The Anti-Choice Playbook

Amanda got her paws on an anti-choice protester’s guide, and it’s amazing. You can see the pages she scanned (PDF) here. Part of her post:

This casual disregard for women’s lives is acknowledged as a credibility-wrecking problem in another section “Women Will Die in the Back Alleys with Coat Hangers.” It’s clear that Justice for All activists have convinced themselves that making abortion illegal actually doesn’t hinder access to safe abortions (!), but followers are instructed to pretend to concede that illegal abortion is dangerous, to gain credibility. (Which means they have to pretend to believe what they don’t, but ironically what they don’t believe is true. It’s a rabbit hole of deceit and misinformation.) The important thing is creating the illusion of concern for women’s lives, apparently, and the manual even offers a small section titled “Sound Bites For Showing Concern,” which the activist is supposed to use to soften up the target before comparing an elective abortion (most commonly performed in the first trimester) to shooting a toddler. One does wonder when reading this section if Justice for All offers role-playing classes so you can practice your “concerned” face when someone brings up the problem of women who are mutilated and die due to illegal abortion.

The explicit instructions to feign concern for women’s lives in order to gain credibility is also what struck me about the handbook. In the section titled “What if the mother’s life is in danger?,” the handbook tells anti-choicers:

Key Tactical Point: Just as there is an underlying test of your compassion when people bring up abortion in the case of rape, when someone asks “Would you say abortion is wrong when used to save the mother’s life?” they are testing whether you are a reasonable, compassionate human being. It’s critical that you pass this test in order to maintain credibility and have further opportunity to make the case for the unborn. However, it’s also critical that you use this opportunity to clarify the moral logic of the pro-life position.

In other words, fake concern for women so that people mistake you for a reasonable, compassionate human being.

It goes on to talk about how there are basically no health concerns pressing enough to justify abortion, including cancer. But it’s mostly a “How to Lie” instruction guide, to help people who don’t care about women at all effectively pretend that born people matter.

As Amanda says,

This tactic is a mainstay of the anti-choice movement: it shows one face to the initiated, and another to the public, especially on the topic of contraception. Once you realize this, the movement’s half-hearted denunciations of Dr. Tiller’s murder, coupled with the enthusiastic return to calling Dr. Tiller a monster, become all the more chilling.


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20 comments for “The Anti-Choice Playbook

  1. June 3, 2009 at 11:19 am

    Thanks for the link!

  2. Kat
    June 3, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Anyone else notice it was written by two men?…
    I sigh a resounding WTF.

  3. June 3, 2009 at 11:34 am

    Of course there are no cases in which a woman’s life may be in actual, imminent danger. Which is why I had no less than 3 women post comments on my blog telling me, in detail, of the actual, imminent danger their pregnancies put them in.

  4. June 3, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Personal Failure —

    Obviously those women are LIARS. Because lying is what women do in order to get abortions, because they love killing babies and are just like people who go shoot up elementary school playgrounds. Or, maybe, the doctors lied to the women, because they enjoy telling women that their lives are in danger when they’re not, and also enjoy convincing women to abort pregnancies that they desperately want. Just for fun. Because they’re genocidal.

    Or something.

    Seriously, the scanned pages out of that handbook are some of the most disgusting things I’ve ever read in my life.

  5. Straight Male Lurker
    June 3, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    If they were at all sincere about being truly pro-life, wouldn’t they value the mother and the fetus equally? Isn’t she a life to be protected, too? What the hell?

  6. Nicholas
    June 3, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Man, either Messrs. Wagner and Lee have quite the craven view of the politics of the abortion debate, or their starting point is one of absolute certainty that abortion is an absolute evil, untolerable ever in any situation. The manner in which they focus on re-framing the issues is impressive. That fact sheet is a solid playbook whose aim, it seems, is to win the staring contest with the pro-choice person in the hopes that they flinch and lose their tempers first.

    One must remember to do one’s best to take cues from our president: remain calm enough for long enough, and your opponent inevitably plays theyselves.

