Anti-choice fanatics have found an exciting new woman of the week to hate: Miss America 2015, a New Yorker named Kira Kazantsev. Kazantsev, whose talent was singing Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” while doing a clapping routine with a plastic red cup, is being held out as Public Enemy Number One by those in the anti-reproductive rights movement because she interned at Planned Parenthood in college, supporting staff members who were providing sex education. The horror.
On her now-vanished LinkedIn profile, Kazantsev described her work at Planned Parenthood as, “Assisted delivery of programs in local public schools, teaching children about mutual respect and self-esteem” and “Conducted research on Planned Parenthood Education.” For most of us, that seems fairly straightforward, especially if you’ve ever been an intern. (It’s a lot of filing.)
Here’s how Steven Ertelt of the anti-choice website LifeNews.com decided to characterize Kazantsev’s internship history though: “A researcher for an abortion business that was willing to set up abortions for women victimized by sex trafficking.” Ertelt also accused Planned Parenthood of being a “company that snuffs out the lives of young baby girls.” If you’re keeping track, that’s three lies in one phrase—a magnificent flexing of the notoriously strong anti-choice B.S. muscles.
Indeed, most of the article has nothing to do with Kazantsev, of whom Ertelt knows apparently little beyond what was gleaned from a LinkedIn profile. Instead we’re treated to a masterpiece of trying to damn someone through insinuation. In the process, Ertelt trots out a handful of well-worn and baseless accusations against Planned Parenthood: Once someone saw an ambulance there, so it must have been a “botched” abortion! Planned Parenthood engages in sex trafficking!
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
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This is all fairly typical of the way that anti-choice demonizing initiatives usually take place, reminiscent of the way that slut-shaming campaigns are run in the average middle school. First, the target is selected, often for arbitrary reasons. Then, the whisper campaign starts, with the rumors—almost always untrue—getting stranger and more lurid every day. The next thing you know, the hapless victim is being accused of having sex with the football team. Just replace all the athlete-encounters with “baby-killing” and “sex trafficking,” and you have the, uh, grown-up version of this game that anti-choicers play.
Of course, the motivations are the same in both cases: a combination of misogyny and screamingly obvious sexual hang-ups. But with LifeNews.com and Fox News, which picked up and promoted this non-story to the masses, there’s an added reason for the hysteria beyond just wanting to thrill themselves with fantasies about imaginary baby-killing and sex weirdness at the local health clinic. There’s a long game here, and it’s about trying to make Planned Parenthood, and by association, reproductive health care in general, seem sleazy, controversial, and not like real health care. Which, in turn, is intended to justify shutting off financial and legal access to it.
Let’s face it: Planned Parenthood’s day-to-day operations aren’t particularly mysterious. Which is great. “Mysterious” is not what anyone wants in a health-care provider. There’s nothing particularly scintillating about getting a Pap test, a package of pills, or a bag of free condoms. Even first-trimester abortion, for all that the word sets people’s teeth on edge, is not, as a medical procedure, anything particularly noteworthy. It’s just a matter of taking some pills or submitting to a quick procedure that only takes a few minutes.
This is true, in fact, of all reproductive health care. It looks and feels like what it is: health care. And people may not always like the experience of getting health care, but they definitely like that they have it. So it’s not surprising that the strategy of anti-choicers is to try every angle they can to insinuate that there’s something dirty going on in Planned Parenthood. That hidden behind those innocent-looking medical waiting rooms must be something perverse, murderous, cultish—anything but, you know, just plain old doctoring and nursing, which is actually what’s taking place.
Of course, the danger with this sort of thing is that it can actually work. Consider, for instance, the Satanic panic of the 1980s. There are conflicting accounts of how it started, but in the ’70s and ’80s, the country became suddenly gripped by this theory that Satanists were secretly infiltrating normal-seeming institutions like churches and schools. Day cares, in particular, became a lightning rod for accusations, with parents and eventually prosecutors claiming that kids in the facilities were being sexually assaulted, tortured, and forced to participate in Satanic rituals and even murder. There was no evidence of any of this, and really, much of it was beyond what is physically possible. But somehow, kids were coaxed into giving clearly false testimony and there were multiple convictions, often with LGBT people singled out for special abuse by prosecutors. Some people served for more than 20 years before being freed.
The reason the Satanic panic was effective was that, for whatever reason, people can be easily snookered by those kinds of titillating stories. We are easily bamboozled by the idea that there’s some kind of clandestine travesty going on behind closed doors and that perfectly innocent-seeming people—like Miss America—are actually secret demons, trying to destroy everything that’s good and holy about our world.
And anti-choicers are exploiting that tendency to the best of their ability. They’re attempting to recreate a modern-day Satanic panic whole cloth, by, for example, spinning run-of-the-mill internship experience into covertly wicked behavior. Essentially, they’re trying to make you imagine that cute, blonde Miss America is actually a kind of 21st-century abortion witch, participating in some sort of dark arts for the purposes of evil.