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

The Past Isn’t Always in the Past: Covington Catholic and the Politics of Race and Gender at Southern Private Schools

Nathan Phillips (center) leads a dance at the Indigenous Peoples March. Image (detail): Joe Flood

It was hard to miss the video that went viral on the weekend of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

On January 20, footage of a white high school student, flanked by his classmates as he stood in front of a Native American elder, took the news and social media by storm. The student stood at a close distance, wearing an apparent smirk below his “Make America Great Again” hat. The Native elder stood calmly but firmly, beating a small hand drum and singing over the noise from the student’s classmates, many of whom also sported the iconic red baseball caps of Trump supporters. One classmate appeared to taunt the Native elder with a gesture mocking a “tomahawk chop.”


The March for Life incident is a troubling reminder of a history that links segregated private schools to the anti-abortion movement.


The scene was from Washington, D.C., where students from Covington Catholic High School in Park Hills, Kentucky, were attending the anti-abortion March for Life. It was an event that coincided with an Indigenous Peoples March, a grassroots gathering of community leaders, celebrities, and activists to address the environmental and human rights issues facing Native American, First Nations, and other indigenous people.

The incident drew conflicting narratives as more footage was pieced together to show how Nick Sandmann, the Covington student, came face-to-face with Nathan Phillips, an Omaha elder, veteran, and activist. What gained general agreement was that tensions had first been elevated by verbal exchanges with another, smaller group identifying themselves as the Black Hebrew Israelites. A few members of that group could be seen subjecting the Covington students to inflammatory language and insults. Thereafter, people have been divided, often along partisan lines, on whether Sandmann or Phillips was the instigator of the face-off. Continue reading

Due Protections: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act at 40

Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1977. Photo: Lynn Gilbert

Today, Susan Struck’s political positions are nothing that would stick out in a red state like Arizona. A few years ago, she joined the chorus of support for the once-threatened A-10 fighter jet program at Tucson’s Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. In a 2010 article on immigration, a writer noted her concerns about automatic citizenship for U.S.-born children.

Despite the rightward tilt that would be assigned to her views today, Struck was once at the center of a fight for reproductive justice, a cause taken up by a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg, back when “The Notorious RBG” was still a lawyer for the ACLU. It was that fight that led to Ginsburg’s involvement in the writing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, a landmark piece of legislation that turns 40 this month.


Despite 40 years of protections, pregnancy discrimination hasn’t gone away.


Now retired in an Arizona ranch community, Struck first arrived in the Copper State at the end of the 1960s, when she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Davis-Monthan. She told Elle in a 2014 interview that she reveled in her newfound independence from the family and church she left in Kentucky. “She went on the Pill and stopped attending confession,” the article recounts, and she spent her free time enjoying her sexual freedom and the chance to experience Tucson’s foothills in a newly acquired Camaro.

Still, Struck wanted more excitement, so she asked to be sent to Vietnam. She was assigned to Phù Cát Air Force Base, where she quickly hit it off with an F-4 pilot — and ended up pregnant. Struck understood that the Air Force gave officers in her situation two choices: get an abortion or be honorably discharged. It was 1970 then, still a few years before Roe v. Wade, but the armed forces had made abortion legal ahead of civilian society. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 4: The Gathering Storm of Patriots and Plainclothes Politicians

This article is our final installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion. Previously, this series examined the connections that developed in the 1980s between white supremacists and the anti-abortion movement, which bred a growing extremism and led to the first assassination of an abortion provider in 1993. This installment looks at the threats that developed in the aftermath.

1996 Planned Parenthood publication detailing militia movement links to anti-abortion terrorism

On March 11, 1993, Michael Frederick Griffin approached Dr. David Gunn outside his Pensacola clinic and shot him in the back three times, reportedly shouting, “Don’t kill any more babies!” Griffin, who had been radicalized by former Klansman and anti-abortion crusader John Burt, committed the first assassination of an abortion provider in the U.S. The following year, 1994, saw a record four murders and eight attempted murders by anti-abortion extremists, and more than half of the estimated 1,500 abortion clinics in the U.S. were targets of anti-abortion crimes, such as arson or bombings, in the first seven months of 1994. Although the next two years would see decreases in some types of anti-abortion crimes, clinics have never been free of threats in any of the years since.


