I’ve probably visited a dozen or so abortion clinics in the course of my work reporting on reproductive rights, and every time, I still steel myself for what to expect as I try to get in the door.
Sometimes, it’s all very straightforward. I’m able to pull into a private parking lot without having to honk anti-abortion protesters out of the driveway, walk to the door without having my picture taken, and successfully get myself buzzed in by a security guard or receptionist doing their best to make sure I’ve got a legitimate reason to be there. If I’m lucky, my boots don’t set off the metal detector, a staple of larger facilities in bigger cities.
But more frequently, a handful or more — sometimes way more — of protesters start screaming at me before I get out of my car. If I have to park on the street and use a public right-of-way, they follow me, trying to shove pamphlets and tiny, naked plastic baby dolls into my hands. As I wait to be buzzed into the clinic, it can be hard to hear the voice on the other side of the intercom over shouts of “Murderer!” or “Don’t kill your baby!”
One time, fed up with hearing this abuse on my way into one of the last remaining legal abortion providers in Texas, I made the mistake of talking back.
“I’m not even pregnant!” I snapped, exasperated, to the man who had called me a baby killer and waved a rosary in my face.
“They sell birth control in there!” he responded. “Birth control is murder!”
I had effectively attempted to have a discussion about abortion with the intellectual equivalent of a Teddy Ruxpin doll.
That interaction was the first thing that popped into my head when I heard that a man — a terrorist — named Robert Lewis Dear had attacked a Colorado Planned Parenthood last week. After the attack, President Obama downplayed abortion and instead focused on gun control, saying that America can’t let this kind of mass murder become “normal.”
Boy howdy, if ever a train has already left the station, it is that one.
But I know many, many people involved in the provision of abortion services — from clinic escorts, who help shield patients from the driveway-to-door harassment that’s become so common, to doctors themselves — which may be why I was appalled, but not surprised, when I heard Dear, who allegedly murdered three people in the course of his rampage and wounded nine more, reportedly ranted to cops about “baby parts.” Law enforcement hasn’t yet definitively assigned a motive to the shooting, but so far it sure sounds like an apparent reference to those highly edited, deceptive videos produced earlier this year by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress.
Of course, certain routine security measures aren’t unusual for most Americans, especially in the workplace. We often show ID to security guards, sign visitors’ logs, even queue up for metal detectors. We think nothing of these things as we enter high-rise office towers, elementary schools and hospitals.
But schoolteachers are not singled out to have their faces plastered on “WANTED” posters by groups who oppose public education. Priests don’t plow their cars into cardiology offices. Folks don’t even hate lawyers so much that they regularly try to burn down their offices. The so-far vague condemnations of the Colorado shooting (and the “pro-life” community is in nothing like agreement that murdering abortion providers is a bad idea) from abortion opponents have been tinged with a particularly disturbing implication: that Dear was wrong not because he shot up an abortion clinic, but because he murdered the wrong people — innocent people. Not like, say, the doctors, nurses and clinic staff who provide legal abortions.
That attitude — that people who provide abortions deserve to die, that their murder is not only excusable but justifiable and even necessary — is notably espoused by a man named Troy Newman, who days before the Planned Parenthood shooting blessed Texas senator and 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz with his political endorsement.
Newman’s on the board at the Center for Medical Progress — the source of the “baby parts” videos that may have inspired Robert Dear. Newman’s such a volatile figure that he actually got himself blocked from entering Australia on a speaking tour back in October. In his book, which Newman co-authored with fellow Operation Rescue member Cheryl Sullenger (who herself tried to bomb an abortion clinic back in the 80s), Newman calls for the criminalization of abortion as murder and supports the execution of abortion providers “in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people.”
Two weeks ago, Cruz announced Newman’s endorsement with something approaching glee. Newman, said Cruz in a press release, is the kind of guy America needs more of.
“We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country,” said Cruz, “who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”
Personally, I’m of the belief that we need far fewer “leaders like Troy Newman.”
But Ted Cruz and I disagree on a lot of things. For example, Cruz thinks Dear is a “transgendered leftist activist,” a claim for which there is not only no evidence but for which there is a wealth of evidence to the absolute contrary.
And at a campaign stop in Iowa on Monday, Cruz told supporters that all this leftist hullabaloo about the GOP not wanting women to have access to reproductive health care is “nonsense,” saying he’d “never met anybody, any conservative who wants to ban contraceptives.”
Cruz is either lying or deeply out of touch with the rabid right-wing Christians who make up his most fervent base of supporters. GOP leaders probably dream nightly about banning insurance coverage for birth control. Here in Texas, GOP lawmakers play with family planning dollars like it’s Monopoly money, yanking access to contraceptives away from the poorest Texans without a second thought.
And indeed, conservative lawmakers have absolutely attempted to ban birth control itself, through what’s known as “personhood” legislation. Groups like Personhood USA want to classify every pregnancy as a wholly separate entity to the person carrying it. And because right-wing groups like the Center for Medical Progress, anti-abortion lobby organizations and anti-abortion doctors believe that hormonal birth control induces abortion, it would necessarily be a crime to prevent pregnancy by that method. Miscarriages would have to be investigated as homicides.
At that same campaign stop, however, Cruz did say something I agree with. He said that the Republican Party isn’t waging a “war on women.” He’s right. Telling people that buying a condom from a vending machine ought to serve as adequate contraceptive care does not constitute a “war on women.” Claiming that Obamacare contains an “abortifacient mandate,” as Cruz did back in 2012, is not a “war on women.” Supporting Texas’ anti-abortion law, which is poised to leave the state with nine legal abortion providers, is hardly a “war on women.”
And bragging about the endorsement of a man who openly inspires terrorists? That’s not a “war on women.”
That’s a war on all of us.
When people who get abortions — two thirds of whom are already parents — are forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term because they cannot access a legal abortion provider, that’s a war on families. When people who don’t want to be pregnant can’t afford birth control, that’s a war on families. When people who are pregnant can’t get adequate parental leave to care for their newborns, that’s a war on families. When new parents can’t breastfeed at work, that’s a war on families. When people with breast and cervical cancer can’t get treatment, that’s a war on families. When trans people can lose their jobs and their housing because their bosses and landlords are bigots, that’s a war on families. When parents of color disproportionately wonder whether their children will make it home safe every night, that’s a war on families.
Indeed, if you want a home for policies that restrict legal abortion, that would ban birth control, that decry parental leave as unnecessary, that deride breastfeeding assistance as hostile to sacred business interests, that would deny resources to marginalized people and which ignores modern manifestations of racism in favor of crass calls for outright violence, you will find it in Ted Cruz’s party.
So Ted, you’re right. The left has absolutely been wrong to call what the GOP has been doing over the last decade or so a “war on women.” This isn’t a war on women. It’s a war on anyone who’s ever met a woman.
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