The religious right’s No. 1 obsession: Policing women’s sex lives by any means necessary

Recent Supreme Court decisions prove that the pro-life movement isn't about "life" at all

Topics: AlterNet, Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS, Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Abortion, Birth Control, Contraception, Religious Right, ,

The religious right's No. 1 obsession: Policing women's sex lives by any means necessaryJustice Antonin Scalia (Credit: Reuters/Brendan Mcdermid)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNet

Monday’s Supreme Court decision in Burrell v Hobby Lobby was a blow against consumer protection, worker’s rights, and the religious liberty of employees who want their medical care to be free of what their boss thinks Jesus wants for their vagina. But it should be read as something else, as well: The end of the illusion that the anti-choice movement is about “life”, when in fact they are nothing more than a 21st century anti-sex league.

While anti-choice activists have long benefitted from claiming that they are motivated more by not wanting fetuses to die than any interest in controlling sexuality, the fact that the movement was out in force to support Hobby Lobby’s war on contraception coverage—even though contraception prevents abortion—shows that they are really more about punishing sex than saving fetuses.

Oh, sure, the Green family behind Hobby Lobby tried to preserve the illusion that conservative objections to modern health care methods that allow women to safely control their fertility has something to do with “life”. Their lawyers argued that they only objected to four kinds of birth control that they believed to be “abortifacients”, such as emergency contraception and IUDs. In reality, all the drugs and devices covered by the federal standards work by preventing pregnancy. IUDs and emergency contraception both work by preventing sperm from meeting egg.

But, in the end, all the lies about how some forms of contraception constitute “abortion” didn’t matter, and the court just generally ruled that religious objections to contraception were enough. This isn’t a big surprise. Many conservatives on the court have ties to the anti-choice community— Justice Scalia’s wife is a hardline anti-choice activist—and so they are most likely familiar with the actual reason that the Christian right is hostile to abortion and contraception. It has nothing to do with “life”. In case there was any doubt about that, the Supreme Court issued a clarification, noting that there was no obligation for employers to claim to believe birth control is abortion. Just simply opposing birth control because you oppose non-procreative sex is reason enough not to offer it in your health care plan. It is all about sex and how they think Americans, especially American women, are having too much of it.

Anyone who has been watching  the anti-choice movement for awhile is not surprised to see Justice Alito, who wrote the decision, blithely assume that being anti-contraception is part and parcel of the broader Christian right agenda.  While most Americans don’t think of contraception as controversial at all, within anti-choice circles it’s simply accepted that contraception is a great evil that led American women astray. One of the main speakers at this year’s Right To Life conference, a radio host named Joy Pinto, went on a tear during a panel on opening night about how contraception was the real “war on women”. She said contraception was “coming from the pit of hell” and compared contraception to when Eve “bit the apple”.

That’s why it was no surprise to see that the “pro-life” people were out in force in D.C. in response to the Hobby Lobby decision, celebrating it as a win for their side, even though fewer women on birth control means more abortions. That’s why Life News, the preeminent anti-choice website, was ecstatic about the possibility that more women will be deprived of contraception.  This anti-abortion site doesn’t hide its anti-contraception views at all, with writers arguing things like, “Fertility is a natural condition of a woman” to argue that it’s wrong to stifle your ovulation with birth control. “I guess it is an admission of my age that I grew up in an era when it mattered to women that they be perceived as ‘ladies’,” Ann Scheidler of Life News writes, making it clear she believes any woman who uses contraception has debased herself.

You Might Also Like

Indeed, the argument that drives the anti-choice movement isn’t really “life”, but goes more like this: In some more “moral” past, women were so scared of pregnancy that they all waited until marriage to have sex and then only did it sparingly without enjoying too much, as befits a lady. (Never mind that women have been having sex outside of marriage and enjoying sex in an very unladylike fashion throughout all of history.) Now, thanks to legal abortion and birth control, women are having all sorts of sex without “consequences”, which is seen as a terrible thing, mostly because it’s not very ladylike. (It’s also blamed for the breakdown of “the family”, though the overwhelming evidence shows women who are able to delay marriage and childbirth through abortion and contraception have more stable marriages., making this more a fantasy than a reality.)  Some anti-choicers see women who choose sex as wanton hussies who need to be brought into line. However, it’s becoming increasingly fashionable on the right to portray women as inherently asexual beings who are being tricked by all this contraception into thinking they have to have sex, which allows them to argue that depriving women of reproductive rights is doing women a favor, by giving them an excuse to get out of that icky sex.

