For the past few years, conservatives have been diligently trying to put a kinder, gentler face on the anti-choice movement. They try to hide that they’re a bunch of ghouls stuck in a titillation-disgust obsession with female sexuality and reproductive function. Instead, they claim to be a bunch of well-meaning church ladies just trying to help those poor young ladies realize that their true calling is motherhood.
But a few weeks ago, the mask got ripped off when a radical anti-choice group going by the name Center for Medical Progress released a bunch of misleadingly edited videos accusing Planned Parenthood of selling fetal body parts in some kind of black market profiteering scheme. The accusations got a momentary blip of incredulous media coverage before the debunking started. To summarize: the people in the videos are actually talking about donating fetal tissue to research (something even Republicans have supported in the past). The people behind the stunt are the same kind of loony right-wing nuts who love trading in bizarre conspiracy theories.
The real question here is why the anti-choice movement is taken seriously at all as a political movement by the media. The movement has a long history of pushing breathless and implausible urban legends that are more at home on some conspiracy theory website than in grown-up politics. Reproductive health care sits at an intersection of human sexuality and medicine, and anti-choicers really love wallowing in the ghastly and the sensational, even if neither has any relationship to reality.
Here are some of the more ridiculous and gross examples.
1. 'The Silent Scream'
The Silent Scream is a bit of religious right propaganda about abortion created in 1984. Simply looking at the video cover, with its horror movie font and pixelated image of a screaming face, should give you an idea of what level of ridiculousness we’re dealing with. The movie, which claims that a 12-week-old fetus “screams” when it is aborted, is so over the top it reads like camp to all but its intended audience of naïve conservative Christians. “The Silent Screamhas the appeal of a snuff movie,” said a 1985 review in the New Republic, which also noted its “inappropriate horror B-movie title roll."
2. 'Hooking Kids On Sex'
The Center for Medical Progress is far from the first group making lurid accusations that Planned Parenthood engages in sinister behavior for profit. In 2013, the American Life League (ALL) put out a breathless video titled Hooking Kids On Sex.
“Just as the goal of a drug dealer is to make drug addicts,” the narrator explains, “Planned Parenthood’s goal is to make sex addicts.” The video calls masturbation a “gateway drug” and argues that the purpose of tricking teens into thinking they like sex is to get them to buy up more contraception, which ALL believes is designed to fail, so the young people then have to get even more expensive abortions. Ka-CHING! The flaw in this brilliant conspiracy theory, just like the new one about fetal tissue selling, is that Planned Parenthood is a non-profit, making the profit part of the equation nonsensical.
3. Phony video accusing Planned Parenthood of child sex trafficking.
In 2011, the group Live Action (of which the Center for Medical Progress is a spin-off) made a splash in anti-choice circles with a video purporting to prove that Planned Parenthood engages in child sex trafficking. The video claimed to show undercover investigators posing as pimps who admit to trafficking minors.
The fact that the Planned Parenthood employees continued talking to the phony pimps was held out as evidence of collusion and a cover-up. It was neither. The employees did talk to the self-reported criminals, but then immediately alerted the FBI to the alleged sex trafficking. It also soon became evident that few, if any, of the “colluding” employees actually believed the ruse. But anti-choicers disregarded the obvious conclusion, because they prefer to believe whatever crazy nonsense they can about Planned Parenthood.
4. Abortion 'reversal' scam.
This gambit is one of the loonier anti-choice contrivances to come around in recent years. Yes, they are telling women abortions can be reversed. The weirdness started with an anti-choice doctor named George Delgado, who claimed he could “reverse” medication abortions with shots of progesterone he said would save the embryo before the medications expelled it.
It's not possible, of course, and Delgado's "evidence" that there is any demand for this supposed procedure is iffy, to say the least. This is just more anti-choice theatrics. In reality, 95% of women say their abortion was the right choice for them.
5. The pill kills.
Artificial progesterone is the hero of these mythical tales of “abortion reversal,” but when the same hormone is used (effectively, I might add) to prevent pregnancy, it becomes the demon that does nothing but bring terror and misery. Progesterone is used in birth control pills to suppress ovulation, so women can have sex without getting pregnant. Anti-choice activists oppose this, and so have created a dizzying number of lurid horror stories of all the bad things that will happen if women take the pill.
The American Life League has an annual event, tagged to the anniversary of the legalization of contraception by the Supreme Court, called The Pill Kills. Every year, they highlight some other supposed victim of this killer pill. The pill kills marriage! The pill kills babies! (Anti-choicers claim progesterone “kills” embryos. Yes, the same drug Delgado injects in women to “save” embryos.) The pill kills the environment! (Unlike those harmless fossil fuels.) The pill kills women! (They neglect to mention the stroke risk for frequent pregnancy is much higher.)
The conspiracy theories and theatrics of the anti-choice movement are ridiculous, of course. Yet they serve a serious purpose. The melodrama and lurid claims are meant to distract the public from a serious discussion about important public health issues, like contraception access and safe abortion care. All the blood and orgies talk forces pro-choicers to waste their time debunking right-wing urban legends, instead of focusing the discussion on less exciting but more realistic topics like how empowering women to choose when and if they give birth improves women’s educational and employment opportunities. Important stuff, but boring compared to screeching right-wing nonsense about black market fetal parts and Planned Parenthood pimp orgies. Which is, of course, the point.