“Abortion tourism” or “abortion vacations”: This is the latest (non-)thing that the Daily Caller is trying to get its hard right audience all riled up about, in an article sneering at Lenzi Sheible, a pro-choice activist who started Fund Texas Women, a group dedicated to helping Texans who need to travel to get abortions under the draconian new state laws that have closed all the rural abortion clinics in the state. The Daily Caller piece, written by Eric Owens—a supposed “education editor” who would better be understood as the “stoking resentment and fear editor”—is a marvel of right-wing resentment-stoking and hysteria, trying to make it seem as if there’s some kind of scary abortion conspiracy going on, when in fact it’s just an attempt to get women access to necessary health care, which their own government is trying to take away from them.
The piece also showed that conservatives are losing their ability to keep their story straight when it comes to attacks on reproductive rights. Owens complains that a travel fund is an attempt to “skirt a new state law.” But that would mean that the law is meant to create an undue burden on abortion access, which is illegal under Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Is Owens inadvertently admitting that the law has nothing to do with health and safety, as its crafters maintain, and is in fact just an attempt to make abortion harder for low-income women in rural areas to access?
Even more amazingly, Owens didn’t even try to hide that he was stoking resentment of women over the mere possibility that they could experience a moment of pleasure. Owens goes out of his way to make it seem like the women who are being served by Fund Texas Women are having a great time living in the lap of luxury; he whines that trips to access a legal medical procedure are “abortion vacations” and that Fund Texas Women “pays for airfare, bus tickets, hotel accommodations and various other expenses.” The reader is clearly meant to throw a fit—these women “get” to have fun “vacations” for free just because they had sex! Never mind that these trips are actually quite stressful. Never mind that getting outpatient surgery is no one’s idea of a good time. Never mind that sitting on a Greyhound bus for hours as you drive across Texas, which is what these women have to do, is a downright hellish experience.
Oh yeah, and never mind that if conservatives hate the idea of women taking time off work and seeing another city while they get their abortion, the best way to prevent these trips is to stop passing laws that shut down safe abortion clinics.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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What’s interesting about the article—as with the inadvertent admission that the Texas law is unconstitutional—is that it’s another example of right-wing media losing its ability to keep track of its narrative. The official position of anti-choicers is that they are in the fight because of “life,” not because they resent and hate the idea that a woman might have experienced—gasp!—sexual pleasure without being punished for it. But Owens shows how much resentment is built into the core of the anti-choice agenda. Forget resenting women because they might have had sexual fun. Owens is, and he assumes his readers must be, deeply resentful of the idea that young women might feel even the fleeting pleasure of being able to sit in a hotel room for a night after a long bus ride. Any pleasure, no matter how small or imaginary, is cause for resentment.
Similarly, a recent Bill O’Reilly segment showed how the real issue that’s working up conservatives is the possibility that someone, somewhere—especially someone young or female—might be having fun. When Def Jam founder Russell Simmons came onto O’Reilly’s show recently, O’Reilly decided to make Simmons answer for the song and video “Partition” by Beyoncé. (Simmons had nothing to do with the song or video, as far as I can tell, but O’Reilly seems to think everyone involved in hip-hop and R&B is keeping tabs on everyone else at all times, I guess.) O’Reilly complained that the song “glorifies having sex in the back of a limousine,” which it does, of course. But why is that wrong? O’Reilly tried to justify himself by whining, “Why would she do it when she knows the devastation that unwanted pregnancies … and fractured families—why would Beyoncé do that?”
Sex in limousines, as opposed to sex in other places, does not increase the risk of unwanted pregnancy or fractured families. Presumably, the concern for O’Reilly is that girls might hear this song and get the idea that sex is fun; for him, that belief—one that persisted long before Beyoncé and will persist long after she’s gone—is the problem. But here’s what made this whinefest truly special: Beyoncé has blatantly framed the song as an ode to married sex. Her husband is cast in the video, and the framing device is one of them sitting at breakfast, like any other boring old married couple. The point of the song is to highlight the erotic joys of married life. Far from being a threat to the idea of family stability, the song portrays, evocatively, an important part of holding a marriage together, by continuing to have erotic adventures so that you don’t fall into a rut and start resenting each other.
In light of this, it’s hard not to conclude that what angers O’Reilly is the fear that women—even married mothers—are experiencing sexual pleasure without apologizing for it. He’s so hostile to the idea of female sexual pleasure that he assumes it must be destabilizing and destructive, even in the context (marriage) that conservatives claim to believe is the only legitimate place for sexual exploration. I’ve long thought that was just a ruse, an excuse to police and punish sexual pleasure in all forms, but O’Reilly’s meltdown over a woman doing a song about the joys of married sex just proves it.
Why is it so hard lately for conservatives to keep a tight lid on their hostility to female pleasure, sexual and otherwise? It’s hard to say. I argued a few months ago that it is in part because anti-choicers think they’re winning on the abortion front and so have decided to start pressing their luck. But these two examples show that it might also be that right-wing media has dropped the pretense of trying to persuade, and is now in the business of keeping the already aggrieved in a constant state of anger and resentment, particularly toward women.