On Arguing Against “Anti-Choicers”

Early this month, Amanda Marcotte published a blog entry at RH Reality Check entitled “Anti-Choicers Can’t Get Around It: Their Arguments Have No Standing.”  This blog was linked on Twitter and elsewhere by a group out of St. Louis called Faith Aloud.

Marcotte mentions a particular lawsuit regarding the contraception mandate and the issue of legal standing, and then makes some sweeping generalizations about those she disagrees with.

To wit:

All their beliefs go back to the conviction that what other people, even perfect strangers, are doing in bed somehow affects them and so needs to be stopped by any means necessary.

And:

The problem with this belief is self-evident. What other people are doing with their bodies does not actually affect anti-choicers, and so their standing—not just legally, but morally—is always hard to impossible to establish. Thus, the never-ending parade of bad faith arguments and outright lies that come from anti-choicers.

Aside from the loaded language of “anti-choice” (most advocates of abortion choice dislike being called “pro-abortion,” after all), is this really the case?  Last I checked, the argument about abortion hasn’t been that it hurts us but that it hurts someone in particular: the unborn.  Does it surprise Marcotte that we don’t buy the “If it doesn’t hurt us personally” argument?  Could it be that it’s just not a solid argument?

Moving along:

Unable to come right out and say that they don’t want it to be too easy for women to have non-procreative sex, anti-choicers have instead latched onto this “religious freedom for employers” argument. Unfortunately, the argument doesn’t work without the assumption that your employer has some ownership over his employee’s private life, including her own religious beliefs.

Might it possibly be that “anti-choicers” don’t come right out and say they don’t want it to be too easy for women to have sex because…that’s not actually their concern?

The objection to the religious liberty of employers is mystifying.  In trying to assert that employers cannot tell employees how they can use their paychecks, she unwittingly makes the case that employers ought to be told how to use their own payrolls.  Why not go varsity with her own argument and apply it to everything else?  Why not food?  Utilities?  Gas?  Daycare?  Surely birth control is less important than all of that.  It would be a pleasant surprise if Marcotte answered the actual argument: that people should be free to use their paychecks as they see fit, not as how they think their employer should see fit.  If an employee at Hobby Lobby wishes to purchase birth control, well and good.  But the language of ‘imposition’ should apply to employers as well as employees.  If Marcotte applied her own standard to her own argument, this would be the result.

She then switches gears to discuss “standing” as the legal concept of a party to a legal case having actually been affected adversely by something.  She appeals to the criticism by conservatives of Miley Cyrus’ performance at the 2013 VMA show as evidence of people being upset about something not hurting them, and suggests a new reason we should be upset with Miley: ‘cultural appropriation.’

And what a criticism it is.  She links to a piece that, like several in the academic left after the performance, complained that Miley was wrong to 1) twerk, 2) slap the behind of her black backup dancer, and 3) a few other things I can’t describe here, not because they were wrong, but because she is white.

Last I checked, racism is telling someone they cannot do something because of their skin color.  Which is precisely the complaint against Miley by Marcotte and Friends: it wasn’t because it was demeaning to her as a woman, it wasn’t because it was appalling in general, it was because she lacked the appropriate skin pigmentation.

This is, essentially, a racist argument used by Marcotte and others.

Though, perhaps, Miley Cyrus could simply suggest that she is approaching race as others see fit to approach gender: malleable and ‘what we make of it.’  Who are they to judge her?  This critique of Miley is not the point; the point is that conservatives used it to once again tell women what they should do with their bodies (nevermind that Marcotte has a problem with it on basis of skin color rather than morality).

Marcotte then continues her screed by complaining about the complaints about Miley Cyrus: that it’s ‘slut-shaming’ and that women who do such things will be raped, or worse, get pregnant.  She then brings her blog full-circle by repeating her assertion: that at the core, the “anti-choice” cabal has nothing other than the desire to control the bodies of others and that they have no “good argument” for why we say what we do.  Everyone does metaphysics; to describe it as “people who want to control others” and “people who do not want to control others” misses the point entirely.  It’s not even applied fairly.

To be fair, I’m not sure Marcotte has tried very hard to look for any good arguments.  She does us a service by pointing out the bad ones (of which there are regretfully many).  Granted, she focuses more on the legal battle over the contraception mandate and not the philosophies in conflict, but in saying there are no good arguments for the conservative position, she is expressing ignorance about the philosophy with which she disagrees.  If David Boonin can write a very good blurb for Kaczor’s The Ethics of Abortion, I think Marcotte can do her homework and avoid saying regrettable things like this (or that it’s morally impossible to make such claims at all).

But Marcotte’s article brings its own criticism full-circle as well.  The argument goes that contraception doesn’t hurt “anti-choicers” who so bitterly and irrationally resist the calm and steady voice of reason.  I’m sure the folks that run Hobby Lobby don’t feel particularly ‘hurt’ by the multi-million-dollar fines they are racking up by disobeying the mandate.  I’m sure they’ll also not feel particularly ‘hurt’ by HHS and its supporters who so eloquently tell them to figure out what they’ll have to disobey to satisfy the demands of Marcotte and others.  Thomas Sowell describes at length in Vision of the Anointed how society as a whole has been adversely affected by the drive for sex education from the 1960s on, particularly in terms of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy.   And they certainly will not be ‘hurt’ by the imposition of a wishful, immature, half-baked philosophy that is wrecking our culture sexually (see Cyrus, Miley).  Except that we’re all being hurt by that.  And all the while, the most basic questions about the morality of actions is not even considered.

But until Marcotte critiques her own starting point and actually considers the good reasons for disagreeing with her, ultimately her position is a fundamentalist one.  Others have critiqued her work in the past, and things haven’t really changed since then.

Edit: Nick pointed out that others made a complete mockery of Marcotte’s attitude towards men with whom she disagrees.  I’d say it’s pretty accurate.