If there was any lingering hope that the loss of three innocent lives during a shooting at Planned Parenthood on Friday would guilt Republican candidates into acting like decent human beings, that hope was dashed over the weekend in an outpouring of lies and indecent posturing about how anti-choicers are the real victims here. Mike Huckabee was quick to play the victim:
The Colorado Springs tragedy is domestic terrorism, especially for those us in the pro-life movement.
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) November 29, 2015
Ted Cruz, exploiting a bizarre right-wing conspiracy, told an obvious lie, calling the shooter, Robert Dear, a "transgendered leftist activist." (As thorough reporting from many media outlets has established, Dear is exactly who you would think he is: A conservative Christian with what appears to be major rage issues towards women.) Carly Fiorina, who told a particularly dishonest version of the "baby parts" lie that Dear appears to have been inspired by, claimed to be victimized by "left-wing tactics," a line which suggests that quoting someone directly and fact-checking their lies is dirty pool (though only when done to Republicans, of course).
I could go on and on, but you get the point. An honest look at the conservative reaction to this tragedy exposes how shamelessly immoral it all is. No real consideration for the victims, no moment of hesitation over their own complicity in spreading the lie that Dear was acting on, nothing. Instead, they got right back to dishonestly demagoguing Planned Parenthood, even though there is now indisputable proof that such rhetoric can fall on the ears of the unhinged and inspire them to commit acts of violence.
None of this should really be a surprise. The anti-choice movement is rotten to its seedy core. The movement, since its inception, has been built on a lie: That it is about "life," when it's clearly a movement of religious prudes who want to sneer at women they think are sluts. (Don't bother to argue. Suffice it to say that people who actually thought abortion was murder would do everything in their power to make contraception available, instead of defunding contraception every chance they get.) A movement built on a lie is bound to be one that's wicked and dishonest in all its tactics, and that is what we see with the anti-choice movement. People who are willing to lie to get their way are not going to apologize and grow a conscience just because some people get killed for their lies.
That the anti-choice movement has been successful in painting itself as a moral movement is a demonstration both of how religion can distort our understanding of morality and how backwards this country continues to be when it comes to sex. We're slowly extricating ourselves from our sex negativity---the majority of Americans are both pro-choice and pro-gay nowadays, for instance---but there continues to be a lingering sense that having sex for pleasure is still a sinful pastime, and that religious condemnations of sexual pleasure are somehow rooted in morality, instead of sadism and resentment.
Even though most of us intellectually understand that there's nothing wrong with sex, this shame makes it difficult for most liberals to get aggressive on this issue. Meanwhile, conservatives get to enjoy that unearned sense of moral superiority that comes with citing "religion" when they try to impose their deeply immoral sexual restrictions on others.
Consider the Hobby Lobby case, where the owners successfully argued that their deep religious convictions should somehow give them a vote in their employees' contraception use. There is no logical reason to believe that being anti-contraception is more moral than being pro-contraception. On the contrary, pro-contraception is clearly the more moral choice, as it allows people to live fuller, happier lives and to give the children they do have a better chance at being raised in stable environments. But that lingering sense that sex is wrong and anything done in the name of Jesus is right trumped actual logic, and Hobby Lobby was able to impose its oppressive viewpoint on employees who simply want to do the right thing for themselves and their families.
This shooting should be a reminder that the pro-choice side is the moral one, and not just because you never have to worry about some pro-choicer shooting up a crowd under the delusion of religious righteousness.
This morality gap begins with the honesty gap. To say that anti-choicers are liars is to undersell the point. Every inch of the movement is built on lies, starting with the ur-lie that this is about "life" and not sex. Then you have thousands of crisis pregnancy centers, whose mission is to lie to women in order to scare them out of using abortion and contraception. States have enacted over 200 abortion restrictions in the past four years, and nearly every one is justified by a lie---claiming to be about "women's health," when in fact the purpose is to force childbirth on unwilling women. Anti-choicers lie about health care, claiming IUDs and the pill are "abortion" and that abortion causes breast cancer. Those infamous videos that seem to have inspired this shooting? Lies, of course.
Anti-choicers lie so much that it's easier to count the exceedingly rare times they tell the truth. But this tendency to lie is rooted in an even deeper immorality, the belief that they have more right to control your body and your private life than you do, on the grounds that some god told them so. Once you embrace that level of entitlement, it makes sense that you also think you're entitled to lie to gain the control over people you think is yours.
That's why it's wasted time ever expecting anti-choicers to take terrorism---which is the logical end point of that deep sense of entitlement over others' bodies---seriously at all. Oh, there's surface denunciations, of course. Ted Cruz was flapping his jaws about how wrong the shooting was early on, for instance.
But if you look past Cruz's facile condemnations, you will see a man with no conscience and no real sense of morality when it comes to this issue. As Rachel Maddow reported last week, Cruz has been touting the endorsement of Operation Rescue leader Troy Newman. Newman is a nasty piece of work, someone who has few, if any limits on what kind of ugly things he will do in his lifelong quest to impose his religion's bizarre sexual restrictions on women. Newman has defended anti-choice terrorists and even hired one to be his second in command. He helped move Operation Rescue to Wichita, Kansas, for the sole purpose of harassing Dr. George Tiller, which his group did until one of their protesters took it to the next level and shot Dr. Tiller. Condemnations of violence are pointless if you're unwilling, as Cruz is, to address the root causes of terroristic violence.
The pro-choice side should not be on the defensive. On every level, pro-choicers have the moral high ground. It's not just that they value things like scientific evidence, proper health care, freedom and honesty, while their opponents wallow in lies and pass policies that they know full well will hurt women.
It also goes right back to the core values that drive this debate. The anti-choice rejection of sexual freedom is inherently immoral. It's about denying people their right to self-discovery and pleasure. Life is far too short for the grim, pointless self-denial touted by the abstinence-only, anti-abortion set. The moral choice is the one that allows people to be free and have fun without running unnecessary health risks. The moral choice is one that holds that children should be wanted, not imposed on women as punishment for the non-crime of having sex.
Liberals are the good guys here, and people waving Bibles should not intimidate us out of saying just that.