Meet the Coronavirus Conservatives Who Put Reproductive Justice and Public Health in Danger

Protester at anti-shutdown protest in Ohio, May 1, 2020. Photo: Becker1999, CC License 2.0

After a possible exposure to the novel coronavirus in March, Arizona Congressman Paul Gosar tweeted from self-isolation, “Been thinking about life and mortality today. I’d rather die gloriously in battle than from a virus. In a way it doesn’t matter. But it kinda does.”

The tweet sparked a viral meme when other Twitter users turned his words into farce, using them to caption videos and images that were wild mismatches for Rep. Gosar’s stoic reflection: a puppy tumbling around with a kitten, a giant robot marching to battle, and a crab scuttling around with a kitchen knife in its claw, to name a few examples.

The meme’s subtext seemed to be that Rep. Gosar’s macho musing was an awkward, even inappropriate, response to the public health crisis at hand. Lili Loofbourow, writing in Slate, offered her take on the emotional underpinnings of Gosar’s tweet: “It’s humiliating — emasculating, even — to be brought low by a bundle of protein and RNA.”


Public health responses to COVID-19 sparked backlash — with armed men at the forefront.


Before inspiring a meme, Rep. Gosar earned a reputation as an outspoken opponent of reproductive rights. Last year he gained notoriety for posting a poll to his House website that pitched ideas like banning the sale of “aborted baby parts” and pursuing criminal charges against abortion seekers. It was a journey through the most inflammatory accusations and bizarre conspiracy theories peddled by anti-abortion extremists.

Coronavirus and reproductive health care are two very different things. Nonetheless, either one can sideline the social attitudes that uphold gender inequality. If Loofbourow is correct about the emasculating powers of the novel coronavirus, then it seems fitting that the same politician who thinks the Grim Reaper should accommodate hypermasculine fantasies would also think of dumping widely accepted, established abortion care practices to pursue a real-life Handmaid’s Tale. Continue reading

STD Awareness: Can Gene Editing Cure HIV?

For the first time in history, someone with HIV has been treated with cells edited in the lab. It was a bold attempt to try to replicate previous successes in “curing” HIV through bone marrow transplants, but the results were a mixed bag.

Your DNA is like a book, and each sentence is a gene. Imagine a word is misspelled. Sometimes, a misspelling won’t affect your ability to understand the sentence, but other times, it will be so bad that you’ll have trouble figuring out the intended meaning. Think of the difference between “I drive a car” and “I driv a car,” or “I like food” and “I like flod.” You might not be able to tell what that last sentence is even trying to say! Those misspellings are mutations, and sometimes mutations are relatively benign (“I driv a car”), while other times they can cause diseases (“I like flod”).


A mutated version of the CCR5 gene confers near-immunity to HIV — but increases susceptibility to other viruses.


CRISPR, pronounced crisper, is a powerful new technology that can edit genes. By cutting DNA at a specific location and replacing some of the letters in the genetic alphabet, CRISPR can edit genes like you can edit a document using “find and replace.” The hope is that, someday, CRISPR could be used to fight disease by tweaking faulty genes. Continue reading

A Conversation With Faye Wattleton: Part 3, Family Planning and Race

Faye Wattleton (left) with Maxine Waters and Jesse Jackson, 1992

Faye Wattleton was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America from 1978 to 1992. She was generous enough to speak to me on January 7, 2013, and throughout the month of February we’ll be sharing her experiences and perspectives in observance of Black History Month. This third installment covers questions of racism, especially as aimed at Planned Parenthood and its founder, Margaret Sanger.

Faye Wattleton is clear that women’s autonomy is at the core of the reproductive rights debate. Her philosophy regarding the struggle for reproductive rights, as she said during our interview, “gradually evolved to the conclusion that this is still really about the fundamental right and values that women are held to. That our reproduction is still a proxy for the larger question of our full status as human beings and as citizens.” The question is whether the government will seize the power to make decisions about women’s bodies.


“Racism has a very deep vein in this country and our culture.”


Ms. Wattleton, as the first African American president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, was often asked how she could work for an organization founded by Margaret Sanger, a woman who allegedly saw birth control as a tool to eradicate the Negro race, to use the language of Sanger’s time. For example, when Ms. Wattleton debated Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, on the Phil Donahue Show in 1991, he accused her of being a traitor to her race by working for Planned Parenthood: “Margaret Sanger … wanted to eliminate the black community,” Terry said to Ms. Wattleton. “You have been bought.”

Ms. Wattleton responded, “I do not need you to tell me what my choices are about my life and my body because I am a black person. I can make that choice for myself, just as every black woman can make that choice for herself.” Reflecting further on Margaret Sanger during our conversation, Ms. Wattleton added, “I could never understand why Margaret Sanger was hauled out. Maybe she was racist. George Washington had slaves. What am I supposed to do? Give up my American citizenship for that?” Continue reading