The "Pro-Life" Movement, in a Nutshell.

First, a big thanks to the Rude One for turning his site over to the ladies this week, and for inviting me to guest-post today. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week.

I blog regularly at Feministe, where I share a space with two fabulous co-bloggers. We focus on feminist/gender issues and other lefty stuff, but write about everything from disability awareness, law and LGBT issues to Middle Eastern politics, upcoming elections and our pets. I hope you'll drop by sometime. I'm currently in Istanbul, so if the characters or links come out wonky, I apologize and I blame the Turks. And I hope you'll indulge me as I go on an extended rant about the current Culture of Life in the United States, complete with intense blog-whoring, as my limited time in this internet cafe is preventing me from doing real research and it's easier to just utilize the Feministe search function.

This week, my co-blogger Zuzu writes about the most recent attacks against Planned Parenthood, in which the organization was accused of promoting beastiality -- for having animals featured in two of their online cartoons. Her post is one example of the lengths to which anti-choicers will go in order to attack reproductive rights -- all reproductive rights, not just abortion. This is about sex education, access to birth control, healthcare for all, the right to have children, and the right to have private sexual relationships with other consenting adults.

If you've been around Feministe, you probably know how I feel about reproductive rights and the so-called "Culture of Life" in the United States. We've heard a lot in the past year about how it might benefit the left if we over-turned Roe and left abortion up to the states; how progressives need to moderate on the abortion issue; and how "pro-life" people are really just trying to save babies.

It wouldn't, we don't, and they aren't.

The "pro-life" movement isn't about valuing life at all. It's not about babies, and it's certainly not about any other born humans. It's about social control, and dictating your sexual choices. Life has almost nothing to do with it -- rather, it's about limiting personal and sexual choices as much as possible, and using legal and legislative means to insure that there's only one choice available to everyone: Sex within the context of a heterosexual marriage for procreative purposes only.

This is part of the reason why they go after groups like Planned Parenthood. Yes, Planned Parenthood provides abortions at some of its locations -- but the organization dedicates far greater resources to education, healthcare and pregnancy-prevention programs. They just refuse to tell their clients that there's only one best way to live, and if you make choices that differ from a very narrow ideal, then you deserve the "consequences."

And the consequences of anti-choice policies are obvious. They cause more uninteded pregnancies, and therefore more abortions, than they prevent. They put women and girls in desperate situations, sometimes with tragic results. They kill women and girls around the world.

One of the more egregious anti-choice examples is the Global Gag Rule, a policy that is trumpeted as "pro-life" but which in fact contributes to the deaths of thousands of women every year. George W. Bush instituted the gag rule on his first day in office. It bars United States international family planning funding from contributing to any organization that so much as mentions abortion as an option to its clients, advocates for abortion rights, or performs abortions, even if they do so with their own non-U.S. funds (U.S. funds have been barred from paying for abortions abroad since the 1970s). So if a family planning organization in, say, El Salvador -- where women who terminate pregnancies go to prison for as long as 30 to 50 years, and if a botched illegal abortion requires a hysterectomy, the woman's uterus can be used in court as evidence against her -- petitions their government for abortion rights, they lose U.S. funding.

Today, 90 African women will die from illegal abortions. Ninety more will die tomorrow, and 90 more will die the day after that. While only 10% of the world's abortions happen in Africa, that continent accounts for about 50% of abortion-related deaths. One in 12 women who have abortions in Africa die. For every woman who dies, 20 to 30 women have their reproductive systems permanently damaged.

This is what happens when abortion is illegal and birth control is difficult to obtain. This is what "pro-life" policies bring.

In other countries, women go to jail for having abortions, and doctors go to jail for performing them. Because international anti-choice policies focus on marriage and abstinence, and de-fund organizations that don't tailor their programs to U.S. ideals, many women abroad lack access to information about their bodies and are unable to obtain a slew of other reproductive health services. After all, in rural areas of developing nations, the same clinic that provides information about abortion also provides HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention information, well-baby care, pre-natal care, condoms, and general healthcare. Shut down that single clinic, and you've cut out all of those services in the name of "life."

But it's become fairly apparent that "life" has very little to do with being "pro-life." After all, Viagra kills a whole lot more people who use it than RU-486, or the "abortion pill" (not to be confused with emergency contraception, the "morning-after pill") does. For that matter, so does childbirth. And one would imagine that if we wanted to lower the abortion rate, the best way to do that would be to prevent unintended pregnancies from occuring in the first place. We all know that dictating that everyone should wait until marriage to have sex isn't going to work -- as far as I'm aware, there has never been a society in all of human history in which that method succeeded in preventing fornication. But certain modern societies have been very good at decreasing the abortion rate. Belguim, the Netherlands, and various other northern European countries have the lowest abortion rates in the world -- and some of the most permissive abortion laws. Their secret? Sex education starting very early. Accessible and affordable contraception. Fewer taboos around human sexuality.