This argument has, by and large, not had much exposure to the general public and stayed within right wing circles, though Ross Douthat occasionally flexes the evils-of-contraception muscle in the New York Times. The Hobby Lobby decision, however, has forced the issue of contraception right into the mainstream, no doubt surprising many Americans who had no idea that there was anyone who opposed contraception, much less that there’s widespread antagonism against it when it comes to the Christian right. Hopefully, people will remember the lesson that this is not about “life” or “religion”, but strictly about the Christian right wanting to control female sexuality and punish women for having premarital sex ( about 95 percent of women) or for having non-procreative sex ( about 99 percent of women).

Indeed, the latest round of abortion attacks barely bothers with the “life” argument, except as a bit of window dressing. The new argument is that legal abortion needs to be ended for women’s own good.  Abortion, opponents argue, is sleazy and dangerous and women are better off having no access at all. The latest abortion case in from of the Supreme Court, which addressed the issue of “buffer zones” to keep protesters away from clinic doors, was influenced by this argument. The anti-choice lawyers portrayed protesters as gentle souls who simply want to help women, instead of the judgmental haters of old. The argument worked, and the buffer zone was struck down.

The “we’re here to help women” line doesn’t work if you assume the debate is over “life”. If anti-choicers really believed abortion was murder, they would hardly be eager to be seen as trying to help women they believe to be would-be murderers. No, the “compassionate” anti-abortion argument, like the anti-contraception argument, only works if you assume it’s all about sex. Women going into abortion clinics are seen by the anti-choice movement as wayward souls who need to be saved from their sex-having ways and turned towards a life of chastity and pushed to give birth as repentance for the sin of lust. You don’t send a bunch of judgmental grandmothers at people you think are murderers. The church lady brigade is the one you send out when you need people to cluck their tongues at young ladies these days for their supposedly unladylike ways.

This is made even more obvious when you look at the organizing force behind clinic protesters, who call themselves “sidewalk counselors”. Most of these protesters are aligned with “crisis pregnancy centers”, and they are trying to lure women seeking abortion into them. Once there, they will be told that abortion is killing, yes, but more than that. They are also subject to a wave of anti-contraception propaganda, all the better to imply that the only real option is to have sex infrequently and only for the purpose of procreation.

It was also the anti-choice movement that was behind the push for “abstinence-only” education in schools, of course, showing that the attempts to demonize contraception aren’t even that new, but date back to the Bush administration. The Bush administration also appointed a series of “pro-life” officials to the FDA that set out not to attack abortion, but contraception. They stymied the release of emergency contraception, which works by suppressing ovulation, out of fear that it would somehow encourage more sex. One official, Janet Woodcock, wrote a memo arguing that if emergency contraception was made available without a prescription, it “would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B.” Since then, Plan B has been made over-the-counter, and teen sex cults still have not erupted.

The scary thing, of course, is that the Supreme Court seems to believe that your fellow citizens have broad rights to try to impose their anti-sex views on you through harassment or, in the case of Hobby Lobby, docking your compensation package as a kind of sex fee. The good news is that the anti-sex argument is a losing argument. Perennial fussypants Ross Douthat even admitted, post-Hobby Lobby that the liberal arguments—that sex is good, theocracy is bad—are the majority opinions. He didn’t say this, but you can tell that liberals have won the larger argument because conservatives often cagily lie about their motivations, denying that they are out to attack sex or construct theocracy. But a case like Hobby Lobby flushes the true motivations out into the public, forcing conservatives to defend their position by admitting that they want sexuality to be treated like a weird, marginalized behavior to be punished instead of a normal part of everyday life.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and journalist. She's published two books and blogs regularly at Pandagon, RH Reality Check and Slate's Double X.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...