Since the 1990s, anti-government groups have stirred racial hatred and anti-abortion extremism on the right.


Just weeks after Dr. Gunn’s assassination, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ended a 51-day armed standoff at a compound in Waco, Texas, the home of a religious cult known as the Branch Davidians. The standoff began in response to reports that the cult was abusing children and stockpiling illegal weapons. The siege ended on April 19, 1993 — 25 years ago this month — when the cult’s leader, David Koresh, ordered his followers to ignite fires that soon engulfed the compound in flames. By the end of the standoff, 75 people had lost their lives.

The federal government’s actions in Waco had overwhelming public support — 70 percent according to a poll conducted shortly after the siege — but to many right-wing activists, who held a deep distrust of the federal government, Waco was a gross display of heavy-handed government intrusion; tyrannical, military-style policing; and violent intolerance of religious liberty. Waco thus became a rallying cry for a growing, militant movement in the political right. Continue reading

Brothers in Arms, Part 1: Racist Anti-Abortion Rhetoric from the Restell Years to Roe v. Wade

Newspaper illustration of Madame Restell in jail, February 23, 1878

This article is our first installment in a series that explores the historical and contemporary links between racial intolerance and opposition to abortion, from the fears of immigration that fueled abortion prohibition in the late 1800s to the gender-based hatred rooted in today’s white nationalist resurgence.

In the battle over abortion, Kentucky was this year’s ground zero. In Louisville, the EMW Women’s Surgical Center fought to keep its doors open, as a governor, a legislature, and a base of activists — all hostile to abortion — made it their mission to shut the clinic down. For reproductive justice advocates, the stakes were high, as EMW stands as the only abortion provider in Kentucky, the last one in a state that had more than a dozen such providers in the late 1970s.


In the 19th century, opposition to abortion was fueled by racist paranoia.


The situation in Louisville was emblematic of a national phenomenon. In 2011, state legislatures entered a fever pitch, passing new restrictions on abortion, including ultrasound requirements, waiting periods, state-mandated counseling, and prohibitions against telemedicine care and abortion medications. Within a few years, more than 200 restrictions were enacted, and by early 2016, The Washington Post was reporting that 162 abortion providers had closed in their wake.

Boom Years for Abortion

When Ann Lohman first opened her abortion practice, her experience could not have stood in starker contrast to the battle of attrition against regulations and harassment that shutters many of today’s providers. If there were any challenges to keeping her doors open, it was competing with the many other providers who clamored for attention, with advertisements in newspapers, popular magazines, and even religious publications. Lohman’s own advertising budget, to stand out from the crowd, eventually reached $60,000 a year.

Lohman’s experience, like the EMW Center’s, was a sign of the times — but they were very different times.  Continue reading

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

  • Something good is emerging from the horror that is Hurricane Harvey — a Texas clinic is offering free abortions to women affected by the storm who may have missed appointments or had their finances severely impacted. Their help will be “financial and logistical” and includes helping women travel to one of their clinics in the state. (Vice)
  • Another piece of good news? Planned Parenthood and the developers of the HPV vaccine will be recipients of one of the nation’s most prestigious prizes in medicine! (NY Times)
  • Betsy DeVos is probably going to ruin any progress currently being made with regard to sexual assault on school campuses. (NPR)
  • Count me as one of the black women who think it’s time for the monument of J. Marion Sims in New York to come down. He is often flatteringly referred to as the “father of modern gynecology,” but he was actually a sadistic monster who performed genital surgeries on black women (whom he purchased as slaves) without anesthesia. (Essence)
  • Anti-choice lawmakers’ attacks on abortion clinics have been sadly very effective. Fifty-six independent abortion clinics have closed over the past two years, and 145 have shut down since 2012. (Rewire)
  • Kentucky could definitely be a casualty of this trend. They could soon be the first state in the country with no abortion clinic. (Reuters)
  • Birth control is good for many things: preventing babies, regulating periods, preventing ovarian cysts, managing endometriosis … and now we learn oral contraceptives are also tied to lower rheumatoid arthritis risk! (NY Times)
  • A Texas judge temporarily blocked a law that would have banned dilation and extraction abortions in the state. (The Cut)
  • Awful news: A 10-year-old Indian rape victim gave birth after a court denied her request for an abortion. (WaPo)
  • An “activist” Ohio Supreme Court judge spoke at a pro-life event and now refuses to recuse herself from a case that could close Toledo’s only abortion clinic. (Jezebel)
  • Anti-Abortion Activists Are Using Down Syndrome Parents to Argue Against Women’s Rights (Double X)
  • More black women are using PrEP as a way to protect themselves from HIV. (Real Health Mag)