By contrast, a country like Brazil has one of the highest abortion rates in the world -- higher than the United States. And the procedure is illegal there.

Reproductive rights have done amazing things for American women and families. They've helped to decrease poverty, allowed women access to college and the workforce, and given us greater autonomy in our romantic and personal lives. But that doesn't stop our own anti-choicers from doing their damndest to raise the abortion rate in the name of all the little babies. They outlaw abortion in places like South Dakota, and only lament that the law is imperfect because it doesn't also ban contraception. They refuse to fill prescriptions coming from reproductive health clinics -- even prescriptions for antibiotics and pre-natal vitamins. They cut funding for contraception, because giving women the right to prevent pregnancy means that you're promoting promiscuity (married and/or monogamous women have apparently never tried to prevent pregnancy). Indeed, they've declared a full-on war against contraception. They oppose programs that give accurate information about reproductive health and sexuality, opting instead for failed "abstinence-only" ideology. Some of them even go so far as to oppose a cancer vaccine, because apparently preventing death from cervical cancer would remove one of those icky "consqeuences" of fornication, and that just ain't right.

And when it comes to abortion, there are some interesting positions. There are those who oppose abortion in all cases, even when continuing the pregnancy will kill the pregnant woman -- because after all, a woman should sacrifice for her children. And of course there are those who would outlaw abortion except for cases of rape and incest, which is perhaps the position that interests me most, as it's the most transparent -- it makes clear that outlawing abortion isn't about fetal life, but rather about making pregnancy a punishment for women. So if you didn't "do anything" to get yourself pregnant, then you have an out. But if, God forbid, you had sex because you wanted to, then you certainly deserve to deal with the consequences.

But the consequences of the anti-choice movement extend far beyond individual women and legally requiring us to carry pregnancies to term. The consequences of this very narrow worldview affect all of us whose personal decisions and identities differ from the hetero virgin-till-marriage, never-using-contraception mold. They affect science and progress, like stem cell research and in-vitro fertilization. They affect women who need to terminate pregnancies for medical reasons. After all, not every pregnancy complication will kill you, but they may make you go blind, or damage your kidneys bad enough to kill you later on, or force you have a hysterectomy. All of these things fall under the health exception to abortion laws -- that is, if an abortion procedure is illegalized, it must allow an "out" for the health and life of the pregnant woman. Anti-choice groups would like to do away with the health exception, claiming that it's a loophole. Which is why there is no health exception to the so-called "Partial Birth" Abortion Ban Act passed by Congress last year. Some loophole. They're also perfectly happy to compromise basic healthcare, lie to women and completely ignore medical ethics to save them some babies through their Crisis Pregnancy Centers -- until the babies are a year or so old, and then they tell the mother that she made her choice and she needs to take personal responsibility for it (and they're doing this with taxpayer dollars).

So what does the anti-choice movement want? Illegal abortion -- all abortion, no health exception. No contraception. No sex outside of marriage, and even within marriage, sex only for procreative purposes. And certainly no homos running around throwing a wrench in things.

One of the tricks to all of this is "natural family planning," in which you take your temperature before sex and moniter your fertile days to make sure that you only do it when you're least likely to get pregnant. It's one of the least effective contraceptive methods around and, in an interesting twist, perhaps the one that kills the most blastocyst babies. But that's ok because what matters are the good intentions, not the actual results (what do they say about the road to Hell?).

But then, this isn't a movement that's actually so opposed to killing. And they certainly aren't opposed to harassing, stalking and intimidating people who disagree with them. Think it's just the fringe anti-choice groups that do things like stalk abortion providers and threaten them with violence? Think again. The "fringe" organizations are well-supported by mainstream groups like Concerned Women for America and Focus on the Family.

Bottom line: The "pro-life" movement could give two shits about "life." And while the pro-choice movement isn't perfect, it does embody the basic values of human rights. It supports individual self-determination. Pro-choice advocates envision a world where all people have a wide range of reproductive options, and can make the decisions that best suit them at different points in their lives. This means comprehensive sex education, accessible and affordable contraception, abortion rights, universeal healthcare, aid to low-income families so that women can actually afford to carry wanted pregnancies to term, and a society which values all of its members equally.

Too much to ask? Maybe. But in the meantime, we can support pro-choice policies, and stop suggesting that overturning Roe would bring anyone any real benefit. And we can take a strong stance against an ideology that's more about controlling who, how and when we fuck than it has ever been about protecting life.