The Sex-Selection Gambit: What Antis Turn To When They Have No Basis for Their Arguments

PRENDA was the legislative equivalent of a troll writing, “Have you considered that HALF of fetuses aborted are FEMALE?”, before high-fiving himself for finally achieving the rhetorical chops necessary to flunk high school composition.

One of the more frustrating aspects of dealing with anti-choices is their tendency to lean on arguments that are so shoddy that they’d be laughed out of a junior high school debate tournament. It’s the result, naturally, of their knowing they can’t actually use the arguments that convinced them — that female sexuality is evil and needs to be controlled — but still, the faux arguments they use in lieu of what they really believe are, at times, so laughably bad you have to wonder if they’re doing a performance art piece testing how much nonsense they can get away with injecting into the political discourse before they’re finally banned for life on the grounds of irredeemable silliness. This problem isn’t restricted to the moron parade in comment threads and on Twitter, either. It’s flourishing in the halls of Congress, specifically in the House of Representatives.

Luckily, the latest example, PRENDA, was too silly even for the heavily anti-choice House, which rejected the bill on Thursday. (The news was overshadowed by the John Edwards verdict.) The bill was taken up under the rules of suspension, normally reserved for non-controversial votes, and requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. The vote on PRENDA was 246 to 168, it’s worth suggesting that Rep. Trent Franks never had any real intention of passing this bill at all. It was the legislative equivalent of a troll writing, “Have you considered that HALF of fetuses aborted are FEMALE?” before high-fiving himself for finally achieving the rhetorical chops necessary to flunk high school composition.

The whole thing did generate discourse about sex selective abortion in the United States, which is like having a week-long debate over who should play the American Dr. Who or what kind of coffee you’d drink if you didn’t hate coffee. Which wouldn’t even be a problem, except anti-choicers are so clearly arguing in bad faith. They obviously don’t care about sex-selective abortion, or they’d give credence to experts who say that restricting access is the least effective approach to the problem. (I know conservatives struggle with understanding this generally, but people who actually care about a problem are known to be interested in solutions.) Their interest in sex-selective abortion is limited to using it as a phrase they can throw around when all their other arguments for restricting abortion access have been discredited. It has no other value to them outside of trying to push buttons and say, “What now, feminists? Don’t you want more ladies around, you lady-loving weirdoes?”

There’s also a strong conflation here between “not finding someone’s personal motivations compelling” and “wanting to ban something outright and toss a person in jail for it.” I don’t think sex selective abortion is good, no, but I also don’t think much of people who listen to Rush Limbaugh, either. Doesn’t mean I think they should go to jail.   

Of course, the fussing over sex-selective abortion is rooted in a weird ideological tic of the anti-choice movement, one which once again points directly the psycho-sexual issues underlying the opposition to abortion rights. Most people who live in the real world assume correctly that women who have abortions have no personal animosity towards the child they’d have if they didn’t have any abortion. Most of us have no animosity towards hypothetical people as a rule. But anti-choice activists don’t believe that at all, but instead assume that abortion is somehow about having a personal vendetta towards fetuses. Applying the logic to other situations means that if you don’t answer your door to your friends at 2AM, it must mean you hate people. Or that if you personally aren’t into country music, you think record stores who sell it must be burned to the ground. That some women aren’t ready now or not that into having kids at all doesn’t mean they’re obsessed with hating children, much less hypothetical children. It just means they don’t want to be pregnant right now.

But the “fetal genocide” language has so overwhelmed the anti-choice movement that this fairy tale about women having abortions for no other reason than daughter-hate makes sense to them. Most people who aren’t fed a steady diet of misogynist anti-choice propaganda are just bemused by all this. Franks probably thought PRENDA would create more hand-wringing on the Hill than it did, for instance, but failed to understand that the anti-choice myth of fetus-hating has zero traction outside of anti-choice circles. The only thing that we learn from the widespread claims in the anti-choice movement that women are aborting pregnancies because they hate their daughters is that it’s very easy for anti-choicers to imagine hating a hypothetical child just because she’s a girl. Even in places where sex-selective abortion is genuinely a problem, it’s not out of daughter-hate, but son preference. Still upsetting, but has no relationship to the “genocide” language that anti-choicers lean so heavily on.

Trying to make this more about female fetuses is nothing but a base attempt to confuse the issue. It’s the same as the strategy of putting up female leaders to make misogynist claims, and petulantly claiming that because they’re women, they can’t be misogynists. Even though we have long-standing cultural traditions of understanding that there are embittered women who take their hatred and rage out on other women, embodied in traditional forms such as the “church lady” or the “evil stepmother.” Anyone who has heard the story of the evil stepmothers in Cinderella or Snow White can quickly grasp why a woman might hate other women so much, which is why the “women agree with our misogynist views!” strategy is so transparently bad. Shifting the focus to female fetuses doesn’t change the obvious bad faith of the strategy. At the end of the day, the anti-choice movement is motivated by  a desire to keep women as second class citizens, and their attempts to distract from that often just make it even more obvious.