Pro-Choice Friday News Rundown

phone-operator

Time to call your senators!

Happy 2017, readers! I hope the first days of this new year have brought you happiness, love, joy, and hope.

Not that you needed a reminder, but we are mere days away from having a narcissistic, Twitter-addicted, habitual liar, and numbskull as our president.

  • Everyone knows he’s a prolific teller of untruths, including the Washington Post, who gave “The Donald” ALL THE PINOCCHIOS for his bazillion lies in 2016. Hope they’re ready for another blockbuster year! Actually … #MakeThatFour (WaPo)
  • Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has hijacked Donald Trump’s campaign slogan and flipped the script to reveal the truth — by repealing the Affordable Care Act, Trump and the GOP want to “Make America Sick Again.” (Politico)
  • Ugghhh. Paul Ryan … what can we even say? He has sucked in the past, he sucks at the present, and he will continue to suck in the future. He spearheaded last night’s repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which will strip Planned Parenthood of all federal funding. And the irony is, the funding he wants to strip from us DOES NOT GO TOWARD ANY ABORTIONS. The Hyde Amendment banned federal monies going toward abortion care in 1976. The money Speaker Ryan wants to rob from us is Medicaid payouts for low-income patients who receive preventive and diagnostic care and low-cost or free condoms and contraceptives. This is heartlessness and cruelty on a savage level. So today, our advocates are hand-delivering 80,000 petitions to Ryan’s office to express just how furious we are! (NY Mag) *Sadly though, we could lose our federal funding as early as next month*
  • Sen. Robert Stivers (R-Kentucky) is championing a 20-week abortion ban in the state because he thinks when women consent to sex, they also consent to pregnancy. Guess a-freaking-gain, pal. (Raw Story)
  • A federal judge in Texas decided that doctors, who take an oath to help people and never cause harm, can deny patients care on the basis of gender identity and history of abortion. (Rewire)
  • Mississippi legislators = a bunch of bigots who want to make hatred of LGBTQ folks an actual religion. (Slate)
  • The National Institutes of Health is entering the first-ever worldwide clinical trial of an HIV vaccine! (NBC News)
  • In 2016, 57 percent of American women of reproductive age lived in a state considered either hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights. Just think about the magnitude of that statistic. Most of us live in a state that wants to take away our right to a safe, LEGAL medical procedure. (Guttmacher)
  • 106 lawmakers asked Trump to repeal the Hyde Amendment. Brace yourselves: He won’t. (NY Mag)
  • Texas’ craptasic governor, Dan Patrick, wants to pass a “bathroom bill” similar to North Carolina. But this one only targets trans women and girls because, according to his preposterous, archaic logic, men “can defend themselves.” (Texas Tribune)
  • As a matter of fact, six states are now working on this “bathroom bill” nonsense. (Time)
  • Did women break new ground in 2016? Slate delves in with an astute analysis. (Slate)
  • One ground we didn’t break? We still make up the majority of low-wage workers in this country. (NY Mag)
  • Our relentlessly fearless president, Cecile Richards, gave an interview to Rolling Stone promising to continue to fight the hostile political climate that threatens the health and very lives of our patients. (Rolling Stone)