Women’s bodies have been transformed into a site for political and ideological debate in the Senate, in the media and in the general discussion of women’s rights and reproductive health. Conservative politicians have targeted Planned Parenthood, as they speak out against abortion, birth control and other issues pertaining to women’s health. At a recent campaign event in Iowa, GOP presidential hopeful Ted Cruz made some supposedly humorous remarks concerning women’s access to contraception, dismissing claims that his anti-choice stance is denying women their fundamental rights. Instead, he argued that his democratic opponents just attack his views as a tool to hurt his campaign.
Beyond the campaign platform, however, lies a more frightening discourse exemplified by events such as the release of a video claiming to show evidence that Planned Parenthood was responsible for the sale of fetal tissue for profit. This video (a gross distortion later shown to have little credibility) aimed to deepen negative perceptions of abortion and abortion providers amongst the general public. In fact, for many women abortion provides a safe choice for ending an unwanted pregnancy, whether from a traumatic sexual assault, or from contraceptive failure, or from an instance of having sexual intercourse without contraception.
The morbid focus on “baby parts” in this video has fueled the idea that Planned Parenthood clinics should all be shut down. This ignores the fact that abortion procedures represent only a fraction of the wide range of critically important reproductive health services that Planned Parenthood offers, often to women with limited incomes and in areas where NO other similar services are available.
It is in this general atmosphere of dangerous anti-abortion rhetoric that the U.S. Senate has just passed a bill to repeal certain elements of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to cut federal funding of Planned Parenthood for a year. While Republicans do not have the required majority to override President Obama’s veto, this is nonetheless alarming. It is also likely that such rhetoric has spurred many of the violent attacks against Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. As we have seen before, last Friday’s shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs is being treated as though it were an isolated incident, with media outlets reluctant to label it domestic terrorism. Instead, the shooter is portrayed as a disturbed individual acting outside the influence of the hostile language and climate that anti-abortion activists have created.
Anti-women’s health extremists like Robert Dear are not acting in a vacuum. Their personal religious and political beliefs are bolstered by the ideologies which demonize abortion and deny women the agency to care for their bodies in a way that is best for their physical and mental health. It is not surprising that Dear uttered the words “no more baby parts” during his arrest, an eerie echo of the anti-abortion sentiment created by the distorted video. The fact that Dear carried out this brutal attack on a Planned Parenthood facility, taking the lives of three people, has ignited the usual debates concerning gun control, mental health, and which individuals are classified as terrorists or not (according to their ethnic background). Above all, the attack is also a terrifying manifestation of the fight being waged over women’s bodies and their right to make choices for themselves. Where are women to go if our safe spaces are being transformed into literal and figurative battlegrounds?
(Photo Credit: Ellise Verheyen/Columbian http://www.columbiamissourian.com/visuals/photos/photo-gallery-protesters-march-in-support-of-planned-parenthood/collection_605b637a-97c9-11e5-bc87-7b5d4c0b7dd3.html)