  7. Nia
    June 3, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    The very first statement in that guide is a lie. “there is only one case in which abortion is a matter of life or death for the mother: ectopic pregnancy”. I know personally one case of a young woman who knew she’d die if she didn’t get chemotherapy. She was an Opus Dei sympathiser, didn’t get any treatment that would harm the fetus, and died. That’s not a health question, that’s life or death.

  8. Alexis
    June 3, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    “Trot out the toddler” – the logic behind that strategy absolutely confounds me. I’m not being hyperbolic – I’m honestly confused as to what they were trying to do by comparing legalized abortions to “opening fire on an elementary school.”

  9. June 3, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Alexis — they’re saying that a fetus is a person just as much as a toddler is. Obviously anyone would agree that shooting up an elementary school is wrong. Thus, they ask, if killing those children (toddlers) is wrong, why not killing these children (fetuses)?

    It makes no sense, really, because in order for the analogy to work, all parties have to be accepting of the premise that fetuses are “children.” Which of course, most of us don’t, as evidenced by the very fact that very few people think that ending a pregnancy is the moral equivalent of shooting a toddler to death.

  10. umami
    June 3, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I admit I sort of wish someone would make a pro choice version of that. You wouldn’t need to fill it with lies either. One of the problems I find is that there are so many reasons why abortion should be legal that I don’t even know which one to address first, and citing a lot of reasons is actually less convincing that sticking to one line of argument. Also sometimes I get mad and sputter. Or dumbfounded by stupidity, and I sputter. Not that I get into the argument a lot, but I know I’m really bad at making it when I do.

  11. jp
    June 3, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    It’s at least reassuring that their presumably irrefutable moments of “gotcha!” logic sound incredibly stupid. I don’t know anyone with a brain who would be convinced by these arguments.

    Still, the cynicism of the entire enterprise is breathtaking.

  12. Alexis
    June 3, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Cara – ah, thanks for the clarification. I honestly missed what they were trying to say. And now, wow, that’s a super bad analogy. Even if you DO subscribe to the whole fetus baby theory, wouldn’t you be able to distinguish between the reasoning behind an abortion and the intent behind shooting up a school? Good gravy. I’m just trying to get a sense of the logic behind some of these”pro-life” arguments, and it hurts my brain. I find it’s always good to at least try to understand the position behind a view you oppose, but damn, I give up.

  13. Literate Shrew
    June 3, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    @umami: I admit I sort of wish someone would make a pro choice version of that. You wouldn’t need to fill it with lies either.

    THIS.

    Seriously. I want one. If there is not one, someone needs to write one. Stat.

    Incidentally, I work with college freshmen in composition classes, and abortion is a common topic for rhetoric papers. That’s a whole headache that I won’t get into, but a resource like that would be invaluable. Many young people are honestly ignorant of the history and logic of the abortion debate, and having a book or other resource to point them to with calm, rational logic would be… just amazing. It would save me some sanity points, at the very least.

  14. June 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    I kinda want to write the pro-choice version of that. But alas, I am a slow writer and someone else will probably get to it before I can. I will read it with pleasure. :)

  15. Jaleesa
    June 3, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    I forced myself to read the whole thing. There can’t be people this stupid. I don’t get the smug, “ohhoho but I’m cleverer than you I know your game watch me score points!” tone of this thing, as if this is a debate over some vague intellectual idea and not over the lives and bodies of real people. Scary in ways I don’t know how to describe.

  16. stlthy
    June 3, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    Cara @4: No no, it’s a conspiracy between the womenfolk and the evil doctors to circumvent the men’s god-given right to womb ownership.

    So, the handbook sounds like it’s basically an admission that anti-choicers are compassionless & don’t give a damn about women’s lives???

  17. June 4, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Jill,
    In other words, fake concern for women so that people mistake you for a reasonable, compassionate human being.

    Yeah, because that’s the point it’s really trying to get across. Only someone with a huge, irrational bias against prolifers would take it that way. Does it make any sense to think that Justice for All really wants people without compassion volunteering and then faking compassion to college students. Or could it make more sense that they want volunteers to be better at showing their compassion?

