Urban Legends vs. The Pill: How the Christian Right Uses Propaganda Against Reproductive Rights
Kevin Swanson's bizarre radio comments claiming that women on the pill have "dead babies" lodged inside of them is part of a larger problem of Christian urban legends that get mixed in with reality and used as propaganda against reproductive rights.
Conservative fundamentalist Christian culture has always had a tradition of showing one face to the outside world and one face to each other, and negotiating how much of the latter can inform the former has always been a complex task. It’s only grown more confusing in the age of the internet. On one hand, the internet makes it very easy for people to create their own media bubble, which means conservative Christians can and often do only consume media made with them specifically in mind. On the other hand, the internet means that it’s easier than ever for outsiders to have access to media materials that are intended for Christian right insiders only, which is the bread and butter for websites such as Right Wing Watch.
The result is becoming a problem for the Christian right. Their insular culture encourages ever more bizarre flights of fancy, competitive demonstrations of misogyny, and making up of their own facts—and then all that is transmitted in a way where outsiders can tune in and expose the inner workings of the Christian right to the outside world. Kevin Swanson of Generations Radio is simply the latest person to fall into the trap of speaking to insiders where outsiders can hear. And outsiders are astounded at what Christian right culture looks like on the inside.
Right Wing Watch has started monitoring Swanson, who used to broadcast in multiple radio stations in Colorado but now prefers to reach out over the internet. They claim to have over a million downloads of their program. And while the official outward face of the Christian right claims to oppose reproductive rights because of “life,” the glimpse that Swanson gives of the internal Christian right culture makes it extremely clear that the objection has much more to do with the belief that women should be uneducated, dependent on men, and servile.
Now Swanson’s show got another round of media coverage for his claim that the birth control pill turns a woman’s uterus into a “graveyard” full of “dead babies”.
I’m beginning to get some evidence from certain doctors and certain scientists that have done research on women’s wombs after they’ve gone through the surgery, and they’ve compared the wombs of women who were on the birth control pill to those who were not on the birth control pill. And they have found that with women who are on the birth control pill, there are these little tiny fetuses, these little babies, that are embedded into the womb. They’re just like dead babies. They’re on the inside of the womb. And these wombs of women who have been on the birth control pill effectively have become graveyards for lots and lots of little babies.
As our own Robin Marty noted, this is the sort of thing that doesn’t really need comment to refute. Still, as she points out, this is ignorance of biology on the level of believing women don’t poop or something: “[E]ven if somehow there were tiny mini babies stuck in your uterus, they would come out when you menstruate since THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF MENSTRUATION.” Swanson is married to a bona fide uterus-haver, who, having only had five children, clearly did not spend her entire reproductive life pregnant. Which, in turn, means some kind of menstrual product probably came into his home at some point. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I think Swanson isn’t actually ignorant of menstruation and probably not ignorant of the fact that zygotes aren’t actually miniature babies.
That’s because what Swanson is doing here is something that’s very typical to intra-Christian right culture, which using a lurid urban legend as the basis of a political argument. All cultures have urban legends, but the Christian right does tend to traffic in more lurid and more political ones. (Think: Satanic messages in rock songs.) Fred Clark claims, in fact, that Christian right culture is rife with propagandistic urban legends.
These other kinds of urban legends can’t really be considered fiction — they’re more like simple lies. Such stories are not told in the hopes of eliciting delight, but usually in order to create or to foster a sense of aggrieved victimhood and resentment.
Such stories, in other words, are propaganda. They are about sowing division, heightening the antipathy between groups or factions. They are about creating and enforcing and sustaining tribal conflict.
Swanson is clearly doing this: Telling an urban legend of vague “doctors” and “scientists” finding teeny-weeny “dead babies” in the uteruses of women that they’re opening up for some unknown reason. The anti-choice movement basically lives off these urban legends, telling themselves lurid, propagandistic stories about everything from what’s supposedly going on in abortion clinics to a laundry list of claims of all the ills that will befall you if you defy the patriarchal God’s orders and use contraception. This “dead babies” thing is a classic example of this.
Of course, nowadays a lot of these urban legends are being passed off in the mainstream as if they were the same thing as arguments, instead of weird stories that Christian conservatives tell to titillate each other. The “dead babies” weirdness stems from an equally absurd anti-choice urban legend that claims that the birth control pill and emergency contraception work by “killing” fertilized eggs; in reality, they work by suppressing ovulation. This propagandistic urban legend—or what Fred Clark would call a “simple lie”—is used to make their opposition to female-controlled birth control sound less misogynist than it is. This bit of nonsense has, sadly, become part of the basis for attacks on insurance coverage of contraception, even though it makes about as much sense as arguing that there are teeny-weeny baby skeletons lurking in the uteruses of women who’ve used the birth control pill.