake with the contraception or it just fails, they shouldn’t beat themselves up about it. We embrace sexual liberation and think that women’s liberation is incomplete if it doesn’t result in equality inside the home, in family life, and in sexual relationships. We clearly see how pregnancy has traditionally been used to trap women, and we think that only by giving women complete control (without apology or guilt) over their reproductive capacities can they even begin to think of equality. Many of us think the government has an obligation to make contraception and abortion free for everyone. People in categories 1-3 and 5 imagine that a 25-year-old woman dating someone seriously who gets pregnant should suck it up and marry her boyfriend, even if she has doubts, and try to make a go of it. #6 people tend to think that said woman should not feel bad if she decides instead to terminate and make her decision on who and whether to marry completely free of such pressures. I would add that the people who like the frame “reproductive justice” instead of “pro-choice” tend to fall in this category as well, but take it a step further and look at ways to liberate women by making it easier to be a single parent, to be a gay or lesbian parent, etc.
I hope this clarifies things. As you can see, the entire reproductive rights debate in this country can be outlined without a single reference to ensoulment of zygotes. It really is about gender and sexuality. I have no doubt that many of the people who oppose abortion do think it’s murder, but that’s a post hoc rationalization for beliefs that are rooted in ideas about gender, sexuality, and family life.