    I’ve met Steve Wagner, one of the co-authors of this manual, and he’s quite a compassionate individual who truly cares about women and about the college students he interacts with. He’s got a blog if you want to do more than try pigeon-hole prolifers .

    But it’s mostly a “How to Lie” instruction guide, to help people who don’t care about women at all effectively pretend that born people matter.

    Name one part of the guide which tells volunteers to say something they don’t believe? Or are you, like Amanda, unable to differeniate between “a lie” and something which you either don’t agree with or think is false.

  18. CQ
    June 4, 2009 at 9:30 am

    As a health educator, I almost find the birth control section more appalling than the actual “redirect the conversation to debate the meaning of the unborn” tactic.

    Take this section:
    “the pill depletes the endometrium so the child can’t implant. It’s as if the child is entering the uterus looking for a camping spot and finds “NO CAMPING” signs placed all over the uterus. Not finding a place to implant, he dies from lack of nutrition and hydration and is purged from the uterus.”

    Yep. My uterus is definitely a no camping zone.

    Plus, a large % of conceived pregnancies spontaneously abort (i.e., miscarry) within the first few weeks of pregnancy, without any medical intervention, before women even realize that they are pregnant.

    Aside from that, this is creepy anthropomorphizing of a fetus. I am now picturing a little fetus with a backpack, crawling through the uterus with an increasingly desperate appearance on “his” little face… poor, poor baby.

  19. William
    June 4, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    Yeah, because that’s the point it’s really trying to get across.

    Thats how it looked to me. I mean, they’re talking about “tactical points” and describing “[passing a] test in order to maintain credibility and have further opportunity to make the case for the unborn.” Thats not the language of a believer, thats the language of a propaganda agent. Sure, this manual was written for people who are genuinely in favor of forced birth legislation, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t also directing people how to respond in ways they wouldn’t normally respond in order to continue a discussion. We wouldn’t need a manual of the directions were someone’s natural responses now, would we?

    Only someone with a huge, irrational bias against prolifers would take it that way.

    Jill has 300 or so years of moral and political philosophy on her side, not to mention a few hundred years worth of jurisprudence. The forced birth crowd (not pro-life, thats Nietzsche) has a particular interpretation of a text thats been retranslated by political forces for two millennial and a focus on emotionally evocative imagery. Do you really want to be throwing around words like “irrational?” Or are you just extrapolating that she must be hysterical because of her uterus?

    Does it make any sense to think that Justice for All really wants people without compassion volunteering and then faking compassion to college students. Or could it make more sense that they want volunteers to be better at showing their compassion?

    Thats not the dichotomy at work here. It isn’t a matter of no compassion or compassion, its a matter of rhetorical deceit.

    I’ve met Steve Wagner, one of the co-authors of this manual, and he’s quite a compassionate individual who truly cares about women

    I know several people who have personally met George Bush, mostly prior to his presidency, and the overwhelming consensus is that he’s a nice, decent, pleasant, likable guy. The kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with and watch a baseball game. He’s also, it seems, the kind of guy who is willing to order people to be tortured if he believes its necessary. People are complex and they tend to do nasty things when they feel strongly.

    Also, lets be clear. Steve Wager might care about women, but that care is tempered by other values he holds. At best he cares about women in a specific context and values the life of a fetus over the bodily sovereignty of a woman. No amount of care in the world will change that basic, underlying fact.

    Name one part of the guide which tells volunteers to say something they don’t believe?

    Hmm…

    Just as there is an underlying test of your compassion when people bring up abortion in the case of rape, when someone asks “Would you say abortion is wrong when used to save the mother’s life?” they are testing whether you are a reasonable, compassionate human being. It’s critical that you pass this test in order to maintain credibility and have further opportunity to make the case for the unborn.

    Ok, what do I win?

    Or are you, like Amanda, unable to differeniate between “a lie” and something which you either don’t agree with or think is false.

    Aww…but I haven’t even used all of the passive aggressive I got over Easter yet! What a rip off…

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