The right's anti-choice death count: They can't pretend to think abortion is murder without encouraging terrorism

Anti-choicers denouncing terrorism are unconvincing, because they need to perpetuate the lies for political gain

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published December 2, 2015 4:29PM (EST)

  (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
(AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Early attempts by conservatives to deflect blame for the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs on Friday, such as claiming it was a bank robbery or arguing that the shooter was a "transgendered leftist activist," have petered out in face of evidence. As any fool could have predicted, the shooter, Robert Dear, is a conservative Christian who hates abortion and seems to resent women's autonomy. So now we're on phase two of the deflection campaign, the "nuh-uh!" phase, where conservatives just act really offended that you would think there's a connection -- and hope that scares people off from noticing the obvious links.

As Media Matters laid out, conservative politicians and pundits are throwing temper tantrums, denying that there's any reason to believe that a nationwide campaign of falsely accusing Planned Parenthood of selling "baby parts" has anything to do with some guy deciding to shoot up a Planned Parenthood and mutter crap about "baby parts" when asked why he did it. The excuses amount to, "We're not violent because we say so!"

"Pro-life by its very name means you are pro-life," Sean Hannity complained. Of course, "pro-life" people tend to be pro-death penalty, very much pro-gun and against the Black Lives Matter movement, throwing water on the idea that they're motivated by a life-preservation instinct instead of a punish-women instinct. Ted Cruz, Bill O'Reilly and Hugh Hewitt also pulled the because-I-said-so card, saying they've never met these supposedly violent anti-choice activists.

Media Matters countered this by chronicling some of the overtly violent anti-choice rhetoric out there, some of it coming from Troy Newman, who openly calls for the execution of abortion doctors. Cruz lavished praise on Newman in a recent press release. So whether or not Cruz has met violence-happy anti-choicers is really beside the point, as he advertises endorsements from them.

But even if this weren't so and all anti-choicers were more careful in their rhetoric, that doesn't absolve them from blame. To be clear, no one is saying that every political movement is responsible for the worst actions of its fringe. But when it comes to the anti-choice movement, the rhetoric is so out of control and so obviously provocative that the only possibilities are that anti-choicers simply don't care if someone shoots up an abortion clinic or, in many cases, they are using hinting and implication to encourage it.

Prior to Friday's shooting, anti-choicers had committed eight murders and 17 attempted murders of abortion clinic workers, as well as a relentless drumbeat of arsons. Despite this, the second that some hoax videos making false accusations about Planned Parenthood selling baby parts came out, pretty much every single Republican under the sun repeated the accusations, trying to top each other in the lurid language department. They held endless congressional hearings to make sure there wasn't a person---sane or otherwise---in the country that hadn't heard the lie.

If you know that there are people out there who love shooting at abortion doctors and you blanket the airwaves with justifications for doctor-shooting that you know are false, yes, I think you, at bare minimum, just don't care if your lie is the tipping point that allows a terrorists to feel justified in pulling the trigger.

Even the supposed calls to non-violence in anti-choice circles often wink at violence, by suggesting that it's exactly what abortion providers have coming. For instance, in decrying responsibility for encouraging anti-choice violence, Bill O'Reilly said, "Planned Parenthood is in the baby body parts business" and repeated his ugly nickname for Dr. George Tiller, "Tiller the Baby Killer." Tiller was assassinated by an anti-choicer in 2009.

Of course, neither accusation is true: Planned Parenthood is a non-profit and doesn't sell "baby parts" and Tiller only aborted late-term pregnancies after establishing medical necessity, which was proved in court. Maybe there was a time when O'Reilly was ignorant enough to not know that it's dangerous to whip up dangerous people by making false accusations about their preferred targets, but he has been thoroughly educated to the contrary and he continues to do it. Ignorance is no longer an excuse.

Similarly, Erick Erickson's response to the Planned Parenthood shooting was a feeble denunciation of violence, coupled with a much stronger suggestion that violence is exactly what abortion providers have coming. After declaring how "rare" it supposedly is for anti-choicers to shoot people---the death toll is "only" 11, people!---he goes on to play the "nice clinic there, be a shame if something happened to it" card.

"It really is surprising more Planned Parenthood facilities and abortionists are not being targeted," he writes. "It speaks to the pro-life movement being faith based and turning to their better angels."

He continues to lay out the they-have-it-coming case by comparing Cecile Richards to Joseph Mengele and clinic workers to Nazis generally. Thing is, Americans killed Nazis. Joseph Mengele deserved to be killed. Most Americans believe, correctly, that killing Nazis to stop the war and to stop the Holocaust was justified. So despite the official denunciation of violence, the meat of the piece is to compare abortion providers to people who deserved to be killed.

You don't need to put out overt calls for terrorism for would-be terrorists to get the message. Post the doctor's address, some helpful photographs so you can follow them around, and blow a bunch of steam about how these people are like Nazis or worse, and nature will take its course. Anti-choicers know this. The only way they could not know it is if they were too stupid to operate keyboards and we have physical evidence that's not the case. The excuses have run out.

Anti-choicers have painted themselves into a corner. The opposition to abortion, which almost always comes coupled with a hostility to greater contraception access, is quite clearly rooted in anxieties about women's sexual liberation, which is a nearly impossible position to defend straight on. So conservatives have concocted an excuse to cover for themselves---it's murder, that's the ticket!

As a political maneuver, it's genius. It means that every attempt to talk about improving women's lives and health outcomes is derailed by gross-out language about embryonic tissue. It allows people whose main goal is denying happiness to others the opportunity to act self-righteous about it.

But it also means sometimes that you have to act like you actually think it's murder, or people are going to start to get suspicious. Which is impossible to square with a politically expedient claim of opposition towards terrorism, especially for conservatives. We're talking about the pro-death penalty crowd, not the turn-the-other-cheek crowd.

This conundrum is all over the Southern Baptist Convention's mealy-mouthed denunciation of abortion violence from 20 years ago that Vox posted today. Denouncing doctor-shooting should be easy enough---don't do that, it's wrong!---but of course, they couldn't do that, out of fear that they sound like they're soft on "baby killers." So they go ahead and suggest doctors have it coming---saying that it's cool to kill if it's "the act of defending oneself or another against an assailant’s unjust attack"---but only if it's not premeditated.

They're evil people who deserve to die, but not if you spend too much time planning it first: Not exactly the most awe-inspiring of arguments. Far from being a full-throated denunciation of violence, it's an endorsement of the urge to violence, packaged in a CYA-wrapping asking people to keep it in the fantasy realm instead. But the takeaway is that they still think they have it coming, even if they caution believers not to pull the trigger themselves.

This gets particularly comical when you read what they consider to be meaningful alternatives to killing:

For example, many Christians are involved in supporting abstinence- and values-based sex education programs in schools, civic institutions, and churches. The Southern Baptist Convention’s “True Love Waits” program is an effective example. Such programs are rooted in the biblical moral norm that sexual intimacy is designed by God to be reserved for marriage (1 Cor. 6:9-20; 7:9; etc.). It is obvious, but important to point out nonetheless, that the demand for abortion would decrease radically if God’s intentions for sexuality were heeded. Abortions happen because unwanted pregnancies happen; unwanted pregnancies happen, most of the time, because of sexual activity outside of marriage. It is important to note again that it takes both a man and a woman to engage in such sexual activity, and both are responsible for the consequences.

In other words, don't shoot doctors! Let's see if we can just convince everyone to stop screwing first.

These are not serious arguments. Like a lot of anti-choice writings, most really, it's an attempt to bullshit people into thinking anti-sex attitudes are about preserving "life", while also dancing around the implications of what it actually means to equate abortion (and increasingly, contraception) with murder.

The two options for the anti-choice movement are what they have always been. You can pretend your opposition to legal abortion is about "life", and accept that means inspiring terroristic acts by people acting out vigilante fantasies. Or you can just admit that it's about sex, which will save a lot of lives but means your movement will meet political failure. The fact that they keep choosing political success over saving lives says quite a bit, and definitely shows that there are many words for this movement, but "pro-life" is not one of them.

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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